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Organization Studies
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DOI: 10.1177/0170840612448153
2012 33: 1121 Organization Studies
Gilles Arnaud
Overview
The Contribution of Psychoanalysis to Organization Studies and Management: An

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DOI: 10.1177/0170840612448153
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The Contribution of Psychoanalysis
to Organization Studies and
Management: An Overview
Gilles Arnaud
ESCP Europe, France
Abstract
A prolific current of research focusing on the psychodynamics of work, leadership and organizations has
taken form over approximately the last 60 years. The richness of this current remains in full evidence today
and shows the interest of applying psychoanalysis to research work on management. First, psychoanalysis
can aid researchers to develop a more profound comprehension of organizational functioning by taking
into account the effects of the unconscious. Second, it can guide them in different fields of intervention
by transposing aspects of the analytical treatment and integrating transference. Last, it can allow them to
re-question managerial ends from a slightly askew point of view informed by psychoanalytic ethics and
recognition of the subject. This review article aims at examining these issues and offering psychoanalytic
theory as a paradigm for the study of management.
Keywords
epistemology, management, organization studies, organizational psychodynamics, psychoanalysis
Introduction
That the unconscious and its interpretation are not confined to the domain of psychopathology
alone but concern all the sciences dealing with the genesis of human civilization and its great insti-
tutions such as art, religion and social order, was pointed out by Freud as early as 1910 in his
Observations on Wild Psychoanalysis (Freud, 1910 [1971]). It was not until The Claims of
Psychoanalysis to Scientific Interest (Freud, 1913 [1955]), however, that he truly characterized
psychoanalysis as a distinct body of knowledge in its own right that could be linked to other forms
of knowledge. Tracing the developments that his invention could lead to in not only the life
sciences, but also and above all the social sciences, Freud was to stress how very many domains
of knowledge psychoanalysis is of interest to, with psychology, linguistics, philosophy, biology,
history, aesthetics, sociology and education all being listed as examples. In Freuds view as was
Corresponding author:
Gilles Arnaud, ESCP Europe, 79 avenue de la Rpublique, 75543 Paris (cedex 11), France.
Email: garnaud@escpeurope.eu
448153OSS33910.1177/0170840612448153ArnaudOrganization Studies
2012
Article
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1122 Organization Studies 33(9)
even more the case for many of his disciples later on there was, in fact, a clear scientific impera-
tive to extract psychoanalysis from the strictly analytic domain insofar as it has something to say
not only about symptoms but also about the normal functioning of the human psyche and, beyond
this, culture (Gabriel, 1983; Smelser, 1998).
Given Freuds emphasis on psychoanalysis applicability to the social sciences, there seems lit-
tle doubt that he would have extended analytic pertinence to organization and management sci-
ences had these been institutionally recognized at the time he was writing. Certainly, there were
already links between Freudianism and business circles in the 1920s and 1930s. It was not, how-
ever, until the post-war period and the inaugural studies of Jaques (1951, 1955) at the Tavistock
Institute in London, followed by those, in a very different vein, of Levinson (1955, 1962) and
Zaleznik (1966) in the United States, that the interest of applying psychoanalysis to the corporate
sphere would be confirmed and give rise to a prolific and multifaceted current of research focusing
on the psychodynamics of work, leadership and organizations. This global title, like that of organi-
zational psychoanalysis or socio-analysis, does not mean a unified field (since the approaches are
numerous and varied), nor a static one (given that conceptual or methodological changes, and
sometimes even about-turns, can be seen, as with Jaques repudiation of his initial work at the end
of the 1980s). Nevertheless, whatever the differences between these psychoanalytically informed
scholars and practitioners, they have all striven over the last 60 years to link psychic phenomena,
organizational dynamics and action contexts in a way that avoids what they consider to be the
conceptual and phenomenological reduction inherent to neo-behaviourist approaches. The extraor-
dinary richness of this current remains, moreover, in full evidence today (Arnaud, 2004; Long,
2006; Sievers & Ahlers-Niemann, 2007), such that there is now a need to undertake a critical
exploration of the field, including its main seminal works. This is precisely the aim of the present
overview, from both a systematic and historical perspective.
