#7 Summer Dreaming: write up of the Social Dreaming Matrices review by Juliet Scott

#7 Summer Dreaming: write up of the Social Dreaming Matrices review by Juliet Scott

Held in the Wellcome Library, Reading Room on Wednesday 7th September 2016 Attended by facilitators from the Tavistock Institute; staff from the Wellcome Library and two participants who hadn’t attended any of the matrices but were interested to hear all about them ...


13 September 2016

Held in the Wellcome Library, Reading Room on Wednesday 7th September 2016

Attended by facilitators from the Tavistock Institute; staff from the Wellcome Library and two participants who hadn’t attended any of the matrices but were interested to hear all about them.

  • Building a yellow (brick) road to Scotland with bales of hay
  • Giving birth to a baby whose flesh is like shredded chicken
  • The spinning white cylinder that drew everyone in

These were a few of the dreams remembered from a summer of dreaming and I now hold the task of writing up the review session, and in doing so keeping the oneiric quality of the previous write ups. There is a tacit agreement among those present that we are not here to evaluate the sessions, we are more here to close the matrices in this half library/half museum space, honour the red carpet that has lain beneath us and be observers to the phenomenon that has past. We are not here to draw up a pretty pie chart, evaluation would be a betrayal. Our loyalty is to the dreams and their associations that were presented over the six matrices, to the pages and pages of fastly scribbled write ups, to their associations and to avoiding further narrativising of the dreams.

Dreams certainly draw people in; sessions averaged 25, from 15 people to a bumper attendance of 44 people and a baby at the last session. Someone unable to be at the review had offered that the remarkable thing about the events was the way in which people listened:

“It is what it is and there is something really nice in that,” reminded us of the woman who kept asking “Is this it, are you just going to tell dreams? Is anything else going to happen” and then left.

The scheduling of the matrices seemed to be a revelation, each one had its own context and a seismic happening had shocked the UK. SDM#1 held on Friday 24th June the day of Brexit; SDM#2 held on Thursday 30th June on the 100th anniversary of the battle of the Somme; SDM#3 held on Thursday 7th July the 11th anniversary of the 7/7 London bombings; SDM#4 held on Thursday 14th July the day after Theresa May’s appointment as prime minister and the day Boris Johnson stepped into the shoes of foreign secretary and the day of the Nice attacks; SDM#5 held on Tuesday 19th July coincided with Donald Trump winning the Republican nomination; and the final SDM#6 on Thursday 28th July was the day on which dreamers seemed able to begin to step back just a little from it all. They were all significant events and what was refreshing was the variety and extent of meaning making that came up in the matrices; a Brazilian gently reminded us that the buses were still running, that the rubbish wasn’t piling up in the streets.

In the diversity of voices and appreciation of the intimacy of sharing dreams there were moments when the matrix itself was attacked. Was this the fear of the unconscious and what it reveals? The participants who hadn’t attended and had almost become an audience to the review asked what had happened in others. One of the facilitators referred back to the social dreaming events at Tent City when the participants turned up at the Tavistock Institute’s office to ask for their dreams to be returned. This really provoked a discussion and a kind of horror at the idea that we can own our dreams. Do I make them or do they happen to me? Thought as beyond just ourselves and this perhaps what is comforting about a social dreaming matrix. It is about making sense of our dreams in a context “making connections between private thought and social meaning” as read in the facilitators’ script commencing each session.

A question of inclusivity and representation emerged, falling asleep at the edge of the group, including all the dreams in the write ups for the blog and the task of maintaining a boundary for each group that neither held people in nor kept people out. A questioning emerged around who was heard and who wasn’t in the context of a museum that houses a particular collection, telling a particular story of a very wealthy white man. The scientists’ names written neatly on the edge of the gallery above featured in a number of the sessions and bringing into the matrix systems of knowledge themselves and the two Institutions partnering on these events, the Wellcome Library and the Tavistock Institute committed as they are to the helping great ideas to thrive.

And finally the original context and purpose of the events which were to coincide with the homing of the Tavistock Institute’s archive in the Wellcome Library. It is project infused with complex emotions with similarities to social dreaming in that we are moving stuff from the dark into the light, dealing with snippets and fragmentations. Similarly trying to give a sense of space and place to the snippets i.e. not narrativise, we are back to the “it is what it is”. This time not with the dreams but with the archival material.

Hundreds of boxes that had been stored away for years at the mouth of the Thames are now being sorted through and catalogued, timely with this review the first request was made this week to view the material in the library’s Rare Materials Room. Those of us who have been working on this project spoke to how the social dreaming had helped in connecting with the emotional dy-namics of the project: those of funneling history, of letting the material out of the bag and the question that continues to live with the project of whether this working through of material history will help in reimagining the social science of the present.

More information:
– The first section of the collection, containing key reports and outputs of Tavistock Institute projects from 1945-2000s, has now been catalogued and is available for research at Wellcome Library. The catalogue can be browsed online here.
– The next section to be released will include the papers of the War Officer Selection Board, charting the Tavistock group’s early involvement in wartime efforts to apply psychological methods to the recruitment and selection of war officers.
– To coincide with the releasing of this war-period material, further events will be held at Wellcome Collection’s Reading Room; watch this space for more information….

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