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Wisdom, J.O. (1985). Types of Groups: Transitions and Cohesion; Emergent Properties. Int. R. Psycho-Anal., 12:73-84.

(1985). International Review of Psycho-Analysis, 12:73-84

Types of Groups: Transitions and Cohesion; Emergent Properties

J. O. Wisdom


In an earlier publication, groups described by le Bon, Freud, and Eric Hoffer were interpreted as cargo-groups. This paper is restricted mainly to Bion, and is theoretical. Here Bion's therapeutic group, obeying his laws of dependence, fight/flight, and pairing, is interpreted as a maturation-group. Such a group is seen against the goal attributed to Bion of becoming a work-group. Other groups are reducible to these three types. Types in practice are mixed not 'pure'.

The aims of the paper are these: First, to contribute to the problem of why people have to belong to groups. Second, to characterize the three types of groups, and to explore the dynamics of how a group progresses to, or regresses from, one type of group to another. Third, to provide a structure permitting of emergent properties. This question is unresolved in the natural sciences; it is therefore likely to be a difficult question in the social sciences. It seems to be that Bion's study of groups provides a beautiful example of emergent group-properties.

A further question is of how group attitudes (denoted by Gr) can affect individuals. This is explained by examining the process by which individuals interact with the identifications they have with a group (denoted by gr).

In addition to the problems of cohesion, transition, and individual effects, then, the central problem of the paper is concerned with emergence. To this end it was necessary to put together a theory to enable us to understand how a group might conceivably have properties possessed by not a single member of the group. It seems to me that Bion's work on groups is tenable only with the assumption of emergent properties.

It is perhaps worth emphasizing, even if repetitive, that the paper is concerned less with characterizing various types of group than with the unconscious processes (mechanisms, machinery) by which one type can become another.

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