That psychoanalysis can make an epistemological contribution to the study of organizations
and the development of management theory is clear (Hirschhorn & Neumann, 1999; Gabriel &
Carr, 2002). There are, though, certain aspects of psychoanalytic theory that limit or weaken the
value of this contribution (Anderson & White, 2003). First, the psychoanalytic approach is diffi-
cult to assimilate within the theoretical and methodological framework of organization and man-
agement research due to the specificity of Freuds concept of the unconscious, according to which
an individual never really knows what he says or does (Halton, 1994). Second, it is necessary to
rework analytical concepts and not merely directly apply them to the functioning of organizations
in order to avoid truncated representations and abusive, if not simply false, interpretations, which
tend to put a psychological spin on organizational problems (Lawrence, 2000). Finally, the psy-
choanalytic ethic preaches neutrality regarding the others options and a refusal to exert the
slightest pressure on or authority over him. As such, in terms of its adaptation to reality (e.g.
market requirements) or the exercise of (especially managerial) power, the use of psychoanalysis
poses a number of problems (Wozniak, 2010).
For my part, while being only too aware of the potential difficulties inherent in the particulari-
ties of the psychoanalytic approach, I would like to adopt a resolutely heuristic perspective in an
attempt to highlight the theoretical, methodological and practical interest of psychoanalysis for
organization and management studies.
The relevance of integrating psychoanalytic approaches is, as I shall go on to show, threefold.
First, it increases the explanatory power of organization and management studies with regard to
one of the dimensions most resistant to scientific investigation, namely, the unconscious pro-
cesses of organizational life. The latter constitute an obscure dimension of organizations and
management situations that impacts visible performance and is expressed through problems such
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Arnaud 1123
as inappropriate behaviour or repetitive failures. Second, in order to identify and explore these
hidden phenomena, psychoanalysis proposes methodological principles that, by giving pride of
place to actors subjectivity and by shedding light on the transferential dimension of research
work, enable organization and management researchers to better manage their relation to the
objects of their study. Third, the use of psychoanalysis in organization and management sciences
not only seeks to develop abstract knowledge but also poses questions about acting in organiza-
tional contexts. Organizational psychoanalysis, therefore, provides a framework for reflection
while also functioning as an interface between organizations conceived as an object of knowl-
edge, on the one hand, and as an art of action implemented by concrete individuals, on the other.
New Conceptual Tools for Understanding the Complexity of
Organizations and Management Situations
The contribution of psychoanalysis to organization and management sciences first consists, then,
in increasing the latters explanatory power (Gabriel, 1999). This is combined with an effect of
discovery and innovation in a field that, while traditionally not very receptive to questions of a
psychoanalytic nature, now sorely needs to open itself up to innovative forms of thought (Contu,
Driver & Jones, 2010). The psychoanalytic approach can be considered to complement the stand-
ard models used in the organization and management field (Armstrong, Balzagette & Hutton,
1994) insofar as it deals with processes that are imperative to study if one wants to grasp the whole
set of factors capable of contributing to organizational performance (Kets de Vries, 1991).
While every application of social sciences to professional realities encompasses a promise of
increased intelligibility, this involves, in psychoanalysis case, a specific dimension that is elided
by the knowledge provided by research considered as normal in Kuhns sense of the word: namely,
unconscious, intrapsychic and intersubjective processes and their influence on organizational life
(Carr & Zanetti, 1999; Hirschhorn, 1990; Krantz, 1989). Furthermore, psychoanalysis considers
this invisible dimension to be just as worthy of interest, and a source of material effects at least as
significant, as organizations visible reality (Brown, 1997; Huffington, Armstrong, Halton, Hoyle
& Pooley, 2004). For example, psychoanalysis has alone dealt with the importance of maintaining
illusion and the effects of organizational pathology that arise from this (Schwartz, 1990). Taking
the unconscious into account (via psychoanalytic concepts such as the imaginary, repression,
defence mechanisms or narcissism) therefore allows one to have far more in-depth insights than
does the simple recourse to the notion of informal systems (Brown & Starkey, 2000).
