The International Research Group for Psycho-societal Analysis has several origins, growing out of different intellectual traditions and disciplines in several countries. So it is no wonder that it has had a pragmatic and minimalist definition, arranged around a traditional annual conference and an informal organization which has later been known by its nickname “SQUID” – referring to one of the pleasures of meeting in Dubrovnik, namely the seafood.
The location for the group’s annual gathering in Dubrovnik is the Inter-University Center (IUC) – a free-standing institution, with historical roots in peace research and engagements in detente from the cold war period, but also a meeting place for critical and progressive academics from both East and West in the period from the student revolt in the late 1960s, and again continuing in the post-Iron Curtain Europe after a few years of temporary halt due to the civil war in Yugoslavia. Within this informal frame, an ambitious yet collaborative and non-competitive culture has developed as the nucleus of a wider network of research exchanges, academic projects, and institutional alliances. In this sense the International Research Group for Psycho-societal Analysis continued a tradition of interdisciplinary social research, more specifically by redefining or rather further developing a conference series about “Interculturality, identity and social prejudice” which had been organized for a few years in the Inter University Center for post-graduate studies in Dubrovnik. These conferences, which were co-organized by Kirsten Weber, Thomas Leithäuser, Henning Salling Olesen and a Brazilian Sociologist, Jessé Souza, had already addressed the psycho-social entanglement – e.g. palpable in this conference announcement from 2000:
“Scholarly this challenges for an interdisciplinary discussion, especially across the boundary between studies into subjectivity and studies into social structures, which remains a barrier in the social as well as in the human sciences. We invite you to enter into a conceptually creative discussion, involving people from social psychology, sociology, political science, education, and philosophy. And not least a historical approach that avoids any reductionist explanation of present behavior and orientation by historical legacies”.
The drivers for the consolidation of the research group was of course that it was seen as a response to a felt need to expand and transgress the original research traditions by exploring others. Practically it was initiated by organizing some of the networks around the Life History project at Roskilde University. This project was, within the field of (adult) education research, in itself an umbrella project which revolved around the understanding of the soci(et)al nature of subjectivity and learning, and methodologically seeking to develop methods for empirical studies of learning in everyday life. Within this project, which was influenced by different biographical and psychosocial approaches, the idea arose to further explore the psychodynamic inspiration into social science in collaboration with people from outside education and learning research. One of the researchers in the Life History project, Kirsten Weber, took the leading role in bringing together some of the most important international scholars that had influenced our research, including in the first place Thomas Leithäuser, Christine Morgenroth, Wendy Hollway and Tony Jefferson. A particular concern was to connect German and British intellectual traditions, being aware of the differences between the forms of influence of psychodynamic thinking in these countries. Weber organized the first annual conference in 2001.
The new idea in the International Research Group for Psycho-societal Analysis was that this psychosocial exploration could somehow be mediated in group interpretations of empirical material. This way of working enabled a participative and inspiring atmosphere, engaging everyone equally, and including widely different research topics. It created a multiple ad hoc arena for exploring the different traditions present, as well as the entanglement between the social and the psychic. The different nuances in psychoanalytic thinking as it was conceptualized in social science and in psychology turned out to be productive and inspiring for all participants.
Since 2001, the research group has gathered annually at the IUC in Dubrovnik, spending a week with interpretation workshops and discussion of themes with a psychodynamic approach to social research. From the beginning, the interpretation workshops formed the backbone of activity. Different work formats have been tried out – some in a traditional form like lectures and joint reading of selected material, others experimental like “fishbowl”, roleplays like psychodrama or sociodrama, creative provocations, social dreaming and so on. Gradually, the recurrent tendency has been to maintain the emphasis on interpretation workshops and other formats that are based in active participation. An annual theme is decided by the Executive Committee, who provide relevant literature to read before the conference, forming another basis of our discussions and work.
Intercultural differences were deliberately built into the group, in that it covered British and German traditions of psychoanalysis, and also different biographical experiences – with the Danish group connecting to both sides. However, language turned out to be more of an issue than had first been expected. Most of the relevant literature in the German tradition(s) only exist in German, and was only known by part of the Danish group, while a few Germans (and some Danes) were familiar with the British Tavistock tradition, so quite some time has been spent on establishing a certain level of reciprocity, and some key texts have subsequently been translated. Similarly, some discussions have been invested in mediating between sociological and psychodynamic thinking, and one might say that a certain level of engagement with a (post-Freudian) psychodynamic thinking was a gate-keeping frame of reference, whereas the social science framework has been more loosely defined.
The group developed on an invitation-only basis. Previous years’ participants are always invited and some new participants, within the limits of “organic growth”, are accepted each year, subject to approval by the Executive Committee. There have been a few participants who joined the group all the way but also a good deal has been changing. It has been an important goal to offer participation for “Early career scholars” – in the first place PhD students affiliated with the founding institutions and supervised by senior researchers in the group. As the group became stabilized invitations were extended through informal networking, and the national composition was broadened, notably with a number of Norwegian participants from 2007 onwards.
Henning Salling Olesen