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.

Aug 092016

by Philip Boxer BSc MBA PhD

A colleague of mine, Larry Hirschhorn, had the following to say about his experience of the difficulties of ISPSO members speaking to each other about their differing readings of psychoanalytic doctrine: “The additional piece that continues to fascinate me is the burden imposed emotionally by the requirements for abstract thought...”

My commentary below is on an extract from The Function and Field of Speech and Language in Psychoanalysis (pp203-205 from Bruce Fink’s translation of Lacan’s Écrits) that speaks directly to the nature of this burden.  It considers what might be at stake in engaging in abstract thought, which involves being prepared to understand the concepts on which our understanding of psychoanalytic technique is based.[1] In this extract, Lacan formulates what might be at stake in terms of difficulties for how we take up speech.  He does this in terms of the speaker’s relationship to the symbolic, imaginary and real:

In order to home in on the causes of this deterioration of analytic discourse, one may legitimately apply psychoanalytic method to the collectivity that sustains it.

Lacan’s concern in this text was with a deterioration of analytic discourse – a concern that has been voiced from time to time by some ISPSO members about other members’ psychoanalytic understanding![2]

Indeed, to speak of a loss of the meaning of psychoanalytic action is as true and futile as it is to explain a symptom by its meaning as long as the latter is not recognized. But we know that, in the absence of such recognition, analytic action can only be experienced as aggressive at the level at which it is situated;

We have all experienced the aggressivity inherent in having our words ‘interpreted’. The effects of the aggressivity depend on our accepting the weight of the other’s standing within the community to which we belong …

and that, in the absence of the social “resistances” which the psychoanalytic group used to find reassuring, the limits of its tolerance toward its own activity – now “accepted,” if not actually approved of – no longer depend upon anything but the numerical percentage by which its presence in society is measured.

… while we have all, from time to time, drawn comfort from our numbers in the face of the difficulties we experience in taking our practices into the world around us.

These principles suffice to separate out the symbolic, imaginary, and real conditions that determine the defenses we can recognize in the doctrine – isolation, undoing what has been done, denial, and, in general, misrecognition.

Lacan uses the three orders of the symbolic, imaginary and real to think further about these difficulties – symbolic isolation, imaginary denial/undoing what has been done, and misrecognition of the real.

Thus, if the importance of the American group to the psychoanalytic movement is measured by its mass, we can evaluate the conditions one finds there by their weight.

Lacan is speaking about the impact of the American group on the wider (worldwide) psychoanalytic movement.

In the symbolic order, first of all, one cannot neglect the importance of the c factor which, as I noted at the Congress of Psychiatry in 1950, is a constant that is characteristic of a given cultural milieu: the condition, in this case, of ahistoricism, which is widely recognized as the major feature of “communication” in the United States, and which in my view is diametrically opposed to analytic experience. To this must be added a native mindset, known as behaviorism, which so dominates psychological notions in America that it clearly has now altogether topped Freud’s inspiration in psychoanalysis.

The symbolic isolation arises from the influence of the wider American culture, characterized by Lacan in terms of an ahistoricism and a behaviorism, that appears to that wider culture as being so much better and more impressive than Freud’s inspiration.

As for the other two orders, I leave to those concerned the task of assessing what the mechanisms that manifest themselves in the life of the psychoanalytic associations owe to relations of standing within the group and to the effects of their free enterprise felt by the whole of the social body, respectively.

Lacan links the imaginary denial/undoing to the relations of standing within the various psychoanalytic associations making up the American group; and links the misrecognition of the real to the associations’ various readings of the effects of their free enterprise on the world around them.

I also leave to them the task of determining the credence to be lent to a notion emphasized by one of our most lucid representatives— namely, the convergence that occurs between the alien status of a group dominated by immigrants and the distance it is lured into taking from its roots by the function called for by the aforementioned cultural conditions.

He also observes that the alien status of the immigrant majority within the American group makes that majority vulnerable to the need to submit to the influence of the wider American culture in the interests of economic survival… a vulnerability that every diaspora has to deal with.

In any case, it seems indisputable that the conception of psychoanalysis in the United States has been inflected toward the adaptation of the individual to the social environment, the search for behavior patterns, and all the objectification implied in the notion of “human relations”. And the indigenous term “human engineering” strongly implies a privileged position of exclusion with respect to the human object.

Lacan concludes that these influences have resulted in an emphasis on the objectification of human being in the interests of its adaptation to the social environment – the effects of which we might now refer to in terms of neo-liberal ideology…

Indeed, the eclipse in psychoanalysis of the liveliest terms of its experience – the unconscious and sexuality, which will apparently cease before long to be even mentioned – may be attributed to the distance necessary to sustain such a position.

… with its attendant occluding of the subject’s relation to the unconscious and to sexuality.

We need not take sides concerning the formalism and small-time shop mentality, both of which have been noted and decried in the analytic group’s own official documents.

Referring back, now, to the imaginary denial/undoing associated with the maintenance of ‘standing’, and to the misrecognition of the real in the effects of associations’ free enterprise…

Pharisees and shopkeepers interest us only because of their common essence, which is the source of the difficulties both have with speech, particularly when it comes to “talking shop”.

