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Lost in Familiar Places

Lost in Familiar Places: Creating New Connections Between the Individual and Society

Edward R. Shapiro
A. Wesley Carr
Copyright Date: 1991
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 208
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  • Book Info
    Lost in Familiar Places
    Book Description:

    We live in a world of accelerating change, marked by the decline of traditional forms of family, community, and professional life. Both within families and in work-places individuals feel increasingly lost, unsure of the roles required of them. In this book a psychoanalyst and an Anglican priest, using a combination of psychoanalysis and social systems theory, offer tools that allow people to create meaningful connections with one another and with the institutions within which they work and live.

    The authors begin by discussing how life in a family prefigures and prepares the individual to participate in groups, offering detailed case studies of families in therapy as illustrations. They then turn to organizations, describing how their consultations with an academic conference, a mental hospital, a law firm, and a church parish helped members of these institutions to relate to one another by becoming aware of wider contexts for their experiences. All the people within a group have their own subjectively felt perceptions of the environment. According to Shapiro and Carr, when individuals can negotiate a shared interpretation of the experience and of the purposes for which the group exists, they can further their own development and that of their organizations. The authors suggest how this can be accomplished. They conclude with some broad speculations about the continuing importance of institutions for connecting the individual and society.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-15791-8
    Subjects: Psychology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    We live in a time of rapid and escalating social and environmental change. Our ability to position ourselves comfortably within our social contexts has been disturbed. In the past, reliable, inherited traditions and institutions—in the structure of families, the makeup of work settings and organizations, the familiar fabric of our social and political lives—helped us organize our experiences and make them recognizable. Now, social complexity and turbulence contribute to the bewilderment each of us feels as a once reliable and meaningful environment is completely transformed.

    In the summer of 1983, for example, the trustees of the Massachusetts General...


    • 1 Listening to Human Experience: The Importance of Interpersonal Curiosity
      (pp. 11-21)

      The family is the first and most basic organization we all encounter. Within the framework of the family, we can develop the skills we need for competent organizational behavior. The most important skill is the capacity to learn from individual experiences, our own and others’. The study of disrupted families provides clues to the development of this essential ability.

      The clinical study and treatment of families has revealed one trait to be the hallmark of psychological health and stability: curiosity. The effects of its absence in disturbed families are profound; the reasons for its development, or failure of development, are...

    • 2 Living in the First Organization
      (pp. 22-34)

      Our first experience of an organization occurs in the family. Whether this family is secure and well managed or fragile and disorganized, each of us begins life in some sort of family. In this chapter and in the next two chapters, we will study one family in some detail in order to illustrate the complementary dynamics of the individual and the family group. This examination will illuminate the need to include both if we hope to clarify the meaning of individual experience in context.

      The case study involves a so-called borderline adolescent and her family. A generation ago, when the...

    • 3 Containing Chaotic Experience
      (pp. 35-49)

      The period of adolescence is a time of major and often chaotic role change. The child is moving toward adulthood, and the parents are undergoing shifts in their role relationships with the child and hence with each other as well. Because many of the overt changes, in body shape and emotional makeup, occur in the adolescent, he or she almost inevitably becomes the presenter of family pathology. The adolescent’s efforts to form new relationships outside the family threaten the integrity of the boundaries of the family unit by opening it to outside scrutiny.

      Each of the key sustaining elements in...

    • 4 Interpreting from Within
      (pp. 50-60)

      Given the complexity and passion of family interactions, it is not surprising that when therapists first begin working with disturbed families, they are initially confused. This confusion has two primary sources. First, much of the data about family interaction is not presented in words. Second, in addition to observing what is going on within the family unit from the outside, therapists become aspects of that unit by interacting with others. As they do so, they begin to absorb the dynamics of the family system and experience them within themselves. This is the “participant” aspect of the participant-observer method, so central...


    • 5 From the Family to Larger Organizations
      (pp. 63-74)

      The case studies of two families have suggested how we perceive and begin to interpret the contemporary experience of being lost in the familiar. Our lives, however, are not lived solely within the family. As we mature, other structures and contexts impinge upon us. In this chapter we offer ways of connecting the phenomenology of family life to that of larger organizations. In subsequent chapters we will explore through extended case studies ways of using the interpretive stance in these organizational settings.

      As we become aware of our psychological complexity as individuals and begin to assume that we may have...

    • 6 The Interpretive Stance
      (pp. 75-87)

      In our studies of the borderline patient, we saw that family members’ inability to value a child’s experience contributed to their shared sense of being lost in the world of the familiar. An individual’s experience provides the primary data source for any interpretive effort, yet by itself it is incomplete; in order to be interpreted adequately, the individual’s experience needs to be placed in context. We can see this clearly in the following account.

      A psychiatric clinic appointed a young woman to introduce a new program in child psychotherapy. She was herself a trainee in psychology, so she had to...

    • 7 An Organizational Illustration
      (pp. 88-94)

      This chapter presents an extended illustration that draws together the arguments of the previous two chapters. The example reveals how the interpretive stance itself and the struggle to understand the context provided by the task may transform individuals’ confusing experiences into coherent data that are both personally and organizationally relevant.

