Dec 132016

by Philip Boxer BSc MBA PhD

I am writing this blog to clarify the implications of the distinction between the small-s symbolic and the big-S Symbolic which is present in a number of previous blogs:

This small-s/big-S distinction relates to the issue of the perverse discourses and what they imply about their underlying Borromean structuring. This elaboration of the nature of the perverse discourses allows us to speak about the way individuals use organisations’ structuring of their roles (i.e. support to their identifications) as a way of stabilising the otherwise inherently unstable structure of a perverse discourse. Crucial here is the ethical challenge that the perverse discourses present for the subject, given Lacan’s reminder that a neurosis is a failed père-version (Lacan’s Seminar XXII – RSI, 18th February 1975)… i.e. “if it ain’t broke, don’t try to fix it” aka “if it works for me, why should I change it?”.

The small-s/Big-S distinction
The issue of the small-s/big-S distinction only arises when we stop considering speech in the moment in which it is spoken. This relates to the objectification of a social big Other as a way of organizing meaning, usually reflecting Power/Knowledge practices of meaning [1] that seek to secure others’ obedience to those practices. The effect is to reduce signifiers (representing a subject for another signifier) to signs (representing something for someone).
Here is Lacan in Radiophonie responding to Question 1 (1970, “Radiophonie.” Scilicet 2(3)):

Saussure and the Prague Circle founded a new linguistics, and they founded it on a cut. This cut is the bar placed between the signifier and the signified. Its purpose is to bring into prominence the difference that constitutes the signifier absolutely …. There are some who have wanted to extend this success to the entire symbolic network. They will admit a meaning only where the network guarantees it; they recognize effects but not contents. This was the promise created by the cut that inaugurated the new linguistics.
The question was whether or not the signified could be studied scientifically. This was thought to depend on whether the field of the signifier was, by its very material, distinct from any physical field as defined by science. This necessitated a metaphysical exclusion — this being understood as a désêtre, a de-being. No signification could henceforth be taken to be self-evident …
At the risk of being offensive I shall get right to the point. The term semiotics has undergone several redefinitions; notwithstanding, it refers to any discipline which begins with the sign taken as an object. My own definition of the sign (as representing something for someone) shows it to be an obstacle to the grasp of the signifier (defined as representing a subject for another signifier).
The sign presupposes the someone to whom one makes a sign of something. The shadow of this someone obscured the entry into linguistics. Whatever you call this someone, there is no way around the silliness implicit in this notion. The sign of itself, taken as object, permits the someone to appropriate language as though it were a simple tool. The sign makes language the basis of abstraction and the means of discussion. This leads to the “progress” of thought in which the goal is criticism.

The following extract from Driver’s paper on the lack (Driver 2009, “Struggling with Lack: A Lacanian Perspective on Organizational Identity.” Organization Studies 30(1): 55-72) shows an example of the difficulty that follows from not sustaining Lacan’s distinction in relation to his oeuvre. Language and discourse become objectified as a (small-s) symbolic order, the structure of which is spoken of as having been imposed on every individual prior to birth. This objectification separates this symbolic order from the subject of an enunciation:

Language and discourse in turn constitute the symbolic order, the structure imposed on every individual prior to birth through social conventions handed down for generations. What remains of the primal subject is only the act of submersion in the symbolic order, the unconscious trauma of the loss of primal fulfillment. As such, that which truly and uniquely marks the person is a loss or lack. This lack cannot be filled in the symbolic order because it is marked by lack or loss due to the existence of the real, i.e. the physical, bodily, undifferentiated primal subject prior to language.

The founding assumption about the nature of lack thus becomes that which an objectified (small-s) symbolic order leaves out about the subject per se… it is more about lack as arising from structural ‘holes’ in the (small-s) symbolic structurings of difference and certainly not about the subject’s originating relation to the lack of the (big-S) Symbolic Other aka the S(barred-A) of the upper level of the graph of desire[2]. Not surprisingly therefore in this example, Driver goes on to speak of alienation by this (small-s) symbolic order, an alienation arising from this symbolic order existing independently of the subject:

As we engage in conscious discourse, articulating the self, trying to express our desires, we are alienated by a symbolic order in which we can articulate who we are and what we want only in the words of others. Yet we are unable to jettison or move beyond this order. Therefore, we continue to experience alienation and otherness in our self-constructions and are unable to satisfy our desires. Put differently, the immediate experience of the world and the return to the original state of wholeness and fulfillment we long for is always missing in how we articulate the self and its desires. So all we are left with are articulations that are not us, somehow removed and importantly continuously lacking.

The sinthome
This objectification is inherently unstable as an attempt by the subject to make ‘truth’ the agent of the true. These are the perverse forms of the discourses – capitalism, science, politics and movement[3]. The Borromean link to these perverse discourses comes in Lacan’s Seminar XXIII, 18th November 1975, with reference to an untied RSI:

Ιt is indeed here, it is indeed here that there lies the following: that it is an error to think that it is a norm for the relationship of three functions which only exist from one another in their exercise in the being who, by this fact, believes himself to be man. It is not the fact that the Symbolic, the Imaginary, and the Real are broken that defines perversion. It is that they are already distinct, and that one must suppose a fourth which is the symptom on this occasion. That what constitutes the Borromean link must be supposed tο be tetradic, perversion only means turning towards the father, (version vers le père) and that in short the father is a symptom or a sinthome, as you wish. The ex-sistence of the symptom is what is implied by the very position, the one that supposes this enigmatic link of the Imaginary, the Symbolic and the Real.
lf you find somewhere, l already drew it, something which schematises the relationship of the Imaginary, the Symbolic and the Real, qua separated from one another. you have already, in my previous figurations, with their relationship flattened out, the possibility of linking them by what? By the sinthome.

Here is an example of the 4th sinthomatic link rendering the previous 3 separate rings into a Borromean chain (taken from Lacan’s Seminar XXIV, 15th February 1977):
What is interesting to me about Lacan’s reference to the “ex-sistence of the symptom” is that these may be taken as the structuring/over-determining effects of the structures referred to earlier, structures that are themselves constituted by the practices of the objectified social big Other.[4] These effects are what can stabilize what would otherwise be an unstable form of the quadripod.

Note that this quadripod is the structure of the discourse itself – i.e. the four positions around which the S1, S2, a and $ rotate.[5] The perverse form that Lacan is referring to is its unstable form.[6] This 4-ring chain being able to be presented as itself being toric, consistent with the toric nature of the quadripod itself[7]:

A final point would be to emphasise the importance of not conflating the role of the fourth sinthomatic ring in neurotic or psychotic formations with the form it takes in a perverse formation, which depends on the prior establishment of a neurotic or psychotic form from which it is derived.[8]

[1] A reference to the ‘objects’, ‘concepts’, ‘themes’ and ‘enunciative modalities’ of discursive practices in Foucault, M. (1980). Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings 1972-1977. Brighton, UK, The Narvester Press.
[2] Found at p817 in Lacan, J. (2006[1966]). The Subversion of the Subject and the Dialectic of Desire in the Freudian Unconscious. Écrits: The First Complete Edition in English. New York, W.W. Norton & Company: 671-702.
[3] The discourse of the movement is referred to in Television (Lacan, J. (1990) Television: A Challenge to the Psychoanalytic Establishment. London, W.W. Norton & Company) as PIPAAD (Professional Indemnity Plan Against Analytic Discourse) in English, and as SAMCDA (Societe d’Assurance Mutuelle Contre le Discours Analytique) in French.
[4] This social small-s symbolic big Other is best understood as an Althusserian big Other, to distinguish it from the radically unconscious big-S Symbolic Other which is lacking in a way that the Althusserian big Other is not (‘lack’ here not to be confused with undecidability).
[5]The quadripod, described in Lacan’s 3rd Feb 1972 unpublished seminar XIX: Le Savoir du Psychanalyste:

has the topology of the Klein bottle with a handle. This is related to the graph of desire (footnote [2] above) in the March 21st 1962 ‘Identification’ seminar (Lacan, J. (2002[1961-62]). Book IX: Identification. London, Karnac):

which itself articulates the subject’s double subjection in the relation between the two ‘levels’ of the graph. This is important because it is the distinguishing characteristic of the Lacanian understanding of discourse with its elaboration of the possible ways of taking up double subjection.
[6] The reason for 8 discourses (adding capitalism, science, movement, politics), rather than 4, is that there are two possible ways of arranging the quadripod, both conserving the 1-2-3 cycle, i.e. the agency-work-production triangle characterising the subject’s particular relation to Das Ding.  Thus the left-hand one below establishes the circular path of the “circle which is broken” around its outer edges, described by Lacan in his unpublished March 17th, 1971 seminar XVIII: On a discourse that might not be a semblance:

The importance of this “circle which is broken” appears in the May 16th 1962 Seminar IX: Identification (London, Karnac) as the importance of the hole in a surface, the ‘rim’ in the drive structure. The right-hand quadripod, however, corresponds to the form Lacan introduces in Lacan-in-Italy (Lacan, J. (1978) La Salmandra: 32-55), describing the relation between the discourses of the Master and of Capitalism, in which the quadripod’s left-hand red and green positions are switched. This second form, he says, is headed for a blowout (in the instance of the discourse of capitalism): “This is because it is untenable… a little inversion between the S1 and $… that consumes itself so that it is consumed.” See the structure of a Lacanian discourse.
[7] I mention this because of the parallel toric nature of the relation between the place of an organisation and its ecosystem in On being edge-driven: inside is outside. This too involves the sinthomatic linking of three toric surfaces – the relation to value deficit, ‘big data’ and possible behaviors.
[8] This distinction between neurotic and psychotic formations depends on whether the fourth sinthomatic ring is linking the untied RSI or an RSI in which the Real and the Symbolic are already directly linked to each other. See in the Nebohood of Joyce and Lacan.

