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Organizations in depth. (Book reviews).

Organizations in depth. By Yiannis Gabriel. London: Sage. 1999. Pp. 352. Paper, 18.99 [pounds sterling]. ISBN 0 7619 5261 6.

Contrary to what many may believe, psychoanalysis is not dead, but rather appears to be alive and well--at least in some sectors of organizational behaviour. In this book, Yiannis Gabriel takes a markedly Freudian perspective on several basic areas of organizations. The book consists of 11 chapters, several co-written with colleagues, that present core psychoanalytic ideas, psychoanalysis in practice and science, the individual and the organization (co-authored with Howard Schwartz), the organization and the individual, work-groups (co-authored with Marion Hampton), leaders and followers (co-authored with Larry Hirschhorn), psychoanalysis and culture, organizational culture, the emotional life of organizations, psychoanalysis and organizational ethics (co-authored with Glenn Swogger), psychoanalytic research into organizations, and concluding thoughts toward a new conception of management.

Gabriel states that he does not want to supplant existing and traditional theories of organizational behaviour. Rather, he would like to complement mainstream organizational explanations of organizational behaviour with a Freudian interpretation. Specifically, he seeks to understand not the behaviour of individuals in organizations, but instead the meanings behind and underlying motives for such behaviour. He sees much of what would seem to be unusual and irrational organizational behaviour as reflections of underlying tensions in the hidden depths of organizations. Moreover, he sees current emphases in organizational research, such as multiple levels of analysis, images, symbols, myths, and emotions, as falling within the traditional purview of Freudian theory. Consequently, he believes that the time is right for a closer alignment of traditional theories of organizational behaviour and psychoanalysis.

I must admit at the outset that I was fairly sceptical of a Freudian interpretation of anything, especially of organizational behaviour. My own background in psychology has had a decidedly Skinnerian behaviouristic bent. I did find, however, that Gabriel offers an interesting approach towards explaining many organizational processes. He provides a rich Freudian mix replete with fantasy, anxiety conflict, defence mechanisms, unconscious motives, and mother and father figures. Indeed, Gabriel seems to be fascinated with the passion with which Freud is both loved by proponents of psychoanalysis and hated by its critics.

Gabriel is certainly a proponent for Freud, but I would not characterize him as an apologist. To his credit, he attempts an even-handed explanation of psychoanalytic concepts and applications. On occasion, he even introduces common criticisms of Freudian ideas, such as the belief that Freudian theory is unscientific, or even worse, pseudo-science. He does, however, attempt to refute these ideas, and some of his arguments are compelling. For example, he sees psychoanalysis as an interpretative discipline that can be critically evaluated, rather than a databased natural science. This interpretative focus lends itself well to the current `sense-making' approaches to organizational theory (e.g. Thomas, Clark, & Gioia, 1993; Weick, 1995).

After covering the basics of Freudian theory, Gabriel presents an intriguing developmental typology of organizations based upon psychoanalytic theory. The stage one personalized organization mirrors the individual in the oral, narcissistic stage of psychosexual development; the personalized organizational member is impulsive and emotional and takes everything very personally. The charismatic organization, which generates a high degree of devotion and excitement, is particularly relevant here. The stage two impersonal, obsessive organization reflects the oral stage and focuses on bureaucratic order, control, and rules. The stage three collective organization emphasizes group devotion, mission, and conformity; it parallels the Oedipal psychosexual stage. Finally, the stage four individualistic organization reflects the development of the superego and with it morality, justice, self-respect, and success among its organizational members. While not conforming to many organizational development models, this four-stage approach presents interesting parallels to progression through both Maslow's (1970) needs levels in his hierarchy theory and through Kohlberg's (1981) stages of moral development.

Gabriel goes on to explain group dynamics, leadership, organizational culture, and even work in Freudian terms. For example, he combines some tantalizing ideas of ego, power, rules, and ritual in explaining organizational control. Indeed, he sees managerial control as a convenient organizational myth. Moreover, whereas Freud saw work as sexual sublimation, Gabriel develops the psychoanalytic perspective further. He views work as serving several functions beyond economics: the supergo reducing guilt created by the organization, ostentatious display to sustain the psychological contract with the organization, or simply empty ritualistic behaviour. Further, he offers an alternative analysis of groupthink in terms of defence mechanisms among group members. In addition, one of his co-authors describes an interesting psychoanalytic interpretation of the deliberations of a criminal trial jury on which he had served. One amusing vignette described the development of a computer brand logo: `Buy Soft-tool to increase your performance.' Of course, any Freudian would salivate at the opportunity to analyze that.

In contrast, Gabriel describes the organizational leader as the reincarnation of the primal mother or the omnipotent primal father, which I have trouble accepting. Moreover, he ignores current leadership theory upon which he could build some unique linkages to Freud. Charismatic theory (e.g. Conger & Kanungo, 1988), in particular, may offer concepts with psychoanalytic parallels--e.g, visions (dreams) and follower attraction (identification, idealization, fantasizing).

The best (or at least most interesting) chapter, in my opinion, is the psychoanalytic interpretation of organizational ethics. Building upon the ego-ideal concept, Gabriel proceeds to analyse the role of leadership in organizational morality and of narcissism in moral failure. He even presents a section interpreting Adam Smith, free markets, and individual self-interest from a psychoanalytic perspective.

Perhaps his most controversial chapter is concerned with which techniques of research to use with a psychoanalytic approach to organizations. Gabriel advocates collecting data on organizational stories and metaphors, which is not too unusual, but he also suggests gathering information on emotions, fantasies, and dreams of organizational members (the social dreaming matrix), which is unique, to say the least. He also suggests that transference and resistance may develop between the researcher and those being researched, which many non-Freudians may not buy.

One of the strongest criticisms of a psychoanalytic interpretation is the implicit sexism in the Freudian model. This is strikingly relevant today, given the increased emphasis upon diversity in organizations--particularly concerning women's issues. Gabriel attempts to deal with this problem by not only acknowledging the sexism in the psychoanalytic approach (e.g. penis envy) but going further to argue that this sexism is the reflection of the female's devalued status in a male-dominated society, where she has a more difficult uphill battle than the male. In essence, Gabriel treads a very thin line advocating both the orthodox Freudian view and the feminist perspective as different manifestations of the same phenomenon.

In summary, the book is a good read. Gabriel has an engaging writing style, liberally interspersed with vignettes, cases, and quotes from Freud and neo-Freudians. While the reader may not agree with some of what Gabriel is espousing, the author presents his material in a non-judgmental manner. Gabriel is even open to multiple psychoanalytic interpretations, at times even differing from Freud. And who knows? Maybe Gabriel is foreshadowing some new directions in organizational theory and even new research methodology.

Conger, J. A., & Kanungo, R. N. (1988). Charismatic leadership. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. Kohlberg, L. (1981). Essays in moral development: The philosophy of moral development. New York: Harper & Row.

Maslow, A. H. (1970). Motivation and personality. New York: Harper & Row.

Thomas, J. B., Clark, S. M., & Gioia, D. A. (1993). Strategic sensemaking and organizational performance: Linkages among scanning, interpretation, action, and outcomes. Academy of Management Journal, 36, 239-270.

Weick, K. (1995). Sensemaking in organizations. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

STEPHEN B. KNOUSE (Department of Management, University of Louisiana at Lafayette, USA)
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Author:Knouse, Stephen B.
Publication:Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Dec 1, 2001
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