      In the organization to be described, the stated primary task was “to promote the study and development of the technique of group psychotherapy.” This professional association, which had been in existence for several decades, had created an event called an “Annual Institute.” This was a three-day gathering designed to present...


    • 8 A Consultation to a Unit in a Mental Hospital
      (pp. 97-110)

      The Adolescent and Family Treatment and Study Center (AFTSC) is a program within McLean Hospital, a 328-bed psychiatric hospital in Massachusetts. The program contains the Adolescent and Family Treatment Unit (AFTU), a 12-bed unit for the inpatient treatment of severely disturbed adolescents, and provides research and training in adolescent psychiatry. The treatment includes individual therapy for the adolescent and marital and family therapy for the adolescent’s family. The large interdisciplinary staff includes psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, nurses, and mental health workers. Each of the disciplines is responsible to its own department for professional issues within the larger hospital but the...

    • 9 Coping with Unbearable Feelings
      (pp. 111-122)

      The consultation described in chapter 8 led us to explore the link between the feelings experienced by hospital staff in their work roles and their feelings about the patients. In turn these connections led us to examine the decision to hospitalize itself. From this study we were able to develop a larger theory about the dynamic functioning of organizations.

      The manifest reason for hospitalizing psychiatric patients involves someone’s decision that they are in danger of committing suicide or homicide, or that they are unable to care for or manage themselves. From another perspective, hospitalization can be understood as a consequence...

    • 10 The Unit’s Use of the Interpretive Stance
      (pp. 123-132)

      The discovery of the relationship between unbearable feelings and work of the institution was only one outcome of the external consultation to AFTSC. Staff members’ recognition of their own capacities to develop negotiated interpretations linking their internal experiences with the unit’s work helped a different work culture to develop. In other words, the organization internalized the interpretive stance. Interpretation became a more reliable method of addressing the tensions of working life, serving both the task and the needs of members.

      This development came about in part because of personnel changes in AFTSC. How well AFTSC had internalized the interpretive stance...

    • 11 Values and Beliefs within a Law Firm
      (pp. 133-144)

      The consultations discussed so far focused on specific organizational dilemmas. This chapter describes a consultation that explicitly addresses issues of belief and values. We have touched briefly on these in discussing the hospital, especially in so far as the staff developed their own sense of valuing the experience of working from an interpretive stance. In this example, however, values and beliefs become the central focus of interpretation.

      Questions of value, meaning, and belief seem inevitably to arise when the profoundly intimate yet ordinarily hidden connections between diverse people are exposed for examination (Miller 1980). These questions seem to pull us...


    • [Part IV Introduction]
      (pp. 145-146)

      Throughout this book we have explored the links between individual experience and institutional behavior, and we have tried to show that the contemporary experience of being lost in familiar places does not imply that men and women can do nothing other than acknowledge this feeling. By employing the interpretive stance, we may discover new and useful ways of living in and working with the large institutions that dominate our social and political lives.

      We have already shifted from viewing the individual alone to considering the individual in the context of the group or organization and the group within its environment....

    • 12 Organizations as Symbols: A Study of a Church
      (pp. 147-156)

      We began this book with two major aims: to describe an approach that would enable individuals to find their way through the confusions of contemporary social life and to offer an explanation of how institutions can generate some coherence within society. But once we speak of “society,” we begin to address feelings and other data too vast to be manageable in terms of our interpretive stance. That stance requires the linking of internal experience in role with external evidence in relation to a larger task. We do not lack internal experience in social roles. But what would constitute external evidence...

    • 13 Irrationality and Dependency: A Method for Survival
      (pp. 157-166)

      Every organization has its specific task. But organizations may also perform other, less obvious tasks within a society. We have already touched on Bion’s speculations that social institutions might be managing large-scale, unconscious dynamics (see chapter 5). The aggression between nations, for instance, seems to be as much commercial as military (Kennedy 1988), for nations, through their commercial organizations, compete to gain a larger number of export orders. One generalized social task of industry and other commercial enterprises may be to carry out the fight/flight dynamic on behalf of the whole society.

      A hypothesis such as this, one drawn on...

    • 14 Society, Institutions, and the Individual
      (pp. 167-177)

      This final chapter is necessarily more speculative. It is difficult enough, as we have seen, to adopt the interpretive stance and to assemble the necessary data concerning the individual and his relatedness to the small and large contexts in which he lives. Yet this effort appears simple in comparison to an examination of the problematic role of citizen and its relatedness to the vast conglomerations of society or the nation. But the uninterpreted space that is experienced between the individual and his social context is one of the main reasons for the experience of being lost. We cannot, therefore, conclude...

  10. Final Reflections
    (pp. 178-180)

    We began with the individual and our primary experience of oganizations, the family. We then connected individuals, with their necessarily limited experiences, to the vast societies that we humans create. We wish to conclude our discussion with some examples of how individuals might conduct their own interpretations within their organizational roles as a way of dealing constructively with these connections.

    In any organization, subgroups have differentiated tasks. In each subgroup, members have particular roles. These elements—tasks and roles—provide a place from which organizational and social interpretation can be undertaken. In other words, my knowledge of my body and...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 181-184)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 185-188)
  13. Permissions
    (pp. 189-190)
  14. Index
    (pp. 191-193)