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Title: Reconceptualing social defence theory for the purpose of organisational-level change: causes, consequences and the contribution of grid-group cultural theory
Authors: Papadopoulos, Nikolaos
Advisors: Smith, S
Keywords: Organisational culture;Systems-psycnodynmics;Socio-analysis;Psychoanalysis;Institutional theory
Issue Date: 2015
Publisher: Brunel University London
Abstract: Despite repeated demonstrations of the dysfunctional effects of social defences in organisations, social defence theory's (SDT) problem of organisational change (Long, 2006) remains. Why? Can this be avoided? The research centres on a four-year coaching and consulting project within a multinational manufacturing company. Social defences appeared but a careful Tavistock action-research intervention failed. Despite Menzies’ (1960) 'sociological innovation' that social defences are more than psychic phenomena and get built into organisations, she did not explain how this happens or what to do. A review of the literatures and case study revealed problems with the theory and intervention. Clues from Trist, Emery and Jaques suggested that both sociological and psychological theories are needed, implying that social defences be re-examined as both causes and symptoms. The change literature proposes that organisational change is qualitatively different from individual and team change (the focus of SDT). We develop realist explanations of the causes of social defences along with forecasting of their consequences, while retaining Tavistock interpretive methods. The cultural theory (CT) of anthropologist, Mary Douglas, emerged as the preferred sociological resource. We reconceptualise social defences as 'informal institutions' carrying implicit rules, norms and 'ways of thinking' that generate consequences (feedback). CT posits that contending 'thought-styles' derive from Strong/Weak Social Regulation and Strong/Weak Social Integration (solidarity). Anxiety and social defences may be understood as directed against a prevailing thought-style and the practices it inspires: leading to either task-undermining or anxiety-circumventing behaviour in service of task. Together, SDT and CT improve our capacity for diagnosing and facilitating change. SDT recognises that social defences are forewarnings of unspecified troubles ahead, but does not explain or forecast what these might be. CT improves our forecasting of the effects of social defences. SDT assists CT in seeing anxiety and defences as significant evidence of cultural shifts and realigning of the organising logic of institutions. This thesis should appeal to leaders who prioritise 'financial' rationality; and to change agents concerned with reading 'emotional' warning-signs and enhancing an organisation's capacity to do things differently.
Description: This thesis was submitted for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy and awarded by Brunel University London.
Appears in Collections:Business and Management
Brunel Business School Theses

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