Sub-theme 42: Psychoanalysis in search of meaning: Love, hate and desire for knowledge in organizations

Marianna Fotaki
Manchester Business School, The University of Manchester, UK
Steen Visholm
Roskilde University, Denmark

Call for Papers

In his paper It is new and it has to be done! Burkard Sievers (2007) used psychoanalytic theory to demonstrate how contemporary Western organizations appear to be caught in neophily: the cult of newness and novelty. He argued: "As the Old, and thus the past, is split off, the New-because it is new-is guaranteed to be better", which however, leads often to the sense of betrayal and cynicism in the context of organizational transformation. However, the discourse of neophily is unable to deal with the sorrow connected to the losses of innovation; these unmourned losses are mobilised as resistance to change and idealisation of the past, leading to fundamentalism and attacks on thinking.

We believe that psychoanalysis, without having any pretensions to innovation, has an essential and distinctive role to play in understanding contemporary organizations in their broader societal context. By introducing the concept of the unconscious fantasy as the repository of meaning behind all manifest behaviours, it has pointed out the imaginary foundation of our social reality, and therefore of science, of management, of organizations and organizing. Seen from this perspective the whole discourse of novelty and innovation acquires a different meaning. The question becomes – so to speak – what the meaning of meaning is.

We argue, that the loss of meaning in modern society is essentially related to the division and fragmentation of labour and by the de-aesthetization of work. As beauty has been placed outside work – to experience it one has to get away from the workplace. Yet, for psychoanalytic theory of aesthetics (Meltzer and Williams, 1988) and for poets, like Rilke and Keats, beauty and aesthetics isn't just about surface. Surface is a part of beauty but it is the creative imagination about what is behind the surface that starts the passion, the combination of love, hate and desire for knowledge (Bion, 1963).

Over fifty years ago, an eminent theoretician and psychoanalyst, Donald Winnicott (1953), introduced the concept of 'transitional space' as a source of playful creativity occurring at the interface of fantasy and reality. As the transitional space is about integration rather than splitting (in this case of old and new, of play and work, or of rational and imaginary aspects of organization and organizing, for example), we propose it as a framework for holding together differing meanings. By recognizing the opposing and contradictory psychic forces in the subject we could re-think the current issues of creativity, aesthetics, otherness and post-rationality as they present themselves in the field of organization studies and beyond. Finally, by bringing back and legitimizing the fantasmatic dimension of organizing, we hope to re-energize the field of organization studies while enjoying the freedom of playful creativity outside obsessive preoccupations with innovation.

This sub-theme aims to offer such reflective and transitional space for creative applications of psychoanalytic theory that specifically but not exhaustively problematizes the issues of:

  • The meaning of organizational practice, creativity and aesthetic conflict between for example, work and family in post-modern society, and how they affect both, organizations and society. We would for example welcome explorations of how the division of labour has fragmented work in many ways but also how might have it been reconnected in (new?)/ other ways.
  • The changing nature of boundaries between work and home. We would also welcome analyzes of what might be the emergent ways of working and relating for example, with managerialization of family life and emotionalization of the workplace.

  • The meaning of gendered organizations resulting from the changing division of labour. What for example might be the implications of men and women doing the same work inside and outside home – having to compete and collaborate simultaneously whilst continuing to strive for winning their love objects.

  • Retrieving and reconnecting to beauty and aesthetics in working and organizing, an area that is almost totally neglected in organization studies and organizational theory.

  • How could psychoanalytic concepts of creativity, beauty and passion (developed by Sigmund Freud, Jacques Lacan, Hanna Segal, Wilfred Bion, Donald Meltzer, Larry Hirschhorn, Sabine Wilke and William Halton, for example) contribute to development of integrative innovation.

  • The relevance of psychoanalytic frames to rethinking crucial organizational and political issues of otherness, autonomy, desire, body, power/lessness and their theorization by feminist and gender scholars (including Julia Kristeva, Luce Irigaray, Joan Copjec and Judith Butler, for example).

  • Linking key psychoanalytic tenets (e.g. the unconscious, transference, counter-transference, narcissism, desire and perversion) with critical social theory and philosophy (such as in works of Paul Hoggett, Slavoj ´i¸ek, Cornelius Castoriadis, Ernesto Laclau and Susan Long, for example).


Bion, W.R. (1963): Elements of Psycho-Analysis. London: Karnac.

Meltzer, D. and M.H. Williams (1988): The Apprehension of Beauty. The role of aesthetic conflict in development, art and violence. Worcester: Clunie Press.

Sievers, B. (2007): "It is new and it has to be done!" Culture and Organization, 13 (1), 1–21.

Winnicott, D. (1953): "Transitional objects and transitional phenomena." International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 34, 89–97.

Winnicott, D. (1971): Playing and Reality. London: Routledge.

Marianna Fotaki 
Steen Visholm