Wednesday // Night: Armstrong, Rustin, Stokes

Later that evening, a panel of David Armstrong, Michael Rustin and Jon Stokes explored the topic: “TIHR and Tavistock Clinic: Historical Reflections and Thoughts for the Future of the Tavistock Enterprise.” While not directly confronting the split referred to in the title, this panel reflected the diverse work of the “Tavistock Enterprise” and some of tensions that remain after all these decades.

David Armstrong kicked things off by offering a powerful memories of the values that he experienced coursing through the institute when he arrived in the late 50s.

“All doors at the Tavistock Institute seemed to be open. You could join case conferences; watch groups behind one-way-glass…”

The list went on. It sparked his curiosity and he went on to train there.

Armstrong’s list of the Tavistock’s founding principles and values offered a powerful call to everyone doing this sort of work to be true to our origins. At the origin, he said, was a unification of the psychological and social fields. Interestingly, he attributed the privileging of object relations theory to the ways it’s more engaged with the external world. He pointed to the critical need to “recognize the other’s authority” in inquiry. Finally, he recalled the power of democratic participation and an openness to investigate its own unconscious processes that made the Institute what it was.

As a result, he found an Institute that could recognize human agency; could fearlessly test new forms of human relations; acknowledge resistance while not giving in to it; and finally study the social equivalent of an individual’s fundamental conflict between eros and thanatos.

Stokes followed Armstrong’s stirring description of life at the Tavistock Institute with his own origin story of the Tavistock Clinic in the 20s.

“The Tavistock Clinic was founded to offer free and low-cost care. Clinicians in private practice banded together to make this possible. The first patient at the Clinic was a child.”

Rustin powerfully emphasized this access to care, wondering what it would mean to offer universal access to psychoanalysis.

In the Q & A, Armstrong returned to the theme of democratized learning when he posted out the it wasn’t the Tavistock Institute that invented autonomous work groups, one of their seminal research insights; rather, coal miners themselves organized themselves into autonomous work groups. T.I.H.R. researchers had simply gone into the mines and “sensed the innovation.”

The lesson Armstrong draws from this? Don’t ask “What should we do?” but “Who should we work with?”

The evening ended on a dark note that I hadn’t seen coming: Mannie Sher and Eliat Aram must have detected an attack in these pictures of the past, and offer a stirring defense of today’s Tavistock Institute. Nonetheless, the evening put together a history that I hadn’t been aware of, and spoke volumes about the way our work cuts deep in our social world and offers unparalleled pathways to learning and discovery.

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