Kate Dempsey Sorry Business Seminar

Kate Dempsey Sorry Business Seminar

Sorry Business Seminar: Dr Kate Dempsey

Sorry Business: A Kleinian perspective on Apology and Reparation seminar

‘Sorry business’ is a term used by First Nation People’s of Australia to encompass the rituals and ceremonies associated with death and grieving. But Australia has a sorry business, left unattended and unacknowledged. Colonisation in Australia (as elsewhere) has left a legacy of inequality, trauma, shame, guilt, and exploitation. In Requiem for a Nun, Faulkner writes the famous line that ‘the past is never dead. It’s not even past.’

In this paper, I argue that the past is still with us all (whether colonist/settler, migrant, dispossessed, white or black) and that lack of apology and reparation means wounds of the past do not heal. As a white Australian, I can’t say how, when or why apology is acceptable but I want to explore why apology is complex in a social context and how cultural forgetfulness negatively impacts on reparation.

I look at attempts to say sorry, from a Kleinian perspective, incorporating her idea of reparation and I use restorative justice principles – most often employed in the criminal justice system – as a guide to enacting apology. Klein deals with personal relationships, not whole societies or cultures and not with formal apologies given by governments or organisations on behalf of large groups for the deeds of those who came before. But perhaps illumination can occur by examining her ideas. She notes that the move to a depressive position comes first from the one who has done wrong, realising this truth, mourning loss and wanting to repair.

But if apology has an unspoken aim to triumph over a past, or has a sentiment of grievance, anger, or guilt at its heart, it is ‘manic reparation’ (Klein 1935). This is the fantasy desire that the division being experienced should go away. It is the belief that by simply apologising we can return to a place of oneness, to have the other stop complaining or have the feeling of guilt for damage done, assuaged. It is fantasy and therefore manic because the damage has in fact been done and the prior state can never return. Relationship with the other is damaged by past events and apology is only true when this brokenness is acknowledged and responsibility accepted.


Seminar, recorded via Zoom

Reparation is an embodied, enacted and relational process. Without reparation, we cannot move as individuals or as a nation to a mature (depressive) position. The task is to find the liminal space so that growth can occur, rather than all parties feeling either overwhelmed by what we cannot fix or defensively assuming all will be well following apology.

Finally, I discuss the term Dadirri (Ungunmerr 1988) from the Daly River People (the Ngangikurungkurr) as a way for white settler descendants to begin to come to a place of remembering and mourning that offers both an internal maturing in the depressive position, but also an outward enactment of reparation. It is a term that has no comparable meaning in English. But it points the way to quiet listening and deep understanding of the other, which is a good place to start.

Klein, M. (1935/1975) ‘A Contribution to the Psychogenesis of Manic-Depressive States’ Writings Vol 1. Free Press (Macmillan) NY. Available at https://www.sas.upenn.edu/~cavitch/pdf-

Ungunmerr, MR. (1988) Dadirri: Inner Deep Listening and Quiet Still Awareness accessed 2.02.2019 from www.miriamrosefoundation.org.au


Dr Kate Dempsey

Dr Kate Dempsey (PhD) is an organisational consultant who has successfully operated her own business, Kate Dempsey & Associates, for more than two decades. She assists businesses with change management and organisational review.

Prior to her consulting work, Kate held a number of positions in the public sector and throughout her career, she has been involved in many Boards and Committees – either appointed or elected to represent constituents.

In addition to her consulting work, Kate is an academic who has taught Leadership and Managing Change to Masters level students at Monash University and Latrobe University and also to Bachelor of Business students at Swinburne University since 2006. She has a PhD in the psychology of leadership.

Dr Dempsey is a member of the NIODA Academic Board of Governance.


The National Institute of Organisation Dynamics Australia (NIODA) offers internationally renowned post-graduate education and research, and decades of experience consulting with Australian organisations.

The study of organisation dynamics brings together socio-technical and psychoanalytic disciplines to explore the unconscious dynamics that exist in every group, team or organisation. Learning more about these theories, and reflecting on the experience of them, can support leaders and managers to unlock great potential in their organisations, tackling issues through a whole new light.



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The Authority to Profess

The Authority to Profess

The Authority to Profess

The recent appointment of Susan Long to the rank of Professor at NIODA follows her more than 50 years of rigorous scholarship as she has grown her own distinctive practice as a thinker, author, teacher and action researcher.

