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The walls within: working with defenses against otherness

Online Conference 5-11 July 2021

Under the skin of the organisation: Violation and shamelessness

1) Shameless Violations: The paper introduces examples of shameless violations and attacks on human dignity in a way that illustrates differences being demeaned and exploited. These will be drawn from social and political life and include reference to recent failures in the banking system globally and social violence. These will develop Susan Long's work (2008) on perverse and narcissistic organisations to illustrate the psychodynamics of collective traumatising potential of shamelessness with specific group boundary phenomena. These will be conceived as relatedness across skin both literally and symbolically. These processes in groups and organisations are used to provide evacuation and intrusion instead of healthy containment. They make use of acted out riddance, envy and violent projective identification described in developments of Bion's basic assumption theory as ba one-ness (Turquet 1974, 1975), me-ness (Lawrence et al. 2000)) and incohesion (Hopper2003). The experiences of being made a fool of, intimidation and the destruction of containing and dependable institutions are key in this world of 'hard-ball' personal, organisational and business ethics where 'all's fair in love and war'. This approach will emphasise the idea of the group/organisation as a corporate body with members and a skin. 2) The organisation under the skin: The notion of ego-skin, 'le moi-peau' (Anzieu, 1974) as a containing envelope for the psychic apparatus of individuals and organizations (1975[1984]) will be expanded to include an integrative model of literal and biological dermatological skin phenomena and symbolic skin phenomena at the individual ('psychic skin') and social ('group skin') levels.Using Bion's idea of valency these ideas will be illustrated by examples of dermatological conditions that appear to be shaped by organisational stressors. This work will draw on part of the doctorate research by one of us (NT) in exploring the relationship between psychosomatic illnesses and group valency to a specific basic assumption. This opens up the idea of group diseases and the primary risks associated with specific organisational tasks that can get literally under the skin. 3) Group skin boundary phenomena As a way of beginning to develop a model for exploring such boundary or skin phenomena we will explore a possible framework for understanding different kinds of relatedness across the skin. This will draw on Bick's work (1968, 1986[2002]) on second skin formation, Anzieu's work (1974, 1975[1984], 1990) on the skin-ego, Hinshelwood's work (1987) on differentiating rigid, fragile and flexible containers and Ulnik (2007) on skin in psychoanalysis. This approach will be used to illuminate the double boundary across the skin of the organisational system at the heart of systems psychodynamic understandings. '