A psychoanalytic approach to organizational decline: Bowen theory as a tool for organizational analysis

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Virginia Tech

An approach to organizations which views them as social constructions provides new insights into the phenomenon of organizational decline. In this view, organizations are seen not as objective entities, but, rather, are viewed as products of the human beings who comprise their membership. This view also sees human beings as actors whose behavior is governed not only by rationality, but also by unconscious processes. Any full understanding of organizational action requires an appreciation of the extent to which human beings are governed by the dynamics of the psyche, which operates outside of conscious awareness. An approach to organizational decline which encompasses these assumptions examines how the members of the organization consciously and! or unconsciously collaborate to create the conditions of decline.

This research begins with a psychoanalytic model of human behavior, Bowen Theory, which explains how individuals function within relationship systems such as families and organizations. The theory also examines how dysfunction is created within those systems when the relationship process becomes ineffective or dysfunctional. Using the case study method, the dissertation describes how the decline experienced by three distinct organizations can be understood as a consequence of the relationship process created and sustained by the participants in each of the organization's human system.