The Promoted Sibling as an expression of libidinal investment

Steen Visholm gave a presentation in June 2005 at the ISPSO International Conference in Baltimore, entitled The Promoted Sibling: Sibling Dynamics – a new dimension in the Systems Psychodynamics of Organizations. My work is as a strategy consultant, ‘strategy’ as I work with it being about the ‘management’ of ignorance. So strategy, as emergent in the behaviour (theory-in-use) of an organisation functions in the way that an ego-ideal functions for the sovereign ego.

The problematics of ‘top-down’ (North-South dominant/’vertical’) strategy/power-at-the-centre have to do with the way strategy is able to be responsive (East-West/’horizontal’) to changing needs/demands i.e. is able to be edge-driven.  The problematics particular to being edge-driven raise questions for the form of libidinal investment (the way vested interests get their more or less acknowledged satisfaction). We explored this question in the following email exchange:

Steen: I’m inspired of Janine Chasseguet-Smirgel who in her book Creativity and perversion (Free Ass. 1984) in the chapter called Narcissism and Mass psychology argues against some figures in Freud’s article about mass psychology. The narcissistic gratification in the mass is the melting together of the I and the I-ideal and the contemporary suspension of the superego.

Philip: The Bionic basic assumptions require a ‘containing’ framework within which meaning can be given to the whole. The collapse of this framework precipitates the ‘fourth basic assumption’ (Earl Hopper etc) of incohesion vs aggregation/massification. The former is a retreat into a psychic retreat, the latter into fusion – in both cases a perverse form of defence against super-ego. So this is the defence against (narcissistic) annihilation that is the corollary of Mitchell’s ‘horizontal’ axis.

Steen: To Smirgel the leader of the crowd is no father substitute, but the agent of an illusion. The father represents the law/the reality and in masses reality is suspended. I think the leader of the mass is a sibling, promoted from below; representing the illusion about short cuts to paradise. Freud writes also something about the youngest son leading the others in a take over of power.

Philip: This law is not only the insistence on there being a law, but also particular formations of the law through the agency of the (names of) the father. Without this there is psychosis. This law can therefore be expressed not only as the installation of a ‘vertical’ dimension (i.e. there has to be a ‘containing’ framework), but also of its installation in a particular form. The particularity of this form is its organisation in relation to particular axioms governing its formation, rather than the form per se. The framework is in this sense 2nd order in nature (viz ‘double loop’ etc). The governing of these axioms is the functioning of the ego-ideal, and allows us to distinguish it from the mass effects induced by identifications as a defence against (narcissistic) annihilation. So attempts to install particular axioms in the governing of human affairs (i.e the institutions of church, army etc), are attempts to mobilise the second form of identification.

Steen: I have developed my thinking with a differentiation between the promoted sibling promoted from above – which Freud writes nothing about except the considerations about the wish to be the preferred sibling – and the promoted sibling promoted from below. In work group mode (depressive position) the last has to do with what Jaques calls associations/democracy, the first with bureaucracies; in basic assumption mode the first is about tyranny the last about rebellion.

Philip: This is a very interesting idea, and it makes a lot of sense to me. But this understanding of leadership appears to relate to the (imaginary) form of (understanding of) leadership, and not to the (symbolic) form. Thus in talking about promotion from below or above, you are talking about massification or alienation here, consistent with the 4th basic assumption. But this leaves open the question of how we understand the relation to the second identification (to an ego ideal) and their association with the 1st three basic assumptions that underlie workgroup functioning that carries with it the presence of the containing frameworks that gives meaning to the work.

Steen: I have been thinking about grandparents, but either emotionally and theoretically I think the concept of ‘promoted sibling’ will work better. From my research point of departure I was quite convinced that the transference from worker to foreman was of a different quality, than the transference on the top manager (as described by Hirschhorn and Gabriel in Organizations in depth). Grandparents are usually seen in a very positive way of the grandchildren. They are in some ways de-authorised. The idealization of top management/parent I think has to do with their capacity to be creative, produce babies. And I think that the basic idea of authority seen from the child’s point of view is parents. They hold the absolute envied position. The promoted sibling holds some power, but nothing else to envy.

Philip: Following Juliet Mitchell, I disagree with this. It is the sibling’s position with respect to the parent that is what is envied. Hence the argument that annihilation/death drive belongs on the horizontal axis. As she argues, you can project this back onto the vertical axis, but its roots lie in the horizontal relationships, and the way in which they are contained in relation to the vertical. Hence the need to separate out the structuring of the vertical (Oedipus etc) from the particular form it takes (axioms/ego-ideal etc). My reference to the position of the grandparents is that this is a way in which the trans-generational matrix becomes manifest in the formation of the axioms of the family. And the family’s relationship to this trans-generational matrix will show a lot about the way ego-ideal functioning is able to be responsive to new situations (new organisations of libidinal attachment) or not.

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