Meaning Making through Narrative: on not Losing the Plot

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Title: Meaning Making through Narrative: on not Losing the Plot
Year: 2008
Authors: Martin , T.

The most pertinent phrase for me in the Call for Papers for this Symposium was 'we become

preoccupied with motivation when people cannot find meaning in their work'. It was

taken from Burkard Sievers (groundbreaking) paper, 'Beyond the Surrogate of Motivation'

What struck me in this phrase and in Sievers' argument in his paper was a challenge to some

longstanding assumptions I have held about motivation and management, having taught

courses for many years on these topics in the School of Education at the University of

Southampton. I had already found myself increasingly uneasy in my lecturing role about some

of what I was teaching, and Sievers' comment seemed to hit the nail on the head. Also in my

employee role I felt that any organisation which, to improve staff motivation, had introduced

measures such as workshops on work-life balance (as if work isn't part of life) and the

MacDonald's inspired Lecturer of the Year Awards, had already begun to seriously lose the


In a nutshell what I wanted to do in a paper for this Symposium was to explore the process of

meaning-making from within the 'narrative' mode and in particular to look at the difficulty or

even impossibility, in certain kinds of organizational situations, of constructing a viable

narrative. This experience is sometimes referred to as 'losing the plot'; hence the sub-title of

my paper. When this happens the ensuing feelings of despair and meaninglessness have,

inevitably, deleterious effects on the motivation of those concerned and on the organisation as

a whole.

In the ISPSO we share certain assumptions and beliefs but also have different understandings

of psychoanalysis and practice derived from it. For me two key features of a psychoanalytic

approach are:

1. a quest for meaning, and

2. a belief that things are not always what they seem, that appearances can be deceptive.

Meanings can be both manifest and also latent and in both cases there is a need for

interpretation. With latent meanings however there is an even greater interpretive challenge,

as meanings are more ambiguous and elusive. The process of interpretation has of course

always been central to the practice of psychoanalysis.

Keywords: motivation, management, meaning,
Language: English

Date: 6/16/2008
Location: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Name of Event/Conference: 25th Annual Meeting of the International Society for the Psychoanalytic Study of Organizations
Sponsoring Organization: ISPSO

Submitted by:
Elizabeth Novogratz

Corresponding author:

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