We should note that a lack of knowledge, or even awareness, of this hidden dimension proves
to be epistemologically harmful not only because it prevents in-depth understanding of the psychic
dynamic of organizations, especially from the perspective of their management (Hirschhorn, 1997;
Gabriel, 1997; Miller, 1993; Oglensky, 1995; Stein, 2005) but also because organization and
management researchers tend to compensate for their psychoanalytic ignorance by relying upon
implicit psychological theories or even common sense. Lacking scientific rigour, such theories
usually end up obscuring both the singularity of the human subject and the complexity of the group
or organization this subject participates within (Gold, 2004; Levinson, 1987).
By contrast, the psychoanalytic approach regardless of whether it is informed by a Freudian,
Kleinian or Lacanian metapsychology, or by self psychology, ego psychology and so on (Kernberg,
1993) sets out to study the unconscious in all its forms and can, therefore, be legitimately applied
to organizations, understood as systems that are constructed, lived and managed by individuals,
each of whom has specific capacities and a specific unconscious (Amado, 1995).
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1124 Organization Studies 33(9)
In this perspective, psychoanalysis should not be considered as a panacea for organization and
management research (Nobus & Quinn, 2005) but rather as one of many valid theoretical perspec-
tives in the field (Wozniak, 2010, p. 407). Researchers are, thereby, able to bring to light not some
form of hypothetical true meaning of the organizations they study but another type of meaning
(Diamond, 1993; Obholzer, 1994), which will be characterized as affective, imaginary or symbolic
according to the case at hand and theoretical references (Contu & Willmott, 2006; Fotaki, 2006;
Gabriel, 1991; Roberts, 2005; Vidaillet, 2007). This other sort of meaning is, in principle, just as
valid as sociological, economic, or cultural signification centred on cognitive and rationalized
aspects of human behaviour (Gould, Stapley & Stein, 2001). By its means, researchers can, for
example, avoid interpreting as human weakness what appears to be inefficiency but which may in
fact be a different form of rational behaviour (Menzies, 1991).
Behaviour such as repetitive failures in the implementation of apparently simple policy deci-
sions, irrational resistance to change, or the incapacity to react in a crisis situation, which is
usually viewed as a malfunction in the life of organizations, is understood from a psychoanalytic
perspective as functioning, in fact, on another scene (Freud) that sometimes emerges into view:
the scene of the organization-in-the-mind (Armstrong, 2005). Under certain circumstances,
social groups do not make free use of organizational elements at their disposal (roles, functions, etc.)
and are prisoners of a preconceived scenario. Organizational psychoanalysis provides explanatory
models on this subject (Gabriel & Carr, 2002; Hirschhorn & Neumann, 1999).
In this way, the psychoanalytic approach brings a new sense to meaning beyond that of cogni-
tive perception popularised by Weick and his successors, which has tended to dominate over the
last few years (Mills, Thurlow & Mills, 2010). Such an opening up of meaning which remains
inaccessible to individuals because of the structural division introduced by the unconscious in
their relation with themselves obviously has pertinence for the very terms organization and
management, which would seem almost designed to deny and to repress (Gabriel, 1999).
In certain studies, the psychoanalytic approach will thus function as another way of apprehend-
ing phenomenal reality, simply enriching traditional interpretative schemes already employed
in organizational behaviour (Czander, Jakobsberg, Mersky & Nunberg, 2002), while in other
instances, where unconscious mechanisms appear to be pre-eminent in the companies under
investigation, psychoanalysis will be able to serve as the organizing principle (Prins, 2006).
The classes of managerial phenomena for which psychoanalysis can serve as a major explana-
tory tool, as well as the analytical models potentially most pertinent for each of them, can be
defined by considering three major vectors of research.
