Psychoanalysis, teaching, and learning

CPOS is proud to present their third biennial workshop, "New Engagement with the Future: Psychoanalytic Perspectives on Anxieties and Defenses in Teaching and Learning (about Management and Organizations)". The workshop will be presented online as part of the annual symposium of the International Society for the Psychoanalytic Study of Organizations on June 29, 2022 at 6:30am CST.

For more information and to sign up visit: https://am2022.ispso.org/AM22-Workshops

CPOS associates will share their experiences at the intersection between psychoanalysis, educational institutions, and classroom teaching practices – focusing on how we see psychoanalysis as potentially disruptive to dominant theories, practices, and discourses of teaching and learning. Psychoanalysis usefully provides important concepts that can help us unpack unconscious meanings and motivations – transference and countertransference, splitting and projection, denial and defense, illusion and disillusionment. And, it offers something more – a way of being and working in the space of education that has the potential to encourage reflection in action and support our efforts to work together to move past the trauma of the pandemic and build a better world.

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Accreditation as a social defense

Healthcare management struggles to be both a scholarly discipline and a legitimate practice. Legitimacy is often equated with being “business like”. As such, healthcare management scholars and practitioners have made “professionalization” a priority in an effort to legitimize the field (Gerard, 2019; 2021). Accreditation is at the center of this effort.

Accreditation of healthcare management programs (along with clinics, behavioral health programs, and hospitals) makes sense on the surface, but it is also a way that faculty and students (and clinicians, managers, and executives), unconsciously, protect themselves from having to confront the field’s complicity with questionable managerial techniques that at best reinforce existing health (and healthcare) inequities and, at worst, exacerbate social injustices.

Working in healthcare settings, as managers and as clinicians, requires awareness of self and other experiences in the face of acute fear, anxiety, loss of hope, and even death – while holding hope for recovery, health, and life. Yet, in today’s healthcare environments, managers and clinical staff avoid these emotional complexities with technical models, data-driven interventions, and pretentions to rigorous science. The psychoanalytic question here: what do these efforts represent unconsciously, and what do they attempt to cover over or deny?

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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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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.

Understanding organizational splits

Divisions (based on specialization) within organizations are necessary for efficiency, accountability, and reliability. However, these divisions increase the possibility of both structural conflict and the development of emotionally charged organizational splits. Taking a longitudinal approach by facilitating the reconstruction of the history of the problematic organizational split can open a safe and reflective space where organizational members can freely explore their experiences and begin the healing process. Psychoanalytically informed executives, consultants, and action researchers, guided by experience, reflectivity and intuition, can effectively coach organizational members through this process.