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Organizational Turbulence, Trouble and Trauma: Theorizing the Collapse of a Mental Health Setting

Fischer, Michael D. (2012) Organizational Turbulence, Trouble and Trauma: Theorizing the Collapse of a Mental Health Setting. Organization Studies, 33 (9). pp. 1153-1173.

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Turbulence is usually considered a negative property of an organization’s environment. Yet turbulence is also a feature of an organization’s internal dynamics and may be useful for productivity. This article argues that interactions between the formal and informal management of trouble produce relational turbulence that may mobilize resources and collective action, or conversely lead to dysfunction and crisis. The author links relational psychoanalytic theory with social constructionist perspectives in exploring intersubjective dynamics of trouble and its repercussions of turbulence. Based on a longitudinal interorganizational ethnography, an atypical mental healthcare organization is described – a democratic therapeutic community – in which turbulence plays a central function, but in two very different ways. In a restorative mode, turbulence generates formative spaces that are creative and have a regulating function, useful for organizational productivity. Conversely, a perverse mode is destructive and may produce intractable perverse spaces, leading to organizational dysfunction, crisis and even collapse. This is theorized by extending the psychoanalytic concept of liminal, transitional space. In contrast to the notion of transitional space as a safe, protective area, the author develops a model of distinct formative and perverse spaces created by relational turbulence in organizations. In human service organizations, where the generation, trading and management of trouble are inherent in an organization’s internal dynamics, turbulence may be a valuable resource, but one that, in the perverse mode, can be immensely destructive.

Item Type: Article
Keywords: Intersubjectivity, psychoanalysis, social constructionism, transitional space, trouble, turbulence
Subject(s): Organisational behaviour
Centre: Faculty of Organisational Behaviour
Date Deposited: 24 Oct 2012 12:52
Last Modified: 23 Oct 2015 14:07

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