The authority to profess Susan Long

The shorter Oxford dictionary defines a Professor as a public teacher of the highest rank in a specific faculty or branch of learning. The title designates one who is accorded the authority to profess their thoughts, understanding and sentiments to a public that should be willing to listen and be influenced by the Professor’s erudition.

The recent appointment of Susan Long to the rank of Professor at NIODA surely accords with this definition following as it does her more than 50 years of rigorous scholarship in the fields of psychology, psychoanalytic psychotherapy, clinical practice, group relations, social dreaming and education, each discipline informing the other, as she has grown her own distinctive practice as a thinker, author, teacher and action researcher. Her curiosity about, and respect for, the ‘unconscious’ has led her to explore it from many angles including the historical, the here and now, and the prospective. Her recently conceptualised differentiation of the ‘associative unconscious’ from Freud’s notion of the repressed unconscious is breathing new possibilities into our understanding of creativity as social process. She is a restless inquirer.

Students of Organisation Dynamics learn that the concept of ‘authority’, whilst essential to the process of reliable organising, regulating and acting, has many vicissitudes.

In society today there is much concern about whether our authorities can be trusted. And as long ago as the 17th century the philosopher John Locke so wisely warned that every error known to mankind has had its professor. In this case, we can rely on the fact that Susan Long has previously held professorial appointments at two universities, Swinburne and RMIT, has many peer-reviewed publications and research grants, and has been elected, by her peers, as President of both local and international professional associations. Her ‘top-down’ authority is assured. But what about her ‘bottom-up’ authorisation? Are students and clients still willing to listen? Well, her supervision to completion of 22 PhD students, so far, helps answer that question. As does the number of requests for her service as an examiner and consultant, along with the ‘sold out’ status of her writing workshops, the repeated invitations she receives to work on the staff of group relations conferences in Australia and overseas, and the applause from many current and past students at the news of her NIODA appointment. The key to this respect, I think, is Susan’s profound understanding that authority which cannot be questioned is just power. She always invites others, students, colleagues and clients alike, to question their experience, including their experience of her, in order to think together about how emotional currents are shaping their views of reality, the possibility of collaborating, and the ethics that will guide their behaviour.

NIODA is honoured and enriched by Susan’s appointment and her continuance in the role of Director, Research and Scholarship. Long may she continue to profess and to guide NIODA’s students in the making of good authority for an uncertain world.

John Newton

Prof John Newton
Chair Academic Board of Governance, NIODA

1 May 2020

The Authority to Profess – Susan Long

ps Are you a leader or manager and would like to learn more about making good authority? Have a look at the NIODA Master of Leadership and Management (Organisation Dynamics) course.

The Authority to Profess by Prof John Newton

Working collaboratively during COVID-19

Working collaboratively during COVID-19

Working collaboratively during COVID-19

Eradication or controlled suppression of COVID-19 is the difficult choice facing Australia right now. Almost 100 researchers have been tasked with analysing the consequences of the options of maintaining restrictions and eradicating COVID-19, or easing restrictions and letting the disease run.

Working collaboratively during COVID-19 by Jennifer Burrows

Eradication or controlled suppression of COVID-19 is the difficult choice facing Australia right now. The Weekend Australian (April 18 2020) described a project being undertaken by almost 100 researchers from Australia’s Group of Eight universities who have been tasked by the government with analysing the consequences of the options of maintaining restrictions and eradicating COVID-19, or easing restrictions and letting the disease run.

Working collaboratively during COVID-19

An innovative process was used to create the draft report, called the Roadmap to Recovery, within a two-week timeline. The members were asked to work anonymously using pseudonyms so ideas were judged on merit and not impacted by reputation or hierarchy, which encouraged risk-taking and honest debate. The participants included established academics and also talented early career researchers and PhD students which supported a diversity of opinion and a variety of thinking. The members were drawn from a wide range of disciplines including medicine, epidemiology, health sciences, economics, psychology, political science, education, and other social sciences.

