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New approaches to bullying and conflict at work seminar I: Bullying, Self and Other

Venue: Birkbeck Main Building

This event has ended.

The first seminar on 19 May investigated bullying from outside the confines of measurement, operational definition and incidence. Ego Psychology from 1950s America influences most work on the self and the individual, and holds that the human subject is unitary. This has produced a rather unsatisfactory state of play, because the way the self is conceptualised and researched is seen as unproblematic.

An alternative perspective views the conscious ego and unconscious desire as radically divided. Lacan, for example, considered this perpetual and unconscious fragmentation of the self as Freud's most important contribution.

Applied to bullying, this approach divides the human subject into two parts: the self and the Other, the Other exerting a disciplinary (un)conscious force on the self. Bullying is located in the space between the self and the Other, rather than between two individuals who more or less neatly fit the descriptions 'victim' and 'bully'. One half of ourselves bullies the other half. So when the Other places a demand on us, we may dislike it, but we also gain some pleasures from fulfilling what the Other demands of us, even if this pleasure is suppressed and unconscious. In other words, bullying can be a transaction which serves both sides, and although the idea of complicity is heretical to some, it may shed useful light on fundamental questions which remain unanswered, like how the same act can be experienced as bullying one minute, and harmless the next.

This first seminar featured talks by Howard Schwartz, Carl Cederstrom and Sheila White. Professor Schwartz and Dr Cederstrom continued their themes from the launch event of the previous day. Dr White's talk gave us the medieval notion of the Dance of Death to explore the intersubjective and unconscious nature of bullying.

The talks and subsequent discussion were chaired and facilitated by Jette Kofoed and Andreas Liefooghe.

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