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The walls within: working with defenses against otherness

Online Conference 5-11 July 2021

Tunnelling under Totalitarian Walls

The world is wrong. You can’t put the past behind you. It’s buried in you; it’s turned your flesh into its own cupboard – Claudia Rankine – Citizen

This PDW seeks to use the history of the Berlin Wall as a metaphor. It once represented in this once rifted city, the divide between totalitarian regimes under Soviet control and those seeking democratic freedoms. This Cold War cleavage and the history of escape attempts from such an impasse provide a watershed of history that some believed ended when the wall came down in 1989. Modern history and geo-political divisions suggest that this was not the case and that the divisions between East and West with their mutual projective systems of seeking to be big at the expense of others are alive and kicking. Finding ways to tunnel under these walls has never been more important not just Internationally but in our work.

The purpose of consultation in our field is to tunnel beneath the surface of the way we get stuck or over-excited by an apparently authoritarian or its converse in an anti-authority client system. Change can occur through discovering our own walled up defences and conflicts. This can expose what is going on in both us and the others who consult us. Argentine based psychoanalyst Willy Barranger described these impasses not just as walls, but as “Bastions”, mutually fortified protections, defended on all sides, and reflected in the dynamics of both ourselves and of others. “Tunnelling” under these walls reveals a mirror reflecting that our enemy carries a version of our unwanted self.

Authoritarian and lax thinking and behaviour are both seductive and unconsciously infectious. They are attended by conscious and manipulative attempts at propaganda using ideologies to subvert organisations from their primary task. They seek to instil a survival basic assumption of coercive dependency or absent inter-dependency and are shaped by fear, anxiety and trauma. Such propaganda takes place politically, commercially and societally. In organisations, it makes use of ideologically informed actions and policies designed to persuade by forcing staff into compromised roles that result in unwilling collusion and profound insincerity. Power plays are rife.

Key concepts will be provided to assist in discriminating between the mind-blowing, psychotic aspects of totalitarian mind-sets and ways of creating a space for breathing and thinking. These will explore three meeting points of psychodynamics:

  • Body-mind/role,
  • role/group & system dynamics
  • system/context.

These three “boundary skins” for enquiry shape a “Trilogy” approach that seeks to explore the relationships between these fundamental aspects of systems psychodynamics, consulting and coaching. There will be a particular search for the distinctions and slippages between authority and power. A key focus will be on how our attempts to use our tools of the trade in consulting and group relations may be understood as manipulations and far from the freedom that is being sought through consultancy and learning.

This workshop is a continuation of work done in the New York 2019 Annual Meeting PDW on “Consulting in the current mad-driving environment”.

Learning opportunities will be provided through:

  • presentations of theory illustrated by experience and discussion;
  • a case study of the challenges of seeking to bring Group Relations Conferencing to Russia;
  • opportunities for presentation of case material by members in a modified version of a Balint group.

Theoretical background draws on a number of writers:

  • Willy Barranger on “The analytic Situation as a dynamic field”.
  • Gordon Lawrence on “The Seductiveness of Totalitarian States-of-Mind”.
  • Jan Meerloo: “The Rape of the Mind” on attempts at psychological propaganda, coercive social and political control used in the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands.
  • Gregory Bateson (Schizmogenesis/Double-Bind) on the phenomenology of psycho-genic and socio-genic segmentation, producing what is socially divisive and undermining of primary tasks of social institutions.
  • Hannah Arendt on “The Origins of Totalitarianism”.
  • Stanley Cohen on “States of Denial: Knowing about Atrocities and Suffering”.
  • Manfred Kets de Vries and others on “The New Russian Business Leaders”.
  • Alena Ledeneva on “How Russia really works”.
  • Ed Shapiro on “Finding a place to Stand”, especially chapter 1 on “How are they right?”
  • Tim Marshall on “Divided: Why we’re living in an age of Walls.
  • Gulnaz Sharafutdinova on “The Red Mirror: Putin’s Leadership and Russia’s Insecure Identity.
  • Timothy Snyder on “The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America.
  • Elena Cherepanov on “Understanding the Transgenerational Legacy of Titalitarian Regimes”.

Richard Morgan-Jones: Group Relations, Organizational Consulting and Executive Coaching. Supervising and Training Psychoanalytic Psychotherapist with British Psychotherapy Foundation and British Psychoanalytic, Author. Board member of ISPSO. Mentor and member of the AK Rice Institute (USA) and member of the Organization for Promoting the Understanding of Society (OPUS). Visiting faculty member at the Indian Institute of Management at Ahmedabad, India and the Higher Education College Moscow, Russia. Associate consultant of Work Lab, New York. Director of Work Force Health: Consulting and Research. Author of: The Body of the Organisation and its Health, London: Karnac/Routledge.