The ISPSO listserve: our parallel process in (not) working through differences

There has been a thread running on the ISPSO listserve, triggered originally by the recent tragic events at Charlie in Paris. I have found this ISPSO thread impossible to read as a dialogue, now with nearly 60 members making over 150 postings. Something that makes no sense has been stimulating us to find a way to speak about it, the continuing insistence of which I have been greatly appreciating.

The listserve thread
I have been struck by the different ways in which the issue of differences has come up, some examples are listed below [1]. These appear to me to be asking for a different kind of work from us. What might this be?

A psychoanalyst is used to listening to the speaking of an analysand and attending to the relation between what-is-being-said and the speaking-being of the analysand. This forms the basis of an interpretive relation to the unconscious. But on the listserve, there is no speaking-being, only a written trace of what-has-been-said. As I read a posting, I imagine the member speaking it, and am sometimes puzzled by the place from which the member appears (to me!) to be speaking. An impossibility then arises for me, because I only have the posting and the speaker’s relation to their posting is not accessible to me. In analytic work, this impossibility can be overcome by continuing sessions, but not with the listserve. So, assuming that what has appeared on the listserve is in some way relevant to ISPSO-as-an-organisation, how are we members to work with our different ways of reading what is important about difference?

Not working through differences as a defense against a real unconscious
This question leads me to consider how the relation between what-is-being-said and the speaker is like the relation between a ‘reading’ and all-that-has-been-written. Approached in this way, writing can include anything that has left a trace of its existence, and ‘to read’ is to make some sense of what is being read, to give it meaning. In Bion’s terms, the (m)other ‘contains’ by the way s/he ‘reads’ the child’s ‘writing’.

For me, the thread has raised the question of what happens when our ‘reading’ makes no sense. Do we say that there is something wrong with the writing, that it should be clearer; or do we question the way we are ‘reading’? The former leaves us unchallenged, or rather represses ‘other’ ways of reading. The latter challenges us to question the ways of reading to which we have become attached. By working through our attachment to particular ways of reading, however, we are eventually faced by what makes no sense. This relation to writing that makes no sense puts us in relation to a real unconscious.

My hypothesis is that not working through differences in our ways of ‘reading’ constitutes a defence against this real unconscious: don’t read what appears to make no sense and don’t speak to each other about what makes no sense! There is a lot happening in the world that suggests that our organisations are in real trouble. An interpretive approach may support the taking up of roles, but we need to work through our different ways of ‘reading’ in order to tackle what is making no sense of what is going on in our environments.

Why should we care?
The listserve thread has given us many instances of the de-subjectifying effects of discourses of (for example) science, capitalism and radicalising social movements. (‘De-subjectification’ is a process of diminishment and destruction of subjectivity). Psychoanalytic understanding runs counter to these effects through its focus on the subject. We need to understand these de-subjectifying effects not only on individuals within organisations, but on the very ways in which organisations themselves are able to sustain their existence.

We rightly ask what ISPSO may do for each of us as members, but we also need to ask what we might do for ISPSO in taking up this larger challenge, including that of how ISPSO sustains its own existence in relation to this real. Perhaps one place to start would be by getting serious about how we are to work through our attachments to different ways of reading.[2]


  • If we are all communicating with other ‘me’s’ we might collaborate to provide a container for thinking-into, despite significant differences of opinion. (Martin, Jan 13th)
  • Let us not turn the other of difference into the other of opposition. (Nina, Jan 14th)
  • We can´t look for an enemy inside us and the challenge will be to integrate all our feelings and thoughts and of course know about our differences and integrate them. (Manuel, Jan 14th)
  • My own feelings have given me insight into my own and others’ libidinal investment in these different narratives, I have felt these differences being respected or not, and I have felt afraid. (Philip, Jan 15th)
  • To quit in this case it makes me feel a strong difference that takes shape in these moments in between the ISPSO “owners” – in my mind – my association with owners is property, the proper members with many years of membership and the “new comers” that also hold – in my view – some kind of difference in who hugs the theory and who hugs the emotional side of the relationship with other organizations. (Gabriela, Jan 16th)
  • Another boundary is that between understanding and reflection and action, making a difference. As a socioanalyst, I struggle with that boundary. In our practice we each have these boundaries to negotiate and constantly work with. But as an organisation we need to study them. (Susan, Jan 18th)
  • We will, of course, not be able to avoid splitting. Our differences and humanity mean we are prone to it – if we believe in some psychoanalytic theory and the existence of an Unconscious (which I do) then we will be caught up by our defensive reactions and the challenge is to try and uncover and see if we can understand some of the (internal, intra and inter-psychic) conflicts. To do this we need to be able to free associate as well as to theorise. (Jo-anne, Jan 20th)
  • We can use the idea of splitting as a jumping off point for exploring the splits in our membership. We can then imagine how the differences in perceived power in our ISPSO reproduce the differences in power between for example people in the West and people in the developing world. The links between these associations are rooted in the connections between ideas and feelings in our mind, rather than in a search for evidence of causality in the objective world. […] If we persist in this way of thinking we are likely to miss some important causal connections, which we can only discover by searching empirically. (Larry, Jan 21st)
  • While social psychology makes tremendous contributions to the understanding of human behavior, it does not address individual differences. N=1 may not have much relevance outside of clinical analytic circles (unless you are the 1). However, I have found that it is the least de-humanizing and most respectful of the personhood of each human when engaged in direct clinical work and, ultimately, in understanding the human condition. (Diane, Jan 21st)
  • On the question of the listserve interactions specifically, I am reminded of two pieces of work by Eric Miller regarding the degree to which personal identity can be used in service of the work task; and the withdrawal of identity when organisations become too rigid around culture – essential repressing difference and potential for change. (Kevin, Jan 24th)
  • At these times I feel faced by something beyond me, that I can’t understand, usually embedded in cultural differences which confound me. The challenge for me is how I can then keep working, or find a way to sustain a rapport, with people who are using archetypal frameworks with which I can’t identify, nor sometimes able to morally accept. (Miranda, Jan 25th)
  • Differences attributed to gender may include cognition/intuition, maternal/paternal authority, vertical/lateral relations, competition/collaboration. There is much literature about the difficulties faced by women in leadership roles, as discussed on the listserve late last year. There is also an increasing amount of literature about flatter structures of organisation requiring leadership that is distributed, vulnerable, collaborative (i.e. feminine) …and yet it often implies we should embrace these feminine attributes at the expense of more masculine ones. In the dream, the brooms are together – side-by-side – and, for me, represent gender complementarity and reciprocity that is not only useful, but necessary. (Nuala, Feb 2nd)

[2] Related to this are the questions raised in an earlier blog on the future work of ISPSO

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