The Psychodynamics of Toxic Organizations : Applied Poems, Stories and Analysis book cover
1st Edition

The Psychodynamics of Toxic Organizations
Applied Poems, Stories and Analysis

ISBN 9780367442354
Published June 15, 2020 by Routledge
282 Pages

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Book Description

Understanding experience at work, especially in toxic organizations, is a multidimensional undertaking that must include all senses. The use of applied poetry has its primary value as an evocative approach to sensing, knowing, and understanding workplace experience. Poetry at its best condenses into relatively few words, metaphors, and images what conventional social science narratives would take much longer to articulate. Where poetry often hints and alludes, narrative seeks to spell out, expound, and complete. Where poetry leaves much mental space for the listener or reader to fill in with one’s imagination, narrative fills in the spaces with rich detail. Applied poetry and its contextual stories offer a way of accessing workplace experience that is unique and valuable in terms of understanding lives at work. The use of complementary psychodynamic theories, like all theories, is a way of trying to account for what we have found and experienced and in particular why it happened. "Why," the authors suggest, is critical in terms of understanding the sensing, images, and metaphors evoked by the poetry and stories that may resonate with hearers and readers for reasons that are unconscious and are rooted in the past. These transferences that come forward from life experience into the present are the critical data we work with. These are the data of psychoanalysis. This book both widens and deepens the scope of organizational research offered by other researchers, theorists, and approaches to understanding, interpreting, explaining, leading, and consulting with workplace organizations. Its triangulating integration of applied poetry, experience and stories behind the poetry, and the three psychoanalytic models of explaining life in workplaces, is a new and distinct contribution to organizational research, leadership, and consulting efforts to help organization members solve real, underlying problems and not offer simplistic, formulaic solutions based solely on a study of the organization’s surface. It will be of interest to researchers, academics, and students in the fields of organizational studies, leadership, and management.

Table of Contents

1. Introduction to Applied Poetry and Storytelling 2. Introduction to Psychoanalytic Theories 3. Leaders in the Workplace 4. Downsizing the Workplace 5. Alienation and Bureaucracy at Work 6. Loss of Self: Disappearance into Anonymity 7. Conflict at Work 8. Life at Work in Hospitals and Clinics: Modern Medicine and Us 9. Meetings at Work 10. Psychographic Considerations at Work 11. Playing with Perspective: The Workplace on the Stage 12. In Conclusion: Reflections, Looking Backward and Forward on Knowing and Feeling in the Workplace

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Howard F. Stein is Professor Emeritus in the Department of Family and Preventive Medicine at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, Oklahoma City, USA. Seth Allcorn is the former Vice President for Business and Finance at the University of New England in Biddeford, Maine, USA. He has more than twenty years of experience working with physicians, hospitals and academic medical centers and is an organizational consultant specializing in the management of change, strategic planning and organizational restructuring.


"Aristotle revered poetry for its ability to reach for the eternal and the universal while dealing with the time-bound and the particular. How strange then that until the arrival of this powerful book no scholar of organization has sought to bring poetry to shed light to the complexities, dynamics and traumas that afflict businesses, hospitals, schools and other institutions of our society. Stein and Allcorn succeed brilliantly in demonstrating that poetry, triangulated with storytelling and psychoanalytic theory, can offer a royal road to the organizational unconscious every bit as incisive as dreams offer to the individual unconscious. Stein's poems open startling windows into the soul of dysfunctional organizations, none more than ‘Reply to Adorno’ which demonstrates that poetry can indeed reach the heart of darkness where other disciplines stay awe-struck and silent." Yiannis Gabriel, University of Bath, UK


"Howard Stein and Seth Allcorn have brought their many years of experience of consulting with corporate organizations to bring us a taste of what their "lived experience" of becoming immersed in what they call the organizational toxicity that is so common in the organizations they have worked with is like. They describe organizational toxicity as: "in some ways a mild term for the pervasive sense one is being spiritually violated and poisoned in a polluted workplace."

In a uniquely creative way they have developed a blend of two different modalities for understanding, both emotionally and conceptually, the essence of organizational toxicity." David Lotto, PhD., The Journal of Psychohistory


"Reading this valuable book, I find myself recalling from my 35 years of experience consulting toxic organizations, how essential the ideas of reverie and free association are to the process of observing, experiencing, and narrating organizational dynamics with an eye to assisting their transformation. In their latest book, Stein and Allcorn have constructed a triangulated model of experience-near organizational study, where applied poetry, storytelling, and psychoanalytic theories, enhance our ability to emotionally and intellectually process, digest, and reflect upon the toxicity of workers collective organizational experience. In so doing, they have achieved what Thomas Ogden calls "the music of what happens" in poetry and psychoanalysis. I highly recommend it." Michael A. Diamond, PhD., University of Missouri, Columbia


"This work by Howard Stein and Seth Allcorn is a treasure of humanity, an interweaving of applied poetry and psychoanalysis to surface the wounds and struggles of working life so that we may make sense, heal, and recognize pain and struggle. The analyses open paths for reflecting on different ways of organizing, in dignity and justice for all workers.

Students, teachers, organizational members will all benefit from this valuable, sensitive work, which offers the gift of bearing witness by interweaving historical injustice with the pulse of contemporary lived experience." Dr. Eda Ulus, University of Glasgow, Scotland, UK


 "This is an important book for qualitative researchers interested in making sense of both their own and research participants’ subjectivity in the research process. The organizational poems throughout the book grip the heart and the application of theory captures the mind as the authors carefully show us how the processes of data generation (through writing poetry) and analysis (through examining self-experience) can unfold in the context of the stories (thoughts, feelings, and reactions) we record in our minds and write in our fieldnotes. The authors’ careful application of theory to interpret organizational poems clearly illustrates how psychoanalysis can deepen our ability to understand and explain the irrational and often painful dimensions of organizational life. This groundbreaking book clearly explains and illustrates writing and interpreting poetry as a form of psychoanalytic organizational research – as a process of introspection, as a way of conveying the experience of being ‘there’, and as a space for co-creating meaning." Carrie M. Duncan, PhD, Center for Psychosocial Organization Studies