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Refugia: islands of social awareness in disrupted earth systems

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An organisational leader's evolving mindset at times of significant systemic disruption frequently determines the quality and efficacy of the organisation's response to dramatic change. This article describes patterns of conscious and unconscious thinking, emotion, and containment in a group of business leaders during a disruptive earth system trauma. The context is the Christchurch, New Zealand earthquakes of 2010 through 2014 and the critical incident narratives that inform the mental stance leaders assumed with their organisations. There has been little research on leaders' evolving mental stance or how they "show up" in traumatic times, in terms of the practices and behaviours they exhibit, and how these in turn manifest as containing environments within disrupted systems. I call these environments "islands of social awareness". Within these refugia, the organisation, with its collective sense-making potential and action optionality, cooperates on the critical tasks of survival, human connection, and activation of resilience. I propose that turbulent social unconscious processes and the leader response to consequent emotional arousal ultimately underlie leaders' motivation and behaviour in times of disruption. These same perspectives may be applied to other complex earth mega-system crises, informing organisational preparedness for extraordinary events.


Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: July 1, 2023

More about this publication?
  • Organisational and Social Dynamics is a forum for the publication of theoretical and applied papers that are relevant and accessible to an international readership; and, one where writers from psychoanalytic, group relations, and systems perspectives can address emerging issues in organisations and societies throughout the world.

    It aims to sustain a creative tension between scientific rigour and popular appeal, both developing conversations with the professional and social scientific world and opening up these conversations to practitioners and reflective citizens everywhere. We wish to attract manuscripts from contributors who are aware of their own values, suppositions and assumptions, the influence of counter-transference in their work, whatever form it takes, and the ability to connect the internal world of individuals and groups with societal and global processes.
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