Presented by Dr Elizabeth Cory-Pearce, Dr Sadie King and Dr Mannie Sher
The talk explores the proposition that an ‘anthropological thread’ runs through the history of our work as an organisation. Our starting point has been to delve into the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations’s archive at the Wellcome Library to pick up these ‘anthropological threads’ in the theoretical and applied work of past tasks. In time, we aim to bring these threads to light providing insight into the influence of anthropology on Tavistock ways of working. Beginning from the standpoint of our own biographies, we will be looking at some key historical figures and case studies that grapple with ‘the human element’ in, for example, calico textile mill productivity, shipping casualties and residential childcare, to offer you an anthropologically informed interpretation of Tavistock methods.
Whilst as a multidisciplinary organisation we wouldn’t describe our approach as explicitly anthropological, a Tavistock commitment to immersive and participatory methods that make use of the self are to us three clearly confluent with our training in anthropology. Immersing oneself in an organisation – whether as a consultant engaged in the systemic workings of a global corporation, or a Group Relations participant immersed in the organisation they are creating in that moment, or as an evaluator stepping into the system of an intervention – we immerse and then record what is observed and experienced through a process of participation and reflection.
Why might this be of relevance to our colleagues and the professional sector today? In a climate of market competition one method can get denigrated to elevate another and knock out the competition, so it’s understandable that clients may feel seduced by the ‘method of the moment’ and its promise of certainty. Evaluators may likewise feel under attack in such a climate, concerned to demonstrate the ‘bullet-proof’ validity of their findings. Yet Tavistock approaches, such as those embodied in
Group Relations work and P3C consultancy training, teach us not to hide behind fetishes of authority. Instead, we aim to illustrate how we can draw on our rich methodological heritage to remain true to our training, in order to distinguish ourselves by our longstanding commitment to staying with our clients, as we move towards a shared objective of better understanding.
Recording of the talk
Dr Elizabeth Cory-Pearce is a Researcher and Consultant who studied anthropology at UCL and Goldsmiths and conducted ethnography in New Zealand. Elizabeth works on a number of research and evaluation projects in the areas of health, education and capacity building.
Dr Sadie King is a Principal Researcher and Consultant who studied anthropology at UCL and conducted ethnography in West Africa. Sadie now leads the Tavistock Institute’s work stream on mental health and wellbeing, and works on a number of evaluation projects.
Dr Mannie Sher is a Principal Researcher and Consultant who studied anthropology in the 1960s as part of his training in psychology, and returned to it in the 1990s. Mannie has directed the Group Relations programme for many years, and conducts evaluation and organisational development and change consultancy work in a broad range of areas, including finance, health and social care, manufacturing and government.
‘The ‘Anthropological Thread’ in TIHR Archive’ was presented b as part of the Tavistock Institute’s Food For Thought series.
You can read more about the Tavistock Institute Archive Project here.