Oct 082016

by Philip Boxer BSc MBA PhD
Yiannis Gabriel has written a paper on psychoanalysis and organisation studies.[1] He usefully distinguishes two epochs:

  • A first epoch, defined by the practice of clinicians ‘psychoanalysing organisations’ through the metaphor of an organization or group being like an individual. Systems psychodynamics are included in this epoch.[2] Socio-analysis too appears largely rooted in the first epoch although it bridges to the second epoch through the importance it gives to the social Other and its effects on inter-subjectivity.[3]
  • A second epoch, defined within university and research environments by the application of psychoanalytic understanding to the study of organisations through critical and interpretive approaches to the effects of language. The major characteristic of this epoch is the central importance given to subjectivity, to language and to the power/knowledge structures governing the way subjectivities are formed through the effects of language.[4]

In distinguishing these epochs, Yiannis raises questions concerning the way we understand the practices of science itself, given that science constrains the ways in which we may understand the subject’s relation to the unconscious. In concluding, Yiannis expresses the hope that new developments in neuroscience may provide further possibilities for understanding and points out the growing interest in Lacanian approaches.[5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10] A closer look at some of these readings of Lacan suggests how they might also be constrained in this way.

The first and second epochs sustains a criticism of each other. The second epoch lacks the underpinning of clinical experience, thus not addressing the problematics of the relation to the unconscious per se. The first epoch applies the metaphor of the sovereign/autonomous ego to the way it thinks of the enterprise, not addressing organisations themselves as a distinct kind of entity supporting the subject’s relation to the unconscious.[11] Both critiques are valid.  In taking up the challenge of these criticisms, I ask if we are entering a third epoch.

Why should we care about tackling a third epoch?
The first and second epochs address the ways in which the individual takes up a role within the life of an organization. A third epoch, however, has to be able to address the ways in which organizations can be enabled to take up a role in the lives of its citizen-clients.

Both the first and second epochs are predicated upon the prior existence of a sovereign/autonomous entity, analogous to the ego defending itself against anxiety in seeking to sustain its sovereign autonomy. The issue raised by highly-networked turbulent environments, however, is that no such sovereignty is possible, the enterprise needing to innovate continuously to sustain its dynamic alignment with the demands arising within the larger ecosystem in which it is embedded.[12] The consequences of this need for one-by-one dynamic alignment of the enterprise’s behaviors in relation to its citizen-clients are that it must define itself not in terms of its boundaries but in terms of each relationship.[13] A third epoch has to address how individuals are to sustain their identifications with such organizations that are themselves innovating continuously ‘under their feet’.

Distinguishing the (small-s) symbolic domain of language from the radically unconscious (big-S) Symbolic of Lacan
A closer examination of the papers referred to by Yiannis help us to see how they might still be sitting within the second epoch.  The common thread running through them is that they meet the criticisms of the first epoch, but, in order to do so, they rely on using the Foucauldian notions of discourse that provide the currency for critical management studies within the academic domain.  The result is a glossing of the distinction between the (small-s) symbolic domain of language and the structural notions of the subject’s relation to a radically unconscious in Freud’s and Lacan’s work, referred to in the latter’s work as the relation to the (big-S) Symbolic.

It is interesting to read a paper in which there is no need to make the distinction between (small-s) symbolic and (big-S) Symbolic in order to make its point, for example Vidaillet’s paper on envy.[10] It is nevertheless useful to add these distinctions that are implicit in the text but easily misread. For example the distinctions between an Imaginary Other versus a radically unconscious Other, or a Symbolic lack (aka absence of an anticipated presence) versus a Real lack (aka presence of an absence).  Some of the difficulties arising from the effects of these implicit distinctions are noted below.[6, 9, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18]

The small-s/big-S structural distinction is also not apparent in the paper by Driver[7] concerning “organisational identity discourse”. The paper references Lacanian discourses, but without the double subjection of being subject to social constructions of reality AND to the radically unconscious. As a consequence, the subject appears subjected only to the power/knowledge formations of a Foucauldian understanding of discourse. There is no structural notion of the Real lack (aka the lack of the big-S Symbolic Other) most apparent in the last topological phase of Lacan’s oeuvre. It is not that the issue of the nature of the Real lack is not taken up in the paper, but that it is taken up as a “lack or loss due to the existence of the Real i.e. the physical, bodily, undifferentiated primal subject prior to language”. This reading of Lacan does not address this structural notion of the Real lack.

Requirements for a third epoch
A third epoch would require that we work with a structural notion of the Real lack.  With this it becomes possible to make sense of identifications of the third kind arising in the form of an alliance to a ‘social object’ and thereby to make sense of the organisation as itself an extimate symptom of the subjects whose identifications it supports. It is these social objects that are the Imaginary form of the objet petit a, cause of Arnaud’s big-D Desire,[14] and cause, therefore, of a new way of approaching the ethics of organisation.

The challenge, then, is to find ways of making this structural thinking apparent, with its topological corollaries.[19]

[1] Gabriel, Y. (2016). Psychoanalysis and the study of organization. The Routledge Companion to Philosophy in Organization Studies. R. Mir, H. Willmott and M. Greenwood. London, Routledge: 212-225.
[2] On some of the issues facing this paradigm, see What is happening to ‘Boundaries’, ‘Authority’ and ‘Containment’?. Also, What might make translation difficult from a Lacanian to a Kleinain reading of Freud?.
[3] See for example socio-analysis. For some of the issues relating to the use of the social big Other, see Difficulties with the use of Lacan in Susan Long’s ‘The Perverse Organisation’.
[4] The European Group for Organizational Studies is one place where it is possible to see this encounter of social sciences with philosophy, discourse analysis, literary criticism and rhetoric. This approach seems most apparent in papers drawing on Lacan’s earlier work, for example in Arnaud’s The organisation and the symbolic referenced in [5].
[5] Arnaud, G. (2002). “The organisation and the symbolic: Organisational dynamics viewed from a Lacanian perspective.” Human Relations 55(6): 691-715.
[6] Arnaud, G. and S. Vanheule (2007). “The division of the subject and the organization: a Lacanian approach to subjectivity at work.” Journal of Organizational Change Management 20(3): 359-369.
The absence of the small-s/big-S distinction is apparent in this paper. The argument for fundamentally different HR practices is a good one, but the difficulties of distinguishing the (small-s) symbolic characteristics of language from the effects of a radically uncosncious (big-S) Symbolic (structured like a language is structured) create a difficulty in taking the argument further.
[7] Driver, M. (2009). “Struggling with Lack: A Lacanian Perspective on Organizational Identity.” Organization Studies 30(1): 55-72.
[8] Fay, E. (2008). “Derision and Management.” Organization 15(6): 831-850.
[9] Harding, N. (2007). “On Lacan and the ‘Becoming-ness’ of organizations/selves.” Organization Studies 28(11): 1761-1773.
The absence of a clear distinction between the different forms of ‘Other’ is apparent in this paper: between the Imaginary Other as embodied by (for example) ‘the system’, as distinct from the Real lack of the (radically unconscious) big-S Symbolic Other.
[10] Vidaillet, B. (2007). “Lacanian theory’s contribution to the study of workplace envy.” Human Relations 60(11): 1669-1700.
[11] I would say that the 1st Epoch only deals with the relation to ‘below the surface’ i.e. to the descriptively unconscious. For this distinction to the ‘wider compass’ of the unconscious per se, see: “Everything that is repressed must remain unconscious; but let us state at the very outset that the repressed does not cover everything that is unconscious. The unconscious has the wider compass: the repressed is a part of the unconscious.” Freud, S., The Unconscious, in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. 1957[1915]a, Hogarth Press: London.
[12] Boxer, P. J. (2014). Defences against innovation: the conservation of vagueness. Defences Against Anxiety: Explorations in a Paradigm. D. Armstrong and M. Rustin. London, Karnac.
[13] Boxer, P. J. (2014b). “Leading Organisations Without Boundaries: ‘Quantum’ Organisation and the Work of Making Meaning.” Organizational and Social Dynamics 14(1): 130-153.
[14] Arnaud, G. (2013). “Is there desire for work?” Research in Management Economics and Finance, 2015.
The small-s/big-S distinction is not apparent in this paper, even though the issue it is addressing at the end is the subject’s relation to the Real. Thus the paper nicely positions the issue of the relation to the drive, but, in speaking of “the unconscious and structural Desire brought about by language”, it loses the small-s/big-S structural distinction necessary to an understanding of (big-D) Desire per se as arising in relation to the lack of the big-S Symbolic.
[15] Guinchard, R. (1998). “Absenteeism and phantasy.” Journal of Managerial Psychology 13(7): 485-497.
The absence of a distinction between small-s symbolic and big-S Symbolic is apparent in this paper, but the paper very usefully opens up the whole issue of the subject’s relation to phantasy supported by the structurings of the enterprise. Its argument ultimately relies, however, on the absence of this distinction when it states: “desire is an effect of language. We are but attributes ‘of desire’, of the desire that is manifested in language.”
[16] Vanheule, S. (2002). “Caring and its Impossibilities.” Organisational & Social Dynamics 2(2): 264-284.
This paper is an excellent account of the ways in which Imaginary and Symbolic identifications (identifications of the first and second kinds) lead to impossibilities in caring processes. By relying on only two kinds of identification, however, an opportunity is lost for raising the ethical challenge of addressing another kind of impossibility, namely the relation to the Real lack, apparent implicitly if not explicitly in identifications of the third kind.
[17] Vanheule, S., A. Lievrouw and P. Verhaeghe (2003). “Burnout and Intersubjectivity: A psychoanalytical study from a Lacanian perspective.” Human Relations 56(3): 321-334.
This is a very interesting paper that works with the imaginary-symbolic-real distinction, albeit in a way that is organized around the subject’s relation to a Foucauldian understanding of discourse. The difficulty with this is that no distinction is made between the social/inter-subjective small-s symbolic, and the radically unconscious relation to the big-S Symbolic. In a sense, burnout is a consequence of the alienating effects of subjection solely to the intersubjective.
[18] Van Roy, K., A. Marché-Paillé, F. Geerardyn and S. Vanheule (2016). “Reading Balint group work through Lacan’s theory of the four discourses.” Health (London): 1-8.
The absence of the small-s/big-S structural distinction presents very particular difficulties in this paper on the four discourses. These discourses use the Lacanian understanding of discourse, which addresses the double subjection of the subject. Thus while the account of the individual discourses is okay, a difficulty emerges when the paper addresses the relations between the discourses, these being described only in terms of rotations rather than in terms of the transformations these rotations reflect in the subject’s relation to the partial drives. This, in turn, makes it impossible to account for the 4 perverse forms of the discourses (capitalism, science, movement, politics) and their relation to the discourses of the hysteric, master, university, and analyst.  This makes it difficult to account for the circulation of discourses (described in Radiophonie by Lacan), and for the ways in which this circulation can become blocked.
[19] These are issues being taken up by Robert Groome, founding member of PLACE in Santa Monica,CA. This blog begins to clarify the nature of the challenges raised in the future work of the ISPSO in the psychoanalytic study of organisations.

