The paper touches on some of the tensions that exist in the fields of group dynamics and social psychology when it comes to ways in which social scientists approach the study of groups and collective life. Therefore, the paper evaluates the contribution of the psychodynamic approach to the study of groups and collective life. This is done by evaluating the three levels of analysis used by the psychodynamic approach, the work of Bion in groups and unconscious group processes to demonstrate whether the individual or the social dimension of behavior should be the focus of study. In this study, we examine some key theoretical approaches and trace their development in the socio-historical context by offering significant research that has been done in the field of group dynamics and social psychology. This is achieved via theoretical analysis of social, psychological explanations of racism.
The Psychodynamic Approach
Three Levels of Analysis
Under the psychodynamic umbrella, there dwell several complex theoretical approaches to help understand the patient and the therapy process, despite such diversity there are some core principles that underlie the theory and practice of all forms of psychodynamic psychotherapy. These principles or assumptions have remained quite constant from Freud’s earliest theories. They help to understand the contribution of the psychodynamic approach to the study of groups and collective life.
The conscious mind
The first level of analysis argues that behavior can be influenced by tripartite personality. Freud believed that the adult personality can be structured into three parts developed at the diverse strategies of an individual’s life. The Id is the unconscious part of the individual’s personality, which is usually present at birth. This part requires instant satisfaction which is referred to as the pleasure principle. The main responsibility of Id is to achieve pleasure and satisfaction at all cost. In additional, Ego is conscious, rational section of mind that develops when the individual is two years old. Its role is to work out realistic ways of bringing equilibrium of the id in a socially acceptable manner. It is controlled by the principle of reality. Finally, the superego is part of the personality that develops last. It develops in the individual at the age of about four years and usually embodies the individual conscience as well as his or her ideal self (Magnavita, 2002. PP. 419). Its role is to perfect and cultivate the behavior of individuals by making them differentiate between right and wrong. It can be learned via identification with one’s parents and other people in the surrounding.
The preconscious mind
This approach assumes that diverse levels of consciousness and ego defenses can influence the behavior of an individual. Freud argued that the mind is like an iceberg because what inters inside lies under the surface. This is believed to be unconscious and preconscious mind where the conscious mind is logical while the unconscious mind is controlled by preasure-seeking behavior. It is not easy to directly access the unconscious mind because it can express itself indirectly via dreams. Therefore, the unconscious mind is associated with an ego defense mechanism where the conflicts among id, ego and superego establish anxiety. The conflicts make the ego develop mechanisms to protect itself, which can lead to disturbing behavior in case they are overused (Magnavita, 2002. PP. 421). For instance, a girl who cannot deal with what she perceives as maternal rejection when a new baby sister is born may regress to an earlier developmental stage by becoming more helpless.
The Unconscious Mind
This approach assumes that behavior can be influenced by early childhood experiences. This is so because during the childhood the ego is not fully developed to deal with trauma experiences which end up being repressed. For instance, a child may experience the rape at early in life and repress associated feelings. Therefore, later in life, other such cases may cause an individual to re-experience the earlier rape and lead to depression due to unexpressed feelings. Therefore, the fixation one of three main developmental stages in early childhood help to the study of groups and collective life. This is so because fixation via frustration may have a permanent effect on the individual’s personality.
The Work of Bion
The work of Bion in 1961 was greatly influenced by the Melanie Klein and Lewin. Therefore, Bion argued that groups had two levels, which include conscious and unconscious level. The conscious level, which is based on the Lewin’s core idea of the interplay between the environment and the group is referred to as the work of the group. On the other hand, the unconscious level was based on psychoanalysis ideas is referred to as assumption group. At the second level, Bion demonstrated the group as operating based on primary assumptions cultures after the other (Burke, Lake and Paine, 2009, PP. 466). These basic assumptions include pairing, dependency and fight-fight. These assumptions indicate that the group members are consciously aware of these assumptions, but people can make some sense of their behavior if considered acting as if they had such an assumption.
Thus, Bion suggested a construct of the unconscious mind which is useful hypothetical construct. The dependency assumption occurs when the group members act as if they expect the leader to do something for them where they are likely to develop ignorance. In the pairing assumption, the members act as if the entire purpose of the group was social rather than work related. The interest is focused on who is associating with whom and the energy of group revolves around the direct participation association. The fight-flight hypothesis works when conflict been personalities exist. This may cause challenges for leadership of the group against group norms, which is usually between the group members (Burke, Lake and Paine, 2009, PP. 467). Therefore, all three basic hypotheses are conceived in the Bion’s model as resistance to task-oriented behavior. In the task oriented group, leader will be focused on reducing the effects of those under currents.
Unconscious Group processes
The unconscious is the term used to describe a process of storing out awareness all the data that are not relevant or tolerable. However, it is not a place or an anatomic structure of the mind. Through the defense mechanism of repression, events, feelings and traumas that threaten to overwhelm the individual are relegated to this unconscious realm. Therefore, the goal of psychodynamic therapy is to help the patient to gain awareness of those parts of the unconscious that result in destructive distortions in present-day perceptions.
