Academic journal article Organisational and Social Dynamics

Gordon Lawrence's Social Dreaming Matrix: Background, Origins, History, and Developments

Academic journal article Organisational and Social Dynamics

Gordon Lawrence's Social Dreaming Matrix: Background, Origins, History, and Developments

Article excerpt


This article comes soon after the death of Gordon Lawrence, the "discoverer" of social dreaming. It captures this moment to celebrate Lawrence's legacy and to reflect upon the development of social dreaming since its "discovery" in 1982 and its potential, both realised and unrealised. The article gives a brief history of social dreaming, its origins and development. In doing so, it attempts to situate social dreaming in the context of the Tavistock group relations tradition. Social dreaming is described as both belonging to and rejecting that tradition. It draws upon Lawrence's unpublished notebooks, personal communications, experiences in social dreaming, and selections of the available literature. The post social dreaming matrix events such as the dialogues and reflection groups and the creative role synthesis are also briefly discussed. Finally, there is a discussion of some of the theory of social dreaming.

Key words: social dreaming, creativity, matrix, group relations, unthought known, sphinx.


This article is intended to provide a personal perspective, appreciation, and summary of the history and background of social dreaming, with a particular focus on its "discoverer", Gordon Lawrence. It highlights the main features of social dreaming and reflects upon its significance for us today. It is not intended to be a complete overview of the field. For Lawrence's own assessment of social dreaming see his Introduction to Social Dreaming (2005). For a recent summary in the context of the "associative unconscious", see Baglioni and Fubini's "Social dreaming" (2013).


"Social dreaming" is the name given to a particular method of sharing dreams in a collective specifically gathered for that purpose. It was "discovered" by the late W. Gordon Lawrence in 1982. During the dream-sharing event, called a "matrix", the participants share their real, night time dreams, images, and associations. These dreams are not initially interpreted or given explicit meaning by the matrix convenors (called "hosts"). Instead, participants are able to allow the dream images and associations to gradually accumulate in the course of the matrix. As part of this process, the participants often feel they are perceiving new emerging meanings and thoughts. It is claimed that these thoughts arise from a shared social unconscious and that this is eventually made available to thinking through a combination of the matrix itself and the dialogue or reflection that happens after it. The main purpose of social dreaming is, therefore, to provide a forum for the sharing of hidden or unspoken thoughts and feelings about the social circumstances of the social dreaming participants. It is about creating new thoughts about the world that we share.


Before discussing social dreaming as a specific technique, method, or process, we should consider what it is not, because there are many suppositions about dreaming, the nature of dreams, and their place in ontology that are not necessarily helpful in our understanding of social dreaming. It should be clear from the outset that the sharing of dreams with a gathering of others cannot be compared to the recounting of a dream in the clinical context and dyadic situation of analystanalysand. But neither is any sharing of dreams in a collective necessarily social dreaming. It is true that there are many ways of working with collective dreams, and some of them may initially sound as if they might be social dreaming in another guise. As an example, it is worth asking why Montague Ullman's book Appreciating Dreams, a Group Approach (2006) is not about social dreaming, even if Gordon Lawrence acknowledged Ullman as an influence. In this case, the fundamental differences are twofold: first, Ullman's work is therapeutical and the use of dreams in groups as therapy is far removed from the purpose and the more "community" feel of dream sharing in a social dreaming context. …

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