Jul 132016

by Philip Boxer BSc MBA PhD
The plus-one process starts with the narrating of an originating situation[1], taken by the speaker to present some kind of challenge. The process generates three metaphors that point towards gaps, not only about working with the difference between espoused theory and theory-in-use, but beyond that at the difference between ‘wigo’ and ‘wiRgo’ – not only reflecting what is symptomatic of the interests invested in wigo, but also what is symptomatic about what is being discluded of wiRgo. The plus-one process concludes with the participants “discussing what questions the metaphors raise about originating situation in terms of ‘gaps’ and the risks they imply are present”.[2]  The next step, in order to follow through on these questions, is to put them into the form of a dilemma, as in dilemmas as drivers of change. This blog aims to join up the thinking between these and the blog on stratification, in which networks (of intervention) are described as being formed by interacting actants allied by a relation to a social object that operates as the (final) cause of the network.

Narration and Structure
The narration of the originating situation is made by an ‘actor’ (the speaker in the plus-one process), and indirectly by other ‘actors’.  The point of the plus-one’s metaphor is to come up with a metaphor that, in its structure, says something about the ‘structure’ within which the actor has formed the narrative, while at the same time pointing towards might have been left out (‘killed’ in the diagram below). What is meant by ‘structure’ here?
Non-discursive formations and underlying impossibilities
Dilemmas emerge because of the way non-discursive formations ‘structure’ the way we narrate. Thus implicit in our narrative is some kind of process that takes place over time, and that leads to an outcome.[3]  This relation between process and outcome is based on framing assumptions (‘axiomatics’) that are reinforced by consequence 1. Thus consequence 1 following the outcome enables the narrative to remain within its framing assumptions.  Consequence 2, however, flips the narrative out into some ‘other’ set of framing assumptions. What ‘flipping’ means here is the disrupting of the ability of the actors to remain subject to the framing assumptions, requiring them to adopt some ‘other’ set of framing assumptions.
A dilemma manifests itself as an oscillation over time between two or more of these formations. The ‘impossibility’ then refers to whatever it is around which this oscillation is taking place (This oscillation has the characteristics of some oscillating pattern of behaviors that repeats).   In practice, one of the formations will be dominant, the ‘otherness’ of the other formations reflecting the nature of the underlying impossibility.

The three metaphors emerging from the plus-one process provide a means of identifying a somewhere else – an ‘other’ framing – that is, in relation to the originating situation, the ‘other’ side of a dilemma. The differences between the dominant and ‘other’ formations are ‘gendered’ in the sense that holding both sides of the dilemma, in order to approach the underlying impossibility, is engendering of innovation.[4] Only when we have both sides of the dilemma and the oscillation-inducing ‘flipping consequences’, can we THEN ask: what is the underlying impossibility around which this oscillation is taking place?[5]

Distinguishing wigo and wiRgo
The following diagram is used by the blog on the plus-one process to distinguish two axes, the speaking-and-listening axis (2-3) and the ‘impossible’ axis (1-4):
Using Foucault’s formulation of a discursive/non-discursive practices, (1) are the ontically defined (i.e. pre-existing) ‘objects’ implied by the ‘concepts’ forming the content of the narrative in (2). This narrative is formed through the use of ‘concepts’, which are ways of operating on ‘objects’.  (3) are then the ‘enunciative modalities’ from which (2) can be made sense of, with its implicit relation to 1). The way in which both (2) and (3) are taken up is subject to (4), the unifying theme guaranteeing two things: that way of making sense between (2) and (3); and that way of being in relation to ‘objects’. (4) thus defines the framing axiomatics under which the account of process and outcome are narrated to (3) from (2) in relation to a wigo in a (1) ontically defined by its ‘objects’.

Foucault also speaks of unifying themes (4) as covering over ‘points of diffraction’ – places where the efficacy of the unifying theme breaks down.  The effects of these ‘points of diffraction’ are what is picked up by the ‘consequence 2’ flipping the narrative into ‘other’ frames. What is ‘Really’ going on (wiRgo), then, is what is glimpsed in the liminal spaces between these frames. To understand this, we need to look more closely at the two triangles in the diagram above – 2-3-4 and 1-4-2 – in order to understand what is meant by the ‘impossible’ axis and by the ‘impossibilities’ underlying dilemmas.

Being in relation to the ‘impossible’ axis and to the ‘impossibilities’ underlying dilemmas
It is worth re-examining the diagram above through a Lacanese understanding of discourse.  In this understanding, shown in the diagram below, the subject is doubly subjected to two kinds of structuration:

  1. the structuring imposed in order to create inter-subjectively shared meaning – the kind of structuring described by Foucault.  In the above diagram, this is the 2-3-4 triangle, corresponding in the diagram below to the work-truth-agency triangle, the wigo ‘objects’ being implied.
  2. the structuring imposed by the structure of the unconscious, including the effects of the lack of the unconscious on the subject’s relation to being. This is the 1-4-2 triangle above, corresponding to the production-agency-work triangle below, except this time the ‘production’ position is wiRgo, the lack of the wigo ‘objects’ with their relation to the plus-de-jouir.[6]

This relation to the plus-de-jouir is the relation to the repetition of the drive.  It is on the basis of questioning the form taken by this repetition that the engendering of a network intervention becomes possible…  this is where the personal becomes political.

[1] The originating situation is a narrative of a situation that is problematic… that is ‘narrative’ (as in footnote 4 of leadership qualities and the north-south bias) as distinct from the ‘actors’, one of whom is speaking, the other listening.  The ‘structure’ is what is implicit in the way the ‘actor’ is forming the ‘narrative’. This is a discursive/non-discursive structure i.e. some mix of espoused theory and theory-in-use.
[2] The combined effects of the listening-to-the-speaking (figure 4 in what might make translation difficult from a lacanian to a kleinian reading of Freud), experienced counter-transferentially by the person in the plus-one role, are articulated in a metaphor – an organisation of significations that has its own structure. The structure of this metaphor, then, tells us something about the ‘structure’ implicit in the narrative of the originating situation. In Lacanese, this ‘structure’ gives us some insight into the structure of phantasy ($◊a) underpinning the actor’s structuring of the narrative.
The frame of a dilemma is, at its roots, a non-discursive formation.
[3] For more on dilemmas, see dilemmas as drivers of change – a way of being in relation to what-is-going-on (wigo)… the narrative formation is best approached by first elaborating the ‘process’, then saying what is the ‘outcome’ of this process as made apparent by the narrative formation, then asking what are the framing assumptions built into this relation between process and outcome. So far, then, we have the dominant framing of the originating situation as framed by the speaking-and-listening.
[4] Holding the relation between the dominant and the ‘other’ side of a dilemma is engendering, the point about each frame being ‘non-discursive’ being that both framings have preconscious/non-discursive elements. The i(a) formulation of the underlying impossibility is where we meet the unconscious and its effects – the relation to the discluded that, in being taken up, asks of us that we pay with our being…
Counter-resistance to such ‘paying with being’ is the ego’s insistence, or rather a libidinal organisation under ego management aka libidinal investment in the ego’s organisation.  Alternatively, if such counter-resistance is not ‘owned’ by the ego, then it remains a super-egoic investment that has not yet been worked through. It is the relation to what lies behind the relation to an impossibility that is organised by this egoic or super-egoic investment, and which is the plus-de-jouir put into question by the plus-one process…
[5] It is the imaginarisation of this experienced impossibility that is the i(a) of an underlying (drive) structure of repetition that gives us some clue as to what is Really going on (wiRgo). Making common cause around this i(a) is how a network intervention can begin to be formulated.
[6] Any giving up of jouissance is always of a partial jouissance. What is being defended though, leading to the disclusion dynamic, is the plus-de-jouir. This is the relation to wiRgo. Note in the plus-one diagram that the 2-3-4 relation is the discursive practice with its implied ‘objects’, while the relation to wiRgo is organised by the 1-4-2 relation. These two triangles are both present in the Lacanian discourse that describes the subject’s double subjection… the dominance of the discursive/non-discursive frame secures a particular way of taking up double subjection.

Feb 052015

There has been a thread running on the ISPSO listserve, triggered originally by the recent tragic events at Charlie in Paris. I have found this ISPSO thread impossible to read as a dialogue, now with nearly 60 members making over 150 postings. Something that makes no sense has been stimulating us to find a way to speak about it, the continuing insistence of which I have been greatly appreciating.

The listserve thread
I have been struck by the different ways in which the issue of differences has come up, some examples are listed below [1]. These appear to me to be asking for a different kind of work from us. What might this be?

A psychoanalyst is used to listening to the speaking of an analysand and attending to the relation between what-is-being-said and the speaking-being of the analysand. This forms the basis of an interpretive relation to the unconscious. But on the listserve, there is no speaking-being, only a written trace of what-has-been-said. As I read a posting, I imagine the member speaking it, and am sometimes puzzled by the place from which the member appears (to me!) to be speaking. An impossibility then arises for me, because I only have the posting and the speaker’s relation to their posting is not accessible to me. In analytic work, this impossibility can be overcome by continuing sessions, but not with the listserve. So, assuming that what has appeared on the listserve is in some way relevant to ISPSO-as-an-organisation, how are we members to work with our different ways of reading what is important about difference?

Not working through differences as a defense against a real unconscious
This question leads me to consider how the relation between what-is-being-said and the speaker is like the relation between a ‘reading’ and all-that-has-been-written. Approached in this way, writing can include anything that has left a trace of its existence, and ‘to read’ is to make some sense of what is being read, to give it meaning. In Bion’s terms, the (m)other ‘contains’ by the way s/he ‘reads’ the child’s ‘writing’.

