Dewey is going fishing with his father to the swamp.
The earth is powder-dry. The sky is laden.
The river’s a half-drained basin with the bottom poking through: mud, tree-stumps, driftwood spiked like antlers, rocks.
They have a pole each slung over one shoulder and a bucket for the catch. There are no fish.
Miss Hattie Purcell from the post office is making it rain.
She surprises them, sitting in the puddle of her clothes, concentrating. Of everyone back at the Royals— the schoolmaster, the Seed & Feed owner— only she has the power. They go round her like skirting a preacher they haven’t the time for.
The indigo bushes are latticed with climbing vines.
Violets are blooming, and frowsy white flowers
Dewey doesn’t know the name of that happen in spring.
They run a rickety plank to a smashed-up bridge in the middle of the Little Muscadine and drop their bated lines. Schtum as a heron,
Miss Hattie sits rigid on the crest of the riverbank, whatever language magic might be made of running in her mind. Blackie! Then again, Blackie!
In this paper we put forward the working hypothesis that the family as a psychic template applied to organisations has a) moved from an explanatory hypothesis to an almost exclusive principle in group relations thinking and b) as a consequence, excluded other possible explanatory hypotheses and the use of other psychic templates. Beyond this, we explore the idea that the group relations community of practice may identify with the application of the family psychic template to the extent of at times acting it out rather than using it as a tool for thinking. We stress that this is a working hypothesis and that it has emerged from a collaboration that goes broader than ours. Former members of the Australian Institute of Socio-Analysis (AISA) executive and conference members and staff have also contributed to the findings and ideas presented here.
We attempt to build our argument from experiences in group relations conferences in 2002 and 2008 and from within our community of practice in group relations and systems psychodynamics (socio-analysis) in Australia and consider the implications for group relations conference design. We hope this may also further our thinking about authority relations, leadership and traditional organisational structures.
The “Leicester conference” is an intensive two-week residential event devoted to experiential learning about group and organizational behaviour. Its purpose is educational. The first conference in 1957 was a collaborative venture of the Tavistock Institute and Leicester University, where it had strong support from the professors of adult education and sociology. That joint sponsorship continued for several years, until their retirement. Since that beginning, the conference has been held once and sometimes twice a year, and with two or three early exceptions it has always been at Leicester—hence the label.
In the first conference (Trist R Sofer, 1959) the only experiential event was the “study group” of about 12 members with a consultant; the rest of the programme was made up of lectures, seminars, and visits to organizations. The year 1959 brought the addition of an intergroup exercise (Higgin R Bridger, 1964), in which I was a rather bewildered consultant attending my first conference. This was followed in the early 1960s by the large group and a second version of this inter-group which involved the “here-and-now” study of relations between the membership and staff (Rice, 1965). Lectures were phased out; apart from review and application groups, all events were experiential. By the end of the 1960s the “Leicester model” of today was becoming crystallized; innovations since have been minor or temporary. By then, too, the model was being disseminated, particularly in the United States. These were shorter conferences—typically a week, or even just a weekend. Leicester itself remained (and remains) the only two-week conference, bringing together an increasingly international membership of, usually, 50–70 people drawn from a wide range of occupations, with a similarly diverse group of around 12 staff.
IMAGINE A BUSY CITY emergency room, around rush hour, suddenly overwhelmed by the victims of a mass transit accident. People with partially severed limbs, severe head wounds, out-of-control bleeding, and so forth are being rushed into the hospital admitting area on gurneys, their wounds barely being staunched by paramedics and their cries of pain filling the air. Doctors and nurses stand at the ready and begin the procedure of triage, that is, separating patients according to the urgency of their conditions. But instead of rushing the head wounds or internal injury cases into the emergency room, they first allow an older woman with a slight nosebleed into the case room; once she’s dealt with, they lavish attention on a family whose daughter has a bad flu, followed by a man who may have broken his arm earlier in the day. It goes on like this until the outcry from the severely wounded is so disruptive that a few nurses, reluctantly, go over and began to treat some of the sufferers. Many are already dying.