Slides from a lunchtime talk in which Dr Elizabeth Cory-Pearce, Dr Sadie King and Dr Mannie Sher explore the proposition that an ‘anthropological thread’ runs through the history of our work as an organisation. Our starting point has been to delve into the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations’s archive at the Wellcome Library to pick up these ‘anthropological threads’ in the theoretical and applied work of past tasks.
An ‘anthropological thread’ runs through the history of our work
To delve into TIHR archive at Wellcome Library to pick up on these ‘threads’
To explore influence of anthropological ways of thinking on Tavistock ways of working,
and vice versa…
… the influence of Tavistock ways of working on the careers of those with
We aren’t suggesting a Tavistock approach is explicitly anthropological – it’s
…but a Tavistock commitment to the use of the self… to immerse,
participate, observe, record and to reflect on personal experience
is confluent with our training in anthropology, and we’re finding out how it diverges too…
Dr Elizabeth Cory-Pearce is a Researcher and Consultant who studied
anthropology at UCL and Goldsmiths and conducted ethnography in New
Zealand. Elizabeth works on a number of research and evaluation projects in the
areas of health, education and capacity building.
Dr Sadie King is a Principal Researcher and Consultant who studied anthropology
at UCL and conducted ethnography in West Africa. Sadie now leads the Tavistock
Institute’s work stream on mental health and wellbeing, and works on a number of
Dr Mannie Sher is a Principal Researcher and Consultant who studied
anthropology in the 1960s as part of his training in psychology, and returned to it
in the 1990s. Mannie has directed the Group Relations programme for many
years, and conducts evaluation and organisational development and change
consultancy work in a broad range of areas, including finance, health and social
care, manufacturing and government.
Quotes from Miller’s notes on mill life, Chengail, Calcutta
“London 13.1.53 THE VILLAGE Peter Stone”
“Most Indian workers live in the village at one end of the Chengail property. About 40% of them are bachelors. About 10%
are widows, mainly Madrasis. All other workers live within a maximum of 6 miles from the mill, most of them on the same
side of the river. Bad overcrowding… Little is known about internal organization of the village. There are nebulous caste
panchayats representing such groups as Ooriyas, Madrasis and Bengalis, and these panchayats apparently elect members
to sit on a village panchayat; Hitherto the village panchayat has been little used, but a change is taking place. [It would seem
that maximum use should be made of these panchayats to increase worker responsibility]. There is a high incidence of
“London 13.1.53 ATTITUDES: EUROPEAN STAFF: Peter Stone”
“The European staff at the [Chengail] mill live in a section of the property close by the river, and bounded by the irrigation
ditches. Proximity to the river is associated with high rank. This superficial segregation emphasises the social segregation.
The European compound is furthest removed from the village on the opposite side of the mill. The Babu compound is
beyond the European (further from the river), while a new compound has recently been built for higher paid Indian
technicians, further from the European compound and next to the village.
… Europeans emphasize their segregation and superiority in many ways. It is bad form to mix too much with non-
Europeans, to know too much about them, or even to be interested in them. An English woman born in India was virtually
ostracized for being able to speak fluent Hindustani.
European staff are paid roughly 25% more... [and] tend to attribute different characteristics to different ethnic groups –
always placing the Bengali at the bottom. In general, all Indians are lazy, dishonest and untruthful.”
“Allentown Mills: Organisation: General 23.4.53 Bud Wiltraut”
“One feature of the mill is the way all ranks get together outside working hours in bowling teams etc. Wiltraut believes that
association on equal terms like this creates good relations within the plant…The Pennsylvania Dutch are hard workers,
and are not difficult to supervise provided they do not have the impression that they are in any way being impeded in
producing the highest output. Relations within the mill are very good. A successful supervisor here, however, has to be
prepared for a lot of give and take with the workers. (The case of the foreman who was given a beautifully iced birthday cake
while the ingredients inside were garbage.)… Practical jokes are liable to be played on anyone from manager
downwards, and there is no ill feeling.”
