Transformation of Meaning in Traumatized Systems: A Case Study

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Title: Transformation of Meaning in Traumatized Systems: A Case Study
Year: 2008
Authors: Kahn, W.

Narratives offer a sense of order, of progression, of actions that are related to one another across time. We quite literally make sense of what we do by the stories that we inhabit and tell. Our stories help make meaning out of events that might otherwise be incomprehensible, confusing, random. We weave those events together, stringing them into some sort of order that show how they are related and to what ends they are leading. We do this instinctively, often in ways of which we are unaware, in the various dimensions of our lives. This is no less true at work, where we use narrative as a way to create and tap into the meaning of what we do (Polkinghorne, 1988). An engineer places herself in a narrative of fixing a faulty bridge that shows signs of structural weakness. A chemist places himself in a narrative of creating a solution for a vexing problem with a chemical compound necessary for a cancer medication. A therapist places herself in a narrative of healing people who suffered childhood abuse. People understand themselves as main characters, as protagonists, who mean something in the contexts in which they work.

The most compelling narratives are often related to the larger mission and purpose of what people and their organizations do. These stories are renewable sources of energy and motivation. This is particularly true in the case of caregiving organizations, in which people organize themselves around the primary tasks of healing, teaching, ministering to and sheltering care-seekers (Kahn, 2005; Obholzer & Roberts, 1994). Members of such organizations tap into narratives of giving, providing, holding, helping; these narratives sustain them in the course of work that is often emotionally depleting. Their identities as caregivers are sustained by the primary tasks of their organizations (see Diamond, 1988). Indeed, their narratives are acted out on the stage of their organizations, which provide the sets and their designs, directors, other cast members, and the logistics of the performances. Caregiving organizations buttress the narratives that caregivers tell, sustaining their sense of shared purpose and meaning.

Keywords: Narratives, meaning, systems, traumatized systems, organizations
Language: English

Date: 06/16/2008
Location: Philadelphia, PA
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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