… Lacan invokes the imagery of Pharisees (“an ancient Jewish sect distinguished by their strict observance of the traditional and written law, and by their pretensions to superior sanctity”) and shopkeepers (“those who carry on business in a shop”) to convey something of the difficulties arising from the imaginary and the real orders for the way we take up speech.

The fact is that while incommunicability of motives may sustain a “grand master,” it does not go hand in hand with true mastery – at least not with the mastery teaching requires. This was realized in the past when, in order to sustain one’s preeminence, it was necessary, for form’s sake, to give at least one class.

Referring back, then, to difficulties arising from the symbolic order and the difference between ‘having’ the standing of a master and ‘being’ a master…

This is why the attachment to traditional technique – which is unfailingly reaffirmed by the same camp – after a consideration of the results of the tests carried out in the frontier fields enumerated above, is not unequivocal; the equivocation can be gauged on the basis of the substitution of the term “classic” for “orthodox” that is used to qualify it. One remains true to propriety because one has nothing to say about the doctrine itself.

… Lacan observes that substituting ‘classic’ for ‘orthodox’ in the focus on technique conceals in a past origin the difficulty of speaking in the present about doctrine itself, thus concealing the difficulty in the present of true mastery. Here, then, is the heart of the burden we take up in speaking to each other about our differences of doctrine, the burden of (repeatedly losing) mastery.[3]

For my part, I would assert that the technique cannot be understood, nor therefore correctly applied, if one misunderstands the concepts on which it is based. My task shall be to demonstrate that these concepts take on their full meaning only when oriented in a field of language and ordered in relation to the function of speech.

Difficult though such speaking is, however, Lacan’s point is that no understanding of technique is possible without an understanding of the concepts on which it is based – an understanding that requires of us that we take up the burden.

[1] It is worth bearing in mind that in this text, written in 1953, Lacan is speaking about the relation to the standard treatment, still under discussion at the London Congress in 1953, at which Glover asked the question of what modifications in technique can take place “without forfeiting the right to use the term psycho-analysis”.  See the paper by Darian Leader: Strategy, Tactics and Standard Treatment.
[2] For some background on the interests of ISPSO members, see this blog on The future work of ISPSO.
[3] The problematic nature of the doctrine of science per se is elaborated on by Jacques-Alain Miller in his seminal ‘Action of the Structure‘, in particular its vested interest in covering over the place of the subject in the conduct of science through its very claim to ‘objectivity’. Such a covering over is, of course, inimical to the analytic discourse.

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

Feb 242014

In considering what we can learn from Lance Armstrong, I argued that aside from the moral outrage, we needed to consider if he has something to teach us about the nature of situational resistance – an insistence that goes beyond mere defences against anxiety in a relentless pursuit of innovation pointed towards overcoming a lack. I ended by asking how such courage was mobilised. What follows is a continuation of the dialogue with Simon on this point.

Simon Western: If the unconscious is ‘the knowledge that speaks for itself'(Lacan), then the question arises as to not only what makes us react to stressful situations, but what guides us to choose them in the first place? What is the lack that creates the desire to hurtle down a mountain with immense courage, and at the same time to risk all personal credibility and social capital by cheating? With Lance Armstrong there was a lack of a father in his life, which seemed to create a desire for him to overcome this lack in two ways: a) showing the world he could do it alone, he could beat the best and beat cancer too; b) to buck any form of paternalistic authority, from his coaches or from the governing body of cycling. For Lance, the rules didn’t apply to him – i.e. no father = no paternalist authority for me! The film showed this with great clarity.

Philip Boxer: ‘Hurtling down the mountain’ is the relation to an objet petit a that comes in the place of a lack[1]. The following sets out my understanding of this “lack” and how it relates to Armstrong ‘risking all’.

What is meant by the relation to ‘lack’
Lacan’s understanding of lack started from lack of being – manque à être. The Freudian insight of “Wo Es war, soll Ich warden” (where being was, there I shall be) was understood as asserting that in seeking to be where Being was, the ‘I’ was inevitably putting itself in relation to the lack of the drive structure[2]. Doing this, however, involved a double subjection: firstly to the relation to the other, mediated by the effects of a relation to the Imaginary space-time-bounded reality, itself subject to the effects of signifying structures. Secondly, to the relation to the unconscious, the drive being a necessary consequence of the structural characteristics of the lack of the unconscious in support of embodied being-in-relation-to-lack.

Lacan came to understand the subject’s relation to this support to their identification in terms of the sinthome, the consistence of a Borromean linking together of the Real, Imaginary and Symbolic registers that was the subject’s particular way of being-in-relation-to-lack. There were three ways in which this lack was experienced, reflecting progressive transformations in the subject’s relation to his or her subjection (taken from Lacan’s Seminar IV – La relation d’objet):

  • Frustration, in which the subject seeks to bring a Real object into being in the place of an Imaginary lack experienced within the context of the containing maternal (big-S Symbolic) matrix – the child’s frustration is at not having what s/he wants when s/he wants it.
  • Privation, in which the subject puts a big-S Symbolic object in the place of a Real lack experienced within the context of an Imaginary reality of the family story – in response to what is actually lacking, the child develops his or her own signifiers and begins to search for his or her own signification of those signifiers, with all the problematics arising from there always being something not yet found.
  • Castration, in which the object that comes in the place of a structural lack of the big-S Symbolic is accepted as being Imaginary within the context of an acceptance of the subject’s relation to the Real – over the course of time, the subject accepts that no-one can ‘have’ what they want and that ‘being’ is always in relation to a lack aka the relation to the lost object/presence of an absence.

