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Allingham, M. (1990). R.D. Hinshelwood, What Happens in Groups. Free Association Books, 1987, 278 pages, £27.50 hb, £9.95 pb. Free Associations, 1T(19):147.

(1990). Free Associations, 1T(19):147

R.D. Hinshelwood, What Happens in Groups. Free Association Books, 1987, 278 pages, £27.50 hb, £9.95 pb

Review by:
Michael Allingham

The author's aim is to explore ways of thinking about groups and institutions, particularly therapeutic ones. In this he is remarkably successful in the specific — that is to say, in the discussion of therapeutic institutions — but somewhat less so in the general — that is to say, in the extrapolation from such institutions to the myriad of other institutions in which everyone, analysts and patients included, is involved.

The exposition is based on the close interweaving of specific examples on the one hand and interpretation and extrapolation on the other. The examples are clear and relevant and the interpretation cogent and to the point. The style here is concrete and precise, introducing theoretical abstractions only where they are both relevant and necessary: the writing exudes a quiet confidence. However, in attempting to extrapolate from the particular to the general, things start to come apart. Ill-defined concepts are introduced — for example, the four (why four?) dimensions of the ‘community personality’ — and used with suggestions of rigour — for example, in drawing on Thom's mathematical theory of catastrophes. One senses the influence of the style of Bion (after all, the author is a Kleinian). This is unfortunate: Bion's style may suit Bion, if only because he is more tongue-in-cheek than many of his readers realize, but it does not travel.

To put the problem another way: the book's strength is its treatment of the workings of the individual mind (Part 2, ‘The Individual's Own Community’, provides an excellent self-contained exposition of Kleinian theory) and of group-therapy phenomena. Its weakness is its discussion of the ways in which these aspects are reflected in the nature of wider institutions and society.

A valuable book for the practitioner qua practitioner; for the reader with wider concerns, the appetite is whetted but not satisfied.

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