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Notes on “First Musings on Organizational Analysis”

20 February 2023


What lessons can psychoanalysis teach us regarding organizations? To answer this question, this presentation goes through a few threads:

  1. It juxtaposes what matters to the practice of psychoanalysis versus what is usually understood as the psychoanalytical theory. It argues that they are not always the same. That is, what matters in what psychoanalysts do is usually buried under a theoretical framework that have very little bearing on their everyday practice.

  2. The claim is that if there is something to be learned from psychoanalytical thought they pertain to the practical side of it and not the theoretical side.

  3. Focusing on the practice, the presentation then distills two major categories listening and transference which guide the practice and discusses the parameters within which these categories operate in the everyday practice.

  4. But knowing these categories isn’t enough for safely harvesting them in organizational analysis. We must be aware of their presuppositions and limitations within psychoanalysis. Accordingly, we need to be aware of three major conditions inherent to psychoanalysis that limit the verbatim applicability of these categories: one structural, one socio-historical, and one regional.

  5. The structural and socio-historical conditions are intertwined (they determine each other). The structural limitation pertains to the dyadic relation that grounds psychoanalytical interactions. The socio-historical limitation pertains to the erosion of atoms of kinship (an institution of mode A) under the capitalist society (organized by mode C) that grounds the emergence of psychoanalysis.

  6. The third limitation (which I call regionality) is revealed when we map psychoanalysis to STP’s trinitarian model of organizational analysis, which places it on the side of composition-interaction (along with ethnology, on the side of composition-information, and political analysis on the side of information-interaction). This shows that the effective region for psychoanalysis is in the relation of composition and interaction, which further reveals the theoretical debt that psychoanalysis has always carried.

  7. Knowing these three limitations – structural, socio-historical and regional, we have a better clue for when, where and how we should use categories of listening and transference regarding political organizations. Here are some of the clues: a) For an effective intervention with organizations we should be in composition with them b) Intervention must affect both autonomy and heteronomy of the organization that we are interacting with c) The intervention should connect the organization we are interacting with to a larger community, that is to the political movement of which this organization should be a part. d) These categories should not guide us to model information


The idea of this meeting is prompted by a few musings. The first is the recent meetings with the students from Vienna, and the conversations that took place around those meetings regarding what contributions STP can make. These meetings comprise the most concrete discussions STP has had around the broader topic of how STP’s theory of organization can help in what people are doing. Secondly, there have also been interesting presentations about aspects of political movements that members of STP have participated in (e.g. the presentations on the “Career Strikes in Brazil”, and “The Students Occupation in 2017”). These were occasions to retroactively examine STP’s ideas and tools and analyzing and identifying the strengths and weaknesses of these movements along with the STP’s theoretical edifice. The third motivation came from a thread that juxtaposes politics with psychoanalysis. The attempt here is to provide lessons from psychoanalysis that will help to strengthen our theory of organization.

There is a certain theoretical debt in using psychoanalytical concepts to describe large scale social dynamics: for example, dicta such as modernity is perversion, or religion is neurosis. We do well to mistrust the political use of such generalizations. However, the more we avoid such large-scale usage of psychoanalytical concepts in politics, the more it becomes evident to us that psychoanalysis could make a genuine contribution to political thinking and political process.

We know psychoanalysis works. We have seen it works. But still don’t have a sufficient theoretical understanding of how it works. There are still big theoretical blackholes in psychoanalysis. Not having such a thorough theoretical underpinning of the practice of psychoanalysis gives grounds for being skeptic regarding the generalization of its techniques to spheres that do not belong to it, cases in point the social and political life. The gap that exists between psychoanalysis and politics customarily is filled with significant and unconditioned philosophical “stuffing”. The bridge between Marx and Freud – the bridge between the concept of surplus value and surplus enjoyment – is thus very poorly made.

In some ways, because of the resurgence of political movements and the real urgency that politics has found in in recent years, it seems that we have left the period that in which such superfluous linking of psychoanalysis and politics could be useful. In addition, this bridging involves the presupposition of superiority of psychoanalysis to politics – that the former interprets the latter. However, considering all the institutional, organizational, ideological, economic cases within the psychoanalytical practice, it seems more and more the case that politics may be useful tool to interpret this practice, which leads to this belief that psychoanalytic and politics are in a more symmetrical relationship.

