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van Reekum, G. (2006). Expecting a Present: On a Quotation from Bion: A Tavistock Approach to Leadership in High-Risk Environments. Organ. Soc. Dyn., 6(1):4-21.

(2006). Organizational and Social Dynamics, 6(1):4-21


Expecting a Present: On a Quotation from Bion:1 A Tavistock Approach to Leadership in High-Risk Environments

Gerard van Reekum

Building on the much cited quotation from Wilfred Bion about the shadow a future projects or casts before, this text is a search for potential meanings of ‘future’ that lie outside the ordinary. After exploring the psychoanalytic perspective in the writings of various theorists who refer to this clause, future (per se) is tried as a philosophical concept and tested in a business setting. In the final section these varied interpretations are compared with Bion's thinking; that is, taken to be post-structuralist rather than psychoanalytic in the orthodox sense.

I could say that this meeting itself can be regarded as an expression, as a revision of such experience and knowledge as we have managed to pick up in the course of our lifetime, but it can also be regarded as showing the shadow of a future we don't know any more than we know the past, a shadow which it projects or casts before. (Bion, 1977)

Bion spoke these words in 1976, addressing a crowd of no less than 760 people who had gathered for his concluding talk at the International Conference on Borderline Disorders in Topeka, Kansas. In one of his letters to the children (see Bion, 1985) he wrote:

I thought that most of them would have disappeared before my last item on Sunday. They hadn't (…) and the whole outfit stuck it out till I had finished. We both started home weary, but glad to have come.

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