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Gerard, N. (2018). Real Work, Revisited: Renewing the Psychoanalytic Study of Work. Organ. Soc. Dyn., 18(1):20-40.

(2018). Organizational and Social Dynamics, 18(1):20-40

Real Work, Revisited: Renewing the Psychoanalytic Study of Work

Nathan Gerard, Ph.D.

In his now classic article titled “Real Work”, Abraham Zaleznik (1989) famously chastised organisations for subordinating real work to psychopolitics. For Zaleznik (1989), real work involved “thinking about and acting on products, markets, and customers” while psychopolitics amounted to “an unhealthy preoccupation with process at the expense of productivity” (pp. 57, 59). The present article revisits Zaleznik's call for a return to real work, using it as an invitation to further explore the concept of work within the psychoanalytic study of organisations. The argument is made that despite nearly a century of scholarship in this area, work remains relatively understudied. Two major psychoanalytic approaches to conceptualising work are critically examined—the Tavistock and Frankfurt School approaches—to make the case for greater theoretical depth and breadth. In closing, a preliminary proposal is put forth for a renewed psychoanalytic study of work to complement the psychoanalytic study of organisations.

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