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Rohrlich, J.B. (1993). The Workplace Within: Psychodynamics of Organizational Life: By Larry Hirschhorn. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1990, 264 pp., $9.95 (soft cover).. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 41:292-295.
(1993). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 41:292-295
The Workplace Within: Psychodynamics of Organizational Life: By Larry Hirschhorn. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1990, 264 pp., $9.95 (soft cover).
Review by: Jay B. Rohrlich, M.D.
In Civilization and Its Discontents, Freud (1930) wrote:
No other technique for the conduct of life attaches the individual so firmly to reality as laying emphasis on work; for his work at least gives him a secure place in a portion of reality, in the human community. The possibility it offers of displacing a large amount of libidinal components, whether narcissistic, aggressive or even erotic, on to professional work and on to the human relations connected with it lends it a value by no means second to what it enjoys as something indispensible to the preservation and justification of existence in society [p. 80f].
Work to Freud was an essentially rational outgrowth of the reality principle—a "compulsion … created by external necessity" (p. 101) and a process that provided the means to sublimate anxiety arising out of conflict over infantile libidinal drives. Except for occasional references (Freud, 1916), he did not explore his patients' work or the workplace as a source of anxiety.
Using models of group dynamics derived from his Tavistock experience and the work of Melanie Klein and W. Bion, Hirschhorn, an organizational consultant at the Wharton Center for Applied Research, has written an extremely lucid book arguing that the work-place is far from immune to irrationality. Work, he contends, generates its own anxiety, and he fills the book with descriptions of a wide range of symptomatic, maladaptive responses to anxiety in various work situations.
One of his most compelling illustrative stories involves the conflictual dynamics behind the Challenger space shuttle disaster in which seven astronauts lost their lives. Hirschhorn describes how anxiety over leadership took place at several levels in NASA's decision chain, and how political pressure led to a failure to face disturbing technical facts and to the calamitously premature launch.
Because he functions as a consultant to organizations, ranging from small law firms to government agencies, which call on him to resolve conflict in work groups, the author's points of analytic departure are not personal histories of individuals, but the interactional dynamics of organizational systems. This fact relates to the one minor quarrel I have with The Workplace Within. The author devotes the entire book to demonstrating the variety of dysfunctional defenses that individuals employ in work groups to ward off anxiety.
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