Academic journal article SA Journal of Industrial Psychology

Social Constructionism and Relational Practices as a Paradigm for Organisational Psychology in the South African Context

Academic journal article SA Journal of Industrial Psychology

Social Constructionism and Relational Practices as a Paradigm for Organisational Psychology in the South African Context

Article excerpt


Owing to the increasing rate of violence in the South African workplace, skills in dealing with interpersonal relations have become of paramount importance in studying and practising organisational psychology. This can be done from different paradigm perspectives. These perspectives influence not only the science practitioner's view on behaviour in organisations, but also their professional practices and more specifically the way in which they facilitate adversarial relationships. The different paradigm perspectives lead not only to debates on the appropriateness of the perspectives, but even to splits between advocates of different perspectives. For instance, Watkins (2001) identifies theories that are based on psychoanalytic, behaviourist, humanist and cognitive perspectives and argues that although psychoanalysis played a key role in the development of the field, it only creates more questions than answers in a search for meaning. More specifically, regarding organisation development (OD) as an applied sub-discipline of organisational psychology, according to Frances, Holbeche and Reddington (2012), although OD was primarily based on psychological concepts derived from psychoanalysis and humanistic values, the field has moved away from its original roots of behavioural dynamics, action research and the application of systems thinking.

In contrast to the above, there seems to be a new surge in researching and applying psychoanalytic constructs in South African organisations (Rothmann & Cilliers, 2007). This occurs on the basis of a systems-psychodynamic approach, which has its roots in the Tavistock or Object Relations movement. It is argued that interventions based on other paradigms such as humanism, behaviourism, cognitivism and positive psychology do not address the major conflictual issues encountered in South African organisations (Geldenhuys, 2012). For instance, the humanistic paradigm is based mainly on the optimal functioning of the individual, without considering their impact on other people. Relationships are only relevant as far as they enhance the process of self-actualisation (Sampson, 2008).

The systems-psychodynamic paradigm primarily emphasises the unconscious influence of past authority relations on current behaviour. Although it provides a diagnostic perspective on behavioural dynamics (Geldenhuys, 2012), the contribution of this paradigm towards transforming relationships is questioned in postmodern literature. The reason for this could be its emphasis on the negative influence of past authority relations, or the construction of a community of practice that is exclusive, and therefore only of value to the participants of that community, or possibly because it is motivated by its therapeutic value for the individual (Sampson, 2008).

With the emphasis on human relations in the African context and the acceptance of a postmodern lifestyle that is characterised, inter alia, by increasing connections through mobility and the use of social media, the relevance of current practices in organisational psychology mainly derived from the Westernised, modernist paradigm perspectives should be interrogated.

The argument in this article is that social constructionism as a postmodern paradigm with the emphasis on relational practices can be of value to organisational psychology for three reasons. Firstly, social constructionism is regarded as a postmodern paradigm, representing a number of theoretical frameworks such as what is coined in the literature as relational constructionism, conversational construction or relational practices, to name a few (Hosking & Bouwen 2000; Steyaert, Bouwen & Van Looy, 1996; Van der Haar & Hosking, 2004). These different frameworks, with their long-standing philosophical traditions, provide background on the contemporary debate in psychology between, on the one hand, scholars who view psychology as a natural science and argue for a descriptive approach with the emphasis on individual psychology and, on the other, scholars who view it as a moral science and a normative approach with the emphasis on collective psychology (Hosking & Morley, 2004). …

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