The critique we are making of the relation between psychoanalysis and politics, however, doesn’t mean that real political movements cannot learn from psychoanalysis. But we need these lessons to be more practical, more concrete, and at a more granular level. And they incidentally have to do with the core everyday practice of psychoanalysis as opposed to big theoretical items such as not-All or theory of sexuation, or the four discourses. I am still to meet an analyst who uses the four discourses in everyday practice.

The Strange Efficacy of Analytic Listening

It is amazing how much you can re-describe most of the analytical theory from the standpoint which privileges its practice. Opposite to the naïve misinterpretation that such a focus on the practice tends to dismiss the theory, the emphasis on practice is in pursuit of an even more speculative and fascinating theory. The key to this however is to pay more attention to what we do in the practice as opposed to what we think we do, which is usually the bedrock of ideology.

A good example of this dialectic between the theory and practice can be found in the emphasis on vulgata – punctuation, intervention – that is so frequently made in the theory. In contrast, much of what we do in practice is not determined by our punctuation and intervention, rather by listening. The formal structure of psychoanalysis is much better evaluated in terms of listening than speaking. As analysts our main commitment is not to speak but to listen. Even interventions, such as Lacan’s idea of scansion and variable length sessions, are in fact forms of listening than speaking. Also, the progress of a patient toward a cure is much better measured by what they are capable of listening than what they are capable of saying. The idea that you need to be able to account for yourself, narrate your life, describe what’s happening to you, share with others the intimate details of your life, do not necessarily have anything inherently liberating and were never the core of Freud’s or Lacan’s procedure. You get much better sense of an analysis by how much patients are able to listen to themselves. That gives a sense for when an analysis should end. It creates a much better continuity between analysands and analysts.

In short, an analyst’s job is to listen. The analyst is helping somebody to learn to listen to herself and others. At some point these two can meet, and an analysand can be an analyst, which is exactly Lacan’s definition of the end of analysis: to move from the position of a patient to the position of an analyst.

This strange property of listening – something that analysts do every day in their clinical practice – not only frees us from the complex theoretical edifice that tries to account for the priority of speaking, it also gives us a very effective tool that we can use in a different context, with different motifs and procedures, which is in the relation among political organizations.

One big aspect of a successful intervention is that it leaves no mark – it is a transmission without a trace. One sign of poor analysis is if you can see within the behavior of the analysand the style of the analyst – meaning that the labour of the analyst leaves a mark in the patient. This goes with the idea that analysis should not add anything to patients. It either removes something from patients, or if something is added, it should be added from the side of patients, when they recount for what they went through, which should not include the analyst. The legitimate reconstruction of cause and effect should not include the analyst’s interventions.

Another important aspect of what analysts do is captured in this phrase: “extract associative resources out of asocial structures in the patient’s world”. In the analytic process people speak about many aspects of their lives that are not integrated with the symbolic structure that they share with others and through which they integrate their identities. The analytic process brings those aspects to fore and allow them to be part of patients’ discourse. These aspects have the ability to be integrated in the symbolic and the higher socialized space but patients never had the opportunity to do so.

This also relates to how Lacan refers to the end of analysis: the analysand becomes the analyst. There is a transformation, an increment, that patients find in analysis. The same transformation that happens during the analyst’s training. Those two procedures have the same outcome (i.e. the passage from an analysand to an analyst and the analyst training). There are things in people’s lives that have no place. The main hypothesis of psychoanalysis is that what is unsayable in people’s lives could find a place in their symbolic and social spaces. Analysis helps patients to find a place for them, to speak about them, and to turn them to new practices in their lives. But this process is not just a matter of being able to empty out the phantasmatic partnerships of patients that account for these poorly symbolized things. Nor is it only a matter of traversing or emptying out these fantasies in speech. It is also a matter of displacing from such an abstract partnership to a real concrete partnership with the analytic community. The other side of turning an analysand to an analyst is also the shift that a patient makes from this abstract and private interaction to an interaction with a community that believes these things have a place. This perspective could also help us to frame the question Žižek had posed since 1980’s regarding Hegel’s “community of believers” in Phenomenology. What did Hegel mean by the “community of believers”? An answer could be “the analytic community”; it is this community that creates and maintains the space for patients’ unsymbolized thoughts so to that they find a place in the social order.

Transference and What It Is Not

The core of what is being proposed as the bridge between psychoanalysis and organizational theory is the concept of transference. For Lacan, transference is one of the four fundamental concepts of psychoanalysis, along with unconscious, repetition and drive. But transference stands out from the other three as they are unbounded concepts – they can apply to anyone at any time, and therefore they don’t have a domain of operation. From among these concepts, transference is the only one that coincides with the practice of psychoanalysis: establishment of transference, handling of transference, liquidation of transference, delimit the entire analytical procedure as beginning, middle and end.