Quotes from Miller’s notes on mill life, Chengail, Calcutta
Boston 16.3.53 CHENGAIL: General: Eliza Stone”
“The Fitzgerald’s who run the guest house come from not very auspicious backgrounds, and throw their
house open to all in a ‘typical American manner’. The result is that they make things very difficult and
rouse a lot of comments and criticism, from the other Europeans…”
“Boston 6.3.53 CHENGAIL: European Staff: Cliques: T.M.H.”
“There are a number of cliques and cleavages in the European compound which are inevitable in a
small group but which may impair mill management. There are many implicit rules of behaviour,
breeches of which can cause a lot of trouble… The cleavages between [American and other Europeans]
make it almost impossible to organize communal enterprise”
“Boston 12.3.53 CHENGAIL: Consultation”
“Although there is no joint consultation in the American plants – indeed it is very rare in America – there is
an unexpectedly effective Works Committee operating at Chengail. The successive Mill Managers have
been inclined to regard attendance at these Works Committee Meetings as burdensome, and to describe
the consultation as so much “yack”. One Indian leader is the fountainhead of responsible discussions.
He has an intelligent grasp both of management’s problems and of the most effective channels in which
discussions can be led. (PLS’s implication seems to imply that he is more responsible than the
representatives of management.)”
“Some points brought up in discussions are of only departmental interest… Consequently it has been
suggested that a departmental sub-committee might be established. Workers representatives, however,
strongly opposed this on the grounds that it might reduce their authority and prestige…”
Miller’s Method: scholarly and consultative
1. Review literature - academic publications on industrial working relations including…
Occupational Psychology, Applied Psychology, Personnel Journal, the Journal of Social Issues
(International Social Sciences Bulletin) and so on.
“I personally have the complete set of Human Relations to date, and I shall also be receiving the
publications of the Society for Applied Anthropology. I need one or two reference book on statistics,
especially something on the application of factor analysis to the social sciences.”
2. Make summary notes on key texts
3. Compare these notes (scholarship) with field notes (practice)
4. Derive a series of Propositions i.e. generalisations on the topic of, for e.g., ‘Resistance to Change’
5. Consult on the same (i.e. commit to working with the client) – obtains generalisations on a set topic from
Mill Manager’s meetings for example (1953)
6. Review everything and refine: draw up distilled general propositions (and repeat as necessary)
e.g. compares Coch and French (1948) ‘Overcoming Resistance to Change’ Human Relations 1 (4):
512-532) with those submitted by client. Propositions are refined from c. 30 down to c. 8 by this back and
forth and between fieldwork, texts and client…
Miller derives succinct useable propositions from complex data
At a Mill Manager’s Meeting in Allentown (Pennsylvania, USA, 1.7.53), participants agreed on the
following propositions on ‘Resistance to Change’:
“1. Most people resist change.
2. Most people would go along with a change if the time is taken to thoroughly explain the reasons for the
change, and they have the opportunity to implement the change.
3. The greater the participation of the group when a change is planned, the greater the tendency to
support the change after it is made.
4. When a change has the support of the group, productivity will be correspondingly higher.
5. Productivity after a change is primarily determined by the manner in which the change is made.
6. The more the participation, the lower the turnover.
7. The greater the participation, the faster the rate of recovery.
8. In approaching total participation we should consider the number of participants, the degree of
involvement of these participants, and the phases of the project to be undertaken”
“The Social Sciences could be useful to Industry”
Meanwhile, over at the Ahmedabad Calico Mills (Sarabhai Family Company), Ken Rice (TIHR) is
grappling with the issue of organisational structure and culture change… and Rice and Miller
Miller points out Rice is grappling with issues similar to those he faced with Ludlow plants in
1954-1956: You can reorganise the top group of a plant but then you have to change the culture
to fit its new structure.
“We succeeded to a large measure in this… The development of a training programme did much to
convince people that the social sciences could be useful to industry”. He adds, “I would welcome the
idea of returning to India to work as a social scientist in industry”, says Miller (selling himself rather
He offers to bring in his American colleague Tom Harris’s ‘personality testing’ – a method developed
at Ludlow’s Calcutta mills. The idea is you can fit the personality to work environment… so Miller is
calling himself a social scientist now, and bringing in psychoanalytical methods….