The problem was split up into 10 interrelated questions flowing from the first: which model should Australia follow, eradication or controlled suppression of COVID-19? A specialist software platform supported members to work collectively on the questions and used “collaborative reasoning” techniques to come to a consensus view and produce a short report from a complex collection of information. No one was nominated to be a leader or told what part of the problem to focus on. The developing work was available to all members so they could comment on drafts, rate the readiness of completed work, offer assistance and invite co-authors. This group-sourced intelligence encouraged contending analysis and a better product.

This process is a remarkable shift from the usual way of working in traditional academia, which is often slow, individualistic, and hierarchical. It is an example of collaborative thinking being used to address the collective need, which is being practised at macro and micro levels as a response to the pandemic.

At the macro level, it is seen in the sharing of data and breakthroughs by scientists working across the world to find ways to fight the virus, in Germany taking France’s most critical patients, and in the establishment of the Australian National Cabinet. At the micro level it is found in communities (physical and virtual) connecting to share and support each other through the crisis, the level of compliance with social distancing to protect the most vulnerable, and people reaching out to help family, friends and neighbours.

With collaborative thinking to respond to the collective need being widely practised, and the benefits experienced by so many of us, what might we learn about this way of working that we might continue to use in our families, community, workplace and globally? The Roadmap to Recovery project contained a clear purpose, task and timeline, merit-based recognition, a diversity of thinking and tolerance for difference of opinion, self-management and emergent leadership, transparency of the developing product and an emphasis on both the individual and collaborative contribution.

Could the Roadmap to Recovery project be an example of being able to find a balance of both the individual and the collective engagement, so they can be integrated to produce a unique solution? The contribution required of the individual is their expertise, the ongoing finding of their role in the project and the ability to offer leadership as required, their willingness to share resources and the vulnerability of making draft work visible and welcoming feedback. The value of the collective is in the diversity of contribution, thinking and the clash and building of ideas leading to a co-created outcome. The shared purpose, held by all, for a collective benefit provides the glue to unite the members in the face of the inevitable challenges of working in this way.

My hope is that having practised this way of working and experienced the benefits of it we will not return completely to our old ways of working after the crisis but will endeavour to bring the experience of collaborative thinking and a collective perspective to our future relationships, leadership and work.

Jennifer Burrows

Jennifer Burrows
Symposium Committee Member, NIODA

24 April 2020

Working collaboratively during COVID-19

ps Leaders and managers are invited to think deeply about working collaboratively into the future at the 2020 symposium: Working into the Future: Building Individual and Organisations Culture Beyond 2020

Working collaboratively during COVID-19 by Jennifer Burrows

We are all in this together

We are all in this together

We are all in this together

‘We are all in this together’ has become a worldwide slogan for the fight against COVID-19. The slogan attempts to unify peoples and countries by indicating that anyone can get the virus, that the virus knows no borders and that the world is interconnected and we can ‘all do our bit to flatten the curve’. A good message. But who are the ‘we’ in this formulation and how might different groups identify with such a ‘we’?

We are all in this together – Between Basic Assumption Me and Basic Assumption Oneness

‘We are all in this together’ has become a worldwide slogan for the fight against COVID-19. The slogan attempts to unify peoples and countries by indicating that anyone can get the virus, that the virus knows no borders and that the world is interconnected and we can ‘all do our bit to flatten the curve’. A good message. But who are the ‘we’ in this formulation and how might different groups identify with such a ‘we’?

This can be looked at from both rational conscious and covert and unconscious perspectives.

First consider, at the conscious level, what ‘we’ are hearing on the news. According to the statistics, yes, the virus is a global pandemic affecting people in 213 countries and territories (updated July 6 2020 on https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/countries-where-coronavirus-has-spread/). ‘We’ if we count this as the world’s population, are all in it.

Nonetheless, within those countries ‘the virus is already disproportionately impacting the poor in wealthy countries, where the most known cases are concentrated’ (https://www.globalcitizen.org/). It is expected that poorer third-world countries will be affected severely. So, no, many of the wealthier segments of society with robust medical systems and a capacity for citizens to self-isolate are not ‘in it’ in the same way as the poor, the homeless, the overcrowded and the unemployed; not to forget the front-line workers in health and other roles that expose workers disproportionately to the virus.