The latter characterization is very important for us because it emphasizes the direct relation this concept has with the practice itself - unlike the other three concepts that their domain of operation is mainly theory, and are overdetermined by inquiries other than psychoanalysis – for example, philosophy or metaphysics.

Transference is not what an analysand imputes or projects on the analyst. It is the outcome of the peculiar connection between the analysand and the analyst in which a concrete relation is missing. The name of this peculiar connection with missing concrete relation is free association. Transference takes place as the result of the free association, which is an impossible imperative. When an analyst asks patients to do whatever they want, the analyst is putting them in an impossible and contradictory position. Because of that, the patient “transfers” relations that were placed elsewhere under different circumstances to this “vacant” space. Hence, transference is to close the gap in the social relation opened by free association. In regular life, when there is no artificial conditions (i.e. there is no free association), there are many normative commitments that exist at once, and can be used in if one is absent or inoperative. For example, if I hire someone for a service and the person denies to be paid, it may look like that the expected normative commitment is shaken – I don’t know what I am supposed to do. But there are different layers of commitment that are still there to which this relation can latch on (she doesn’t want my money because she wants me to “owe” her a favor, for example).

Transference is thus a space of operation that happens then and there. Is constructed in a vacant space that is artificially created. But that vacancy creates a space of operation within which the patient can exercise her agency. It is not an imposed but a transferred space – transferred from somewhere else by the patient. By analysing the patient from within the transference, the analyst can observe what is meaningful and significant in the patient’s world. Hence, transference is not about representing or looking into the patient’s speech to find something hidden that manifests patient’s relation to the world. It is rather to make that relation to happen right in front of the analyst, which also includes the analyst. To analyze within the transference means to allow to be composed with the patient. The analyst is part of the patient’s world in that moment. In the silent and passive role, the free association integrates analyst within the patient’s world, within which psychoanalytical intervention is made possible.

Freud ends the Dynamic of Transference by saying that the whole battle of psychoanalysis is fought on the grounds of transference and emphasizes that it is not because we want the love from or the mastery over the patients. Transference is indeed the exact opposite those relations. Freud ends his essay with this sentence: “For when all is said and done, it is impossible to destroy anyone in absentia or in effigie.” If we want to effectively intervene we must be made of the same “stuff” as the one we want to intervene upon. In that sense, psychoanalysis cure is analogous to the homeopathy medicine: we need to be of the same principle as the problem we are treating: there is a homogeneity between the thing being treated and the principle of treatment. Analysis has the same characteristic and its principle of treatment is that it is of the same pathos as what it is trying to treat – that is, it is commensurate with the unconscious and it intervenes neither on something that has happened nor on something that will happen but on something that is happening.

That is why for Lacanian analysis history of the patience is of little concern. The background and history is an added noise that patients inevitably will go through, and finds its significance only in relation to here-and-now. The construction of this history is the work of the fantasy but the placement of this history in here-and-now is the work of unconscious.

Effective Restrictions and Possible Generalizations

This underlies the peculiarity and uniqueness of the way psychoanalysis causes change. Psychoanalysis shows that we can interact with others in ways that do more than just explication of theories. Rather, it is a process whose purpose is to increase autonomy as well as heteronomy. The core of this practice is determined by the awareness that autonomy and heteronomy develop together. It is not possible to make free decisions (autonomy) unless there is an awareness of others being able also to do the same freely (heteronomy). This is equivalent to say that psychoanalysis is a practice that focuses on listening rather than speech since in order to listen to others (heteronomy) you must first learn to listen to yourself (autonomy).

However, when we consider the generalization of these principles from the domain of psychoanalytical practice to other domains like the organizational theory we need to be aware of certain presuppositions that are part of the practice, which do not apply to other fields of endeavour. Two restrictions should be discussed in this regard.