First, some studies may insist upon the use of notions that already have psychoanalytical con-
notations, such as mourning in the case of organizations undergoing transformation (Hirschhorn
& Barnett, 1993). This use can also explicitly involve experimentally wresting a term away from
its usual context, as is the case of the concept of unmanaged organization employed by Gabriel
(1995) to designate a kind of organizational dream world in which desires, anxieties and emotions
prevail. Researchers are also often led to coin terminology comprising both the psychical and
organizational aspects of the object under study (Burman, 2004), as Zaleznik (1990) does, for
example, with the term organizational neurosis. They can even try to develop a joint conceptual
framework based on propositions that are to be explored via case studies, as Long (1999) does with
the idea of social defence against anxiety, which she places alongside organizational discourse on
consumerism.
Second, general theoretical constructions borrowed from psychoanalytic theory may be used to
deal with particular situations. Kets de Vries and Miller (1984) have accordingly made use of a
psychoanalytically-influenced psychopathology to describe certain types of counterproductive
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(paranoiac, compulsive, depressive, etc.) behaviour shown at the managerial level, while Gabriel
and Schwartz (1999) have preferred to draw on the Freudian model of infantile psycho-sexual
(oral, anal, phallic, etc.) developmental stages.
Third, other researchers may endeavour to open up new theoretical spaces capable of capturing
the complexity of the psycho-affective processes examined. Among studies illustrating this ambi-
tious approach, I would particularly mention those of Gabriel (1993) on organizational nostalgia
and Schwartz (1990) on corporate narcissism.
To this I would add that reference to psychoanalysis can also contribute to (re)introducing into
the field of organizational and managerial concerns a number of concepts that have been either
forgotten or ignored (Gabriel, 2004), such as subjectivity, affectivity, lived experience, the sym-
bolic and historicity, while at the same time bringing some necessary order to the terminological
jungle surrounding certain floating psychological signifiers, such as the notion of unconscious
motivation (Sievers, 1986). It can also potentially encourage organization and management
researchers to address such fundamental questions as those of the nature and constitution of the
social bond, the origin of managerial pathologies, the charismatic role of leaders, or life and death
in organizations (Carr & Lapp, 2006; Sievers, 1994). As such, critical management studies as a
whole stand to benefit from psychoanalysis contribution in that this allows the re-examination of
what is accepted as obvious (Harding, 2007; Trehan, 2007).
Methodological Lessons for Dealing with the Psychological
Dimension of Organization and Management Research
First of all, by means of investigative methods stemming from the analytic set-up for individual
treatment and refined in the social field (Berg, 1988; Gabriel, 1999), organization and management
researchers are able to explore and isolate psychic phenomena unable to be apprehended by other
approaches, such as quantitative techniques of data collection (Gould, 1991). This is especially true
for the practice of attentively listening to and interpreting what actors leave unsaid, with the pos-
sibility of thus rendering public that which an organization causes to be repressed for example,
the expression of resistance to change (Czander, 1993). The method of free association is particu-
larly useful in this respect since it allows access to repressed contents that owe their status not only
to tacit knowledge but also to active ignorance (Parker, 2005). Researchers are then able to more
fully describe, in company monographs for example, what they observe by using the model of
psychoanalytic psychopathology case studies (Hollway & Jefferson, 2000).
Second, the psychoanalytic approach can aid researchers immersed in an organization to better
apprehend the context of their research and more finely analyse their relation to the terrain (Shapiro
& Carr, 1991). As a result, they are able to position themselves with full knowledge of the facts as
regards, among other things, the type of approach they should adopt and the best way in which to
organize their relationships with the actors (Brown, 2006).
Armed with a psychoanalytic approach, organization and management researchers who are
intent upon producing contextually based knowledge capable of being controlled by other
researchers are, therefore, better equipped to deal with the singularity of each concrete case, in
terms of both its history and subjective complexity (Hunt, 1989). This singularity is understood
as strictly irreducible even if analytic theory generally maintains that certain rules govern the
functioning of the individual, group or organizational imaginary. By letting itself be guided by
reality (symptoms, suffering, etc.) rather than seeking to instruct the latter, the psychoanalytic
approach can serve as a research model for a grounded theory (Glaser & Strauss, 1967). Further,
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1126 Organization Studies 33(9)
the knowledge so produced is aimed at widening and deepening understanding of organizational
conduct rather than controlling variables or simple predictability (Polkinghorne, 1988).