Therefore, the group unconscious draws as shared collective memories in both normal and abnormal times. This is achieved by filtering other symbolic traces of memories out of the narrative of the genesis myth of the group. The excluded memory elements are made unconscious and excluded from dialogue in the group via the process of unconscious collusive selection. Thus, the group unconscious is associated with forms of symbolic violence based on what can be told and what cannot be said. The dialogue in the group and a sense of belonging depend on the process of making unconscious, which is unwanted.
2.2 Social psychological explanations of racism
Following the pervasiveness of racism in various cultures, different social, psychological theories are developed to examine the individual and intergroup processes that drive racial conflict.
The realistic group conflict theory
Based on the realistic group conflict theory (Bobo, 1983, 1988), group conflict and ethnocentric attitudes and conduct are mainly roles of realistic competition between groups with scarce resources and perceived threats to a social group position. Consistent with realistic group conflict predictions, the summer camp experiments indicate the corrupting influence of power due to intergroup prejudice. In this experiment, twenty-two boys aged 11 years were taken to a summer camp in Robbers Cave state part as participants of this experiment of conflict and prejudice (Andersen and Taylor, 2006, PP. 409). The experiment indicates that weak groups can rebel against the powerful group due to to valued resources such as power and status. This is so because unequal levels of power between the group tend to change the dynamic between them significantly.
This is experienced by the case of white people who are the predominant group in the United States, develop beliefs and attitude that support their privileged, hegemonic social position. This is so because the dominant group wants to legitimize the current inequalities via these groups-interested ideologies and achieve them by participating in discriminatory behavior. In this respect, white’s resistance to redistribute social policies such as affirmative action is seen not only as a reflection of negative feelings toward minority group but also as a refection of defense of privileged groups in a conflict over cherished social resources, power and status (Andersen and Taylor, 2006, PP. 411). Therefore, the affirmative action debate is one that indicates the place racial groups should occupy in American society.
Minimal group experiments
This is a methodology used to investigate the minimal situation needed for discrimination to happen between groups. In this experiment, the minimal group comprises of two phases. In the first phase, the participants are divided into group A and group B based on the trivial criteria. In the second phase, the participants are involved based on the distribution risk where they distribute resources. The participants are told that after the experiment they will get the total amount of the resource that has been given to them by the other participants. Therefore, the primary purpose of the experiment is to exclude objective influences from the situation. The experiment demonstrates that even virtually futile differences between groups such as preferences for a particular color of their shirt can ignite a tendency to favor one’s own group at the expense of the other (Stace, 2011, PP. 67). Therefore, the minimal group seeks to demonstrate an important magnitude of fairness in their allocations as well as significant tendency to assign more resource to in-group members than to out-group members.
Social identity theory
According to social identity theory, individuals embrace conceptualizations of the self as an individual and a group level. Therefore, the personal identity arises when the aspects of the self distinguish individual from the rest within a particular social context. In contrast, the social identity arises when those aspects of self that associate with group members are defined based on the groups to which one belongs. When the group limits are made prominent, individuals classify people as members of their ingroup or a member of autograph and commence to compare these groups based on evaluative approach. This motivated individuals to meet and keep a positive image of their group (Koen, Rabe and Jansen, 2010, PP. 61).
This can be achieved via comparing their ingroup with outgroups perceived to be inferior based on the evaluative criteria. This favoritism puts their ingroup at an advantage with respect to out groups (Koen, Rabe and Jansen, 2010, PP. 62). However, in case the of a power differential, ingroup favoritism can have remarkable implications for the unequal distribution of social resources. For instance, social identities depending on race will ignite a positive social identity by favoring their own racial group over the other. Therefore, this favoritism may result in resistance to affirmative action policies when these policies are perceived to benefit one racial group. Therefore, members of the group with greater access to resources might contest redistributive social policies like affirmative action.
In this paper, we introduced the sociological study of groups and collective life based on the psychodynamic approach. We discussed how the three levels of analysis used by the psychodynamic approach could be used to study groups and collective life. Similarly, we discussed the work of Bion on a group where we found that in the task-oriented group, the leader would be focused on reducing the effects of those under currents. The paper evaluated the unconscious group processes, which draws shared collective memories in both normal and abnormal times. Finally, the paper explores the implications of both the dynamics within and between groups based on the psychological explanations of racism. The paper has analyzed how key theoretical approaches theorize the issue of racism.
Andersen, M. L., & Taylor, H. F. (2006). Sociology: Understanding a diverse society. Belmont, CA: Thomson/Wadsworth.
Burke, W. W., Lake, D. G., & Paine, J. W. (2009). Organizational change: A comprehensive reader. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Koen, E., Rabe, M. & Jansen, Z. 2010. Group Dynamics. Only study guide for SOC306B. Pretoria: University of South Africa.
Magnavita, J. J. 2002. Comprehensive Handbook of Psychotherapy, Volume 1: Volume 1. New York: John Wiley & Sons.
Stace, R. 2011. Complexity and Group Processes: A Radically Social Understanding of Individuals. New York: Routledge Press.