BUT Rice’s letter to Miller is saying the reason TIHR want to put him into Ahmedabad is because they
want someone “basically anthropological”: … to stay in India longer term than Rice can; to grapple
with the culture change of an organisation; and to look at the social impacts of changes to industrial
(n.b. Indian staff are replacing almost all foreigners by 1955. Ludlow staff compound held under siege
in 1955; Ahmedabad riots in 1956 – Eric Miller and wife caught up in both):
“Technologically, I think this is the most advanced textile
mill in India, and I’m sure its more advanced than a lot of
British mills. And, organisationally, of course, its going to be
The Sarabhai Family Company employ Miller on a two year contract in 1957 as a
‘technician’. Miller stresses the sophistication of the Mill plant, the Sarabhai family and their
Extremely intelligent work of general manager Gautam Sarabhai and Research and
Development lead, his sister Gira, among others.
Several family members are under analysis with Anna Freud in London. They are patrons
of Corbusier and of Alexander Calder; one was a student of Frank Lloyd Right, they have a
textile museum and foundation for the arts and converse with the director of the V and A.,
They send streams of employees all over world to train - in Japan, Germany, England,
America, Czcekoslovakia, etc.
… You get the picture – it’s an extremely cosmopolitan, sophisticated set up (which
counters the racism of European staff at Ludlow’s Chengail Mill), but also shows the
extreme hierarchy of Indian society (e.g. the poverty at Chengail and they have jobs – the
sieges and riots outside)
“One has a pretty busy time at the Tavistock
and I must say I’m enjoying it”
In 1957 TIHR offer Miller a permanent job to start a year later in 1958. He accepts.
Rice, “We now have a system of grants whereby members of permanent staff can
undertake personal analysis if they wish”.
Miller, “I like the variety, after three years of straight Ludlow and two years of straight
Calico. I do a fair amount of consultancy… Several of us are engaged in a major research
project on the effects on social organisation etc. of higher mechanization and automation…”
Key Concepts emerging from
field notes of early TIHR pioneers
• (Eric Miller, 1959) The influence of medical practice on
the medical (and nursing) professionals themselves - the
idea that medical care involves receiving patients’
projections and their impact (‘introjection’) on
practitioners’ physical and mental health.
• From this, extrapolated to the centrality of the concepts
of ‘projection’ and ‘introjection’ in all professional work,
i.e. openness of the self to receiving projections in order
to understand the unconscious life of the client; and … it
comes at a price.
• Miller challenges the idealisation of the group’s own
work: reason - to avoid later envious attacks by a future
audience; the group, by examining itself critically, avoids
splitting which is a less healthy state of affairs
Working with subjective experience;
relying on emotions
• Miller’s and Menzies’ notes point to their confidence in the role of
the foolish outsider: naked in the role: and getting used to it.
• Linked to the decline in the professionalism of anthropology and
psychoanalysis – the ascendency of orthodox scholars who reject
the use of the ‘mind’ of the researcher/consultant/psychoanalyst as
a tool in research.
• Workers relying on ‘subjective experience’ are also observing and
measuring phenomena ‘out there’;
• Their unique contribution to assessing data is that it (the data) is
allowed to pass through the complexity of the ‘mind’ of the
researcher and their emotions and feelings.
• This is an accepted and legitimate discipline underpinning
psychoanalytic and anthropological methodologies.
• Notes of Miller, AK Rice, Isabel Menzies
link psychoanalysis and social science
… capturing the human element
in the moment before it’s gone
• Isabel Menzies’ Notes on a visit (one of
14) to a boarding school for orphaned
Transference and Counter-transference
• The anthropological pioneers regarded transference and
counter-transference as present in all professional
relations: teacher-pupil; doctor-patient, anywhere where
there are observers and observed; helpers and helped.