Psychoanalysis is additionally of aid to researchers-cum-actors in the field as regards transfer-
ence (Baum, 1994; Berg & Smith, 1988; Clarke, 2002), understood as a dynamic inter-relational
process in which the observer is always being taken for someone else, as Devereux (1967) has
particularly shown in his ethnological investigations. This misunderstanding engenders specific
reactions and introduces new stakes into the situation, as can be seen when researchers operating
in an organization undergoing problems related to change find themselves serving, at an uncon-
scious level, as a transitional object for some of the staff involved. This is due to the fact that they
incarnate and facilitate the transition between the old order and the new, in much the same way
as a teat or teddy bear materializes and accompanies an infants separation from his mother.
Hence the now comprehensible difficulty for these actors to let the researcher go (even in the
physical sense), as shown by their propensity for seemingly interminable discussions with the
latter, long after the end of working hours, or again, their tendency to become dependent on them
(Morgan, 1986). Here, Lacanian psychoanalysis offers a particularly pertinent perspective by
referring the someone else the researcher is taken for to a subject supposed to know (Lacan):
in other words, the researcher is presumed to be in possession of knowledge and this presupposi-
tion forms the framework within which the transference relation crystallizes. In this perspective,
it is best to integrate the transference in such a way that its projective effects and imaginary
articulations are neutralized and it becomes a form of strategy that those observed can adopt in
order to acquire knowledge, supposedly possessed by the observer, about themselves.
Researchers can also analyse their own implication, in terms of counter-transference, as
regards both the object of their research and the complex network of relationships in the organiza-
tion under study (Sullivan, 2002). To this end, it is necessary to set up a system similar to what
takes place in training analyses (Jacobs, 1995) by which researchers are supervised by someone
or a group of people external to the situation, such as colleagues, consultants, psychologists and
so on (Czander & Eisold, 2003). As well as allowing counter-transference to be dealt with, such
a system allows a certain distance to be established, especially with respect to the myth of pure
and affectively-neutral research, which psychoanalysis reveals to be an illusion.
More generally, it is important to point out that psychoanalytic work cannot proceed without its
own kind of emotional involvement, insofar as its transferential and countertransferential element
is always in play. Psychoanalytic theory is not just another theory that can be applied cognitively,
straight out of the box. Anxiety must be given its due, and this imposes demands on researchers
and managers that need to be acknowledged. Schwartz (2001) has remarked that he became par-
ticularly aware of this in the early days of his study of political correctness, when he assisted a
research presentation by a consultant who did not mention the source of an organizational disaster
because of its politically incorrect nature. The consultant knew this on some level but could not
bring it up, thus dooming both the problem to fester and her own contribution to remain irrelevant.
The work she needed to do for the organization required work on herself, but she resisted this for
the same reason the organization did. For Schwartz, this suggests that analysts, and by extension
consultants, must bring the client to take responsibility, which first means taking it themselves.
Such an act is not just cognitive.
Finally, insofar as the psychoanalytic approach denounces the routine belief in meaning, start-
ing with the most banal and humdrum experience of all: that of the word (Gori & Hoffmann,
1999, p. 37), it can render researchers more critical of their own discourse and thus more attentive
to scientific languages power of ideological seduction.
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Arnaud 1127
One way that organization and management researchers can more fully explore and work
with language that is a mixture of analytical attentiveness and managerial concern consists in
deciphering the subjective dimension of a professional text, and systematically investigating the
resonance of the imaginary within its argumentation (Kets de Vries & Miller, 1987). Such a clini-
cal approach aims to bring out what there is of an unconscious and unexpressed dimension
within texts that have instrumental goals and a particular coherence. Business documents, such
as value charts or audit reports, can, for example, be read psychoanalytically in order to locate
slips of the pen, oversights, errors, and so on. It should be noted that this approach considers all
professional texts as open to a double reading, one in the language of management, the other in
that of psychoanalysis, with the second in no way invalidating the first. In this perspective,
psychoanalytic theory can be particularly useful within the framework of storytelling method-
ologies (Gabriel, 2000).
