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The walls within: working with defenses against otherness

Online Conference 5-11 July 2021

Two Basic Assumptions in the Psychoanalytic Study of Organizations

In this paper, I explore the hypothesis that the emerging and blooming field of Psycho-analytic Study of Organizations is infiltrated and contaminated by sweeping mechanisms of thought - I use the term 'Basic Assumption' (1) - which tend to shift the development of that field into a quasi-academic, quasi-rational, respectable, cozy and reassuring common venture. I borrow the term 'Basic Assumption' mainly for two reasons: first, because these mechanisms are implicit, if not unconscious, and pervade much of the published material on Psychoanalytic study of organizations, if not of its practice. Second, as from within the community of practitioners (2) there is almost no critique of any kind towards the practice and the published material, it can be interpreted as a sign that practitioners and writers might be engaged not in a rational, scientific 'ego-reality function' pursuit, but in the fulfillment of some phantasies. Scientific, rational, logical, methodological critique would seem to pertain to the realm of 'work', as opposed to the uncriticized world of 'basic assumption'. The bulk of this paper consists of such a positive and constructive critique, enunciated from within the ranks and file of the field. In that, I consider myself to stay very much within the tradition of Bion and psychoanalysis generally, as their endeavor was to put in question established wisdom, and their stance might be considered radical, even subversive to the established order, the Authorities and the conventional ways of interpreting the world (3) I will examine here two of these thought mechanisms and then try to propose that we can meaningfully and fruitfully engage in the Psychoanalytical study of organizations without resorting to them. In order to get straight to the crux of the argument I will not develop here two of its premises: the first, is that with Freud and psychoanalysis, psychology made a radical, quantum, controversial leap from what was traditional psychology, and revolutionized the field (4). The second concerns the definition of the field of psychoanalysis itself nowadays; elaborating on these might throw us in too lengthy a discussion even to be summarized here. Suffice it to say, to quote Kenneth Eisold at a recent ISPSO Conference, that\ psychoanalysis in any sense that could lend itself to adjectival clarity and consistency just does not exist '.Eisold stresses two main historical developments: the so-called post-modernist stance, shaking any belief at their very bases, especially the belief in reality and truth; and the proliferation of schools in the psychoanalytic world. However, whatever the school or strand we espouse in Psychoanalysis, it has to do with search, and looking beside, or underneath, and with questioning.'...psychoanalysis is a domain of study or exploration: the domain of irrational behavior that cannot be accounted for by consciously understood motives(...). Psychoanalysis may come to be thought of as defining an area of inquiry. (...) it is an area of investigation that is defined by the limits of the rational, an instrumentality for probing problematic experience' (Eisold, 1995 ).So far for a working definition of psychoanalysis.But it seems that the proliferation of schools ( Object Relations, Ego psychology, Self psychology, Lacanian, etc.) has brought psychoanalysis as a field into a defensive, quasi- 'Establishment' position where each school strives to build its own autonomy and orthodoxy, and mobilize theoreticians, practitioners and patients. The radical dimension of Psychoanalysis - so characteristic when it first appeared - seems a forgotten legacy of the past.The second starting point is that the application of psycho-analytic terms, concepts, views, etc. to organizations is developing, whether as a new discipline ( Messer-Davidow, 1993 ) or a new paradigm ( C. Harvey, 1982 ), surely as a field of inquiry and practice. The development of a field means that more people are engaged in somewhat converging activities; are rallying around some main concepts, problems, types of discourse, etc. Along with that, also, are emerging some classics, prominent figures and texts, traditions, basic issues and controversies, etc.'