What is interesting here is that “death” is a way for the sovereign ego to talk about an encounter with a limit aka lack of being. This is why courage and the ‘pointing up’ with his fear were so important to the alpinist. “Death” is a way of rationalizing why fear exists, except much of the time it is not death per se, but just an encounter with a limit that frightens the sovereign ego. So perhaps it might be better to speak of the ego’s ‘fear of castration’ rather than the death instinct. In whatever way it is spoken of, however, these progressive transformations form a cycle, or course, in the sense that we are always learning about ‘lack’ in this structural sense[3].

Helpful in this is Lacan’s later naming of the ways in which we get stuck at different points in the cycle (taken from Seminar XXI – Les non-dupes errent). So refusal of privation involves getting stuck in the impossibility of trying to say everything; refusal of castration involves getting stuck in the impossibility of being able to write everything[4]; and refusal of frustration involves getting stuck in the nothing-to-be-said in the present moment – the Real that is ‘outside’ meaning – as a way of avoiding saying at least something![5]

Philip Boxer: So culling various biographical details from available sources, it appears that Lance’s mother, Linda, was 17 when she gave birth to him, having dropped out of high school. Soon after his parents divorced, his father abandoning Lance when he was two. Armstrong never saw his father after that, and Lance later referred to him as “the DNA donor”. In 1974, Lance’s mother married Terry Keith Armstrong, adopting Lance when he was 4. So we can say that there was an Imaginary lack – his father was not there – and that the Real object of the stepfather might at first appearances have limited the frustration Lance experienced.

Linda saw athletic potential in her son early on and encouraged him to participate in a variety of sports. Armstrong was running and swimming at 10 and taking up competitive cycling and triathlons at 13. At 16 he became a professional triathlete. So what of the place of the father in the family structure within which he grew up? We can hypothesise that there was a Real lack there, in the sense of the privation brought about by the abandonment that continued to occupy the place of the father in Linda’s relationship to her son. Here we can speculate that Lance developed particular ways of organizing signifiers that covered this Real lack which involved the place of competition in his life, but which also involved a refusal of castration.

From this speculation on his story therefore, the cheating sounds like a refusal of castration by getting stuck in trying to realise signifiers for what is impossible-to-say. In the following fragment from his history, we perhaps get a glimpse of his ego’s refusal of death coinciding with a superhuman effort, within the context of his friend’s death:

In the 1995 Tour de France, three days after teammate Fabio Casartelli died after a fall on a mountain descent, Armstrong vowed to win a stage race for his Italian friend. As the support staff pulled up alongside to give him a status report on the riders behind him, Armstrong waved them off. “I don’t need to know,” he said. “Nobody’s going to catch me.” No one did. Armstrong rode the last few hundred meters with his hands off the bars, index fingers pointing to the heavens. Armstrong recalls the eerie experience: “There’s no doubt there were four feet pushing those pedals that day.” (Racing the demons – inspired by fellow survivors, Lance Armstrong refuses to give in to cancer.)

Simon Western: I agree. He seemed to suffer from an unconscious-conscious dissonance between his great courage and the feelings of being a cheat, that he couldn’t acknowledge even when he consciously admitted cheating (i.e. there was no conscious acknowledgement of shame). ‘The unconscious spoke clearly for itself; when his unconscious took him back to racing after four years break, which reopened all the drugs questions and led to his being exposed, losing social capital and great wealth. When asked why, his conscious rationalisations for this did not answer the question fully, for him or for others, who proclaimed: but why did he do it!! I concluded that his unconscious vis a vis the death drive, took him back to die a public death in order to rid himself of the internal dissonance he felt, but could not rationally acknowledge. Even though he consciously rationalised the cheating, the feeling and emotions of being a cheat did not go away. For repression gets rid of the cognitive thoughts, but leaves a trail of emotions in the body.

Philip Boxer: Yes. On this reading, there is an unconscious refusal of castration, the corollary of which are the narcissistic and perverse defences of the ego trying to sustain its sovereignty. But is this refusal of castration what you are referring to as the death drive? I think so, and of course why shouldn’t you (along with many others, more often expressed in terms of the death instinct). But my point is that by not doing so, it fails to make room for understanding something else about what is going on, apparent when you say:

The knowledge that speaks for itself, that spoke loudly and exposed Lance in order to both kill him publicly but also perhaps to set him free.. this was where the film started. He spoke emotionally of getting his first bike as young child – “for the first time I was free – a bike sets you free!”

This something else is not so much Lance’s bike as the way of being that he takes up when bicycling. This is perhaps Lance’s sinthome. Even though his ego refuses, the Real insists, demanding that Lance pay with his being as he understands it to be in relation to bicycling. This liminal space that he finds himself in as a consequence is, in a sense, exactly where he needs to be to continue to work through (what we have speculated to be) his refusal of castration.

Where is the courage in this?  I think it is in Armstrong’s continuing insistence on being true to his sinthome which, whether he liked it or not, brought him to face a beyond of his refusal of castration. Will he find that he still ‘is’ on the other side of this castration? We shall find out from the way he takes up competing again!

