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Lawrence, W.G. Bain, A. Gould, L.J. (1996). The fifth basic assumption. Free Associations, 6(1):28-55.

(1996). Free Associations, 6(1):28-55

The fifth basic assumption

W. Gordon Lawrence, Alastair Bain and Laurence J. Gould

It has been a remarkable text, Wilfred Bion's Experiences in Groups (1961); a landmark in thought and conceptualization of the unconscious functioning of human beings in groups. The working hypotheses he formulated on the mental activity of members of groups have robustly stood the test of time. In part, this has been because of the Working Conferences on Group Relations which started from his ideas and whose staffs have elaborated them over time. But even if there had been no such conferences his related writings, lectures, and memoirs assure him a place in the history of the development of psychoanalytic thinking about social groups, institutions, and society.

The most recent history of the development of group relations education in the Bion-Tavistock tradition has been presented by E. J. Miller (Miller, 1990). There is little point in repeating that history save to say that working conferences were developed at first by Leicester University and the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations in 1957. Subsequent conferences owe their paternity to the late A. K. Rice. His clarity of conceptualization gave working conferences their stamp which lasts to this day (Rice, 1965). In the final analysis, however, whatever group relations education has become is based on Bion's thought, which provides the heuristic perspective for unravelling the unconscious functioning of groups.

We write from our experiences in our roles as consultants to and directors of such working conferences in addition to our practices as social scientists, organizational consultants, psychoanalyst, and university teachers. We have been associated with group relations education for most of our adult lives and each has tried to contribute to thinking on groups through participation and writing.

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