Contents Vol. 23.2

Published November 2023


Eric Miller Memorial Lecture
Group Relations Organizations and Conferences as a Fractal of Society:  How Group Relations Work in Different Countries Has Been Shaped by National Variables of History, Economics, Politics, Culture, and Geography.   
Raymond Bakaitis

This paper follows the Eric Miller Memorial lecture given on April 1, 2023.  Based on interviews with many group relations practitioners worldwide, the paper explores how group relations organizations and conferences are shaped by national variables of history, economics, politics, culture, and geography.  Links between current practices in organizations and the connection of those practices to background forces are suggested.  The significance of the patrons of group relations work, geography, religion and spirituality, trauma, and origin stories for the development of organizations and conferences are examined.  Some current worldwide system dynamics are explored.  The author’s identity as an American, White man and its relevance to the research is considered.

The Shame of Knowing and Not Knowing: Race and Social Class Group Dynamics
Mary McRae

The purpose of this paper is to reflect on how racial and cultural stereotypes so deeply embedded in our daily experiences frame and impact our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. There are moments interpersonally and in groups when embedded assumptions and stereotypes seem to clash at the boundaries of social identities and roles, a space that can be shaming because we think we should know better. In this paper I share journal entries of a group of women who I invited to work with me on a research team. I offer journals of our experiences of difficult moments at the boundaries of race, ethnicity, and social class as opportunities for learning. The journals provided an opportunity to share often unspoken thoughts and feelings about our racial and cultural points of disconnection.

Towards incubator of society. Researching the emergent new societal ties and networks with the methodology of the Listening Post
Francesca Falcone

This article presents the results of a research carried out in four Italian cities through the Listening Post methodology. The aim of the research was to study the phenomenon of strained social ties, identify experiences of counter-movement, and explore the overt and covert dynamics. Results highlight that: (1) sociality is not traceable and understandable in the traditional frames and actions; (2) sociality needs mobilising actions that can be fed by local individual and collective resources; (3) fragmentation is not answered through the organisation of a militant action with traditional forms of social struggles; (4) action is oriented to simple daily practice (for example, conviviality) and to the care for the spaces where one lives. From a methodological point of view, it is important to underline the usefulness of LP as a tool for inquiry in the social research at the least from two perspectives. The first relates to the possibility for the researcher, to study and understand (psycho)social dynamics at a deeper level. The second perspective of usefulness of LP is that, unlike other instruments of qualitative research, it focuses on the subjectivity of participants’ experience and therefore creates a space for a collective co-creation of knowledge.

Leading hybrid organisations – the contribution of ‘Leadership Beacons’, emotional transcendence, and transitional space to cross organisational collaboration
Claudia Nagel

Hybrid organisations contribute to solving wicked problems arising from societal issues stemming from public health, climate change or crime. They combine at least two organisations with different institutional logics, cultures, and identities. Their collaboration across boundaries is characterised by conflicts and paradoxical tensions due to the inherent coopetition paradox arising from the need to maintain their organisational identities. My research with a Dutch PPP fighting large scale financial crime focuses on the understanding of emotional reactions of management and leadership to these conflicts and paradoxical tensions. In a preliminary study used as a foundation I demonstrated together with colleagues that emotional transcendence is a key ingredient in facilitating collaboration. In the here presented study I found that ‘leadership beacons’, i.e., leaders with a clear and pronounced value-based leadership-approach which illuminate the path towards collaboration are creating this emotional transcendence. In this paper I want to first show how leadership beacons create this emotional transcendence by offering a transitional space. As a result, emotional trust and thus collaboration are strengthened. Some resulting practical advice for leaders will follow and I will conclude the paper with a discussion of the results and an outlook for future research.


Accounts of Interventions

Wow, look how Zoos Victoria is tackling the challenges at the frontline of climate change. Other mobs can learn from this’.
A case study of the application of Chapman’s theory of guarding against corruption of task.
Fiona Martin

The work of Zoos Victoria to prevent extinction of species is critical and challenging.  Emotionally difficult work has the capacity to distract an organisation from its task, yet Zoos Victoria is able to focus and deliver on its primary purpose.  The paper expands on Jane Chapman’s theory of Corruption and Hatred of Task (1999) and Guarding against Corruption of Task (2019) to understand how well Zoos Victoria organises itself. I propose that the theory may be extended in two ways:

  • Firstly, ambivalence may contribute to the hatred of task. Workers both enjoy and hate holding animals in captivity.
  • Secondly, the worker’s practices introduce an extension to Chapman’s framework for guarding against corruption of task. Staff are aided by animals in coping with the challenges of the work.

