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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Unpacking Squid Games

On the surface, the Squid Game is a sustained critique of class and ultimately the egregious excesses of contemporary capitalism. Akin to the highly successful Hunger Games franchise, poor contestants are pitted against each other by the wealthy, and the audience invariably identifies with the few proletarian protagonists who display some moral compass amid a primitive “dog-eat-dog world” at once contrived and sensational and yet a direct mirror of contemporary society. Below the surface, however, and in addition to what some critics may see as mere “pretense at social commentary,” the Squid Game succeeds at offering incisive organizational commentary, and particularly at illuminating the terrifying efficiencies of state-sponsored and organizational violence. Indeed, for the psychosocially-informed viewer, the series has many easily observed organizational linkages, most notably elements of the Nazi era, but also much of the history of mercantilism, colonialism, imperialism, capitalism, and ill-conceived but common organizational change dynamics such as downsizing resident in the plot.

Negative emotions in entrepreneurship

Today’s social and political environment often embeds entrepreneurs in “entrepreneurial ecosystems”, which shape their emotional and motivational responses. In researching social interactions, Doern and Goss (2014) found that Russian entrepreneurs experienced negative emotions, like shame, and enacted behaviors to manage such emotions in interactions with state officials. Their main finding is that while such behaviors may help entrepreneurs “manage negative emotions, and minimize conflict” they also “corrode entrepreneurial motivation” (p. 864) and distract entrepreneurs from developing their ventures. One key takeaway for us is the authors’ exploration of shame as “one of several ‘social,’ ‘other-oriented’ emotions … that have an important function to play in social interactions” (p. 866). We share the authors’ enthusiasm about raising awareness of the role of negative emotions in entrepreneurial success, failure, and motivation. We add to it the encouragement for scholars to continue to explore the entrepreneurial mindset, and the pursuit of innovation, as a psychosocial process laden with both conscious and unconscious emotions, thoughts, and imaginings.

Listening with the body

This month the CPOS reading group will be reading about and discussing one aspect of the countertransference - physical reactions. Such reactions can range from being almost imperceptible to being so distracting that they generate considerable anxiety. The paper we are reading, Listening with the Body: An Exploration in the Countertransference (Field, 1989), discusses three types of embodied countertransference: sleepiness, erotic and sexual arousal, and fear. Mirroring the questions explored in this paper we might ask: What do our physical reactions during organizational interactions mean? Do they convey something about "what it's like to work here"? If so, how might they inform our approach to studying and intervening in organizations?

Trauma and organizations

This recent book highlights the challenges in consulting to "traumatized organizations" - a state arising from "failed dependency" in the organizational setting. In the introduction, editor Earl Hopper suggests that "consultations to traumatized organizations are always disturbing to the consultant" (p. xxii) making countertransference an important aspect of data generation and analysis. The book is instructive for organizational researchers who negotiate similar dynamics in the doing of embedded or immersive research. The book features contributions from an international group of analysts and consultants who draw from a variety of psychoanalytic perspectives. Each chapter focuses on a dimension of organizational life in an organizational setting (e.g. behavioral health, correctional, corporate, academic) characterized by traumatic experience.