For me, the thread has raised the question of what happens when our ‘reading’ makes no sense. Do we say that there is something wrong with the writing, that it should be clearer; or do we question the way we are ‘reading’? The former leaves us unchallenged, or rather represses ‘other’ ways of reading. The latter challenges us to question the ways of reading to which we have become attached. By working through our attachment to particular ways of reading, however, we are eventually faced by what makes no sense. This relation to writing that makes no sense puts us in relation to a real unconscious.

My hypothesis is that not working through differences in our ways of ‘reading’ constitutes a defence against this real unconscious: don’t read what appears to make no sense and don’t speak to each other about what makes no sense! There is a lot happening in the world that suggests that our organisations are in real trouble. An interpretive approach may support the taking up of roles, but we need to work through our different ways of ‘reading’ in order to tackle what is making no sense of what is going on in our environments.

Why should we care?
The listserve thread has given us many instances of the de-subjectifying effects of discourses of (for example) science, capitalism and radicalising social movements. (‘De-subjectification’ is a process of diminishment and destruction of subjectivity). Psychoanalytic understanding runs counter to these effects through its focus on the subject. We need to understand these de-subjectifying effects not only on individuals within organisations, but on the very ways in which organisations themselves are able to sustain their existence.

We rightly ask what ISPSO may do for each of us as members, but we also need to ask what we might do for ISPSO in taking up this larger challenge, including that of how ISPSO sustains its own existence in relation to this real. Perhaps one place to start would be by getting serious about how we are to work through our attachments to different ways of reading.[2]


  • If we are all communicating with other ‘me’s’ we might collaborate to provide a container for thinking-into, despite significant differences of opinion. (Martin, Jan 13th)
  • Let us not turn the other of difference into the other of opposition. (Nina, Jan 14th)
  • We can´t look for an enemy inside us and the challenge will be to integrate all our feelings and thoughts and of course know about our differences and integrate them. (Manuel, Jan 14th)
  • My own feelings have given me insight into my own and others’ libidinal investment in these different narratives, I have felt these differences being respected or not, and I have felt afraid. (Philip, Jan 15th)
  • To quit in this case it makes me feel a strong difference that takes shape in these moments in between the ISPSO “owners” – in my mind – my association with owners is property, the proper members with many years of membership and the “new comers” that also hold – in my view – some kind of difference in who hugs the theory and who hugs the emotional side of the relationship with other organizations. (Gabriela, Jan 16th)
  • Another boundary is that between understanding and reflection and action, making a difference. As a socioanalyst, I struggle with that boundary. In our practice we each have these boundaries to negotiate and constantly work with. But as an organisation we need to study them. (Susan, Jan 18th)
  • We will, of course, not be able to avoid splitting. Our differences and humanity mean we are prone to it – if we believe in some psychoanalytic theory and the existence of an Unconscious (which I do) then we will be caught up by our defensive reactions and the challenge is to try and uncover and see if we can understand some of the (internal, intra and inter-psychic) conflicts. To do this we need to be able to free associate as well as to theorise. (Jo-anne, Jan 20th)
  • We can use the idea of splitting as a jumping off point for exploring the splits in our membership. We can then imagine how the differences in perceived power in our ISPSO reproduce the differences in power between for example people in the West and people in the developing world. The links between these associations are rooted in the connections between ideas and feelings in our mind, rather than in a search for evidence of causality in the objective world. […] If we persist in this way of thinking we are likely to miss some important causal connections, which we can only discover by searching empirically. (Larry, Jan 21st)
  • While social psychology makes tremendous contributions to the understanding of human behavior, it does not address individual differences. N=1 may not have much relevance outside of clinical analytic circles (unless you are the 1). However, I have found that it is the least de-humanizing and most respectful of the personhood of each human when engaged in direct clinical work and, ultimately, in understanding the human condition. (Diane, Jan 21st)
  • On the question of the listserve interactions specifically, I am reminded of two pieces of work by Eric Miller regarding the degree to which personal identity can be used in service of the work task; and the withdrawal of identity when organisations become too rigid around culture – essential repressing difference and potential for change. (Kevin, Jan 24th)
  • At these times I feel faced by something beyond me, that I can’t understand, usually embedded in cultural differences which confound me. The challenge for me is how I can then keep working, or find a way to sustain a rapport, with people who are using archetypal frameworks with which I can’t identify, nor sometimes able to morally accept. (Miranda, Jan 25th)
  • Differences attributed to gender may include cognition/intuition, maternal/paternal authority, vertical/lateral relations, competition/collaboration. There is much literature about the difficulties faced by women in leadership roles, as discussed on the listserve late last year. There is also an increasing amount of literature about flatter structures of organisation requiring leadership that is distributed, vulnerable, collaborative (i.e. feminine) …and yet it often implies we should embrace these feminine attributes at the expense of more masculine ones. In the dream, the brooms are together – side-by-side – and, for me, represent gender complementarity and reciprocity that is not only useful, but necessary. (Nuala, Feb 2nd)

[2] Related to this are the questions raised in an earlier blog on the future work of ISPSO

Jan 072014

The theory of the enterprise developed based on a largely static and ‘closed’ ontology. This meant that the top management of such an enterprise was assumed to be committed to a form of mental model aka Thirdness, reflecting founding assumptions and constraints established by them within the context of their communities of interest. This form of Thirdness authorised a particular way of composing asset structures appropriate to top management’s (top-down) definition of primary task, well described in terms of the boundaries associated with open systems thinking[1] and the dictates of pursuing sustainable competitive advantage.

Innovation involves enabling this ontology to give way to different ontologies rooted in different processes and values[2]. This means that the asset structures have to be decomposable and capable of re-composition within different mental models[3].  Innovation that does this is disruptive.  This blog considers the effects of such innovation on an individual’s double subjection when it takes them ‘outside’ their existing forms of Thirdness.

Going ‘outside’ existing forms of Thirdness
In the turbulent environments identified by Emery and Trist[4], the failure by an enterprise to accept disruptive innovation prevents it from engaging in the kinds of dynamic adaptation demanded of it by these environments – resisting the situational resistance of the client-customers demanding change, or counter-resisting.  Dynamic adaptation involves adopting new perspectives on the nature of competition as dynamic specialisation [5] and it involves innovation becoming part of the ‘normal’ way of doing business instead of being left to a separate world of ‘entrepreneurs’[3]. This means that the forms of existential anxiety precipitated by the going ‘outside’ existing forms of Thirdness – the underlying driver of counter-resistance – have to become the new  ‘normal’.  In turbulent environments, the effect of counter-resistance is to block dynamic adaptation.

Going ‘outside’ existing forms of Thirdness is not just a matter of working across boundaries under conditions in which the dominance of the vertical over the horizontal can no longer be assumed [6]. For relations across such boundaries to be effective, shared mental models have to emerge in the inter-subjective spaces ultimately able to sustain social institutions[7]. From the perspective of the subject of the enterprise, these will involve subjection to new forms of Thirdness[8].

Spanning Disjunction
Both hierarchical and community systems may be characterised by the ‘Thirdness’ implicit in the way they cohere, even though the source of the mental models in each case may be different. Thus with hierarchically-defined roles, the source of Thirdness will ultimately be the founding assumptions and constraints of the enterprise to which those working for it are subjected ‘vertically’ through their employment.  With community organisations, however, the shared mental model is more likely to have emerged from individuals engaging with a situation in which two-way co-creating is taking place ‘horizontally’, so that the shaping assumptions and constraints emerge from the situation itself. A potential disjunction arises between these, therefore, derived from the disjoint nature of their respective sources (i.e. founding origin versus present situation)[9].

One perspective on this potential disjunction is to be found in the inter-subjective approach used by Susan Long, which argues that these disjoint forms of subjection ultimately reflect gendered forms of identification[10]. Another perspective is to be found in writing about ‘treatment resistance’.  This form of resistance arises, for example, as a consequence of a therapist rigidly holding to procedure, as though the basis of staff authority was synonymous with the form of Thirdness appropriate to a therapeutic session, instead of working with the patient to build a shared Thirdness emerging from their working alliance in the patient’s situation[11].  The patient’s resistance is situational resistance, and it evidences this disjunction in which the therapist’s rigid holding-to-procedure constitutes counter-resistance.

Within the context of an enterprise, a similar potential disjunction may be found in the study of disruptive innovation in which values and processes are introduced that disrupt those of the existing enterprise[12]. An existing enterprise will conserve its established ways of doing things in the same way that the therapist might conserve existing ways of engaging in a therapeutic process: in conserving its own forms of Thirdness, the enterprise excludes other forms, restricting the possible forms of relationship it can sustain with potential customers. The enterprise is conserving the vertical relation to its founding assumptions and constraints (‘counter-resistance’), while ‘situational resistance’ appears on the side of the customer-client as demands for change.  The disjunction corresponds to two forms of resistance, therefore, the employees insisting on their roles and the client-customers insisting on their needs.

Counter-resistance is always on the side of the supplier-provider

Ontological assumptions are made every time a signifier-signified relation is asserted within the context of some form of Thirdness. Double subjection means that in addition to the socially recognisable forms of metonymy and metaphor through which these signifier-signified relations are organised, there are also the ontological assumptions and constraints imposed by an unconscious lexicon[13].  We can therefore approach disruptive innovation in terms of three kinds of disruption to an existing form of Thirdness that are cumulative in their effects:

  • First comes a breakdown in a signifying relation, so that what was previously felt to be a ‘true’ signifying statement about what-is-being-experienced is no longer experienced as true.
  • Second comes inter-subjective disruption, in which what was previously felt to be a shared organisation of relationships between signifiers defining an inter-subjective space is no longer experienced as shared, thus changing what is felt to be true.

