Learning in Organizations - an Object Relations Perspective

Bidragets oversatte titel: Læring i organisationer - et objektrelationsperspektiv

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    Learning in organizations – an object relations perspective

    As a researcher with a primary interest in the study of learning environments in organizations I have conducted a number of empirical research projects primarily concerning work places in the state sector. The aim of the research has been to qualify the understanding of learning conditions in working life and to develop a multifaceted theoretical and methodological basis for the analysis focussing on action- and behaviour, symbolic interaction and discourse (Andersen & Andersen 2007; Andersen & Trojaborg 2007). The aim of this paper is to supplement this analytical basis with an analysis based on psychoanalytical theory. I shall present and clarify some theoretical and methodological ideas about the discovery and understanding of psychodynamic defence mechanisms in organizations. My intention is to achieve a better understanding of organizations as learning environments for the employees. Theoretically I draw on object relations theory. Within this tradition the theoretical point of departure is twofold: the study of work conditions in hospitals carried out by Menzies (1975) and Hinschelwood & Skogstad (2000). With regard to the first mentioned, Menzies combines two types of analysis. In the first type she understands the development of work organizations as the development of psycho-social defence systems. Psycho-social defence systems are composed of many specific defence techniques that are developed by the staff during a long period of time as institutionalized work practices. In the second type of analysis she reflects on the different defence techniques from a psychoanalytical theoretical point of view: Which kind of unconscious ‘rationality’ do they possess, which consequences do they have for the quality of work and which positive and negative impact do they have with respect to the staff itself? With regard to Hinschelwood & Skogstad (2000) they are introduced to further develop and contrast Menzies’ theoretical ideas. Instead of only emphasizing the connection between the work organization and the defence techniques applied unconsciously by the staff, Hinschelwood & Skogstad also emphasize the need to understand how the organizational culture is co-produced by psychodynamic defence mechanisms, how the defence techniques are underpinned by defensive myths and how the defence mechanisms contribute to the creation of specific atmospheres in organizations. In the empirical part of the paper I shall combine my inspiration from Menzies (defence systems and defence techniques) with my inspiration from Hinschelwood & Skogstad (defensive myths and specific atmospheres) to demonstrate different aspects of psycho-social defence that may be elicited by applying different perspectives of understanding and different empirical methods. The case for the empirical analyses will be the learning environment amongst teachers at HTX, a general and technical degree for students in their last three years of high school. The case study aims to uncover the social learning environment in an organization marked by extensive organizational and pedagogical transformation processes. I conclude the paper by discussing some advantages and disadvantages of the psychoanalytical organizational research tradition focussing on the empirical analysis of learning environments in contrast to other theoretical and methodological paradigms.


    Andersen, A. S. & Andersen, V. (2007): Learning Environments for Academic Employees: Possibilities and Hurdles. Human Ressource Development Review (HRDR).

    Andersen, A. S. & Trojaborg, R. S. (2007). Life History and Learning in Working Life. In West, L.; Alheit, P.; Andersen, A. S. & Merrill, B. (eds.), Using Biographical and Life History Approaches in the Study of Adult and Lifelong Learning: European Perspectives. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang – Europäischer Verlag der Wissenschaften.

    Hinshelwood, R. D. & Skogstad, W. (2000),Observing Organisations – Anxiety, defence and culture in health care. Great Britain: Routledge.

    Menzies, I. E. P. (1975). A Case-Study in the Functioning of Social Systems as a Defence Against Anxiety. In Colman, A. D. & Bexton, W. (eds.), Group Relations Reader 1. A. K. Rice Institute.

    Bidragets oversatte titelLæring i organisationer - et objektrelationsperspektiv
    Antal sider1
    StatusUdgivet - 2013
    Begivenhed8th International Conference: Researching Work and Learning - School of Education, University of Stirling, Stirling, Storbritannien
    Varighed: 19 jun. 201321 jun. 2013


    Konference8th International Conference
    LokationSchool of Education, University of Stirling

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