The first restriction is that psychoanalysis is a practice that involves two people in a room. This practice is primarily for the treatment of traumas of amorous type. There is a formal connection between the literal clinical setting which relates two people, with the type of things with which the interaction is concerned, which ultimately concerns two people. We say “ultimately”, because the relation of two people could go through a myriad of other relations, but at the end what matters is the relation of the two. There is a material connection between the logic of two people and the things analysts get to interact with. They have the same composition. So, when we said that the analyst needs to be composed of or dragged into a relation we are also speaking of a certain structure that is necessary for the interaction and intervention. This means that there is a correlation between the type of relation analysts establish and the class of phenomena upon which they get intervene. That is why the clinical practice cannot make effective intervention in the kinds of trauma that is not of the type of a dyad. For example, the trauma experienced by a victim of police brutality cannot be touched by the dyadic relation of a clinical session, since this relationship cannot reproduce the symbolic structure within which the original trauma had taken place. In this case the person can only represent the experience but will not enact with it. The experience remains in effigie, in absentia (as Freud called it). This is so because the dyadic structure of a clinical session cannot actualize the experience that is not dyadic in structure. In cases like this it may be more effective if the patient goes through an analytical experience that involves an analyst who works for an institution (such as a hospital). The analytical experience in that case has a structure that resembles the patient’s trauma (trauma that involves an institution such as the police or the state).

This says that there is a correlation between the structure of the trauma and the structure of the analytical process. This is the exact point of the connection between our theory of organizational trinitarianism – which claims how things are composed will affect what you get to interact with and what is intelligible to you – with this theory of transference. There is a material compositional basis to transference that limits what we get to interact with within the clinic.

There is a restriction to psychoanalysis, but we, in STP, are in a position using our theory to name that restriction better than psychoanalysis is capable of: what it would mean to be composed with a certain situation in such a way that we can enact certain relations within whose context we are able to reveal something about the organizational language of that situation? We are able to talk about how to generalize that experience beyond the clinical setting while respecting things that only works within the clinical setting.

The second restriction of psychoanalysis reveals itself when we consider the socio-historical context for its emergence. A key concept by Levi Strauss has helped us in this regard: the atom of kinship as a basic social unit composing together affinity structures that consist a whole. The best way to understand this concept is to use what is called the paraconsistent logic to analyze the structure of an atom of kinship (these structures do not follow the classical or the intuitionist logics). Levi Strauss’s atoms of kinship, do not just involve blood connections. They also include the connection of marriage and connections that are slightly indeterminate. So, a basic atom of kinship includes people that one is very similar to, people that one is not similar to, and people that one is not sure whether one is similar to or not. We can tell the story of the emergence of psychoanalysis by realizing that its emergence happened when social conditions undermined atoms of kinship, and instead established the modern nuclear families. Nuclear families are structures that are more primitive than atoms of kinship, and exclude paraconsistent connections that existed as a part of the atomic structures. This shift results in a loss of integrity with a larger group, which was replaced with mechanisms of large-scale social reproduction based on patriarchy and reproduction of the labour force. Mechanisms that are not directly visible to the individuals living in family units. The undoing of the symbolic connections that were maintained with atoms of kinship created a gap. This gap, in the life of an individual, was filled with the function of fantasy. The birth of the “Other” in Lacanian sense, as something pathological, is related to this very historical social condition, which also inaugurated psychoanalysis. Using Karatani’s parlance, we can see why psychoanalysis is ultimately concerned with mode A and the logic of affinity: why it is organically paraconsistent, why it is all about the object a, which is neither inside or outside and neither the self or the other. Our research establishes that, unlike what some thinkers (e.g. Elizabeth Roudinesco), who think the condition of emergence of psychoanalysis is the advent of democracy and free speech, psychoanalysis is concerned with filling the gap caused by the erosion of social integration belonging to mode A, and because of that, both its subject matter as well as its prognosis follow the same logic and the same structure of mode A. Furthermore, this research reveals why psychoanalysis does not have something to say about categories such as state, economy, value and labour, and why it cannot intervene in them. Psychoanalysis is the symptom of how the world of kinship is structured under the modern capitalist conditions. Mode A under the capitalist world does exist but it is not structured as a world anymore but as fragmented and dispersed social connections.

If the foregoing hypotheses are true, we understand why love, not the romantic love but love as the general affinity between family members and among strangers, is the privileged place for psychoanalysis. We also understand the dyadic relationship that love entails also determines the boundary of the intervention in which psychoanalysis is effective. The approach discussed here favors the (impossible) connections on the practical side rather than theoretical side. We also have tools in STP to describe psychoanalysis as a specific regional practice with real but limited effects. We also have the means to historicise why it is restricted. We are also able to generalize it with prudence, when those limitations and conditions are taken into consideration.

Accordingly, the effective means for interacting with another organization is to be able to compose with that organization, and connect the organization to a larger community of organizations, which is the political movement at large.