To give a personal example, it so happened that while studying the specific constraints that
directors of small business firms are subject to, I was led quite by chance to re-hear with an analyti-
cal ear an interview that dealt solely with practical items and to suddenly to become aware of the
omission of any mention of his father by a director who had inherited the family firm. The text of
the interview took on a whole new significance in the light of this omission. The fact of having
isolated this (among other factors) led me to integrate the question of lineage which I had failed
to take into account initially as one of my research protocol variables.
Extending the Field of Management Intervention through
Diagnosis and Change
Given that management is oriented towards action through its concern with concrete results, the
question arises as to how to use psychoanalytic knowledge in a pragmatic perspective (Rustin,
2001). From this point of view, the primary interest of psychoanalysis undoubtedly resides in its
capacity to render workplace behaviour more decipherable (Levinson, 1976). This capacity can be
of use as much to consultants (Arnaud, 1998; Boxer & Palmer, 1994; Vansina & Vansina-Cobbaert,
2008) as to managers confronted with decisions they have to make or implement. Thanks to analyti-
cal deciphering of this type, the latter are better able to identify certain psycho-affective parameters
of organizational life and, as a result, anticipate or even prevent possible psychical consequences of
their strategic or operative choices (by including, for example, disturbance thresholds that are
acceptable to the actors involved) and thus avoid more costly and complicated recuperative meas-
ures (Kersten, 2007).
In short, the analytic perspective allows one to act in a way that avoids the traps of managerial
improvisation (Obholzer, 1999). Many studies associated with the International Society for the
Psychoanalytic Study of Organizations, such as the influential work by Hirschhorn (1988) on
unconscious processes developed within organizations to cope with change and the way these
can be reshaped to enhance peoples professional experience, or by Carr (2002) on managing in
a psychoanalytically informed manner, are examples of research that positions itself in this inno-
vative field.
Consequently, reference to psychoanalysis both incites and facilitates self-reflection on the part
of decision-makers, by aiding them to better understand the reasons for their decisions, especially
as regards the latters emotional, symbolic and imaginary aspects, and by giving them a critical
distance vis-a-vis their actions (Sankowsky, 1995). In addition it allows them, if need be, to envis-
age different ways and forms of functioning professionally (Dubouloy, 2004). The internalization
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1128 Organization Studies 33(9)
of a new reflective capacity within organizations can, as such, be considered a major contribution
of psychoanalytic consulting (Krantz, 1999) or executive coaching (Arnaud, 2003; Kilburg, 2004).
The second practical interest of a psychoanalytic approach is linked to its therapeutic dimen-
sion, insofar as managers are not able to psychoanalyze organizations (Gould, 1991, p. 39).
Rather, they are able to diagnose and as a result more efficiently resolve psychic disturbances
that hinder group action and hamper performance by causing an increase in direct or indirect
costs, particularly the cost of opportunities, and so on (Egan, 1994). The repetition of failures or
inappropriate action, the disavowal of reality or refusal to face up to problems, individual or
group resistance to innovation, professional stress, burnout, acting-out or inhibition of action,
interpersonal conflicts preventing actors from perceiving operational stakes or implementing
realistic business strategies: all are examples of psychic disturbances requiring diagnosis and
resolution (Arnaud, 2007; Hyde & Thomas, 2002; Lawrence, 2000; Miller & Chen, 1994;
Vanheule, Lievrouw & Verhaeghe, 2003).
It should be mentioned that, while certain warning signs such as rates of absenteeism or pro-
ductivity, indicators of hidden costs and social claims can point to the disorganizing impact of
pathological expressions, the latter remain most of the time behind the scenes of managerial
action, being at one and the same time open secrets for actors having an intuitive experience of
the field and realities that remain invisible in terms of the standard indicators.
