Working in and with groups: Cultural references
Maria Giovanna Garuti Milano,
- This article explores the following factors
and lines of thought:
- From the classification of groups to the
notion of system.
- System as a psychical, political, and
- The concept of boundaries and of play
- The concept of primary task in the instituted
and instituting system.
- The idea of multiple plurality: the plural
nature of the individual, the plural dimension
of meeting or encounter, and systems as plural units.
- The ethnographic and anthropological dimension
of systems: myths, symbols, metaphors, and language.
- Nella comunicazione sono sviluppati i seguenti
- Dalla classificazione dei gruppi alla
nozione di sistema.
- I sistemi come luogo psichico, politico
- Il concetto di confini e di gioco con
- Il concetto di obiettivo primario: sistema
istituito e sistema istituente.
- L'idea di pluralità, l'incontro
come dimensione plurale, sistema come unità plurale.
- Sistema come dimensione etnografica e
antroplogica: miti, simboli, metafore e linguaggi.
- Cette communication aborde les facteurs suivants:
- De la classification des groupes à
la notion de système.
- Systèmes vus comme lieu psychique,
politique et spirituel.
- Le concept de limites et de jeu avec les
- Le concept d'objectif primaire.
- Le système institué et système
- L'idée de pluralité multiple.
- L'individu vu comme pluralité,
la rencontre vue comme dimension plurielle.
- Le système comme unité plurielle.
- Le système comme dimension ethnographique
et anthropologique: mythes, symboles, métaphores et
- In dem Bericht werden folgende Faktoren behandelt:
- Von der Klassifizierung der Gruppen bis
zur Notion von Systemen.
- Das System als psychischer, politischer
und geistiger Ort.
- Die Begriffe der Grenzen und des Spiels
mit den Grenzen.
- Der Begriff des Hauptziels.
- Das eingeführte und das einführende
- Die Idee der vielfachen Pluralität.
- Individuum als Pluralität.
- Die Begegnung als plurale Dimension.
- Das System also plurale Einheit.
- Das System als ethnographische und anthropologische
Dimension: Mythen, Symbole, Metaphoren und Sprachen.
The notion of group relates directly
to the concept of system that has been outlined in contributions from various
disciplines. Moreover, reference to the definition of a system makes
it possible to meld descriptive requirements with the need for transversal
reflection, taking up such specific characteristics and intrinsic connotations
as psychological-cognitive and operative place-field (Lewin, 1951) and
mutual interaction among the parts of a system.
Working with and within systems thus means
observing, recognizing, interpreting, and helping to give meaning to processes
and events that belong to a specific space-time, focusing on the following
First of all, a place is defined by a boundary
and a perception of that boundary. These two factors make
it possible to assign location to individuals and to their interactions.
The determination of boundaries enables us to locate ourselves and others
as observers and participants, to define the place from which we are speaking
and the direction towards which our speech is directed.
In this sense, boundary is a geographic,
political, and psychic concept that creates separation while at the same
time making transferal from one place to another possible. It
is a positioning of individual and collective identity and of that identity's
potential for transformations and transactions.
Mentally and experientially, working with
the dimension of boundary means moving from a view of border to
one of opportunity. The perspective shifts from that of immigration
officer to that of "coyote." This shift, in turn, requires a change
in individual and collective imagination and the myths on which it is based.
The immigration officer checks data that are
set and certain, demanding passports and issuing labels or qualities for
the visitor, who remains a tourist. The coyote is a guide who aids
in transit, helping to overcome barriers that are not insurmountable.
Ulysses can travel to the ends of the earth; he is a nomad, a citizen of
the world, not one who has been uprooted.
Setting borders, moreover, holds basic
anxieties in check, thus allowing the establishment of identity or multiple
identities. Without limits (without skin, for example), there can
be no sense of Self and hence no recognition of the Other.
Borders define location, make it possible
to navigate in space and in time, and assure an element of elaboration
and growth. Growth is precisely what requires "expansion," the overcoming
of limits to reach other spaces and locations.
Growth takes place through an inner journey.
It allows for pausing and starting out again, for abandonments and homecomings,
as in the case of Ulysses. Experience in groups, in the "here
and now" of reflective and analytic work, means precisely this: staying
in one place and traveling "inside"--within the Self through relations
with the Other.
Becoming a group--organizing--thus means defining
and institutionalizing borders, that is, collective representations of
Selfness and Otherness, establishing the rules of closeness, distance,
proximity, and conflict. The psychological border and the political
border are thus closely intertwined. The former supports and completes
Western history, both in thought and action,
is shaped by two ways of experiencing the border; both ways run through
that history. One is based on the idea or the myth of privation,
while the other rests on the myth of plenty, of endowment, and of conviviality.
