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The walls within: working with defenses against otherness

Online Conference 5-11 July 2021


June 16, 2024 / 5 mins read


Parallel Papers Session 2
Friday 5 July 3.30pm-4.45 pm, EEST
Columbus Hall 2

Paper Code: PP33

Navigating the Edge: Psychoanalytic Perspectives on Living Organizations

Presenter: Moritz Senarclens de Grancy
Moderator: Larry Hirschhorn


It was not until 1920 that Freud declared repetition compulsory to be a major feature of drives. In his attempt to improve his theory of libidinal economy he realised that the drive is searching for the return of the past, even the darkest, and its repetition. More than 100 years have passed since then, and Freud's idea from the essay Beyond the Pleasure Principle (Freud 1920 g, S.E. 18, 7-64), saying that the only drive of life is death drive, still seems to be relevant: For some time now, we have witnessed the return of wars in Europe, the resurgence of populist and xenophobic as well as totalitarian tendencies and hostile conflicts in democratic countries. A strange absence of social anxiety is observed when people lack the willingness to avoid open confrontation and resolve conflicts peacefully. Man's reason and wisdom appear limited – a feeling of discomfort arises in view of man's lack of "cultural aptitude" (Freud 1915 b, S.E. 14, 275-300). The paper starts from the wish for reflective leadership and organisations in which functional alliances can develop and the social bond can be saved from being torn apart. From a psychoanalytical and social angle, it explores the chances of relationship-oriented leadership to deal with conflict and tension arising from differences in multiple civilizations, groups, and organisations. Relationship-oriented leadership focuses on how an individual takes up a role in relationship to the other; in other words it puts our relatedness to colleagues, customers, teams, or to another organisation first. From a psychoanalytical point of view, the question of how roles are differentiated can be described using Lacan's threefolder register RSI. The social-symbolic order (Lacan 1955-56, p. 42; Stavrakakis 2010) designates the norms, rules and values that are conveyed via the communication culture of an organisation. To a certain extent, this order is a totalitarian order because everything is connected to everything else in it and no one can speak or act outside of it (Lacan op. cit.; Arnaud 2002). The "primary task" (Rice 1965) of an organisation is also defined within this order, i.e. the task that an organisation was created to fulfil and with which the employees identify. In a rapidly changing, increasingly complex and conflict-ridden economic and social system, this order reaches its limits because it is not able to open up for new data aka ideas, impulses, opinions, views etc. Being confronted with an increasing demand tempo and its multi-sidedness, organisations need to be edge-driven in order to integrate new data and check with their primary task on a regular basis. (Boxer 2019) The need an organisation has to be driven from its edges derives from the necessary entanglement of its knowledge and know-how with the customer’s relation to their value deficit. What has actually been the preserve of psychoanalysts is now becoming a pressing challenge for organisations, namely finding out what their customers desire in order to determine what the primary task is supposed to be. Therefore, it has to focus more than ever on relationships at eye level between the organisation and its management and customers, citizens and employees. It requires a new understanding of roles that not only addresses the value deficit of customers, but can also respond to the complex dynamics of relationships. Along this line, the paper approaches fundamental traits of relationship-orientated leadership and cooperation that enable leaders and consultants to establish good enough working relations, manage boundaries and cope with anxieties and defences in organisations and societies.


Arnaud, G., The organisation and the symbolic: Organisational dynamics viewed from a Lacanian perspective. Human Relations, 2002. 55(6): p. 691- 715. Driver 2009, “Struggling with Lack: A Lacanian Perspective on Organizational Identity.” Organization Studies 30(1): 55-72.
Boxer, P., 2019 On becoming edge-driven – working with the double subjection of organizations,
Freud, S., 1915b, Contemporary thoughts on war and death, S. E., 14, p 275-300 Freud, S., 1920g, Beyond pleasure principle, S. E., 18, 7-64.
Lacan, J., 1955-56, The Psychoses: 1955-56 Book 3: The Seminar of Jacques Lacan.
Rice, A.K., 1965, Learning for Leadership. Interpersonal andIntergroup Relations, The Tavistock Institute of Human Relations.
Stavrakakis, Y., 2010, Symbolic Authority, Fantasmatic Enjoyment and the Spirits of Capitalism: Genealogies of Mutual Engagement. In C. Hoedemaekers, J. Glynos und
Y. Stavrakakis (Ed.), Lacan and Organization (2010). P. 59-100.

Brief Biography

Moritz Senarclens de Grancy, PhD, is a psychoanalyst, supervisor and consultant. He is a consultant for group relations conferences according to the Tavistock model and was chair of the ISPSO annual conference 2021. He studied law, art history and cultural studies and received his doctorate on the role of metaphor in Freud (Psychosozial-Verlag 2015). He completed psychoanalytic and group dynamics training in Germany and England and has been a member of the ISPSO - International Society for the Psychoanalytic Study of Organisations since 2016. As a book author, he recently published the first German-language introduction to the Social Dream Matrix together with Ullrich Beumer. (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht 2023)