On the one hand, such malfunctions seem to be in such a state of constant change that they are
almost impossible to isolate for practitioners who tend to talk, instead, of a heavy atmosphere or
communication problems. As such, a careful and measured use of the inventory of symptoms
proposed by analytically influenced psychopathology can greatly contribute to recognizing them
and doing something before it is too late (Bain, 1998).
On the other hand, these psychological disturbances do not, as a general rule, seem to directly
threaten the existence of the organization in which they are found, insofar as organizational forms
and the principle of productivity are sufficiently flexible, each in its own way, for phenomena
completely external to productive activities to run their course without immediately incurring any
form of radical economic sanction.
By drawing on the psychoanalytical approach, managers will then be better armed to discover
and act upon the core mechanisms of chronic underperformances of this type (Hoedemaekers
& Keegan, 2010), such that solutions appear more attainable and situations less a matter of fate
or dependent upon external factors related to employees personal lives (Baum, 1990). Rather
than taking recurrent psycho-affective problems for granted, they will tend to objectify all their
different facets and thus avoid feeling as is usually the case somewhat embarrassed or guilty
through their inability to have foreseen or identified them, or because they hesitate to involve
themselves with apparently personal situations and thus run the risk of making other employees
resent what they see as special attention being given to fragile individuals (Kets de Vries, 1979;
Levinson, 1972).
Furthermore, managers will be able to foresee more acutely that certain unconscious processes
are likely to draw on actors energy or provoke irremediable pathological harm in the long run
such as syndromes of failure, frustrated feelings and irreversible decisions thereby weakening
the company and putting its very survival on the line if nothing is done (Zaleznik, 1989). I might
mention in this context the exemplary case presented by Anzieu (1984) of the management com-
mittee of a small business that ended up incapable, not only of taking decisions, but even of meet-
ing because of its adherence to a paralysing imaginary scene : that of a guilt-ridden succession to
an all-powerful ex-CEO.
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More broadly, psychoanalytically inspired interventions can, as already mentioned, adopt a
perspective of change, seeking thereby to facilitate or accelerate processes of transformation
(Carr & Gabriel, 2001; Hirschhorn & Gilmore, 1989; Kets de Vries, 2006; Kets de Vries & Balazs,
1998). The fact is that, whenever organizational reality undergoes modification, actors imaginary
investments of this reality are always likely to be invalidated, hence threatening to block processes
of adaptation and instil a general climate of demobilization. By taking up the issue of organiza-
tional ends, a psychoanalytic approach is able to create new links between the employees imagi-
nary investments and the demands of the new situation in such a way that restructuring is lived
less as a trauma and more as a chance to redefine possible choices and facilitate demands for
training or redeployment (Levine, 2001).
This is where the psychoanalytic approach shows itself to be unique and fruitful not in provid-
ing answers apt to restore meaning and value to collective action, but in supporting and legitimizing
exchanges that have no other goal than that of clarifying the connections between personal invest-
ments and institutional and group stakes, by taking heed and account of what each person has to
say. Such a process of collective elaboration is only possible because it is not aimed at any opera-
tive end or decision.
This involves putting into effect what might be called an ethical concern with an added prag-
matic advantage (Diamond & Allcorn, 2003; Driver, 2003), insofar as such an open approach in
respect of the subject (Arnaud & Vanheule, 2007) in terms of the actors creativity and engage-
ment in action, etc. only yields operative results as a plus (just as being cured is a plus in
Lacanian analysis). Admittedly, relegating instrumental ends to this secondary status might trou-
ble or offend managerial sensitivity, but it is in no way fundamentally opposed to it. In particular,
the strictly psychoanalytic approach, inasmuch as it is concerned solely with the contingent
subject of discourse and not with Man as such, does not pretend to work towards the social or
economic happiness of the latter. As such, it is capable of integrating itself more modestly within
the framework of practitioners goals and undertakings than do approaches that intervene on the
ideological terrain. An example of this kind of ethical concern is provided by research seeking to
help create high-commitment organizations (Kets de Vries & Florent-Treacy, 2002).
One should not, however, forget that one of the lessons of psychoanalysis is that not everything
can or should be controlled (Gabriel, 1995).