If the slogan means that we should all be ‘doing our bit’ to help slow the spread of the virus, then perhaps, yes, the ‘we’ might be more inclusive. Those who can continue to work in a reasonably safe environment, or from home or at a distance can help. But again, there are many who are unable to stay home, or stay at a distance from others (for instance the crowded cities of India), or who have cultural or religious beliefs that prevent them taking such measures, let alone the deniers, who are not part of the ‘we’ in the attempts to slow the curve; not necessarily by choice but more by circumstance.

Does the ‘in this together’ mean economically? Country economies are facing the biggest recessions since the great depression, and may well suffer far beyond that grim milestone. Households are being affected by unemployment. Many small businesses are closed. Larger industries also affected. And, yes, government economic packages across the globe are to be distributed to many. But there are limits and once more the wealth divide shows disproportionate effects. In Australia, for one small example, many casual and itinerate workers will miss out on government job-keeper support. Countries will sustain large debts and the ‘we’ who must pay may refer more to the younger working generation in years to come, than current mature workers.


But let me now come to a consideration of some more unconscious dynamics amongst groups.

‘We’, that is those who study unconscious dynamics in groups and societies, attempt to discern the unconscious basic assumptions that groups hold. These are collective ideas that guide thinking, behaviour and emotion in groups; those ideas that are part of the culture, not really closely examined taken-for-granteds. Two such assumptions that are of interest here are Basic Assumption Me (BAMe) and Basic Assumption Oneness (BAOneness), both described well in the group relations literature. The former assumes that a group is simply a collection of individuals, each out to satisfy their own needs, joined by a common interest but basically from a narcissistic stance. The latter assumes that a group is a unity with little differentiation between members – all caught together in a common need and with common responses. Perhaps these, in extreme, underlie capitalism and communism respectively. What then is the ‘we’ in BAMe and in BA Oneness? This is a question that has implications for moral responsibility – an issue at the heart of the emotional message in ‘we are all in this together’.

In BAMe ‘we’ means a collection brought together in the interests of personal survival, growth or gain. We are all in this together means if we each individually want to survive with our health and wealth we had better collaborate. Basically, in this form of ‘we’, personal responsibility is primary as well as individual gain. Shared responsibility is the result of agreements more or less loosely held. In the long run, the individual will look after his or her interests above those interests of the group as a whole. Fear and terror may instigate this basic assumption. I applaud the decision of New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Adern’s Government to reduce the wages for politicians and senior government officials at this time when many are losing their jobs. This shows a leadership not caught in BAMe.

In BAOneness, ‘we’ means the group itself with little differentiation between individuals. The group holds together for the protection and benefit of the whole and its identity – sometimes this is at the expense of the individual. Collective responsibility as a whole is foremost, implying that the group itself is a moral agent – an idea with many difficulties, especially in terms of the law. Often, though the collective responsibility is such that a whole collective may be seen to be blameworthy, such as is seen in racism. The message that President Trump of the US gives his country in withdrawing funding from the World Health Organisation indicates his mindset of the US being in a oneness against others – those to blame.

A position between BAMe and BAOneness is needed: one where ‘we’ is contingent on the work needed to be done by the group. On the one hand, differentiation between individuals and their roles is needed: different sub-groups have different responsibilities and authority, ‘Them’ and ‘us’ need to be distinguished. Not in a destructive and blaming way, but in a creative and task-oriented way: an appropriate division of labour. ‘Them’ and ‘us’ has taken on a bad name. On the other hand, Individuals need to collaborate, make agreements and at times personal sacrifices. My concern is that the growing interdict to avoid any distinction – any talk of ‘us’ and ‘them’ – may become the new political correctness; likely to deny the fact that ‘we are all in this’ in different ways.

The position in between BAMe and BAOneness is said to be the work group – perhaps the good- enough work group: Basic Assumption Collaboration with distinct differences between different groupings that can work across the boundaries, not dissolve and deny them. ‘We are all in this together’ but let’s not forget that we are in this in different ways and they need recognition.

Prof Susan Long
Director of Research & Scholarship, NIODA

16 April 2020

We are all in this together – Between Basic Assumption Me and Basic Assumption Oneness

ps Are you a leader or manager and would like to learn more about both rational conscious and covert and unconscious perspectives? Have a look at the NIODA Master of Leadership and Management (Organisation Dynamics) course.

We are all in this together – Between Basic Assumption Me and Basic Assumption Oneness by Prof Susan Long

Working from home for years tips

Working from home for years tips

Working from home tips

I've been working from home for over two years. At first I found it difficult, but now I love it. Here's my tips to help you...