• The presence of transference and counter-transference
are often thought of ‘getting in the way’ – but Miller, Rice
and Menzies in their ethnographic work regarded clients’
loving, dependent or hostile feelings as re-evocations of
feelings towards earlier authority figures, which are
replayed in the client’s growing dependency for relief of
Free Flowing conversations and
• They understood that the replay of emotions and feelings
was not interfering with the resolution of the problem; it
was the problem itself.
• They felt that through the enactments of emotions and
feelings, clients were prevented from learning about
• This is why these anthropologists wrote in free flowing
discursive and interpretative styles - as a means of
accessing unconscious dynamics leading to greater
insight and awareness that would give them increased
control over their own and their client’s impulses, both
loving (constructive) and aggressive (destructive).
‘ The Field’ and Field Theory
2 studies of TIHR of shipping:
• 1965 A Pilot Study of Factors Underlying Fleet Officer Turnover in
Irish Shipping Ltd “ P.M Foster and L. Gorman
• 1988 The Human Element of Shipping Causalities Phase 2 Jean
Neumann & Don Bryant.
Purpose = to look for evidence of influence of anthropology mainly
ethnographic (stepping into a system and viewing the particular in
depth to interpret wider cultural patterns)
Exploration of phenomena not testing a hypothesis.
Evidence from Irish Shipping study 1965
No naming of methodology but a pure
ethnographic description of life on a ship for
three weeks at sea:
‘sea-going customs and conventions’ (e.g bullying)
Description of roles, values, leisure system in great detail, relationships to
home, and social variation under different conditions
Use of local/’native’ terminology “nonsense work” unpaid overtime.
Describe whole community of merchant navy including visitors to ship (health
professionals, customs and excise, dockers)
The observational and interview based work conceived of as extensive not
Study recommends experiential problem solving groups ‘It is possible to gain
some idea of the contribution an individual can make to a group process’
Human Element Shipping Casualties
Rationale for 2nd study design
‘a more systematic study was necessary involving a sample of operators of
smaller, coastal and general cargo vessels, in order to get more precise
information on the way that organisational factors – such as the structure of the
company , relationship between ship and shore and the company culture affect
Organisation suspicious of publicity because of Herald of Free Enterprise
shipping disaster ‘we therefore needed to consider developing a research
design which would help us to build a basis of trust and to allay anxiety within
the shipping companies we would be approaching’
‘rather than entering the companies with a theory we wanted to test, we would
listen to their ideas about, and experience with, casualty prevention’
• Negotiating Entry (coproduce design with key informants
on each vessel)
• Collecting data (observation and semi-structured
• Data analysis a/ (qualitative thematic content analysis)
b/ Force Field Analysis
• Present result back to each company. Scenarios.
Field Theory Kurt Lewin.
'To understand or to predict behaviour, the person and his
environment have to be considered as one constellation of
interdependent factors' (1946:338). Thus, the notion of field
refers to: (a) all aspects of individuals in relationship with
their surroundings and conditions; (b) that apparently
influence the particular behaviours and developments of
concern; (c) at a particular point in time. (Neumann)
Field to Field
Anthropology of the 50s-60s-70s influenced
E.g. Victor Turner: Social drama
Pierre Bourdieu: Habitus
To Close: Continuities… & divergences?
• The field note as method at the TIHR was “the most closely allied with anthropology and…
provided a narrative account of interactions in the field, supplemented by reflections on the
feelings and associations brought or generated in the author” (Fiddy Abraham, 19.7.2016) – do
we make use of it now?
• Evaluation and action research: TIHR participatory method (immersion, observation, reflection)
contributed to shaping the field of evaluation practice e.g. self-appraisal and action research as
important elements to an evaluation framework; embedded evaluation (outcomes and measures
are set in terms important to the recipients in a process that is consultative not imposed) – might
we increase sector awareness of this?
• Social Dreaming Matrix and the intersection of anthropological and psychoanalytical approaches
– the self (personal dream) and the social meaning (group and wider context) – this was
• New work? We can use the archive to remain true to our training and distinguish ourselves
through our heritage (to which we are also of course adding) instead of rushing for the latest
method or measure of the day (much as Rice did – using the mining study to win the calico work)
– … to pursue more bespoke bids?
• …Time? Is the time frame of our tasks different now?