Organizational Trinitarianism

In twentieth century we have seen three big attempts to think social phenomena. Structuralism, General Systems Theory (GST) and Cybernetics. Referring to the graph below, structuralism focused on the relation between composition and intelligibility. It couldn’t think action, interaction and change. GST focused on the relation between composition and interaction. Hence for it the issues of intelligibility, modeling and information weren’t the core. Cybernetic focused on the relation between intelligibility and interaction, but weak on the side of mereology, topology and conditioning information on compositions. We try to bring these three things together. STP theory of organization therefore sits in the middle (denoted by !!! in the following diagram).

Captura de Tela 2023-02-20 às 16.02.51.png

In relation to this triadic division, we are also aware of three different approaches or forms of dealing with the organizations and social worlds: Ethnography, Psychoanalysis (Case studies), and Political conjunctural analysis. Ethnography, which we place on the composition-intelligibility edge, privileges how people compose into families, structures, and power relations in societies, and what is important and intelligible to them when they account for the world, their myths and stories. Political conjunctural analysis, which we place on the intelligibility-interaction edge, is concerned with giving a picture of the totality in order for us to interact with it. But issues dealing with the composition is usually poorly positioned in it: how workers are militants or vice-versa, how a theory of emancipation includes you inside it, problems of autonomy and heteronomy, etc. Psychoanalytical case studies, which we place on the composition-interaction edge, is mostly concerned with transference and privileges composition for the purpose of interaction. It has a real challenge with intelligibility and the modeling of the information.

What STP is attempting to do is to bring all these “ethics of the Other” together, and in that sense, it sits in the middle of the diagram.

In an ultimate generalization, psychoanalysis is mediated by speech, which is a medium that is very attuned to the logic of mode A. Oral transmission and the paradoxes of orality are very connected to the logic of para-consistency. Writing, on the other hand, is more at home with the classical logic (despite of what Derrida might have thought) and technical objects with the intuitionistic logic. If one generalizes psychoanalysis, one needs to work through the complex composition of these three mediums (speech writing and technical objects) under the domination of speech.

Impressions and Conclusions

This was an amazing presentation that I learned so much from, and I am very grateful for the opportunity to write about it. Especially, that I have been mostly away since the publication of “Atlas of Experimental Politics”, this presentation provided to me the much-needed refresher into the STP’s research. In the following, I briefly mention some thoughts that I hope to supplement the points in the presentation, and I appreciate and welcome comments and discussions regarding these points from the group.

It seems to me that the theory of organization makes statements about all procedures of truth, or what I refer to them as, disciplines. In that sense, the theory of organization seems to be a meta-disciplinary discourse. According to Badiou, it would belong to philosophy, or as I characterize these meta-disciplinary theories, the theory of discipline (see section VI of the Atlas). Why is this categorization important? To me, it is important for the following two reasons:

  1. It makes it clear that the theory of organization is not to “replace” neither the psychoanalytical practice nor the theory that properly belongs to the psychoanalytical practice.

  2. At the same time, because of the relation that this theory has with the disciplines that “inspire” it (psychoanalysis, politics and science in this case) it stands in a position to regionalize their methods in a way that could be useful to other disciplines.

These two points are intimately interrelated. That is, the meta-disciplinary discourse is able to regionalize the methods of particular disciplines (point 2) exactly because it keeps its distance from them, and makes no claim to be a replacement for them (point 1). In Badiou’s parlance, it is a space of compossibility for those disciplines. In that sense, psychoanalysis could benefit from the theories developed in this compossible space, but it has to bring them to its own space and add its own presuppositions that are regional to psychoanalysis and not any other practice. This means, in the same way that “removing” disciplinary presuppositions are important to regionalize the theories of a certain discipline in order for them to be compossible with other disciplines, it is equally important to “supplement” the proper presuppositions when the theories that are developed in the meta-disciplinary space.

If the above characterization is correct then the theory of organization stands in a unique position with respect to the disciplines it regionalizes, interprets and intervenes, but it is not a discipline on its own. The professed aim for this theory is to intervene in the discipline of politics, by learning closely from science and psychoanalysis. But, its regionalization should equally provide the possibility to intervene in psychoanalysis and science.

Captura de Tela 2023-02-20 às 16.04.53.png

The above picture shows the theory of organization with two of its main operations of axiomatization with respect to the trinitarian vertices and regionalization with respect to the disciplines that tend to privilege a certain connection.