Working from home for years – tips

I’ve been working from home for the last two years, at first I found it very difficult, but now I love it! Here are my tips:

A little over two years ago, I started working for NIODA offering a real, dinky-di, fully accredited Master of Leadership and Management degree (teaching the people side of things) with an average student age of 48.  I started from home and at that stage, I had meetings in the city one day a week.  Initially, I found it very difficult to get a grip of the organisation’s culture, ways of doing things, approval tree and how to take up my role.  In the beginning, the days in the city were vital to my development in my role within the organisation and connection with staff. All meetings were face-to-face or over the telephone or voice on Skype.  If we were working on finalising a document, would speak on the phone, one would read it out and the other edit it and then email it to the other person to check for errors.

Oh, how times have changed!

We introduced Zoom into the meeting space.  This enables us to meet with a number of people together ‘Brady bunch style’ and one can see the faces of those who are speaking and interaction is deeper than via the telephone.  We also started using Google docs, allowing a number of people to have a document open together and to edit and comment on it together in real-time whilst across the telephone (or Zoom if two or more).

Let me give you an example:

Late last year we needed to create a committee to address the sexual assault and sexual harassment that a new study revealed was rife across the university sector. We put together a task force including: a lawyer who had worked on the development of the legal definition of rape in Victoria; a retired gynaecologist who had headed up the rape trauma centre at the Royal Woman’s Hospital and was a member of our human research ethics committee; a male student who works in the leadership space; and a member of the teaching staff who is also the student advisor. If we had chosen to meet face to face, with travel times, each member would have had to take half a day off work. However, we elected to meet over Zoom and therefore each member only had to schedule an hour from their busy work schedule to attend. So we met together with regularly scheduled meetings on Zoom. Each meeting began with ‘reflection time’ or a ‘check-in’ for ten minutes which enabled everyone to express where they were at and what they were bringing to this meeting, and then we got down to business. We achieved all that we set out to do. We developed the Sexual Misconduct policy on Google docs over several meetings. The implications of each section of the policy were discussed at length and edited in real-time to the approval of all in attendance. We then developed a webpage specifically covering advice and information pertaining to students and staff and sexual misconduct and determined the best methods for training techniques and programs for staff and students. All this whilst building a level of camaraderie amongst the committee. We connected and then got down to business to address the areas required of us.

This is just one example, this happens across different areas of the organisation every day.


Working from home tips:

Tip 1: Core essentials

I have school-age children and each day (until COVID-19) either drop them off or pick them up. On occasions, meetings are scheduled near to school drop pick up time. So I drive to the school early, connect my computer to my phone via hotspot, open Zoom and Google docs and get started, all whilst sitting in my car. Often the meetings finish just as my children arrive. I drive them home and then return to my desk to finish the afternoon.

Tip 2: Find a quiet spot

I am fortunate to have a lovely workspace in a studio, separate from the main house, so I can work without interruption. That being said, my dog has barked on occasion in the middle an important meeting (I have got much better at using the mute function). I get up early and get my household chores done, and then ‘leave for work’ this helps me focus. So I encourage you to find a space in which you can work uninterrupted.

Tip 3: Headphones

I have a good set of headphones and microphone, so if my kids do barge in, they cannot hear what is happening in the meeting and I let them know what time it will finish and I can help them then.

Tip 4: Work a normal day

It is easy to pull out the computer at any time and work.  However, it is important to switch off and have family/hobby/relaxation time.  I don’t send, check or respond to emails outside of my normal work hours, including the weekend. Whilst working I stay focussed, so if I have a chore to attend to, I will do this during my lunch break.

Tip 5: Reach out to colleagues

If I am struggling to complete a piece of work, I now know I can call on my colleagues to find someone who can help me within it. We schedule a meeting and open in it Google docs and get down to business. This helps to get those jobs done that I keep putting off because I have some sort of block to attending to them. Often, we just get started and then I am fine and can complete the task on my won.

Tip 6: Schedule zoom meetings

Humans are social creatures. We can do so much more together. Meetings are vital and these are scheduled throughout the day and this keeps me and everyone on track. Visual meetings (on Zoom) are great to see everyone on screen.  There is a much stronger connection than speaking on the phone. It can also be awesome to screen share.

