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5 March 2024, 15:30 - 17:00 CET / 9:30 - 11:00 EST

A case study on using a systems psychodynamic approach to ethnographic field work


Jennifer Petriglieri


The term ‘systems psychodynamic’ refers to an interpretive approach born from the combination of psychodynamic (Bion, 1961; Klein, 1959) and open systems (Von Bertalanffy, 1950) theories. The psychodynamic lens sensitizes scholars to how people manage their inner worlds. The systemic lens sensitizes them to how people organize their social worlds. Combining the two lenses lets us examine “the emotional, relational, and political dimensions of organizational experience, which often remain unconscious” (French & Vince, 1999: 4). In this seminar, Jennifer will explain how to use this approach from a theoretical and methodological perspective, and illustrate its use through the discussion of a longitudinal ethnography of a firm whose leaders attempted to organize collaboratively to remedy a drop in performance. In the study, a systems psychodynamic approach helped Jennifer and her coauthors theorize how leaders’ conscious intent to collaborate served as a cover for an unconscious effort to stave off anxiety that they could not share and process. They document the arc of defensive organizing across four cycles that begin within and between leaders and move across groups until the whole organization becomes mobilized to manage its leaders’ anxiety.

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