The heart of darkness in leaders and organizations

The recent article by Seth Allcorn and Carrie M Duncan published in Psychohistory, “A Journey into the Heart of Darkness: Psychosocial Insights into Predatory Behavior”, explores the heart of darkness in leaders and organizations using Joseph Conrad’s 1899 novella, which was later remade in the movie Apocalypse Now. It does so by examining how ideologies, cultural norms, and social values can shape the personalities of emerging leaders, sometimes in dark ways, and amplify their effects on societies and organizations. In particular, leaders’ predatory personality features can result in destructive organizational dynamics, and increase costs related to workers’ emotional distress and organizational dysfunction. A psychosocial perspective contributes to understanding how harmful styles of leading emerge. The psychosocial view presented in this article “bears witness to sociopolitical and economic traumas generated by national and organizational cultures that allow, and may even value, the predatory behavior that disrupts work and traumatizes…organization members” (p. 255). The authors identify assessments of leader-follower relational dynamics as important for “understanding the unconscious emotional and psychological dynamics that become barriers to organizational effectiveness and change” (p. 254). In short, “by making the experience of ‘what it’s like to work (live) here’ available for reflection it becomes possible for organizational members to transcend the harm being done and rebuild a sense of community both inside and outside of the organization” (p. 255).

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Writing Collaborative Poetry

In this post Howard Stein explains the creative process through which he and Seth Allcorn developed the collaborative poetry in their forthcoming book – Whiteboardings: Creating Collaborative Poetry in a Third Space.

He begins by describing “proto-poems”, which are largely unconsciously-driven, mental associations evoked by memories of events that have emotional significance. They consist of narrative sentences, phrases, fragments of ideas, line breaks, stanza breaks, that at first sight appear to take the form of a poem. Proto-poems are not first drafts. They exist somewhere in the aesthetic space between fantasy, imagination, free association, narrative, and poem.

The collaborative poems in Whiteboardings: Creating Collaborative Poetry in a Third Space, began with proto-poems generated by Seth Allcorn – emerging from his “lived experience” - and transformed into poems by Howard Stein.

According to Stein, "Some of Seth’s proto-poems immediately resonated with me, my life experiences, my emotions, even my bodily sensations. I could practically walk into the scene the proto-poem conjured."

This post will introduce you to the process of collaborative poetry with three examples from the forthcoming book. You will be able to hear Howard Stein read these poems as you read along with the included text.

Allcorn describes these poems as coming from his "lived experience, “sticky” memories that he has "revisited throughout his life". According to Allcorn, "The poems hold meaning for me, some I am aware of and undoubtedly some that I am not although the poems suggest that there is yet another path, a third way to awareness."

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The uncanny, dreams, and organizations

In “Accessing uncolonized terrains of organizations: Uncanny force of sleep and dreaming,”  Tarja Salmela, Anu Valtonen, and Susan Meriläinen (2020) explore the uncanny as a powerful perspective for revealing blind spots in organizational subjectivity and organizing. Drawing from autoethnographic material, the authors show “how the uncanniness of dreams and sleeping is experienced in organizations” (p.33).  At the root of their exploration of uncolonized organizational terrains is an unsettling of the neat physical borders that bound organizations, a problematization of binary thinking, and a questioning of static categorizations - all of which are pervasive in rationalist thinking.  

The authors introduce us to a novel way of using dreams and dreaming, the “unconcept” of uncanniness, and stories in interpreting the experience of researching and working in organizations. Yet, the article does not provide solid answers about how to link dreams to interpreting organizational culture, how to “use” the uncanny, and the role of stories and photographs in seeing and telling uncolonized terrains. 

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Erasure, intersectionality, and neutrality

The key question raised in this article is: What is the role of the group analyst in responding to societal injustices, othering, and negation as they arise within a therapy group? For our purposes we might ask: What is the role of the consultant, researcher, teacher, or manager in responding to the same? Further, can we have any role at all if we have not reflexively examined and fully articulated the intersectional nature of our own positionality? And, what is the cost if we don’t?

The author highlights the aim of group analysis as providing “a social context where relational styles that are problematic can be worked out in a context that sustains them, enabling an increased ability to socialize and to mature” (p. 504). This is something we cannot do, they might argue, if we defensively maintain the classical position of neutrality.

Instead, we must understand our position relative to the psychosocial unconscious, the position of the individuals within the group, and the position of the group as a whole. A key feature of this understanding is the intersection of multiple identities within one’s own, and others’, standpoint – and the subjective experience of “multiple othering” (p. 499). These twin ideas, positionality and intersectionality, form the basis for the author’s critique of analytic neutrality (p. 500). The argument is that “clinical positionality is inescapable” (p. 504) and our theories and techniques are necessarily value laden.

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