Contents Vol. 24.1

to be published June 2024


The Explanatory Models of Mary Douglas and Melanie Klein compared, in the context of an Institutional Case Study
Michael Rustin

This article brings Mary Douglas’s theory of the four elementary and universal forms of social ordering – grid-group theory – into juxtaposition with the Klein object-relations tradition in psychoanalysis. Klein and her successors have proposed fundamental orientations – the paranoid-schizoid, depressive, and narcissistic “positions” – as universal attributes of personality development. Bion’s theory of containment is considered as a development of Klein’s ideas. The question explored is whether these different models, the first concerned mainly with forms of social behaviour, the second with the dispositions of individuals, have any illuminating relation to one another. This exploration takes the form of a case-study of changes which have been taking place in the organisation of the Tavistock and Portman NHS Trust, which is the largest institutional embodiment of a wider Tavistock tradition. The argument is that these changes can be understood both in the terms, following Douglas, of its dominant form of “social ordering”, moving from “hierarchy” towards “individualism”, “enclavism”, and “isolation”. And in Klein’s and Bion’s perspective, the shift is away from more “depressive” and “contained” dispositions and relations. These (contested) changes represent a significant break with the Tavistock earlier traditions, and in this reflect wider changes taking place in society.

The Unconscious Online: an exploration into the emotional experience and behaviours of virtual working
Kalina Stamenova, Irene O’Byrne-Maguire, Bryan Maguire

The new normal in the wake of the global covid pandemic means that more organisations are working virtually. Whilst this new working environment offers opportunities, a particular challenge relates to working together, mediated through technologies, while being physically apart. Online communication platforms have emerged as dominant virtual places of social, professional and educational encounters. Spurred by the researchers’ experiences of using these platforms at work, an online exploratory research project was developed to examine how the design affordances and constraints of these platforms influence the emotional experiences and behaviours of those using them. The researchers applied their own backgrounds to the study of unconscious processes at work in social systems to the exploration of these platforms. Self-selecting, psycho-dynamically informed practitioners were invited to join three online exploratory studies. These pilots aimed to study the conscious and unconscious influence of the online platforms (Zoom and MS Teams) on the groups’ perceptions, emotions and behaviours. An adaptation of group relations methodology was used to allow processes to develop naturally within carefully designed boundaries of time, space and roles. Key themes identified from direct observations, using researchers’ free-floating attention and subjective experiences, related to role, identity and presence.

Speaking Out

Metalogue: The Hostile Container
Martin Ringer and Fiona Martin

This paper explores what we call “the hostile container” and how it influences the capacity of a writer to think about and write about ideas. The hostile container is an intrapsychic space that diminishes the capacity to think and write. The notion of the hostile container emerges from the idea that the process of thinking – and hence of writing – is largely an unconscious dialogue between two parts of the dual self (Meares, 1992). We postulate that thinking is a combined conscious and unconscious dialogue between two parts of self (Ringer, 2022). The “declaring” part is “heard” by the “receiving” part. If the receiving part is a hostile internal object, the dialogue is severely impeded because the declaring part will avoid being attacked. We develop this core concept to help to understand intrapsychic processes that both enhance and impede the ability to write. This paper is presented in the form of a “metalogue” (Bateson, 1972) between the authors.

Book Reviews

All that We Are: Uncovering the hidden truths behind our behaviour at work,
by Gabriella Braun.
London, 2022, Piatkus, Little, Brown Book Group. ISBN 978-0-349-42730-0
Reviewed by David Armstrong

The Covid Trail: Psychodynamic Explorations
Editors: Halina Brunning and Olya Khaleelee
Karnac Books, 2022, 290pp  ISBN 978-1-80013-136-1
Reviewed by Jonathan Gosling

Leading with Depth; the impact of emotions and relationships on leadership    
By Claudia Nagel
Bicester: Phoenix, 2024, 340 pp, ISBN 978-1-80013-229-0
Reviewed by Tim Dartington  

The Social Dream-Drawing Workshop A Handbook for professionals.
By Rose Redding Mersky
Routledge, 2022, 136 pp 25 B/W Illustrations ISBN 978-0-36722-562-9
Reviewed by Bob Hinshelwood