From the supply-side perspective of an existing form of Thirdness, to avoid such disruptions would be to avoid errors of  ‘correspondence’ and ‘coherence/consistency’ respectively[14], which would constitute the ‘conscious’ errors in unintentional errors and unconscious valency.  The third kind of disruption is the one that leads to existential anxiety, the avoidance of which would be to avoid the third kind of ‘decidability’ error, corresponding to ‘unintentional’ error, in which the subject is no longer clear what-to-do in response to a demand:

  • Third comes ontological disruption, in which the unconscious lexicon of object-relating behaviours is invalidated in some way. This third form of disruption is to the kinds of entity that constitute the underlying world itself, to the kinds of interaction these entities have among themselves and to how the entities and their interaction modes change as a result of these interactions[2]. It is this form of disruption that is most associated with existential anxiety because it leads to the feeling of ‘not knowing where to start’.[15]

What happens when disruptive innovation challenges an individual’s double subjection by taking them ‘outside’ their existing forms of Thirdness?  Errors of this third kind, through staying within what is consciously known, constitute unintentional errors. Such errors, in defending the subject against anxiety, resist aka conserve the subject’s identifications. While the first two of these errors may be consciously resisted through holding on to existing forms of Thirdness, resisting the third ontological disruption is most problematic because it is unconscious, disrupting the very forms of Thirdness that currently give meaning. Defenses against anxiety thus constitute counter-resistance, and the forms they take include repression, exclusion, expulsion and attacks against other forms of Thirdness on the basis of their political in-correctness![16]

What is the alternative response to ontological disruption?  By adopting an ethic that we can see modeled in the pursuit of extreme sports: to engage in the work of mastering a medium through mastering fear. What is at stake in situational resistance is courage.[17]

[1] Social defenses against anxiety emphasise the use of such Thirdness as a container. The emerging difficulties with this understanding of the organisation of an enterprise are described in what is happening to boundaries, authority and containment?. An account of how these defenses arise is given in Getting caught ‘inside’ particular forms of Thirdness as an effect of unconscious valency. This understanding of organisation considers resistance on the side of the supplier-provider through its conservation of identity, contrasting this supply-side resistance with demand-side situational resistance. See Situational Resistance: challenges to the supply-side conservation of identity. Identifying ‘true’ resistance with the demand-side in this way renders supply-side resistance as counter-resistance.
[2] Lane, D. A. and R. R. Maxfield (2005). “Ontological uncertainty and innovation.” Journal of Evolutionary Economics 15.
[3] Foss, N. J. and P. G. Klein (2012). Organizing Entrepreneurial Judgement: A New Approach to the Firm, Cambridge University Press.
[4] Emery, F. E. and E. Trist (1965). “The Causal Texture of Organizational Environments.” Human Relations 18: 21-32.
[5] Hagel III, J. and J. Seely Brown (2005). The Only Sustainable Edge: Why Business Strategy Depends on Productive Friction and Dynamic Specialization. Boston, MA, Harvard Business School Press.
[6] Boxer, P. J. (2013a). Leading organisations without boundaries: ‘quantum’ organisation and the work of making meaning. ISPSO Conference. Oxford, UK.
[7] Long, S. (2006). “Organizational Defenses Against Anxiety: What Has Happened Since the 1995 Jaques Paper?” International Journal of Applied Psychoanalytic Studies 3(4): 279-295. p285
[8] Described further in Thirdness, also see Murphey, M. G. (1993). The Development of Peirce’s Philosophy, Hackett Publishing Company. and Benjamin, J. (2009). “A relational psychoanalysis perspective on the necessity of acknowledging failure in order to restore the facilitating and containing features of the intersubjective relationship (the shared third).” International Journal of Psychoanalysis 90: 441-450.
[9] This is the third dilemma of affiliation versus alliance – see the diasporic way.
[10] Benjamin, J. (1988). The Bonds of Love: Psychoanalysis, Feminism and the Problem of Domination. New York, Pantheon Books.  I take up this issue of gender in THE environment does not ex-sist.
[11] Muller, J. (2011). Why the pair needs the third. Treatment Resistance and Patient Authority: The Austen Riggs Reader. New York, Norton Press: 97-120.p98.
[12] Christensen, C. M. and M. Overdorf (2000). “Meeting the Challenge of Disruptive Change.” Harvard Business Review(March-April).
[13] This unconscious lexicon is the . -complex of unconscious valencies through which conscious constructions are constrained by processes of unconscious symbolic equation. See getting caught ‘inside’ particular forms of Thirdness as an effect of unconscious valency
[14] Judging errors from within a particular form of Thirdness, like conducting science from within a particular paradigm, is to define ‘error’ from within an existing form of discursive practice – see what is happening to ‘boundaries, ‘authority’ and ‘containment’? –   but not from the place of the disruptor.
[15] It is this kind of disruption that is associated with paradigm change, resistance to which is through the pursuit of degenerative research programmes. See also Kuhn, T. S. (1962). The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, University of Chicago. and Lakatos, I. (1970). Falsification and the methodology of scientific research programmes. Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge. I. Lakatos and A. Musgrave. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press: 91-196.
[16] See footnotes [1] and [2] in getting caught ‘inside’ particular forms of Thirdness as an effect of unconscious valency. The success of these forms of counter-resistance transform turbulent environments into vortical environments – see must we fall into the vortex?
[17] An insight into what this is about in the context of climbing is to be found in ‘Extreme Alpinism: climbing light, fast and high’. By Mark F. Twight and James Martin. The Mountaineers: Seattle 1999 “Mark has climbed with many of the world’s best alpinists. During his apprenticeship he learned the open secret that at the edge of the possible, the rules and techniques of climbing become quite different from the nostrums aimed at beginners. Mark and his partners have tested the conventional wisdom and modified if when they found it wanting.” and “To climb through fear, to point fear up instead of down, you need to maintain the desire and strength, the will and discipline, to go until the end of the pitch. If you are scared, reinforce your confidence by biting off what you know you can chew. Successfully swallowing it will encourage you to take another bite, another pitch. Try to keep sight of the long view. Any time your mind can accept a bigger bite, go for the top in one big gulp. Preserve your drive. Don’t sketch around or get psyched out or consider lowering off to relinquish the lead. Trust in your skill, and give yourself up to the action.

Dec 232013

Bion uses the notion of a “matrix of thought which lies within the confines of the basic group, but not within the confines of the individual.”[1],p79 It is this matrix of thought with which the individual may have some valency and which becomes manifest through the individual’s participation in basic assumption behavior within the group. This matrix of thought corresponds to an organisation of object-relating – the second axis of ‘loosening’ described in the previous blog on ‘sophisticated’ group mentality. The individual’s relationship to both axes of this matrix of thought is modified by a process of sophistication, but what is this process?

Basic assumption behavior is never ‘not there’. If it is not being acted from, it is through having been transformed by a process of sophistication. This transformation cannot, however, be total. There will always be some aspects of group mentality on each axis in which there is no ‘play’ i.e. that have not been ‘loosened’. If we think of the stuffing of a mattress as made from behaviors of symbolisation, then its quilting points are the behaviors based on symbolic equation (the first axis), and the organisation of these quilting points will be that organisation of object-relating that has not been loosened by the process of sophistication. In terms of this metaphor, the organisation of object-relating offered by the group makes a mattress which can support some aspect of the individual’s being.[2] To the extent that an individual subjects himself or herself to a group mentality, s/he is therefore constraining himself or herself along both axes – by both its ‘quilting points’ and by their organisation i.e. by constraints on how the quilting points may be used in relation to each other.

In addition to being subject to his or her unconscious, an individual is likely to be subject to numbers of mentalities, with different valencies to each one of them. The group mentality that characterises any one of these experiences of being ‘contained’ will have placed some constraints on the way sense is made of the individual’s experience,  through the ways in which some ways of attributing meaning (i.e. signifier-signified relationships) remain non-negotiable (i.e. have no ‘play’ in them). What happens, then, when an individual has a relationship to more than one group mentality where there are inconsistencies between the ways in which their respective quilting points are organised? For example, the way Bert is expected to provide social care by his organisation may not be consistent with the way Great-Aunt Agatha expects to be supported in her twilight years! Bert may want to fix mealtimes and organise social events around them while Agatha wants to reverse this – fixing the social events and organising meals around them.[3] How are these potential inconsistencies between different group mentalities resolved within Bion’s way of thinking?

Hierarchy as a way of banishing inconsistencies
As Bion said, “when a group meets, it meets for a specific task, and in most human activities today co-operation has to be achieved by sophisticated means“.[1],p129 During the course of his text, however, he replaced the term ‘sophisticated group’ with ‘work group’[1],p86, with the definition of a work group being uniquely derived from hierarchy as the source of definition for its boundary conditions, i.e. as derived from primary task.[4] Subgroups then appeared in three different forms, depending on what level of system he was talking about:

  1. Group: When writing about a small group, Bion identified subgroups as emerging through schism reflecting basic assumption behavior.
  2. Institution: When writing about an institutional context, Bion identified two conditions for internal sub-groups: that they should be free from having rigid boundaries (i.e. not centred on any of its members nor on itself), and that their value to the main group should be generally recognised.[1],p17 It was this thinking that evolved into the Institutional Project within the group-relations conference.
  3. Society: When he goes on to talk about specialised workgroups within society, he again refers to them as specialised sub-groups dealing with particular kinds of basic assumption behavior on behalf of society as a whole system.

These three kinds of sub-group fall under a vertical presumption of hierarchy, in the sense that they are each a subordinate part of a larger system. These vertical relations therefore enable inconsistencies to be removed by reference to an authorised larger context, from which the formation of sub-groups may be derived.[5] (In the case of group relations conference within the Tavistock Tradition, this authorisation comes ultimately from the conference director.)

To these we must add a fourth kind of relation between groups, however, identified by Trist as a characteristic of the horizontal cross-boundary relations within turbulent environments. These were the relation of a work group to a referent group, the horizontal relationships to which could give rise to inconsistencies in the relations between object-signifiers and their organisation – mattresses with different organisations of quilting point.

The challenge presented by the relation to ‘referent groups’
Emery and Trist understood that open-systems models could deal with the equifinality of material exchange processes between an enterprise and elements in its environment but not “at all with those processes in the environment itself which were the determining conditions of the exchanges”. Furthermore, the laws connecting parts of the environment to each other were themselves “often incommensurate with those laws connecting parts of the enterprise to each other, or even with those which govern the exchanges[6]. Following this, Emery proposed restricting the term “socio-technical” to ‘operative’ enterprises engaged in material exchange processes[7], distinguishing them from ‘regulative’ enterprises.