Chapman’s theory contributes to understanding why Zoos Victoria remains true to purpose and is able to carry out its work effectively. This extension also provides understanding for improving the experiences of workers in general.

Climate change is increasing the intensity of challenge and disruption for many organisations worldwide.  As a case study Zoos Victoria offers a signal for other organisations needing to meet these emerging challenges.


Speaking Out

Bion’s assumption; folklore and ideology around the group-as-a-whole
Gerard van Reekum 

However disparate the theories about groups, their vocabularies are largely the same. Constructs are formulated in everyday language, obscuring fundamental differences between the underlying paradigms. This circumstance leaves open the option of popularising theories by combining elements from irreconcilable sources. The field of group relations conference work is not saved from this phenomenon, evidenced by the diversity of interpretations of two constructs in psychological group theory as originally developed by Wilfred Bion: group-as-a-whole and basic-assumption. After an introductory section on folklore in group theory, a popularised version of Bion’s theory is confronted with its relevance to our work in today’s world.

„Am deutschen Wesen wird die Welt nicht genesen“[1]
Diplomacy – A film by Volker Schlöndorff (2014)
Beate West-Leuer

Diplomacy (German and French: Diplomatie) is a 2014 Franco-German historical drama film. In the last months of World War II General Dietrich von Choltitz has orders to destroy Paris as Allied Forces move towards the city, and the Swedish diplomat Raoul Nordling is asking the general not to do it. The two protagonists can be interpreted as ego and alter ego, with Nordling representing the split-off self-parts of the general who strive for freedom and justice and experience life as lovable and worth living. Since the outcome of the film is well known the film tries to find answers whether and how the general, representative of what was described by Fromm as an authoritarian character, will move from collective obedience to individual decisions of conscience. When the author watched “Diplomacy” she was shocked about von Choltitz´ statements that he had, in the past, carried out extermination orders of the Jews in Sevastopol.  Even though this statement is historically not clearly documented, the participation of the Wehrmacht in war crimes in undisputed. The author has to admit that she – as a daughter of a Wehrmacht soldier – has a tendency to trivialise this involvement.



OPUS International Listening Posts Global Report:
The World at the Dawn of 2023
Social melancholy, existential precariousness and inter-generational conflict
Irene O Byrne-Maguire, Daniela Cabibbe, Rob Stuart, Bryan Maguire

On or around 12th January 2023, Listening Posts were conducted, mainly online, in 17 countries from five continents, yielding 21 written reports. We are living in a time of perma-crisis from a political, economic, social and environmental perspective. The illegal invasion of Ukraine by Russia enters its second year, covid vaccines have reduced the incidence and severity of the pandemic, now in its fourth year, the climate crisis continues unabated and populism prevails around the world.

Themes identified include bewilderment and survival anxiety, problematic relationships with self and others, broken social and political trust and intergenerational conflict. People are hypervigilant and on high alert for a new crisis. They, experience social melancholy and existential precariousness.  What happens when the future stops being synonymous with hope, promise, and planning and begins to be associated with concepts such as threat, disenchantment, anxiety? Adults struggle to read and embrace the regenerative impulses that come from younger persons, exacerbating intergenerational conflict. At present it seems as though there is a complete rupture between the generations that needs to be fully acknowledged and reckoned with to offer the possibility of authentic, sustainable reparation and equitable growth where all can flourish.

“Is there still time? This question is asked and left unanswered.” (Brazil)


Book Reviews

Work Matters. Consulting to Leaders and Organizations in the Tavistock Tradition by Francesca Cardona.
Published by Routledge, 2020. 125 pp, ISBN: 978-0-367-31318-0
Reviewed by Steen Visholm

Unthinkable evil – Understanding racism by Dr. Stanley Gold
Amazon, 2018, 2019 & 2020
Reviewed by Thea Mikkelsen

Travelling Through Time: How Trauma Plays itself out in Families, Organizations and Society by M. Gerard Fromm.
Published by Phoenix, 2022. 240pp.
Reviewed by Richard Morgan-Jones

[1] “The world will not heal from the German character”