[1] In saying that objet petit a is the ’cause of desire’, what is meant is not that the objet petit a causes the desire (in the sense of a material, formal or efficient cause), but rather that it becomes the (final) cause of desire in the sense of a flag standing for a shared cause.
[2] Drive structure is a relation between four things in Freud: Drang, thrust – the tendency to discharge psychic energy; Ziel, the aim; Quelle, the source – the gap defined by a rim-like structure; and Objekt, the object. For more on this see Structural Gaps – the wigo/wiRgo relation
[3] In the same sense that there are always instances of small-s symbolic equation to be worked through. See How does ‘sophisticated’ group mentality relate to basic assumption behaviour?
[4] Godel’s theory of incompleteness (or undecidability) shows how any system of thinking can be presented with a statement, the truth of which is undecidable. This is the function of the paradoxical intervention… In this refusal of castration, this undecidability is not accepted.
[5] These two sets of three are the accommodative (centrifugal) and assimilative (centripetal) forms of the Borromean linking of the three Registers (Imaginary, Symbolic and Real).

Feb 102014

I am particularly interested in organisations that must operate in turbulent environments, in which client-customers must be responded to one-by-one, each demanding a different response designed to address their particular situation. We see the need for this obviously in health and social care, and more generally in public services, but it is also a characteristic, increasingly, of the networked economy.

In such organisations, a person in a role is subject to their organisation as a social system, but to the extent that the organisation must go beyond what it knows in order to respond one-by-one to what ‘more’ its client-customers want, not only must someone be prepared to go beyond what they know. They must also do so in a way that enables the organisation to learn from their ‘going beyond’. A recent dialogue helps to see what we can learn about this from Lance Armstrong. Both the individual and the organisation must face fear in going beyond what they know. What enables an organisation to mobilise courage in the face of such fear and learn from it rather than engaging in a ‘flight to the personal’?

Simon Western: I recently watched a documentary/film about Lance Armstrong- the Armstrong Lie – and was left with three areas of questions:
1. where the boundaries of personal responsibility and collective responsibility lay: Armstrong claimed, ‘we didn’t start this, everybody was using illegal substances- you couldn’t compete unless you did too’ – and even at the end of the documentary, when he admitted everything, Armstrong wondered if history would vindicate him, and his 7 tour de france victories would be re-instated because it was a level playing field of deceit. The moral relativism seen in this movie, I have seen so often in workplaces. An immoral decision is taken that is devastating to an individual but the collective response from ‘good’ people, aligns with the perpetrators. From a psychoanalytic perspective, this raises questions of how ethics are distorted and disavowed, and how individuals and collective groups rationalise or disassociate from their actions
2. The question of how the conscious and unconscious merge and blur: where knowing and denial both operate together. This is key to understanding abuse in the caring professions/church whereby staff both know they do it/ witness it, and deny it at the same time…. This question is compounded in the film by the authorities knowing and not-knowing – thereby legitimising the cheating/abuse (as occurs in many institutions — that demonise abusers but only when caught).
3. The third question was around thanatos and eros: EROS the love of life (Armstrong fighting devastating cancer- making remarkable recovery- raising millions to help others survive-raising a loving family) and this contrasted with Thanatos: the death instinct- Armstrong made a comeback that sealed his fate- recklessly so, observers kept asking why did he do it? Many leaders/celebrities do something reckless like this that ends their career- Does a self-destructive death instinct drive this……?

Philip Boxer: My initial comment was that it was useful to distinguish the perverse narcissistic defence that Armstrong appeared to be using, which took the form of ‘Everyone else was cheating, so to win I had to cheat too, and I had to cheat better than anyone else’. Here indeed was moral relativism, in which those in authority were implicated to the extent that they sustained a position of “Do what you have to do to win, but I don’t want to hear about it” – a version of which appeared in the recent ‘U.N. Panel Criticizes the Vatican Over Sexual Abuse‘. But here too was self-destructiveness.

So I also proposed that the self-destructiveness of this perverse narcissistic defence needed to be distinguished from the nature of the underlying drive that enabled Armstrong to hurtle at break-neck and break-body speeds, exhibiting a courage in pushing the limits of what he felt able to do. This is not well-described as a pursuit of death over life. Manfred Kets de Vries reminds us in his paper on ‘Death and the Executive‘ of the maladaptive responses to ‘death’ in the sense of death anticipated by a sovereign ego-enterprise as the ultimate narcissistic injury – the manic defence, denial of succession and the ‘edifice complex’. But these are the ego’s narcissistic defences, and as Kahn and Liefooghe remind us in their excellent summary ‘Thanatos: Freudian manifestations of death at work’, for Freud there was no death in the unconscious mortal fear aka existential anxiety. Instead, we are looking at repetition and drive structure, through which this drivenness is understood not so much in terms of mortality as in terms of a response to that which remains ‘unassimilable’ about our fellow human being aka not like one of us.[1] Based on Freud, this repetition and drive structure was not so much a “self-destructive death instinct” as a being driven to get as close as possible to an absolute limit, a liminality[2], because it was there that Armstrong could (again?) get a glimpse of the sublime.

