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Splitting and projection at work in schools

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Purpose - The purpose of this paper is to report research into the social defence of splitting and projection in schools. In splitting and projection, organisational members separate their unbearable feelings from the more acceptable ones and project them, typically towards other individuals and groups. Design/methodology/approach - The research was undertaken in three secondary (11-18), co-educational, maintained schools in Wales, UK, using a case study method and a psychoanalytic approach and interpretive perspective. Data were collected during interviews and meetings with key players. Findings - The cross-case analysis and interpretation showed how features in the whole system such as institutional stress can create a setting in which splitting and projection may flourish. The inadequate definition and management of institutional roles may also contribute. Individuals and groups may act as "lightning rods" receiving and taking in projected feelings and may play a part in establishing themselves in that role. Splitting and projection can develop into blame, demonisation, scapegoating and bullying. The ability of those involved to transform projected feelings, that is, to accept them, contain them, change them into benign and acceptable forms, and then return them in that different form, is crucial to minimising the impact of splitting and projection and to ensuring that it does not grow into more dangerous organisational phenomena. This transformation-and-return process is a key educational leadership task. Originality/value - The paper provides a new perspective on a widespread behaviour in schools and colleges and describes how the behaviour can be managed. It has implications for all educational leaders.
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Keywords: Educational Psychology; Emotional Dissonance; Secondary Schools; Wales

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: March 1, 2005

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