Whiteboardings is a unique collection of poetry co-authored by Howard F. Stein and Seth Allcorn.

As described by the authors, "We co-create poems on an imaginary whiteboard between us as we visit weekly on Skype. We have coined the term 'whiteboarding' as a verb that distills our method, how we work. Its prime values are tolerance of ambiguity and uncertainty, emergence rather than directional planning. We imagine the surface of a whiteboard in the transitional, open space between us (a notion derived from Donald Winnicott) and write on it our shared “free associations.” Spatially, this process can be visualized to be located between us rather than entirely within each of us. It feels as if the emerging poem has a life of its own, what Thomas Ogden calls a “third,” ours, neither yours nor mine. From the outside, our way of working appears formless and directionless, disorganized and messy! A poem eventually emerges from not needing to know at the outset where we are going – or even that we are going somewhere. Only along the journey through the unknown do we find the path. Yet the resulting poem feels like an amalgam, unitary, seamless, whole, perhaps even inevitable. The poems we have assembled here are the result of this unique experiment in writing poetry".

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Poetry as method

“Poetry, at its best, condenses into relatively few words, metaphors, and images – what conventional social science narratives would take much longer to articulate. Where poetry often hints and alludes, narrative seeks to spell out, expound, and complete. Where poetry leaves much mental space for the listener or reader to fill in with one’s imagination, narrative fills in the spaces with rich detail” (Stein & Allcorn, 2020).

Applied poetry is “an evocative approach to sensing, knowing, and understanding workplace experience.” As such, it is a unique way of gaining access to “what it’s like to work here”, especially when read in the context of workplace stories and interpreted through the lens of psychoanalysis.

Howard Stein and Seth Allcorn explain how and why to take such an approach in their recent book The Psychodynamics of Toxic Organizations: Applied Poems, Stories and Analysis. According to the authors, “The use of complementary psychodynamic theories, like all theories, is a way of trying to account for what we have found and experienced and in particular why it happened.” This is an important book for qualitative researchers interested in making sense of both their own and research participants’ subjectivity in the research process. The organizational poems throughout the book grip the heart and the application of theory captures the mind as the authors carefully show us how the processes of data generation (through writing poetry) and analysis (through examining self-experience) can unfold in the context of the stories (thoughts, feelings, and reactions) we record in our minds and write in our fieldnotes.

Tune in to the next edition of Anthropological Inquiries (April 8, 2022, 2pm) to hear Howard Stein discuss how he has used poetry in the field to build connections with people and as a method for anthropology (live stream).

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Understanding the ‘Age of Trump’

In their forthcoming book, Psychoanalytic Insights into Social, Political, and Organizational Dynamics: Understanding the Age of Trump, Seth Allcorn and Howard Stein offer psychodynamic insights into the unconscious undercurrents of contemporary culture and politics in the United States.

Healthcare, management, and the humanities

A recent commentary by Nathan Gerard argues that the humanities can offer new ways of understanding and doing research, teaching, and scholarship in the field of healthcare management. The two fields intersect in the desire to know, to understand, something about the human experience. The paper focuses on three areas in particular: “lived experiences of management”, the “tyranny of metrics”, and “confronting rather than avoiding anxiety”. The paper’s aim is to “encourage interdisciplinary dialogue”. Gains made through such engagement could include “substantiating critical healthcare management scholarship, collaborating with humanities educators to design novel curricula, proposing alternatives to unduly circumscribed performance targets and competency assessments, creating case studies of formative experiences of practicing healthcare managers, and advancing guidelines for better managing anxiety and its concomitant stress, burnout, and compassion fatigue in healthcare organizations”. Gerard’s comments are specific to the field of healthcare management, but they can also challenge us to think differently about the practices of management, research, and teaching more broadly – how can we engage with disciplines such as literature, philosophy, poetry, and the arts and why should we?

Free association narrative interviews

The free association narrative method comprises four principles, or techniques: ask open-ended questions, avoid asking "why", mirror participants ordering and phrasing, and foster the emergence of stories. In some ways the method follows the fundamental rule of psychoanalysis “by eliciting narrative structured according to the principle of free association [in order to] secure access to a person’s concerns which would probably not be visible using a traditional [interview] method” (Hollway & Jefferson, 2000, p. 37). As such, this approach grapples with the anxiety and defensiveness of both researchers and participants, acknowledges that interpersonal interactions are filled with projections, introjections, transferences, and countertransferences, and draws our attention to the need for reflexive research practices.