Black Rage as a psychosocial experience

The construct of Black Rage is rooted in the notion of moral injury, defined as: “a betrayal of what is right either by a person in legitimate authority or by one’s self in a high stakes situation...[that] impairs the capacity for trust and elevates despair, suicidality, and interpersonal violence”. Further, it represents the “trauma that occurs when one’s actions have profoundly violated one’s code of ethics, when one has been a victim of such violation, or when one has been a passive witness of such violation” (p. 269).

Moral injury induces an internal struggle between expressing “indignant rage” and controlling retaliatory rage. Black Rage is a specific response to the moral injuries, the “collective unconscious store of transgenerational traumas”, experienced by African Americans. It also contains superego imperatives about “what is right”. Stoute postulates that Black Rage is an adaptive mental construct that preserves dignity, mitigates trauma, and promotes defensive sublimation. It shields the vulnerable self from devaluation and helps racialized others in their struggle “to withstand attacks on linking, in order to preserve the capacity to think” (p. 278), to love while being hated, and to remain calm while feeling indignant rage.

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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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Toward therapeutic politics

Elizabeth Young-Bruehl (2011) explores the history of theorizing a Marx-Freud (socialism-psychoanalysis) synthesis. Of particular interest is “socialist psychoanalysis”, its practical aim of healing “social-political trauma”, and how it has evolved since World War II. The eventual aim of the paper is to apply psychoanalytic insights to understand and prevent prejudice.

The article invites us to (re)consider the dualities inherent in psychoanalytic thinking: private and public, individual and social, self and other. In doing so, a psychoanalytic perspective is offered for thinking about the psychosocial consequences of trauma at multiple levels: individual, family, organization, and society.

The article, though not explicitly, also invites us to consider the organizational realm in terms of “allowing for adult dependency needs”, the dynamics of caring organizations, and the dynamics of leading and following (see Howell & Itzkowitz (2018) on the social origins of psychopathy). As such, it connects to current conversations about social (organizational) psychoanalysis as a “pragmatic theory” concerned with ameliorating social trauma.

Ultimately, the article is a call to a politically active psychoanalysis. One that recalls the early years of working with the poor, delivering care to the injured, and maintaining a vibrant presence in communities and society.

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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.

Understanding the ‘Age of Trump’

In their forthcoming book, Psychoanalytic Insights into Social, Political, and Organizational Dynamics: Understanding the Age of Trump, Seth Allcorn and Howard Stein offer psychodynamic insights into the unconscious undercurrents of contemporary culture and politics in the United States.