Trist further proposed that these regulative enterprises be described as being “concerned directly with the psychosocial ends of their members and instilling and maintaining or changing cultural values and norms, the power and the position of interest groups, or the social structure itself[8]. Trist called these regulative organisations ‘referent’ because they were defined by particular inter-organisational relations and boundary conditions within a larger ecosystem, functioning as a ‘reference group’ for the operative enterprise supplying them. Whereas the focus of the ‘operative’ enterprise was on exchange processes across its boundaries, the ‘regulative’ or ‘referent’ enterprise focused on the way its own interests were served within the context of the larger ecosystem[9].

Not only were the laws constraining the behaviors of these referent groups often incommensurate, but there were also many of them, each one demanding a different relationship with an ‘operative’ enterprise.[10] How, then, were these inconsistencies across the boundaries of an organisation to be resolved?

A four-term relation in which the organisation of symbolic equations corresponds to ‘ego’ prevents us from considering inconsistencies in the organisation of relations between object-signifiers arising from different forms of organisation of symbolic equation – different forms of mattress with different organisations of quilting point. To be able to do this we need to replace the singular ‘ego’ with multiple formations of mentality or ‘container’, later addressed by Bion in terms of multiple forms of ‘vertex’.[11] If we replace the term ‘ego’ with the word ‘formation’, we can begin to consider the subject’s unconscious valency for different ‘formations’.

Is Bion’s thinking able to address this problem of inconsistencies?
The 4-term relation between subject, ‘formation’, object-signifier and signified-object includes signified-objects that are experienced as ‘external’ in the sense of observable by others, and as ‘internal’ in the sense of being experienced in relation to the unconscious. In these terms, the ‘formation’ is organising meaning both in relation to the unconscious and also to the ‘social’, reflecting a double subjection. The organisation of quilting points in a ‘formation’ gives us a way of thinking about this double subjection in terms of how the organisation of relations between object-signifiers may also be over-determined by their relation to the unconscious, thus restricting their use for the purposes of sophisticated symbolisation in ways that indicate unconscious valencies.[12] But in order to articulate both double subjection and also how variations in the form taken by this double subjection are reflected in the relations between subjects, we will need a more complex structure through which a ‘sophisticated’ group mentality may relate to the ‘otherness’ of a referent group.[13]

The replacement of  ‘sophisticated group’ by ‘work group’, however, elides the problem of inconsistencies between formations by staying within the ‘open systems’ definition of the organisation and its overall primary task.  Does this make Bion’s formulation unable to address the problem of inconsistencies?  Bion may have limited his reading Freud’s work, but this did not make his reading inconsistent with a more complex structure able to address the problem.  Seeing how to take Bion’s reading further will make it possible to build on the experience accumulated within the field of group relations.  This is the question I begin to take up in the next blog, looking more closely at how Bion uses the word ‘container‘ in terms of the words ‘formation’, ‘signifier’ and ‘signified’.

[1] Bion, W. R. (1959). Experiences in Groups. London, Tavistock Publications.
[2] A reflexive example of such quilting points and their organisation would be the particular ways in which the terms ‘primary task’, ‘authority’, ‘leadership’, ‘role’ and ‘boundaries’ are used by group relations conference within the AK Rice and Tavistock Traditions.  The example is ‘reflexive’ because these terms are amongst theroots of these elaborations, while at the same time being questioned as to their adequacy for dealing with organisations that must respond to their clients one-by-one. See, for example, what is happening to ‘boundaries’, ‘authority’ and ‘containment’?
[3] This is the example taken up in the paper on ‘engendering boundary’, in which boundary is primarily a relationship to otherness rather than a secondary effect of a relationship to hierarchy.
[4] The early use of the concept of the primary task was to account for the role of the supervisor in managing the immediate boundary conditions of the worker-task relation within an organisational structure (Emery, F. E. (1993). Characteristics of Socio-Technical Systems. The Social Engagement of Social Science Volume II: The Socio-Technical Perspective. J. Fichtelberg, H. Murray and B. Trist, University of Pennsylvania Press). This worker-task relation constituted a bounded workgroup if the workgroup could be responsibly autonomous within definable boundaries of technology, territory and/or time (Miller, E. J. (1959). “Technology, Territory and Time: The Internal Differentiation of Complex Production Systems.” Human Relations(12): 243-272).
[5] It follows from these hierarchical presumptions that the primary task of a work group (and therefore its boundary conditions) are assumed to have been defined by reference to super-ordinate definitions of primary task. It is perhaps not suprising that, once Bion replaced ‘sophisticated group’ by ‘work group’, that notions of containment should become so associated with boundary conditions. I continue to use ‘sophisticated’ in order to avoid this conflation.
[6] Emery, F. E. and E. Trist (1965). “The Causal Texture of Organizational Environments.” Human Relations 18: 21-32.
[7] Emery, F. E. (1993). Characteristics of Socio-Technical Systems. The Social Engagement of Social Science Volume II: The Socio-Technical Perspective. J. Fichtelberg, H. Murray and B. Trist, University of Pennsylvania Press.
[8] Trist, E. L. (1981). The Evolution of Socio-Technical Systems. Perspectives on Organizational Design and Behaviour. A. F. Van de Ven and W. F. Joyce. New York, John Wiley.
[9] Trist, E. (1983). “Referent Organizations and the Development of Inter-Organizational Domains.” Human Relations 36(3): 269-284.
[10] This leads not only for a form of organisation that can address demands one-by-one, as in ‘organisations without boundaries’, but also the there being no such thing as an ‘environment’ in general, as in ‘THE environment does not exist’.
[11] The concept of ‘vertex’ is introduced in Bion, W. R. (1965). Transformations. London, Heinemann. The difficulty with using this concept arises from its roots in its reading of Freud’s project in terms of the beta-alpha ‘screen’. See ‘Bion, Lacan and the thing-in-itself’. This difference is written about at greater length in ‘anxiety and innovation’.
[12] As Hanna Segal points out, there is a long continuum between abstract symbolisation (at the ‘top’ of Bion’s grid, and full-on symbolic equation in which the object ‘is’ some aspect of an ‘internal’ experience. There are varying degrees of over-determination or ‘fixing’ of meaning-equation, therefore (i.e. ‘fixing’ of the relation between signifier and signified).
[13] In a later blog we take up this issue of the structuring of double subjection. In order to do so, it has to examine how this was not possible using Bion’s reading of Freud’s Project. (see footnote 5 in the earlier blog considering what was happening to ‘boundaries’, ‘authority’ and ‘containment’).

Nov 272013

The previous blog examined how the process of symbol formation could be read using a 4-term relation between subject, ego, object-signifier and signified-object. In this translation, the ego was a particular organisation of object-relating.  It raised the question of how Bion understood a sophisticated relation between individual and group mentality, concluding that we needed a better understanding of the relation of these mentalities to Bion’s ‘container’ in order to understand the subject’s double subjection both to the unconscious and to the social. Why should we care? Because we want to understand how unconscious valencies can give us a way of understanding the effects of libidinal investment in particular organisations of object-relating and the ‘unintentional errors’ that they can give rise to.

The relation between mentalities and ‘containing’
Bion defined group mentality as “the unanimous expression of the will of the group, contributed to by the individual in ways of which he is unaware, influencing him disagreeably whenever he thinks or behaves in a manner at variance with the basic assumptions. It is thus a machinery of intercommunication that is designed to ensure that group life is in accordance with the basic assumptions“. His definition of group culture followed as “a function of the conflict between the individual’s desires and the group mentality“. He therefore defined the problem facing a group leader to be “how to mobilize emotions associated with the basic assumptions without endangering the sophisticated structure that appears to secure to the individual his freedom to be an individual while remaining a member of the group.”[1],p56

Organization and structure were the sophisticated product of co-operation between members of the group, while a group acting on a basic assumption needed no organization or co-operation, individual distinctiveness being “no part of life in a group acting on the basic assumptions[1],p122. Bion used the word ‘valency’ to refer to this “capacity for spontaneous instinctive co-operation in the basic assumptions“, using it to refer to the readiness of an individual “to enter into combination with a group in making and acting on the basic assumptions“.[1],p103 The counterpart in the basic-assumption group of sophisticated co-operation was therefore valency, “a spontaneous, unconscious function of the gregarious quality in the personality of man“.[1],p122 Group mentality was therefore manifest as an organisation of object-relating, its sophistication reflecting its independence from taking spontaneous, instinctual forms.

Bion further defined the proto-mental system as “one in which physical and psychological or mental are undifferentiated“, a matrix “from which spring the phenomena which at first appear to be discrete feelings only loosely associated with one another“, and from which “emotions proper to the basic assumption flow to reinforce, pervade, and, on occasion, to dominate the mental life of the group“. Inoperative basic assumptions were confined within this proto-mental system, “victims of a conspiracy between the sophisticated group and the operating basic assumption“. [1],p89-90 In advancing this concept of the proto-mental system, Bion was trying to account for “the solidity with which all the emotions of one basic assumption seemed to be welded together, and at the same time to provide a concept that would account for the whereabouts of inoperative basic assumptions that were obviously felt by a group to be potentially active, and must therefore be considered to be ‘somewhere’.”[1],p91

The individual’s relation to the proto-mental system was therefore a relation to his or her unconscious, with the strength of valency describing the extent to which particular organisations of object-relating gave expression to particular ways of being in relation to the unconscious. The progression from basic-assumption to sophisticated group behavior was thus conceptually equivalent to the progression in individual mentality from symbolic equation to the creative use of symbolisation. How are we to think about this organisation of object-relating?

Such a progression in group behavior also demanded that the individual mentality be capable of ‘containing’ the group dynamics from a depressive rather than a paranoid-schizoid position.  As Hanna Segal observed in a 1979 postscript to her paper on symbol formation (my additions to reflect a 4-term reading in red):

Since writing this paper, and largely under the influence of Bion’s work on the relationship between the container and the contained, I have come to think that it is not projective identification per se that leads to concretization. One has to take into account the particular relationship between the projected part (the signified) and the object projected into (the signified-object operating as a signifier): the container (the signifier) and the contained (the signified).[2],p60

The “object projected into” in the form of the mother was able to give meaning to the projected part (of the infant).  This mother-as-able-to-give-meaning was operating as a ‘container’ that the infant, to the extent that s/he was able to introject it as an object-signifier, ultimately provided a mental space within which the infant could ‘contain’ anxiety for himself or herself.  Except that what is being introjected is an organisation of object-relating.

