Academic journal article Organisational and Social Dynamics

Representation, Place, and Equivalent Realities: An Exploration of Relational Perspectives on Representation and Meaning

Academic journal article Organisational and Social Dynamics

Representation, Place, and Equivalent Realities: An Exploration of Relational Perspectives on Representation and Meaning

Article excerpt


Individuals and organisations seeking consultation on their development often are concerned with trying to understand how they are seen by their clients in an attempt to align impressions and behaviours more closely and to position themselves well in the market place. These are preoccupations about image, brand, and reputation and in my professional development work I am curious about how individuals and organisations convey both factual and impressionistic data about themselves, as they go about their businesses and how meaning is ascribed to such data.

This work involves exploring aspects of identity, who am I, who do I bring into this work? and presence, how do I present myself to my clients, how am I encountered by others, and can I influence those impressions? These are questions that involve developing a capacity to think and to manage emotions and behaviours in the moment, as well as making sense of experience from a spatial perspective, where might this feeling originate, where in this system might it relate to? An awareness of where I am, the place I am in, and which parts of me are mobilised in this place comes into this work on identity and presence. Such an awareness works away at both a conscious and unconscious level, and can be addressed and developed in professional trainings and in role analysis, so as to utilise the range of identities that are available to us at any one time, and minimise unintended behaviours and impacts (Izod & Whittle, 2014).

My current thinking leads me to consider "representation" as a central feature in exploring these professional issues. By representation I mean processes by which attributes of personal and organisational life are brought into sight, and re-presented so as to appeal to different others, with their different states of mind and different needs and requirements at any one time. Very often representation is seen in task and role terms (Aldefer, 2010; Miller &Rice, 1967), usually located within and bounded by societal, organisational, and group governance structures, and accompanied by varying levels of authorisation. Elected political leaders represent their constituencies, mandated leaders bring negotiated viewpoints from their organisations to interorganisational debate, and in experiential learning events in the Tavistock tradition the role of the representative often comes under scrutiny to indicate different levels of power and delegated authority.

Contemporary organisational practices challenge the nature of bounded systems as organisations extend their reach into complex partnerships and alliances, which are not always visible or understandable to their staff or user populations. The question of "are you an employee?" is not an easy one for a management consultant, taking up a temporary role in her client organisation and with continuing loyalty to her own business. So I am approaching representation as additionally self-authorising, arising in more fluid working arrangements and encounters, where the level of negotiation is also within one's inner world, and the parts of the self that are mobilised knowingly and unknowingly.

Drawing on attachment theories, I will suggest that "place" and how we relate to a sense of where we are at any one time, is a formative aspect of the way we encounter organisations and undertake representational tasks within them, and on their behalf. I will consider how places resonate in our inner worlds, and "impress" upon us (Bollas, 2012, p. 241), evoking different aspects of our identities that come to the fore when we take up roles. My experience is that places lodge in us, cling to our skins, and play a part in the way that we interact with our environments.

Finally I will talk about how the idea of "equivalent realities" a term borrowed from the world of non-representational art, offers a potential for multiple and irrational aspects of experience (Wilson, 1991, p. 178), to make their way into our thoughts and feelings and influences us in representational roles. …

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