BACK TO THE FUTURE: OR, WHERE ARE GROUP RELATIONS
CONFERENCES HEADED IN OUR TIMES?
Charla Hayden, MA, AKRI and GREX Member since 1973, conference administrator and director of many residential conferences and weekend conferences, staff to many other conferences, one originator of the Training and Certification Program and the Whole Systems Consulting Program, and mentor of several certified conference consultants.
We come from an AKRI generation that learned about Group Relations conference work in the early 1970’s, in California and in New York. We were trained in what we think of as the basic framework for Group Relations that involves learning about leadership, authority, and group process in the “here-and-now.” The elements of this point of view are captured in A. K. Rice’s book, Learning for Leadership, which describes conference construction and experience in exquisite detail. Rice represents the purpose and ethos of Group Relations as the study of leadership, authority, and group process through the lenses of systems and psychodynamic theories. We think that the primary task: to study leadership, authority, and group process responsibility,provides invaluable opportunities for understanding the world of human interaction and our personal participation in it.
We are now confounded to observe that most current-day conferences focus on elements of individual and group identity. Therefore, our proposed session is designed to foster discussion that deepens all participants’ perspectives, including our own, about why American conferences have moved sideways from the original subjects of leadership, authority and group process responsibility and toward the dynamics surrounding personal and group identities: genetic, socioeconomic, sexual orientation – and possibly religious practice, and nationality.
We do not intend to defend a bias supporting the classic conference framework – we do intend to create a context where deeper understanding of why conference design and implementation have shifted over the last few decades and whether and why significant learning has been enhanced, faded, or refocused over time.
After a brief discussion of what we are hoping to explore and understand during the session, we will launch into a series of questions for discussion, such as:
> Are identity-focused conferences an answer or a question?
> Do identity-focused conferences hold a pre-determined set of ideas that are assumed to be true? If so, what will be learned that is not already known? And if already known, why do these conferences?
> Do such conferences enact the exercise of authority rather than examine it?
> How does this relate to determining a narrative where issues of power and dominance are spoken to but within the context of a bounded interpretive frame?
> Are identity descriptions/explanations for the exercise of power a social defense against anxiety, and if so, why did they develop and under what socio-political conditions?
> Did earlier conferences neglect the significant issues surrounding personal and group identity?
> Do these later conferences tend to enact a particular basic assumption framework?
> Do these conferences represent a need to focus control in a world too frightening for a wider examination?
> Have we lost the potential for using the conference as microcosm – to understand the metaphors available to describe external “reality”?
> Are conference narratives being definedin advance by a conference focus, rather than being discovered?And if so, why?
> Do identity conferences forecast some kind of a return to authoritarianism, a way to manage experience?
Near the close of the session, a summary of the discussion will be put together through verbal and written feedback, with a view toward answering the question, “What next?”