Hanna Segal later addresses this introjected organisation of object-relating in writing bout the function of dreams – a relationship within the infant between the introjected object-signifier of mother-as-container and the signified-objects ‘contained’ by it:

The infant deals with discomfort and anxiety by projecting it into the mother (the signified-object operating as a signifier). This is not only a phantasy operation. A good mother responds to the infant’s anxiety. A mother capable of containing projective identifications can transform the projections in her own unconscious and respond appropriately, thereby lessening the anxiety and giving meaning to it. In this situation, the infant introjects the maternal object (i.e. the ability to give meaning to signified-objects operating as signifiers) as a mother-container capable of containing anxiety, conflict, etc. and elaborating it meaningfully. This internalized mother-container provides a mental space… [3],p93

The function of this mother-container, being the ability to give meaning to signified-objects operating as signifiers, involves organising the relationships between signifiers-in-relation-to-signifieds in a way that is particular to the embodied situation of the infant.  We encountered it in the previous two blogs on the missing subject-ego relation and reading a 4-term relation as corresponding to the place of the ego in the relation between subject, ego, object-signifier and signified-object. To follow Bion, therefore, this introjected mother-container establishes a capacity for a mental space capable of exhibiting mentality in the way it ‘contains’, becoming manifest as a particular way of organising the relationships between object-signifiers and between organisations of object-signifiers and signified-objects.

To understand how there can be an unconscious valency for this unconscious organisation as well as for particular forms of symbolic equation within it, we need to look more closely at its relation to the notions of ‘superego’ and ‘ego ideal’.  In particular we are looking at an organisation of relationships between object-signifiers implicit in the mother’s containing.  Thus alongside the gradual loosening of symbolic equation between object-signifiers and signified-objects, there may also be a loosening of an introjected organisation of the relations between object-signifiers which nevertheless may remain subject to some degree of unconscious constraint.[4] Understood in this way, we are dealing with two axes of ‘loosening’.[5]

I next consider how these two axes of ‘loosening’ get taken up in Bion’s understanding of the work group.[6]

[1] Bion, W. R. (1959). Experiences in Groups. London, Tavistock Publications.
[2] Segal, H. (1986[1957]). Notes on Symbol Formation. The Work of Hanna Segal: A Kleinian Approach to Clinical Practice. London, Free Association Books.
[3] Segal, H. (1986). The Function of Dreams. The Work of Hanna Segal: A Kleinian Approach to Clinical Practice. London, Free Association.
[4] For further elaboration on this, see ‘The Archaic Maternal Superego‘ by Leonardo Rodriguez Journal of the Centre for Freudian Analysis and Research Vol 7 Summer 1996.
[5] These two axes correspond to the two axes of anxiety – performance and difficulty – discussed in anxiety and innovation.
[6] In doing this, I am picking up on the work done by Barry Palmer in Grouping, published in French, R. and Vince, R (1999) Group Relations, Management and Organization, Oxford University Press.  Barry was developing a reflexive framework within which to consider different understandings of what a group ‘was’.  In what follows, I articulate a reading of Freud that shows the reflexive nature of his theory, in terms of which such a reflexive use of a framework may be understood.

Oct 142013

Consider the timespan of discretion within which a person takes up a role. The discretion can be expressed in terms of a span of complexity – the complexity being the scope of the circular linkages that have to be considered systemically in the execution of the role.  So a care worker, Bert, who is responsible for the way on which Great Aunt Agatha has a day out, will have some measure of discretion within which to fashion the number of activities that need to be synchronised with each other.[1]  A narrative of the day out will be formed within the context of the actors involved, but the actors (amongst whom will be Bert and Agatha) will themselves be subjected to the structures within which they exercised discretion in how the day is put together: diamond5To be subjected to structure is thus to be constrained to exercising choices within the context of these structures.[2,3]  Working psychoanalytically involves understanding that these structures are both physical and social in nature (for example the physical size of the van to get there but also when social processes make the van available for use), but that alongside these structures there are also unconscious structures, leading to a double subjection[4].

When Bert tries to understand what Great-Aunt Agatha really really wants,

  • He is not asking “what would you like to do today?”, since this would really be asking at the level of what narrative would Agatha like to be able to tell about the day.
  • Neither is he asking “tell me the criteria by which you would like me to organise today”, since anything that Agatha was able to say as an actor would be her espoused theory about what she likes to do – not necessarily wrong, but vulnerable to being mistaken nevertheless.
  • Neither is he asking “tell me the resource and social structures that I should assume as constraints in designing your day out”, since Bert’s job is not to assume such constraints in creating Agatha’s day out, but rather to find ways of working around such constraints as do exist in arriving at something appropriate.

Which brings us to the unconscious structures…

  • What Agatha really really wants is a day out that takes her to the edges of what she knows and understands…  something a little different and a little challenging but nevertheless satisfying. Not so easy to do in practice.[5]

So where does working forensically come in? To work forensically is to work backwards from a narrative in which things failed to live up to expectations, not working out the way they were expected to.  To work forensically is to ask what were the structures implicitly constraining the narrative that were missed or ignored – to learn from the hidden dilemmas that ‘killed’ what should have been a great idea! [6]

[1] This situation facing Bert in taking care of Great-Aunt Agatha is developed further in papers on THE environment does not exist, and organisations without boundaries.
[2] Some of the ways in which this structuring produces its effects are in architectures that integrate differentiated behaviours.
[3] These structuring effects do not fall equally on different actors, the point about strategy ceilings being that some structuring assumptions are put in place to serve the interests of certain actors over those of others… thus senior management and investors may may benefit very differently to customers.
[4] In effect, therefore, there are two ‘kinds’ of structure to which we are subjected, one ‘exo-structure’ familiar to the social scientists, the other an unconscious ‘endo-structure’. With double subjection comes, therefore, a question of the way we – as subjects – embody particular forms of relation between these structures – particular forms described by Lacan in terms of the four discourses.
[5] The challenge is to approach this in terms of a search for innovation rather than in terms of defences against anxiety – a difference explored more deeply in anxiety and innovation.
[6] In a sense this whole blog – together with its cousin blogs (asymmetric design and asymmetric leadership) – are riffing on how to think about this implicit relation to the structures to which we are doubly subjected…

Jul 232012

David Armstrong, in his 2012 Eric Miller Annual Memorial Lecture entitled ‘Terms of Engagement: Looking Backwards and Forwards at the Tavistock Enterprise’, spoke about what seemed to him most disturbing and challenging within the wider social field in which all our engagements are currently framed:

Might this perhaps be the 21st century’s version of ‘spiritual drift ‘, now leading communities into forms of dissociation, a withdrawal of social bonds, no less destructive of human capacities, in which an  unconsciously sensed psychological disinheritance (denial of the deeper human roots of well being) is dealt with through projection into others, third world operatives, young rioters, benefit claimants, the casualties of institutional and societal ‘defensiveness’?

David was speaking of the effects of maladaptive responses to turbulence introduced by Fred Emery in his 1967 paper: “The Next Thirty Years: concepts, methods and anticipations” i.e. superficiality, fragmentation and dissociation.  Emery argued that this maladaptation arose in response to an over-complex environment, and enabled its complexity to be down-graded.  But at what cost to us all? David’s lecture concluded with a call for new kinds of engagement to meet the particular challenge of our times, saying:

I am not convinced  that the ‘consultant lens’ is the appropriate way to frame such an engagement. For there is no way in which one can stand apart from one’s own societal dynamic; it infects oneself no less than the organisationally structured defense system, Isabel identified, infected the nurses. One needs to find and/or to make a different mode of what James Krantz refers to as ‘collaborative conversation’.

Something of the nature of this complexity can be seen in a recent comment by James Krantz concerning consulting practice:

I have been struggling with the question of boundaries in practically every arena for the last several years and, in particular, the declining relevance of the construct in light of how the world seems to be evolving.  This, in contrast to the central role the idea plays in socio-technical theory and systems psychodynamics.  I have been thinking for quite a while now about what social defenses mean in the context of networks and loosely-bounded configurations, about how we think about strategies of containment, and what it all means for authority relations.

The current problematic state of the concepts of Boundary, Authority and Containment refers back to David’s summary of the Tavistock legacy from the 50’s: “Bion’s explorations of group mentality, Eric Trist’s socio-technical breakthrough, Fred Emery’s introduction of open system theory, Ken Rice’s development of the concept of primary task, and Elliott Jaques’ and Isabel Menzies’account of social systems as a defense against anxiety“.

So what is happening to these concepts?  What follows is a brief summary of the challenges facing each concept and links to related material.

Boundary and primary task

When dealing with complex systems, what constitutes the scope of a system (i.e. what components are included in its description) depends on the properties of interest to the observer.  The way these properties are understood by the observer then depends on the resolution with which the system’s components are described (i.e. how finely distinguished they are from each other), and on the way the states of the system can be distinguished (i.e. how alternative configurations of the relationships between components can be distinguished from each other at a given resolution).   Emergence of properties at some level of scope, resolution and state of a system has no necessary relation to the one or more  accountability hierarchies superimposed on the behavior of that system’s components (see Alex Ryan’s paper – Emergence is coupled to scope, not level). ‘Boundary’ is therefore derived from primary task, it being derived form the observer’s definition of properties-of-interest.

When we speak of ‘ownership’ we do not start from properties-of-interest, but from a definition of boundary of a system defined by those system components over which an accountability hierarchy has direct control under all circumstances.  We can usefully distinguish this direct control within a boundary from contractual control within a perimeter.  This perimeter will include systems ‘outside’ the boundaries of direct control, over which control can only be exercised under particular contingent circumstances. Both forms of control, however, are exercised by a socio-technical system i.e. a social system that has been given the authority to exercise them over particular system components.

So what is ‘a problem with boundaries’?  It is a problem with the relationship between the way ‘ownership’ and ‘properties-of-interest’ are defined, there being no necessary relationship between them.