In the first instance, need is the foundation of a cohabitation rooted
in the dearth of goods and in the necessity for checking intraspecies violence
and aggressiveness. In the second case, cohabitation is founded on
love, raising children, attraction towards the other, and the desire for
recognition through the exchange of gifts (Mauss, 1950).
Obviously, the first type of representation
of the social bond gives rise to constraints or protective barriers erected
against one another. Tolerance is the preferred aspect of living
together, as it determines spaces that are not to be invaded. The
State as political entity becomes the guarantor of these checks, as described
in Hobbes' Leviathan.
A social bond of the second type is less dependent
on laws outside the collectivity. The community is able to regulate
itself and to establish bonds of affiliation that turn tolerance into compassion,
fondness, and empathy. Instances of community, nation, and State
do not coincide. Rather, they come together more loosely in a variety
of reciprocal referrals and differentiated functions.
In the first outlook, the individual psychic
system is a total ego, egocentric, armored, aggressive, and reactive.
In the second context, the ego is plural, helpful, hopeful, and constructive.
Interpreting self and the world in an Aristotelian or a Hobbesian sense
means building and enacting fundamentally different systems of belonging,
based on defense and guilt, rather than on openness and uncertainty.
Setting a boundary also means determining
and acknowledging a primary task or primary objective as
an instituting element of the institution system, in terms of which
one reconsiders and reorganizes multiple, individual instances and objectives.
The primary task defines the vital space of the system, serves as a
container of pluralities, and is the primary convention enabling the actors
to co-exist in order to undertake a personal journey towards an encounter
with the Other in its multiple meanings. In metaphorical terms,
this is a passage from desideration to consideration.
A look at the Latin etymology of the two words
reveals that desire is condemned to frustration or, worse, to envy, precisely
because it is projected around the stars (de sidera), that is, onto
the impossible or unreachable. Considering (cum sidera), on
the other hand, means dwelling with the stars, regaining one's own points
of reference in the territory of the possible and uncertain encounter with
the Other (Fusini, 1995).
Clearly, among other things, this entails
the forsaking of infinity in order to reposition oneself among the finite
and its possibilities.
Reflection on the significance of boundary,
as a border and as a frontier, and of its possible articulations is of
special relevance at this end-of-the-millenium, precisely because all the
clear dividing lines (from those of States to those of ideologies) have
been breached. The situation that presents itself is a stew of chaotic
and contradictory passions. A great open space of uncertainty lies
before us, yet it offers vast transformative and generative opportunities
as well. In part, these are available through "group work," where
new frontiers are to be found, new encampments and new collectives can
be founded, and a new space and a new time can be inaugurated.
Achieving a systemic vision means dwelling
in plurality. The system is plus by definition,
even when it refers to the system of the individual. In Latin, plus
denotes precisely the idea of plural, that which is "beyond one."
In this fashion, the collective meanings of individual action can be traced.
In the system's game of mirrors, each of us gains a sense of Others and
of the whole. Each speaks for herself, but also represents something
in someone's name, regardless of whether this representation is conscious
Each speaks from his own locus and in his
own logos also expresses, and at the same time constructs, the loci, the
logoi, and the emotions of the institutions to which he belongs.
Social bonds can always be read as language games in which each player,
according to rules, makes moves that in turn keep up and transform the
game itself (Lyotard, 1979). As Wittgenstein pointed out, it is
not given to us to be outside of language. Each of us is thus
part of her own personal "language," but also of a family language, an
institutional language, an ethnic language, and a religious language--each
of these arising from the multiple memberships that she bears and transforms
in her encounters.
In this perspective, each is also in the system
as a plural individual who encounters plural Others, thus giving rise to
a new plural unit.
Language and the narrations that are told
by means of it are fundamental elements in the anthropological environment
that connotes every system and constitutes the environment in which language
participates. Every system has and creates its founding myths.
In every system, stories are narrated and handed down. Briefly put,
every system is a metaphor or a series of metaphors, each chasing after
The life of a system is structured around
intellectual, technical, and social events that can reorganize closeness
and distance in one space or another. Interpersonal spaces grow,
shrink, and change, shifting the intensity of affection and involving new
images of sensing and consenting in one's own evolutionary process.
The anthropological space of a system is thus material and virtual.
It is the space of meanings (Popper, 1972).
The group, groups in general, and institutions
are mental representations linked by systems of communication. Working
in groups and with groups in an anthropological-linguistic perspective
means fostering recognition of the meanings of the social structure and
of the power of each member as a node in that system. It also
means playing host to the emergence of moves designed to throw the system
off balance, out of position, or onto new ground.
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