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The walls within: working with defenses against otherness

Online Conference 5-11 July 2021

Whose Deontology?! Treating the Other with respect: When Swiss aid turned into Egyptian imposition

The proposed paper meets the following selection criteria: 1) Connection to AM Theme. The argument details a case study to which the controversial trend towards globalisation of ethics is central. It evolves during the turbulent times of the mid-east crisis, in which the researchers main struggle grew around the ambiguity of what behaviour would be ethical during an action research intervention, given that the client project team was characterised by cultural diversity. The researcher found herself working with a system organized by 'tribal' affiliations and ideologies based on conflicting religious stances, all the while trying to create contained dialogue among these fractions so as to boost the Egyptian women's rights movement. To be more specific, the researcher had to grapple with the following questions during the intervention: How do ethical values differ across countries and cultures, given that the project was managed by Swiss and North-African (mainly Egyptian) team members? In light of this diversity, according to which 'benchmark' was she supposed to understand what was and what was not ethical behaviour in organizations? And what role could she play in establishing a better ethical climate in the system at hand, particularly given the dilemma of not knowing what to do when she did not agree? 2) Originality. The paper explores whether it is indeed possible - and ethical to 'export' concepts of containment as we understand it in Western philosophy by trying to compare it to how containment is established in Arabic cultures. The discussion therefore engages in a dual-level inquiry: it queries the ethical behaviour of the Swiss donor organisation while funding and guiding the Egypt-based project, and simultaneously reflects on the researcher's own ethical dilemmas when making interventions. 3) Psychoanalytic Strength. The construction of containment is not only a core theoretical psychoanalytic concept, but its presence is also pivotal for systems-functioning. Moreover, the proposed argument will focus on the use of transference and countertransference during the research encounter so as to explain the occurrence of ethical dilemmas within the action researcher herself, and how these helped her to understand the ethical dilemma of the system-as-a-whole. 4) Level of Scholarship. The paper is based on an action research intervention that is informed by an academically rigorous theoretical framework. The framework presents the construction of containment through three consecutive system levels and explores its connection to ethical behaviour - or the lack of it in the absence of containment. 5) Application to Practice. The idea for this contribution originates from an action research intervention to a real-life project which is indeed currently still unfolding. Its theoretical rigour does therefore not jeopardise, but rather support the findings' practical applicability, and the researcher's aim continues to be that of making an immediate real-life impact to the project team in question. Evidence for such success is presented. Personal synopsis: Based on the 'cultural split' of my own identity, this project was driven from the beginning by my passionate curiosity for the question, are ethics a universal 'thing'? Do we globally experience ethical dilemmas in the same way? Can and should we work cross-culturally in a deeply relational way such as the way of psychoanalysis without attending to the fundamental question of whether my ethical values are transferable to the Other? Is that indeed respectful of and helpful for the Other, or do we end up imposing our own Self ? The proposed paper explores these questions in depth.'