Academic journal article Organisational and Social Dynamics

OBITUARIES: W. Gordon Lawrence, 20 January, 1934 - 27 December, 2013

Academic journal article Organisational and Social Dynamics

OBITUARIES: W. Gordon Lawrence, 20 January, 1934 - 27 December, 2013

Article excerpt

Gordon Lawrence was best known and loved by many around the world for his work with social dreaming. Fiercely independent in character, idiosyncratic in thought, generous in spirit, Gordon was bom in Aberdeenshire. He attended Aberdeen University from 1953-1956. After a short spell in the army, he worked for Lloyd's & Scottish Finance, but after a year moved back into education as a liberal studies lecturer at Charles Keene College, Leicester. He also taught sociology and psychology of education at Durham University.

His work as we know it today really began after joining the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations in 1971 where he worked for eleven years as an action researcher. In 1982, still at the Tavistock, he "discovered" social dreaming, a turning point in his life. In a complex re-visiting of his ideas around psychoanalytical approaches to groups and organisations, Lawrence resigned and became a consultant with Shell International for three years. He sought new ways of developing his thought and became President of the International Foundation for Social Innovation (IFSI) in Paris, but rivalries became intense and led to his resignation. From this moment on, Lawrence pursued an individual, sometimes lonely, path in the development of the idea of social dreaming.

Lawrence's work was not exclusively centred on social dreaming. His "discovery" was also part of his thinking about the psychodynamics of groups and organisations in society. For Lawrence, social dreaming partly came about through his experiences of group relations conferences in the Tavistock tradition and intellectually through the work of Bion. This was pointed out in David Armstrong's important introduction to Lawrence's first social dreaming book as editor, Social Dreaming @ Work (1998). Lawrence greatly valued Armstrong's friendship and intellectual support, which also helped to preserve the links to the world of the Tavistock and group relations. Lawrence developed his own systemic understanding of the dynamics of group work, and in particular his idea, developed from Bion, that dreams could be used to acquire knowledge of society as opposed to an understanding of the workings of the individual mind. The former, borrowed and developed from Bion, was encapsulated in the idea of the "sphinx", while the latter was identified as "oedipal". In this way Lawrence became both tied to and separated from the Tavistock approach to groups and organisations. He both admired the Tavistock world of group relations and at the same time harboured an intense dislike for certain aspects of that tradition. Indeed, the very first social dreaming experience emerged from the frustration that he felt with what he considered to be the restrictive taboo of discussing dreams in Tavistock group contexts. Hence, in 1982, when he ran the first social dreaming matrix at the Tavistock Institute with his colleague Patricia Daniel, "A project in social dreaming and creativity", this marked his departure from the norms of the Tavistock approach. Along with the Tavistock strictures regarding the place of dreams in group work, Lawrence also questioned the nature of interpretation in groups. For social dreaming, he developed the idea of "working hypotheses" as an alternative to interpretation. Not only did he believe that a consultant in a group relations context might sometimes use interpretation in inappropriate ways, but he went on to develop the important idea that to interpret a dream in a social dreaming context would actually stem the flow of dream images, associations, and the development of meaning within the matrix. For Lawrence, the best "interpreter" of a dream was another dream. This way of working was, in Lawrence's view, a more "democratic", less "narcissistic" way of engaging with a collective. So, the "host" (as opposed to the group "consultant") in a social dreaming matrix would never interpret, but rather offer "working hypotheses", a sense of guidance and link-making that never actually became interpretation. …

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