Simon Western: My response was to wonder whether the death drive was beyond our capacity to think about it. Your comments moved quickly to the sublime and limitations, but did Freud identify a death-drive that went beyond limitations, to embrace emptiness and self-destruction? Freud witnessed war and Nazi Germany – we witness Syria and multiple conflicts- nations imploding, and banks – financial and economic systems self-destructing whilst a blind eye is turned by both authorities/institutions and participating actors.

Do we, as psychoanalytic thinkers, turn a blind eye to the death-drive, rationalizing it and turning it into something we can symbolize and contain – like narcissistic defences, the sublime or aggressive impulses? Hanna Arendt raised the question of the banality of evil – and Zygmunt Beauman linked bureaucratic modernity to the evil of the holocaust – but is this enough to explain the destructive impulses. Isn’t there a lack here? Perhaps this lack is the death-drive lurking banally in each of us? I have witnessed so-called ‘good’ people self-destructing or externalizing their destructive impulses, trying to destroy others when they are at their most vulnerable. Institutions bureaucratize this ‘evil’ and protect the perpetrators, until exposed; then they absolve themselves and personalize the evil as if it only existed in selective bad individuals. As Freud identified, if we are to understand civilization we have to understand the discontents, and the destructive as well as creative forces. Maybe we need to re-visit the death drive?

Philip Boxer: I agree with you, but it is exactly the sovereign ego’s defences that rationalise, symbolise and attempt to contain – and always fall short. It is the sovereign ego that is the source of the “suppress and repress” referred to by Manfred Kets de Vries in his paper.  I intended my reference to the ‘sublime’ to be understood not as referring to some transcendent notion so much as to something very particular – in Armstrong’s case, feeling that he was right on the edge of what he could possibly do. Freud spoke of this as a relation to that in the particular which remained lost (dingvorstellung), distinguished from that in the particular that was experienced as being repeated (sachvorstellung).[3] Armstrong’s relation to the organisation of the sport served his narcissistic purposes, but his relation to the racing itself was also driven by this relation to what remained ‘lost’, the pursuit of which took him to the edge of what was humanly possible. In this sense, Armstrong was doubly subjected: both subject to the ways he could control how he was ‘known’ by others, and also subject to his unconscious in the particular way he faced the limits of his performance (in Freudian terms, subjection to both reality and to pleasure-pain). It is in relation to this second form of subjection that repetition and drive structure come into play, in which we observe something about the aim of the drive structure and how we might think further about the unconscious structuring of this being driven.[4]

Double subjection is apparent in the following description of an extreme alpinist:

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.[5]

Here there is both subjection to the ‘conventional wisdom’ and also subjection to the limits of what can be learnt in challenging ‘conventional wisdom’. In Armstrong’s case, the conventional wisdom included ‘having to cheat’, so that winning included having to cheat ‘better’, but this cheating also required him to push the limits of his own body ‘more’, which demanded courage. The value in thinking in terms of a double subjection is therefore that we can think both about the way the social system imposed certain constraints, but also about the way Armstrong had to overcome fear in reaching beyond his own personal limits.

To quote the alpinist again (in the following, a ‘pitch’ is a section of a climb):

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. … Trust in your skill, and give yourself up to the action.[5]

We can share a moral outrage at Armstrong’s cheating, but surely there is no question that he also showed courage in the way he gave himself up to the action, ‘pointing’ his fear. Clearly there is the destructive impulse and the evil in the banal ‘following of orders’ characteristic of the perverse narcissistic defence by the sovereign ego and its associated envious attacks, but this is not enough to understand what was going on here. And to pick another example of a person showing similar courage in a different context by putting his being ‘on the line’, would we be outraged at Edward Snowden’s cheating too, or in his case call it whistleblowing? What would we say to those who want to award him the Nobel Peace Prize?

What Lance Armstrong has to teach us is something about the nature of situational resistance – an insistence that goes beyond mere defences against anxiety in a relentless pursuit of innovation pointed towards overcoming a lack. How is such courage mobilised?

[1] This is a reference to Freud’s Project and that which remains unassimilable in nebenmensch. See Reinhard, K. (2005). Toward a Political Theology of the Neighbor. The Neighbor: Three Inquiries in Political Theology. S. Zizek, E. L. Santner and K. Reinhard, University of Chicago Press.
[2] In anthropology, liminality (from the Latin word līmen, meaning “a threshold”) is the quality of ambiguity or disorientation that occurs in the middle stage of rituals, when participants no longer hold their pre-ritual status but have not yet begun the transition to the status they will hold when the ritual is complete. During a ritual’s liminal stage, participants “stand at the threshold” between their previous way of structuring their identity, time, or community, and a new way, which the ritual establishes.
[3] For more on this, see getting caught ‘inside’ particular forms of thirdness as an effect of unconscious valency.
[4] This reading of Freud aims to build on the insights of the death instinct as understood by a Kleinian reading in terms of envy. (Stein, M. (2000). “After Eden: Envy and the defences against anxiety paradigm.” Human Relations 53(2): 193-211.)
[5] Taken from ‘Extreme Alpinism: climbing light, fast and high’. By Mark F. Twight and James Martin. The Mountaineers: Seattle 1999

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.