Tip 7: Check-in ‘reflections’

The ten minutes check-in ‘reflections’ are a wonderful time to stay connected and to ensure the pulse of the organisation is a positive one, or if not, those who are struggling can be supported.

Tip 8: Either all face-to-face or all virtual

It is difficult to manage a meeting with some in the room and others online, as those online often miss what is being said, or get forgotten as the meeting progresses. I prefer meetings that all either all virtual or all face-to-face.

Tip 9: Anything is possible

Although somewhat hectic to get the tech sorted, NIODA changed all face-to-face classes to live interactive online sessions, without missing or cancelling a class. Just recently we held an online public lecture with an international leader in the field with 78 people on Zoom, and it was interactive!


Before COVID-19 I was catching the train to the city once a month and now that is not happening at all. Yet I am still able to further the organisation and develop within my role at work. I am connected to fellow staff. I work a full eight-hour day and am still available in the evenings and mornings for my family. I don’t have to pack or buy my lunch (I love reheating left-overs). I don’t have to travel or an hour each day. I have reduced my global footprint. Google and Zoom are my friends. Life is good!

Ms Sally Mussared
Director of Administration, NIODA

6 April 2020

Working from home for years, tips

ps Are you a leader or manager and would like to learn more about what NIODA is all about? Have a look at the NIODA Master of Leadership and Management (Organisation Dynamics) course.


for Working from home for years – tips

Zoom: conferencing software which is free and works on PC and mac and does not require any other software licences to operate.

Google docs: word processing software which allows a number of people to work on the same document at the same time.


Working from home for years – tips by Sally Mussared

Understanding Socioanalytic Methods and COVID-19

Understanding Socioanalytic Methods and COVID-19

Understanding Socioanalytic Methods and COVID-19

In these difficult times of COVID-19, I think a note on socioanalytic methods might be helpful. The flood of information, as well as anxieties, is on the surface of the virus spread – some critical and helpful; keeping us connected; some not; but can we also hold onto our minds and access what lies beneath?

Understanding Socioanalytic Methods and COVID-19

In these difficult times of COVID-19, I think a note on socioanalytic methods might be helpful. The flood of information, as well as anxieties, is on the surface of the virus spread – some critical and helpful; keeping us connected; some not; but can we also hold onto our minds and access what lies beneath?

Understanding Socioanalytic Methods and COVID-19

Psychoanalysis has been around for over a hundred years and many books have been written about its method with particular emphasis on the clinical encounter. But what about the methodology used in the exploration of unconscious processes in social groups and organisations (ie socioanalytic methodologies)?

While there are overlaps between socioanalytic investigations and other social science research methods, both psychoanalysis and socioanalysis are based in primarily ideographic and subjective frameworks. It can be argued that they involve the scientific study of subjectivity – individually and collectively (Long 2001).

Socioanalysis is the study of groups, organisations and society using a systems psychoanalytic framework. It “combines and synthesises methodologies and theories derived from psychoanalysis, group relations, social systems thinking, organisational behaviour, and social dreaming ” (Bain 1999; Long 2017). In simple terms, socioanalysis studies social groupings and phenomena by looking beneath the surface (and the obvious) to see the underlying dynamics and how these dynamics are interconnected.


A Philosophy of Science for Socioanalytic Study

The philosophy of science supporting socioanalytic study is different from traditional empiricist or positivist philosophies although some socioanalytic researchers may at times work also with these traditions. A primary philosophy of science supporting socioanalysis is that propounded by Charles Sanders Pierce, a late nineteenth-century philosopher who introduced the idea of “abductive logic” (Burch 2010; Long and Harney 2013). He conceived of scientific discovery as moving through stages of abductive, deductive and inductive logic. Abductive logic is involved in the early stages of hypothesis creation. At this stage, argument by metaphor leads to the creative development of what we call “working hypotheses” that can then be examined against new cases. This underlies the method of “negative case analysis” as practised in many sociological investigations (Patton 2001). Socioanalysis relies heavily on abductive logic. This may be due to its “youth” as a discipline, but it is also due to the nature of its subject – the unconscious dynamics of groups and organisations, where exploration of the unknown in systems is paramount.

