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 the lived experience of work, 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. “This book both widens and deepens the scope of organizational research offered by other researchers, theorists, and approaches to understanding, interpreting, explaining, leading, and consulting with workplace organizations. Its triangulating integration of applied poetry, experience and stories behind the poetry, and the three psychoanalytic models of explaining life in workplaces, is a new and distinct contribution to organizational research, leadership, and consulting efforts to help organization members solve real, underlying problems and not offer simplistic, formulaic solutions based solely on a study of the organization’s surface. It will be of interest to researchers, academics, and students in the fields of organizational studies, leadership, and management.”

The authors’ careful application of theory to interpret organizational poems clearly illustrates how psychoanalysis can deepen our ability to understand and explain the irrational and often painful dimensions of organizational life. This groundbreaking book explains and illustrates writing and interpreting poetry as a form of psychoanalytic organizational research – as a process of introspection, as a way of conveying the experience of being ‘there’, and as a space for co-creating meaning.

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).

Howard F. Stein, an applied, psychoanalytic, medical, and organizational anthropologist, psychohistorian, organizational consultant, and poet, is Professor Emeritus in the Department of Family and Preventive Medicine, University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, Oklahoma City, OK, USA, where he taught for nearly 35 years. He has published numerous articles, chapters, and books, many of which are co-authored with Seth Allcorn. He has published 11 books and chapbooks of poetry, of which the most recent are Presence — Poems from Ghost Ranch (2020), Centre and Circumference (2018), and Light and Shadow (2nd edition, 2018).  Finishing Line Press has published five of his chapbooks.

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