Oct 162013

The blog on Requisite Authority introduces a diagnostic tool that examines the different possible forms of congruence between role and task, depending on how an enterprise defines its boundaries and its relationships across those boundaries.  The underlying drivers of this congruence are the need to differentiate behaviours in response to differentiated demands, and to integrate those differentiated behaviours in the interests of the enterprise as a whole.  This thinking applies to any enterprise, but situational resistance is easier to understand when it is applied to a membership organisation responding to the needs of its members – the modern democratic state responding to the needs of its citizens being an instance of this, another instance being a state actor within an ecosystem, as in the case of the UK’s National Health Service and Social Services responding to local primary care doctors. In the case of a membership organisation, then, consider what happens when

  • either its leadership insists on an organisation that is not congruent with the behaviors of its members ‘on the ground’,
  • or its members ‘on the ground’ insist on behaviors that are not congruent with the way their leadership expects to support them.

Some such loss of alignment is inevitable in the process of an organisation responding to growing demands from its members. This may be because members ‘on the ground’ either get ahead of or lag behind their leadership[1]. Either way, situational resistance describes resistance by members in which their behaviors ‘on the ground’ challenge the leadership’s approach to sustaining the (competitive) identity of the organisation. A response from leadership to such challenges that aims to conserve the existing identity of the organisation is then counter-resistance.

To think about how an organisation responds to growing demands from its members, three kinds of alignment can be distinguished between the two sides of the diamond:

  • The ‘role culture’ expected by leadership is over-determining of how roles should be taken up by members (lhs), reflecting members’ behaviors being over-determined by the nature of the situations they face ‘on the ground’ (rhs) – no choices are left open to role-holders nor do they need to be available to members in practice.
  • The ‘power’ and ‘achievement cultures’ in which leadership constrains but does not over-determine how roles should be taken up by members (lhs), reflecting members being constrained but not over-determined by the nature of the situations they face ‘on the ground’ (rhs) – some choices are left open to role holders and need to be available to members in practice.
  • The ‘support culture’ expected by leadership is under-determining of how roles should be taken up by members (lhs), reflecting members’ behaviors needing to be under-determined in relation to the situations they face ‘on the ground’ (rhs) – choices are left open to role-holders, in practice needing to be left open to members.

These three kinds of alignment correspond to three possible ways in which leadership may understand how role and task should be aligned:

  • Death ground[2]: the leadership organises particular ways of supporting its members, on the basis of which it must either dominate the competition or die. (For example Nokia competing on the functionality of their handsets alone.)
  • Key/Contentious ground[3]: while still hierarchical, the leadership is flexing the support it provides to its members, but only in limited ways alongside competitors who will be doing the same thing but in different ways.  Attacking competitors is therefore dangerous because they are as capable of extending into the organisation’s domain as vice versa. (For example Microsoft competing with other platform suppliers that provide overlapping capabilities.)
  • Dispersive ground[4]: ground on which the situations faced by members must be responded to one-by-one, so that the identity of the organisation must be derived from the nature of the situations faced by its members.  On this ground, competitors are secondary to members, and the leadership needs to enable its members to share a strong sense of a shared ethic in how they work if the organisation is not to lose a sense of its raison d’être. (For example, a Google becoming all things to all comers and losing people to business start-ups.)

What then happens when there is not this alignment?  There are three ways in which members’ behaviors may demand more support from the organisation than it can currently integrate:

  • Difficult/Bad ground[5]: Members’ behaviors in the situations they face are more complex than those supported by the organisation.  Those trying to do more must press on in the hope that the organisation will catch up. (For example, a development project facing initial technical hurdles to realising its plans.)
  • Serious/Deep ground[6]: Members’ behaviors are wholly driven by the situations they face ‘on the ground’, but the support they need is wholly beyond the capabilities of the organisation.  To survive, those involved in these situations must depend on the benefit they derive directly ‘on the ground’. (For example, a development project that is not supported by its host culture must look for support from its customers.)
  • Frontier ground[7]: The organisation is beginning to integrate the more complex forms of support needed by its members, but not to a sufficient extent. The members needing these more complex forms of support must press on and expect the organisation to catch up. (For example, a development project still held back from fulfilling its promise as an edge-driven business.)

And there are three ways in which the organisation may be capable of integrating more complex forms of support than those demanded by its members:

  • Focal/Intersecting ground[8]: The support needed by members ‘on the ground’ is limited and the organisation is capable of integrating more complex forms of support.  To survive competitively, the organisation must forge alliances with other organisations satisfying different but related behaviors in order that together, their memberships can make effective use of the organisation’s capabilities. (For example, a dotcom trying to build its linkages to other dotcoms in order to improve its offering to its clients.)
  • Encircled ground[9]: The support needed by members ‘on the ground’ is still limited and the organisation is capable of integrating more complex forms of support.  This capability is used by leadership to manage competitors’ understanding of the opportunities open to their members (using ‘stratagems’) as a way of keeping the leadership’s own options open. (For example, a dotcom that must walk before it can run in building revenues while trying to head off competitors from developing services that will compete with its intended future offerings.)
  • Communicating ground[10]: The support needed by competitors’ members ‘on the ground’ are more complex, but while the organisation is able to support those more complex behaviors, it needs to limit itself to making sure that it only supports the behaviors of its own members ‘on the ground’. (For example, a dotcom choosing not to integrate all the services it could in order to preserve its market focus.)

