The Environment does not ex-sist: engendering ‘boundary’ as the object of psychoanalytic study

Title: The Environment does not ex-sist: engendering ‘boundary’ as the object of psychoanalytic study
Author: Philip Boxer
Category: Submitted for Publication – not to be quoted

Digitalisation is changing the landscape in which organisations pursue their survival. There was a time when it was enough to provide a service efficiently and effectively. Now this is a necessary but no longer sufficient condition. There is an additional demand that services be provided in such a way that they are dynamically aligned to the individual customer’s situation. This pull towards dynamic responsiveness to customers one-by-one means that an organisation can no longer use markets to replace the environments beyond its boundaries in which its customers are to be found. What does this mean for an individual working for such an organisation? In this new landscape, the environment in general, i.e. THE environment, is replaced by many environments, each one being a customer situation demanding its own particular form of responsiveness. Under these conditions, the object of psychoanalytic study can no longer be the organisation per se, but rather must become the relationship of the organisation with each environment. So where does this leave an individual in the employ of an organisation? The paper describes what is different about the object of psychoanalytic study under these conditions and how this difference is reflected in the way an individual is able to understand what an organisation ‘is’. It does this by equating the exceptional role of Freud’s primal father with the founding act of an organisation, expressed in terms of the establishment of its primary task. In these terms, the object of psychoanalytic study is the law established in the name of the Father, defining the organisation’s boundaries and its structures of affiliation. Implicit in this founding act, however, is the relation of the organisation to that which remains radically Other to the founding relation. The paper argues that, in having to be responsive to its customers one-by-one, an individual working for an organisation has to take up a relation to this radical Otherness, a relation articulated by Lacan in terms of the sexual non-relation. This creates existential anxiety for the individual and new kinds of challenge to the governance of the organisation. The paper concludes by considering the consequences of this for our understanding of boundary, governance and the object of psychoanalytic study.

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