Un-Con considers the causes of unintended consequences in the body politic, UK today and finds itself rediscovering Max Weber and Sigmund Freud in the process.
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18 videos and sound tracks
Marilyn Strathern, Anthropology
Michael Power, Accounting
Richard Gombrich, Theology
Mark Neocleous, Government
Keith Hayward, Law
Stephen Frosh, Psychology
Robert Snell, Psychotherapy
Joanna Moncrieff, Psychiatry & Critical Psychiatry
George Freeman, General Practice
All I have is a voice to undo the folded lie.
W.H. Auden
eIpnosis is edited, maintained and © Denis Postle 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008

Denis Postle very generously invited me onto the Ipnsosis web pages as Guest Editor last October, after I responded to the Government's announcement to spend £170m rolling out CBT across the nation. Denis has now kindly agreed to host some pages on his Ipnosis website that display some work that I have been doing with colleagues in the London Society of the New Lacanian School.

What we present here are notes and transcripts from meetings that took place between psychoanalysts and academics in spring this year: Marilyn Strathern (Anthropology), Michael Power (Accounting) and Richard Gombrich (Theology: Buddhist Studies). These three are from a longer series of meetings which sprung up out of the question "What on earth is happening in this country?" It seemed to many of us that something both complex and fundamental must be taking place. It was not possible to make a critique of the planned CBT without also having to argue about EBM (evidence based medicine) and RCTs (randomised controlled trials), and that this then implied a discussion about the RAE (research assessment exercise) and the TQA (teaching quality audit) which had overlapping issues with the HPC (health professions council) and the S4H (skills for health)! Each of these new three letter acronyms (TLA) was acting like a loyal lieutenant in an advancing army against which we seemed to have no power.

As our conversations with others generated more insights about the nature of the problem, we began to invent an event which will be held in London later in the year (Saturday September 20th). This is dubbed 'a rally of the impossible professions' and is an invitation to people from different disciplines and practices to join a conversation that goes 'Beyond the False Promises of Security'. Richard Gombrich and Michael Power are two of the day's speakers, and Marilyn Strathern has given her support to the event.

Marilyn Strathern is an anthropologist who has written very beautifully about the Tyranny of Transparency (British Educational Research Journal, Vol 26, No 3, 2000). By making an analogy with the practice of the tribes that she studied in her anthropological field-work, she has shed light on some of the underlying tensions and hostilities that lie behind the bland discourses of audit and regulation in higher education. In this interview Marilyn speaks about the way that audit gradually encroached on her academic role and has changed the base on which anthropology now works.

Marilyn has also edited a collection called Audit Cultures (published by Routledge, 2000) and this pays tribute to the work of Michael Power so we were very pleased when he too accepted to be interviewed. Michael had published a Demos pamphlet back in 1994 entitled The Audit Explosion, which you can find easily enough on the web. This interview is fascinating in the way that it traces the discourse of audit and reveals how much a part of our culture it really is. Here you will find an unfolding discussion between a psychoanalyst and a philosopher as they consider how personal feelings of guilt as well as the wish for security are wrapped up in the audit explosion.

Richard Gombrich's contribution draws on the text of a talk he gave in Tokyo 2000 dubbed 'the murder of a profession'. Richard's talk is extremely valuable not only for the facts he collects together which give valuable reference points to make sense of the situation, but also for the description he gives of efforts made to thwart the madness of the audit.

Other conversations are also included here: Robert Snell, Mark Neocleous, Keith Hayward, Joanna Moncrieff, Stephen Frosh, George Freeman. They have helped us to orchestrate a conversation that defends against the onslaught of commodification, and that go someway beyond the false promises of security that we find ourselves all caught up in.

Marilyn Strathern

Let us begin then, with an interview with Marilyn Strathern. Pierre-Gilles Guéguen for Le Nouvel Âne in France joined me one Friday to go to visit this anthropologist in her native surrounds: the beautiful colleges at Cambridge. We wanted to ask her how she became interested in audit culture and if she would support the rally.

MS: I belong to a species of British Social Anthropologists. I grew up, intellectually speaking, at the time when Cambridge was one of the flourishing centres of what became British Anthropology. I went to a very classical place to do field-work, which has always stood me in good stead. This was in Papua New Guinea, which turned out to be an extremely interesting place. I first went there in 1964, before feminist anthropology even began, and thinking about the way these people organise themselves and their world posed problems for the way we [Euro-Americans] do things. For example the fact that relations have to be materialised in order to have substance - they're not given feelings but given objects: exchange and transactions as material counterparts to relations are incredibly important. And there are a number of ways that they confound some our own fundamental assumptions: they don't have ideas of nature and culture, for instance. I found that material extremely provocative to work through whilst thinking about some of our foundational assumptions. They stood me in good stead intellectually. I guess my first loyalty is to them. … [click here for rest of the article]

Michael Power

Marilyn Strathern's enthusiasm and the direction of her work encouraged us to go out and meet more people and transcribe the interviews so our colleagues could hear what is being said about the peculiarity of our time. So Roger Litten, psychoanalyst and member of the New Lacanian School, rang Professor Michael Power to see if he could visit the LSE and talk to him. Michael was very pleased to receive the call and welcomed Roger to his book-crammed office in the heart of central London:

MP: How did I get here? Well, we might go back to my days as a student when I did a PhD on Habermas and the Frankfurt school. There were some sensitivities and some sensibilities developed there, but, perhaps rather surprisingly, there was then an abrupt jump when I became an accountant for five years. There were very few philosophy jobs in those days - it would be good to say there was a plan, but there was no design, it was a bit prosaic, plenty of contingency, and after all one needs to earn a living! After five years in accounting I rejoined LSE armed with quite a bit of practical and technical knowledge, plus a lot of the older interests and ideas which were not totally forgotten, and which were capable of reactivation, and this has been my platform for the last twenty years. Habermas, although I know him inside out, gave a lot less traction on the kinds of problems and practices that I was interested in. It was a very great disappointment when I realised that this huge investment was simply not as interesting as the one made by my colleagues who had chosen Foucault and related thinkers. Here there was a lot more at stake in the minutiae, in the detail of practice. One finds one's way as an academic, experimenting with a few pieces here and there, but the technical accounting and audit was very interesting because, well, knowing the practice I felt there was something interesting that had not been addressed. It was not so much about the technicalities of the work, it was rather that no one had asked questions about the effects of auditing either on auditors or auditing itself. RL: A question that you have made your own. … [click here for full text]

Richard Gombrich

In the meantime, I was on the Oxford Tube going to meet Professor Richard Gombrich. Richard is also going to be a guest at the September rally. He is now retired, but has been a professor at Oxford where he is currently academic director of the Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies. I had come across the text of a talk he'd given in Tokyo in the year 2000 when I had been looking for some facts and figures about the changes in British Higher Education Policy.[click here for the text of that talk]


London Society of the New Lacanian School
A Rally of the Impossible Professions:
"Beyond the False Promises of Security"
With Jacques-Alain Miller and Guests
Saturday, 20th September 2008

Janet Low Blog