The resultant 9 varieties of competitive ground on which the leadership of an organisation may find itself can be expressed in terms of two axes[11]:

  • An axis of movement, being the relation of members’ task behaviors to the actual situations they face ‘on the ground’, and
  • An axis of difficulty, being the relation of the support provided by the organisation to its members, through which different forms of support can be provided to members’ appropriately differentiated behaviors ‘on the ground’.

Changes in position within the resultant diagram provide insights into the challenges that the leadership of an organisation faces in responding to growth in its members’ demands, derived from the challenges they face in keeping task and role aligned to each other.  To the extent that the leadership of an organisation seeks to conserve its identity (aka exercise counter-resistance), resisting the challenges arising from members’ situational resistance, it is likely that the organisation has become impaled by some previously traumatic alignment.[12],[13],[14]

[1] This issue of the relationship between an enterprise and its environments is explored in THE environment does not exist, its point being that the environment does not exist in general, but always as a number of particular contexts that may not be apparent to leadership. The members ‘on the ground’ may thus be responding to a different ‘logic’ to that expected of them by their leadership and vice versa, where the leaders are responding to interests not perceived by members to be their interests.
[2] Ground in which the army survives only if it fights with the courage of desperation is called death ground. In death ground, fight. Make it evident that there is no chance of survival.
[3] Ground that is equally advantageous for the enemy or me to occupy is key ground. Do not attack an enemy who occupies key ground. Hasten up my rear elements.
[4] When a feudal lord fights in his own territory, he is in dispersive ground. Do not fight in dispersive ground. Unify the determination of the army.
[5] When the army traverses mountains, forests, precipitous country, or marches through defiles, marshlands, or swamps, or any place where the going is hard, it is in difficult ground. In difficult ground, press on. Press on over the roads.
[6] When the army has penetrated deep into hostile territory, leaving far behind many enemy cities and towns, it is in serious ground. In deep ground, plunder. Ensure a continuous flow of provisions.
[7] When he makes but a shallow penetration into enemy territory he is on frontier ground. Do not stop in the frontier borderlands. Keep my forces closely linked.
[8] When a state is enclosed by three other states its territory is focal. In focal ground, ally with neighboring states. Strengthen my alliances.
[9] Ground to which access is constricted, where the way out is tortuous, and where a small enemy force can strike my larger one is called encircled. In encircled ground, devise stratagems. Block the points of access and egress.
[10] Ground equally accessible to both the enemy and me is communicating. In communicating ground do not allow your formations to become separated. Pay strict attention to my defences.
[11] These two axes refer to the way behaviors are differentiated in relation to demand situations (movement), and the way differentiated behaviors are themselves integrated, i.e. held in relation to each other (difficulty) – see integrating differentiated behaviours.  ‘Ground’ here refers to the nature of the competitive landscape within which identity is challenged, the nine varieties of ground being taken from Sun Tzu’s work on ‘The Art of War’ (OUP 1963[500BC]). The notes to each variety of ground are quotes from his work. These quotes are included to see how the metaphor has been used.
[12] This refers back to the challenge to leadership in which what has to be overcome in any development process are the challenges of past traumas. What is particularly at issue is navigating the Scylla and Charybdis of anxiety and innovation, constituting an ethical challenge to leadership.
[13] Consider the balance between the will of the people involved with the organisation (ranging from a majority to particular networks of members) and the means acceptable to the people of the organisation (ranging from by-any-means to means restricted by the extent of collateral damage).  This is based on military ways of thinking about the relation between different types of warfare and politics.  It provides an insight into what is at stake for the leadership of an organisation dealing with growing differentiation in the demands of its members. With alignment, there is a symmetry between the will of the members and the means adopted by the organisation.  Without alignment, there is an asymmetry.
Looked at it in this way, insurgent operations are the consequence of not responding to members’ demands for differentiation of behavior, combining the limited will of a network of members with no restraints by them on the damage they inflict on the ‘others’ who do not agree with them (i.e. being on difficult/bad, serious/deep or frontier ground).  Effects-based operations are the response by the majority of the people of the organisation to suppressing the will of those who do not agree with the majority, a highly targeted response that limits collateral damage beyond the networks in disagreement (i.e. being on focal/intersecting, encircled or communicating ground).  The dangers of either asymmetric response arise from their enabling the organisation to postpone responding to growing heterogeneity in the demands of its members.

The challenge, of course, is for the organisation only to accept asymmetric responses as being on the way to operating on the dispersive ground of ‘politics’, ground on which growing difference may be lived with and supported – presenting leadership with the task of leading an organisation without boundaries.
[14] The original version of these ‘nine-varieties of ground’ was used to distinguish three kind of strategy:

  • Tai Chi – do not confront the other’s formation on its terms – most appropriate on encircled ground (aka effects-based operations).
  • Samurai – challenge the other’s behaviour ruthlessly wherever you meet it – most appropriate on serious/deep ground (aka insurgency).
  • Sumo – dominating the chosen ground by weight of presence – most appropriate on death ground (aka the other’s attrition).

Death ground is ground defined by the organisation’s formation being defined wholly by its past trauma(s) and not by its relation to the current situation(s) on the ground – it is as if the organisation has no choice but to fight to the death, which in an environment demanding dynamic alignment is very likely to be its own death!