A major research methodology in this discipline is the case study. The reasons for this include the complexity of concepts with non-linear causality; the use of narrative, qualitative, descriptive methods rather than experimental, quantitative methods; the use of action research which – because of the changing, systemic nature of organisations – utilises a social and political intervention alongside an exploratory method; and the use of abductive logic in the development of working hypotheses that aid in thinking through case material and organizational change. But within case studies, several different methods ranging from observation through social dreaming and drawings to work culture analyses have been used.

Connecting all these methods is their aim of “tapping into” the dynamic operation, following Long and Harney (2013), of what various authors now call the associative unconscious within and between social systems. The associative unconscious is – the unconscious at a systemic level. It refers to Bion’s notion of the “infinite” discussed latterly by Gordon Lawrence and stands in contrast to the individual repressed unconscious described by Freud. The associative unconscious covers all those associations available and potential within and amongst interacting social systems. It is a rich vein of golden insight into the underlying dynamics of the system. The totality of such associations is available to the system but not to any one individual. In Lacanian linguistic terms, the associative unconscious is that network of existing and potential signifiers that create the way the organisation or social system is experienced. And, somewhat like Hopper’s “social unconscious” it points beyond that network to “the existence and constraints of social-cultural and communications arrangements of which people are unaware or are denied” (Hopper 2003 p127), but, I add, become available through exploratory methods that use the association and amplification of free associations made in social contexts. More simply though, it is that network of thoughts, ideas and feelings that create the social system as it is and, more creatively, as it might become. The potentiality lies in what David Bohm (1981) calls the implicate order.

Numerous articles have appeared in scholarly journals such as Human Relations, Organisational and Social Dynamics, Organizational Studies, Journal of Management Development, Journal of Management Education, Social Psychiatry, Psychodynamic Practice, Socio-Analysis, and various journals of psychotherapy and group analysis amongst others, and books on specific methods have appeared. However, a book focused on a broad range of socioanalytic methods together with an underlying philosophy to link these methods is available. Socioanalytic Methods: Discovering the hidden in organisations and social systems edited by Susan Long and published by Karnac 2013 does just that.

Each of the methods discussed in the book accesses the associative unconscious in different ways. They help bring hidden dynamics to the surface for people to see how they influence, aid or inhibit their activities. Excitingly, they can show what we know at some level but have not yet been able to use. And, because the methods explore social systems, they can contribute to new collaborative endeavours for thinking the future.

Dr Susan Long
Director of Research & Scholarship, NIODA

24 March 2020

Understanding Socioanalytic Methods and COVID-19

ps Are you a leader or manager and would like to learn more about socioanalytic methods? Have a look at the NIODA Master of Leadership and Management (Organisation Dynamics) course.


for Understanding Socioanalytic Methods and COVID-19

Bain, A. (1999) On Socioanalysis in Socio-Analysis 1.1 pp. 1-17.

Bohm, D. (1980) Wholeness and the Implicate Order. London: Routledge.

Burch, R. (2010). Charles Sanders Peirce. In: E. N. Zalta (Ed.) The Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy (Fall 2010 ed.). Retrieved July 2012, from

Hollway, W. and Jefferson, T. (2000) Doing Qualitative Research Differently: Free association, narrative and the interview. London: Sage Publications.

Hinshelwood, R. and Skogstad, W. (eds.) (2000) Observing Organisations. London: Routledge.

Hopper, E. (2003) The Social Unconscious: Selected Papers. UK: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Long, S.D. (2017) ‘The Socioanalytic Approach to Organisations’ Socioanalysis Vol 19

Long, S.D. and Harney, M. (2013) ‘The Associative Unconscious’ in S. Long, (ed) (2013) Socioanalytic Methods. Chapter 2.

Long, S.D. (2001) Working with Organizations: The Contribution of the Psychoanalytic Discourse. Organisational and Social Dynamics 2: pp. 174 – 198.

Mersky, R. (2011) Social Dreaming, Social Photo-Matrix, Role Biography and Social Dream Drawing: Structure, facilitation capacities and fundamental value to organizations. Paper given at the Annual Meeting of the International Society for the Psychoanalytic Study of Organisations. Melbourne, June 2011.

Patton, M.Q. (2001) Qualitative Research and Evaluation Methods. USA: Sage Publications.

Understanding Socioanalytic Methods and COVID-19 by Dr Susan Long

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