Podcast: Psychoanalytic Study and the Ethical Imagination: the making, finding and losing of a tradition

Podcast: Psychoanalytic Study and the Ethical Imagination: the making, finding and losing of a tradition


6 March 2017

In this lunchtime talk, David Armstrong leads a conversational session based upon his recent paper ‘Psychoanalytic Study and the Ethical Imagination’.

Over the past two or three years I have from time to time found myself looking back to the origins of the particular tradition of working and engaging with groups and organisations that has been my professional inheritance; a tradition that arose out of conditions of war and its aftermath and was to be given institutional body in the founding of the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations, as a sister organisation of the Tavistock Clinic near on 70 years ago.

This paper is an attempt to describe what I have come to see as one founding element within this tradition which, I suggest, risks getting lost and, given the social and organisational challenges of our time, needs recapturing. I argue that this element involved (and involves) the exercise of what I am terming the ‘ethical imagination’, as an active (and simultaneously resisted) response to and shaping of something akin to existential dilemmas in organisational and social life.

In the course of working on the paper I came to realise that there was an implicit subtext, of paying tribute to the work and thinking of Eric Trist, without whom I would never have started on the journey.

The session was based upon the paper he had given at a ISPSO conference in Granada.

David Armstrong is an Associate Consultant at Tavistock Consulting. A social psychologist by background, from 1959 to 1967 he was a Junior Project Officer at the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations, working on action research projects under the leadership of Eric Trist. Subsequently he worked as a Senior Research Fellow at Chelsea College, the University of London and from 1978 to 1994 as a Consultant at the Grubb Institute of Behavioural Studies. In 1994 he joined the staff of a newly founded Consultancy Service at the Tavistock Clinic, where he continues to practice as an Associate member of staff. A collection of his papers, edited by Robert French, Organization in the Mind: Psychoanalysis, Group Relations and Organizational Consultancy, was published by Karnac in 2005. In 2014, with Michael Rustin he co edited Social Defences Against Anxiety: Explorations in a Paradigm (London: Karnac).

‘Psychoanalytic Study and the Ethical Imagination: the making, finding and losing of a tradition’ was presented by David Armstrong as part of the
Tavistock Institute’s Food For Thought series.

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