Jan 052013

This is the abstract of the paper presented at the 2013 Paris Conference – Reworking Lacan at Work.  The term ‘ex-sist’ is used to emphasize the Latin derivation of ‘exist’ from ex-(s)istere, to stand outside (in contradistinction to ‘insist’).

Doing many different things at the same time
Psychoanalytic understanding is becoming essential to the study of work, management and organizations. The growing importance of ‘networks’ requires a concept of ‘boundary’ that points towards a different understanding of the psychoanalytic object in the study of organizations. A familiar example of a network organization is a clinic that must focus on the particular demands of its patients’ conditions. The tempo at which such a clinic operates determines the number of patients it is expected to have in treatment at the same time. If it is to be outcome-driven, the clinic must respond at this tempo by being able to synchronize and orchestrate different networks for each patient [1]. This ability to do many different things at the same time is not unique to healthcare organizations. It necessitates a shift in an organization’s locus of innovation from supply to demand [2]. In the place of markets comes a focus on the particular demands of customers within their contexts-of-use [3].

This focus means that the organization must place greater emphasis on its ability to create new forms of collaboration in order to create new propositions. It must adopt ‘shaping strategies’ that focus on ecosystems within which networks of organizations become the new economic ‘entities’ shaping competition [4]. With this comes ‘relationship economics’ organized around the particular context in which the demand arises [5]. Within these ecosystems, task systems become increasingly modular, aligned to customers’ demands through contractual networks [6]. These networks are increasingly independent of institutional boundaries, creating dynamic complementarities between them [7]. Horizontal task linkages become stronger than vertical ‘institutional’ linkages, producing the emergent models characteristic of complex adaptive systems [8]. These ecosystems are experienced by an organization as turbulent [9], the ‘effective complexity’ [10] of emergent models describing the extent of the complexity that an organization must take into consideration in choosing how to act.

Power is exercised differently in Networks
But not all organizations behave like outcome-focused clinics, using networks to do many different things at the same time in order to relate to their customers one-by-one. They more typically do one thing at a time for many different customers. They use hierarchy to impose a particular model on the way they capture value within chosen markets, this model defining the basis of their competitive advantage [11]. And while organizations may attempt to use hierarchies to consolidate positions while also using networks to address the challenges of complexity and change [12], this is difficult in practice because of the dynamic tension created between radically different approaches [13]. While the exercise of power by hierarchies is unipolar and defines what subordinates should do, the exercise of power within networks is multipolar, and enables different actors in the network to act from different understandings of what needs to be attended to. The radical difference is in how the models are authorized, that is whether authorization comes from a pre-existent model in hierarchies or from a particular chosen relation to a current local situation in networks.

With organised networks, the model that is read into the local situation is contingent upon the particular observer’s relation to what-is-going-on in that situation. But more than this, with a psychoanalytic understanding not all of what-is-going-on is observable even for those present. The observer experiences an absence or ‘lack’ in the situation. This presence of an absence ‘ex-sists’ in the sense of standing beyond or outside what can be said to be present, rendering the patient or customer subject of their demand [14]. The paper argues that the observer’s experience of what-is-going-on in the situation exhibits two different kinds of ontic distinction, homologous with Lacan’s sexuation formula [15].

Engendering ‘boundary’
The first of these distinctions is between behaviours that are singular, and behaviours that are symptomatic of some underlying model. ‘Primary task’ is a way of speaking about an underlying model that is necessary to an organization’s survival [16]. The second is between the singular and symptomatic behaviours in the particular situation, and the contexts in which those behaviours produce their effects. This second distinction defines a ‘boundary’ between behaviour and context, with context there always being that which ex-sists i.e. stands outside or beyond. Thus while the relation to each context constitutes a particular outside or beyond, these contexts do not add up collectively to an environment in general. It is in this sense that THE Environment does not ex-sist i.e. there is no universal environment, only particular environments. This second distinction therefore introduces an ‘engendering’ of the concept of ‘boundary’, establishing a difference between hierarchy and network.[17] A hierarchy acts unilaterally as if there is an environment in general, while a network acts multi-laterally in relation to particular environments.

Psychoanalytic understanding brings its own clinical concepts, practices and particular focus on what enables interventions to be effective [18]. Its focus is on the role of the individual within an organization, or on the organization as if it were itself an individual. Understanding the organization as hierarchical enables its ‘boundary’ to be used to constitute the organization as an object [19]. The paper describes the difficulties that arise in adopting this approach to making sense of the concept of ‘boundary’ within networks, and proposes the alternative engendering of ‘boundary’ as itself an object of psychoanalytic study.

On being, moved by the ex-sistent ‘more’
Psychoanalytic understanding also leads us to engage in a double reading of our relation to what we observe [18]. Implicit in the two distinctions is a third distinction concerning the ways in which what-is-going-on is or is not observable, constraining the ways in which it may be paid attention to [20]. The paper argues that to engender ‘boundary’ is to recognise that there is always an ex-sistent ‘more’ to be paid attention to, providing a basis for a critical approach to organization on the basis of its relation to ‘lack’ [21]. The paper concludes that the engendering of ‘boundary’ allows us to understand the radical difference between hierarchy and network in terms of a psychoanalytic object that is constitutive of the relation to desire.

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