Authority and open systems

The behaviour of an ‘open system’ depends on the properties of systems ‘outside’ its boundary as defined by its accountability hierarchy. Extending its control to a perimeter through the use of contract may enable the hierarchy to limit the effects on its behaviors arising from its openness. The definitions of ‘boundary’ and ‘perimeter’ are made with respect to an accountability hierarchy that has sovereignty not only over its owned and contracted system components, but also over the social system that exercises control over these components.  For this sovereignty to be effective, the  social system must conform to the hierarchy’s definition of primary task, evidenced by a system-of-meaning qua discursive practice1 that authorises those behaviours consistent with that definition.  This social system encounters an ‘edge’ when it encounters a system-of-meaning other to its own (i.e. in some sense alien), but with which it must work. Such ‘edges’ have the potential to require of the accountability hierarchy that it surrender some aspects of its sovereignty.Authority, then, is an effect of a relationship of obedience to that particular form of ‘thirdness’ constituted by the discursive practice which is anticipated to be performative from the perspective of the hierarchy.  It contrasts to the authority emerging from the demands of a particular situation that may require quite different properties to those anticipated by the hierarchy.

So what does this mean for authority relations?  It means that there are always two bases of authority – one rooted in the received ‘discursive practice’, the other in the nature of the properties demanded by the immediate situation.3 To the extent that there is a relationship between them, it is because of the way the individual holds them in relation to each other.4

Containment and group mentality

Bion understood the container-contained relation to be the means by which fears associated with beta-elements could be modified. Internalised as alpha-function, this container-contained relation manifested the ‘K-link’. Thus to ‘contain’ the other was to return meaning to the other for what the other experienced as ‘bizarre’, or anxiety-inducing.  This container-contained relation enabled unconscious processes to be given meaning in consciousness through a work of transformation, but it took place within the context of a ‘vertex’ – a way of organising meaning.5  And to the extent that this work of transformation did not take place amongst the members of a group, enabling the group to engage in a ‘work-group mentality’, the group became captive to ‘basic assumption mentality’. 

So how are we to think about strategies for containment?  The basis of the difference between the basic-assumption and work-group modes of functioning lies in the group’s relation to reality both in the sense of what-is-going-on (wigo), and also in the sense of an experienced psychic reality.  But Bion’s arbiter between different vertices organising meaning was a truth function operating within the individual.6   What if we accept the dilemmas inherent in the definition of system and authority, and assume that they must apply also to the consultant. As David points out above, what if the consultant cannot escape being implicated in the way these dilemmas are held?  We must assume that there is no necessary reason why the vertices within which consultant, client and others organise truth can be brought into alignment.  And to the extent that they can, we must address explicitly the interests being served in so doing.

Implications for engagement and social defenses against anxiety

It is this question of ‘in whose interests’ that brings us back to David’s challenge concerning the way we engage with the complexity around us.  We are situated within a socio-technical ecosystem, with the strategy of containment offered by any one sovereign entity within that ecosystem being at best partial.  Strategies of containment depend on the way a particular sovereign entity contains the individual.  So in understanding its organisation as a defense against anxiety for an individual taking up a role in its life, we are privileging its particular vertex qua way of organising meaning for that individual. But within an ecosystem, that entity is also taking up a role in the lives of others in its environment, putting its vertex into question. No surprise, therefore that those whose identities are being supported by the particular entity should prefer to reduce the complexity in its environment to fit their interests, rather than to accept the challenges which that environment presents to their own identifications.  Thus ‘social defense thinking’ allows us to think about the way a particular individual’s identity is supported by an existing organisation of meaning, but not to think about the relationship of that identity to those of other organisations of meaning within the larger ecosystem.7 Thus while ‘social defense thinking’ may enable us to consider how new possibilities may be emerging for how identities may be supported by “new images of social organization, with different rules, grammars, rituals, and practices reshaping the projective landscape of organizations”8, it does not tell us how the processes of identification may themselves be being changed through changing ‘terms of engagement’.

So how are we to think about the implications for engagement?  For Freud, the alignment of ideal and vertex was a secondary identification built on the foundational identifications of primary process.  But Freud added a third identification that was an identification to a symptom “based upon the possibility or desire of putting oneself in the same situation [as another]”.9 This third identification offers a way out of the individual’s dependence on a sovereign enclave of ideals in considering their relation to the ‘other’ – a relation that may or may not be transformative if pursued, depending on how that ‘otherness’ is worked with. This way out moves the individual from trying to ‘do what’s right’ for the other to at least ‘doing no harm’ to the other’s environment, and beyond that to the possibility of creating value in the other’s environment, some part of which can benefit the organisation – from a one-sided working under sovereign norms to a multi-sided problematising of the role of sovereignty itself in the lives of others. The terms of engagement that this third identification implies are those of continuous innovation in relation to that which is particularly valued by the other – a privileging of an ethic of engagement with the ‘otherness’ of the other and of the forms of organisation that support this.10

[1] ‘Discursive Practice’ is a reference to Foucault’s understanding of the relationship between Power and Knowledge, in which the power arises from obedience to particular forms of knowledge. A discursive practice is defined by the relationships between four things:

  • The objects about which it speaks
  • The concepts through which it thinks about and operates on its objects
  • The ‘enunciative modalities‘ in which speaking is recognised as being authoritative, and
  • The unifying ‘strategies‘ or ‘themes‘ through which the discursive practice is kept ‘whole’ (described by Kuhn in terms of what renders science ‘normal’.)

The relationship of this discursive practice to any given speech act is therefore one of ‘thirdness’, ‘thirdness’ being a way of understanding how a speech act is itself rendered performative.
[2] This distinction between boundary-perimeter-edge is therefore relative to a sovereign accountability hierarchy.
[3] This is the distinction between the two meanings of ‘auctoritas’ in by what authority are we to follow – authority by recognition of ownership, and by recognition of origination.
[4] This is the tension between mission and ethics – what is owed to the accountability hierarchy versus what is owed to the situation.
[5] Bion placed the contact barrier between the unconscious (aka the pre-conscious/protomental) and the conscious, with the container-contained alpha-functioning progressively transforming the relation to the unconscious (See Bion’s Learning from Experience p17ff). This understanding of the contact-barrier differed from Freud’s, for whom the neuronal contact barriers distributed quantities of affect generated by experiencing (whether endogenous or exogenous) through a process of complexification with their entangled qualities.  The distinction Freud made in his Project was between the pre-conscious and the radically unconscious, and was between the complexification of thing-presentation in the -complex and word-presentation in the -system. It is this more complex reading of the relationship between the conscious and the unconscious that is taken up by Lacan. For more on this, see Bion, Lacan and the thing-in-itself
[6] I draw here on the paper by French and Simpson in Human Relations on The ‘work group’: Redressing the balance in Bion’s Experiences in Groups; and on Grotstein’s A Beam of Intense Darkness in speaking of the importance of the quest for truth in Bion.
[7] One way of understanding power therefore (in the sense of power corrupting) is this ability to defer and/or repress consideration of other organisations of meaning, in which demands from the environment are assumed to be organised in a way that is symmetric to its own organisation (for example, see asymmetric demand on this).
[8] I quote from James Krantz writing about Social Defenses and 21st Century Organizations, in which he speaks about how “the wellsprings of psychotic anxiety in organizations are being intensified by the rapid breakdown of containing structures in both the social and organizational worlds”.
[9] I enlarge on this in Freud’s third identification and in distinguishing the Kleinian object and the Lacanian symptom.
[10] Some of the practices that flow from this within ecosystems are ‘asymmetric leadership’, the pursuit of ‘multi-sided demands’, ‘edge-driven’ ways of working, and ‘triple-loop’ learning processes.  Some of the evidence for their emergence is to be found in “The Twitter Revolution: how the internet has changed us“.

Oct 262011

Lacan describes how the discourse of Capitalism is formulated in relation to the discourse of the Master in Lacan-in-Italy, Milan.  it involves inverting its relation between agency and truth as follows:
This same inversion can be applied to the other three discourses [1].  These perverse forms were not named explicitly by Lacan.  My proposal is to take the other three from Television, in which Lacan distinguishes scientific discourse  from the discourse of the hysteric ((p 19 Norton edition), Professional Insurance Plan Against Analytic Discourse (PIPAAD)[2] as the name of the social movement formed by Freud’s descendants (p15), and political discourse in relation the philosophical discourse of Newton (p36).  The result places the master discourse in a particular relation to all four perverse forms as follows:


Of particular note here are the ways in which each perverse discourse picks up on different aspects of the discourse of the master:

  • Capitalism, by making the master’s truth its agent, tries to lock in a particular social organisation of mastery, affiliating itself to the master’s prior establishment of that organisation.
  • Science, by making its agent the production of the master in anticipation of a quarter-turn, pairs itself with the discourse of the master as its particular personal realisation.
  • The movement is dependent on the master’s relation of work to production, taking up this relation through an identification that seeks to emulate the master’s way of being.[3]
  • Finally, politics creates a production that is in the place of the master’s truth, putting its way of being in competition with the master.  The result is either a fight between them or a flight from the master’s presence.

These patterns of relationship [4] arise between each discourse and the perverse forms, resulting in an economy of discourses in which each discourse is bound to the other perverse forms by these four relations:

This economy functions like a complex molecule, underpinned by the four quadrants defining the way an enterprise inscribes itself.  This underpinning supports the multiple identifications of subjects in ways that mutually support each other. Each mode of identification can be represented by a different kind of voice that provides insight into the way the identity of the enterprise itself is sustained.

[1] Another way of deriving these is to rotate the terms following the figure-of-eight sequence in the perverse form of the quadripod:

This follows the approach for deriving the perverse discourses used by Laurent Chaine in his paper on Efficastration.
[2] Lacan’s acronym in French is SAMCDA (Societe d’assurance mutuelle contre le discours analytique) which, in French, sounds close enough to sancta to prompt the “sancta simplicitas” in Television.
[3] This dependent relation is shown by Laurent Chaine as that existing between the discourse of the University (Efficiency) and the discourse of Science (Efficacy), the former being a mode of subjectivation, while the latter is a mode of subjection.
[4] The relationship of affiliation is the sophisticated relation of a subgroup to a developmental leader in which the subgroup is trying to articulate what the leader ‘means’.  The other three correspond to sophisticated forms of the dependent, fight-flight and pairing basic assumptions.