Conclusion
As I have tried to show, psychoanalytic theory can first give an impetus to research on organiza-
tions and management by aiding researchers to develop a richer comprehension of organizational
functioning and managerial issues by taking the effects of the unconscious into account. Second,
psychoanalysis can guide them on different terrains of intervention, by transposing aspects of
the analytical treatment, integrating transference, and so on. Third, it allows them to re-question
organizational issues and managerial ends from a slightly skewed point of view attributable to
psychoanalytic ethics and the recognition of the subject.
One should not overlook in this context the central place occupied in organizational and mana-
gerial epistemology by a form of hermeneutics of which psychoanalysis can function as a vector
and the complex and undefined way this relates to a more directly instrumental approach. The
psychoanalytic preference for being (favouring the existential interrogation of the individual)
rather than doing (organizational integration, performance, etc.) might well, in fact, not be funda-
mentally opposed to managers instrumental concerns insofar as a subtle dialectic can exist between
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1130 Organization Studies 33(9)
being and doing: for example, being as a way of doing differently. Such a possibility seems to me
an avenue that it would be interesting to explore. Is not one of psychoanalysis goals, after all, that
analysands in their everyday lives should be able to draw on, in the most creative possible way, the
coexistence of primary and secondary psychic processes? We are thus forced to agree with Boisot
and McKelvey (2010) when they state that postmodernist organizational researchers (as opposed
to adherents of a modernist scientism, having its origin in the Enlightenment) are right in viewing
the positivist project to falter irremediably on complexity but are wrong in believing that this is
itself still impermeable to any form of managerially useful analysis.
The fact remains that such interdisciplinary fertilization can also have unexpected conse-
quences at the epistemological level, insofar as the very notion of management can find itself
transformed, through having been deconstructed and reconstructed as a result of the organiza-
tional insight induced by a psychoanalytic orientation. When a reproblematization of this type
occurs, researchers or practitioners find that their investigation immediately converges not only on
such resistant phenomena as repetitive reflexes or other psychopathological symptoms but also
and more profoundly no doubt on the impossibility of the managerial function itself, in the sense
that Freud was able to declare that governing, like educating and psychoanalysing, was an impos-
sible profession. In this respect, Enriquez (2007) notes that the three professions in question are
all primordially related to perilous situations of bare power.
It is, then, from a viewpoint that is at once central and peripheral vis-a-vis that of organiza-
tional ends that psychoanalysis can not only put organization and management sciences to
work, but also indicate to researchers the best way to go about putting the relation they have
with their objects (i.e. the organizations and management situations they have to deal with) into
perspective or indeed, into question.
When all is said and done, just as Lacan (1964 [1977]) was to declare that the object of psychoa-
nalysis is not so much human beings as such, but, rather what they lack, it seems to me that the
psychoanalytic contribution to the organization and management field might well pertain both to a
science of what organizations lack and to the management of that which such collectives, charac-
terized by ends, can be the object (Driver, 2009). That in question here is not some sort of void that
would need to be filled or evacuated, but a lack where the subject experiences itself as desire and
which has an impact on organizational functioning as a whole. In this sense, the role of psychoa-
nalysis is to demystify the illusory positivity of organizational issues and management practices
(Zaleznik, 1989), with this being a role that can be viewed as indispensable in a body of knowledge
that aims at realism.
Funding
This research received no specific grant from any funding agency in the public, commercial, or not-for-profit
sectors.
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Author biography
Gilles Arnaud is Professor of Organizational Behavior and I/O Psychology at ESCP Europe business school,
Paris, France. He has a strong interest in the application of psychoanalysis, especially Lacanian theory, to
organization studies and business. His work has appeared in a range of management and social science journals
and he currently serves on the editorial board of Organization Studies, Management Decision and other
academic journals. He is also a member of the Laboratoire de Changement Social (Research Centre for Social
Change, University of Paris Diderot), a board member of the CIRFIP (International Centre for Research,
Training and Intervention in Psycho-sociology) and a former board member of ISPSO (International Society
for the Psychoanalytic Study of Organizations).
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