Crypt in the church of Cordona hold the history of transgenerational trauma.

Transgenerational trauma: Decoding cryptonyms

Last month we began reading a special section of Psychoanalysis, Culture & Society (2012) entitled: Locating the Psychosocial – Using Klein, Bion, Winnicott, Lacan, and Relational Theory to Treat Transgenerational Trauma. This special section explicitly strives to “bridge the gap” between the clinical and academic “modes of thinking” while straddling analytic approaches to conceptualizing and treating psychic trauma. More specifically, treating the transmission of transgenerational trauma manifested as psychosis. So, with this new series of readings we extend our discussions of the psychosocial and how to think psychosocially about organizations and organizing.

Our first reading was Psychic Murder and the Asylum of Psychosis, which is Esther Rashkin’s re-reading of Mario’s case (see Faimberg, 2005) with a “psychosocial and intrafamilial” lens. She focuses on “unspoken languages”, highlighting the interplay between aliveness and deadness, and viewing enactments as a mode of communication. Rashkin is concerned with what is said and unsaid, concealed and revealed, visible and invisible.

Rashkin introduces a number of ideas that are ripe for use in the organizational context. For example:
  • Crypt - “permits the radical denial of traumatic loss by allowing its carrier or “cryptophore” to live a double life…” (p. 72)
  • Endocryptic identification – “A crypt or intrapsychic vault may form in the ego .. and house within it-buried but psychically alive-the deceased associated with the unspeakable drama… (p. 72)
  • Cryptophores – “may identify with the living dead in the crypt by way of endocryptic identification and live out…aspects of the trauma…” (p. 72)
  • Cryptonym – “word that hides…[that] resist understanding through their various linguistic transformations... but contain traces of specific traumas that can…be deciphered and read” (p. 73)

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Would you like to join us as we play with these ideas?

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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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Reflections on the research pair

In this short post, we reflect on the fieldnote-writing method presented in our 2020 paper entitled "(Inter)subjectivity in the research pair: Countertransference and radical reflexivity in organizational research". While fieldnote-writing is often associated with a lone researcher in a distant land, we have found it useful as a collective process in both organizational and field research. The process we developed may prove especially useful to researchers and practitioners who already use a psychosocial approach to organizations. And, our fieldnote-writing method, when used in concert with organizational assessment, aids in making both the analysis and intervention phases of the work more meaningful. Throughout the paper, we share our ‘behind-the-scenes’ experiences, demonstrating “how a research pair working together in real time can become aware of their intersubjective processes, fold together multiple dimensions of experience (conscious and unconscious), and co-construct a shared understanding of organizational dynamics” (p. 1). We also share how we discovered that the research process can yield much more than we initially thought possible. Discovering those hidden possibilities is what reflexivity is all about - and it is at the heart of the psychoanalytic endeavor.

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.

Subjectivity and desire in research

"Is an interpretation always, to some extent, an imposition of our own discursive or psychical attachments?"

The answer to this question, in part, lies in exploring the subjectivity of researchers/analysts and participants/analysands in the research encounter. In part, it lies in tracing what happens to psychoanalytic concepts in the research process. This is the project taken up by Claudia Lapping in her 2013 paper entitled "Which subject, whose desire? The constitution of subjectivity and the articulation of desire in the practice of research".

The article reminds us that our inner emotional experiences are always both a potential source of insight and a path towards imposing our own needs and desires on organizational members. Interpretation is sometimes the expression of our own, not others', desires. And, sometimes it is an attempt to hide the lack that we cannot bear to acknowledge. The research encounter inevitably evokes something about us. We may attribute these aspects of our experience to the other (through interpretation) when, in fact, they reveal something about our selves.