Archive for Power

Pathology of Dominator Dynamics

Happy new year!¬† Time flys when … you are busy ūüôā¬†

I am longing to write about¬†Partnership dynamics.¬† However, I recently came an article on psychopathy and power hierarchies and am reminded of another topic — the pathology of dominator dynamics.¬† Reviewing the various pathologies of¬†psychopathy, sociopathy, narcisism and codependence, one can (I suggest) readily see how these psychological conditions¬†are correlated with¬†dominator dynamics and culture.¬† This¬†blog entry¬†quickly¬†touches on psychopathy and sociopathy. Future posts will touch on narcisim and codependence.¬†¬†Once we¬†¬†begin to see how these psychological disorders have¬†¬†left their imprint on organizational members and organizations,¬†we might¬†experience a¬†renewed resolve to imagine¬†and enact healthier organizations.¬†

To briefly review cultural historian Riane Eisler’s cultural transformation model, which outlines the concepts of Partnership vs. dominator cultural dynamics,¬†below is an very good¬†summary by Ron Miller, a thinker and activist in the area of holistic education (who is potentially an excellent resource for the study of Partnership approaches to learning organizations).¬†Miller writes:¬†

“[Eisler]¬†…¬†has argued that societies make choices about how they distribute power, that there is nothing natural or inevitable about oppressive hierarchies. She has looked at how values and beliefs are shared across social institutions, from intimate relationships to the state, and found a clear difference between what she calls “dominator” cultural patterns (societies marked by violence, authoritarianism, and gender inequity) and “partnership” orientations (societies that value cooperation, nurturing, and equality). A dominator culture seizes hold of human differences in order to rank people into more or less valued social positions; a partnership culture aims to link people into diverse communities where each contributes his or her strengths and finds aid and support as needed. In any dominator-oriented society, Eisler says, one finds “hierarchies of domination” that limit individual expression and crush resistance, while a partnership orientation supports “hierarchies of actualization”-ways of organizing institutions that maximize “the collective power to accomplish things together.”¬†¬†(Retrieved from:, 1/10/10)

¬†The term “pathological”¬†is defined as, “caused by or evidencing a psychologically disturbed condition… “psychoneurotic” … “neurotic,” and also as “caused by … or manifesting disease,” “not exhibiting¬†good health in body or mind.” (Retrieved from: ¬†, 1/10/10).¬†

Recently I came across an article by Clinton Callahan on psychopathy and hierarchies of power. Psychopathy is a personality disorder that is characterized by an absence of empathy. Quoting Wikipedia for expediency:

“Psychopathy (pronounced /sa??k?p??i/[1][2]) is a personality disorder whose hallmark is a lack of empathy. Researcher Robert Hare, whose Hare Psychopathy Checklist is widely used, describes psychopaths as “intraspecies predators[3][4] who use charm, manipulation, intimidation, sex and violence[5][6][7] to control others and to satisfy their own needs. Lacking in conscience and empathy, they take what they want and do as they please, violating social norms and expectations without guilt or remorse”.[8] “What is missing, in other words, are the very qualities that allow a human being to live in social harmony.”[9]

“Psychopaths are glib and superficially charming, and many psychopaths are excellent mimics of normal human emotion;[10] some psychopaths can blend in, undetected, in a variety of surroundings, including corporate environments.[11] There is neither a cure nor any effective treatment for psychopathy; there are no medications or other techniques which can instill empathy, and psychopaths who undergo traditional talk therapy only become more adept at manipulating others.[12] The consensus among researchers is that psychopathy stems from a specific neurological disorder which is biological in origin and present from birth.[10] It is estimated that one percent of the general population are psychopaths. [13][14]”¬†

Related to the disorder of psychopathy is the disorder of sociopathy. Again quoting the same article: “David T. Lykken proposes psychopathy and sociopathy are two distinct kinds of antisocial personality disorder. He believes psychopaths are born with temperamental differences such as impulsivity, cortical underarousal, and fearlessness that lead them to risk-seeking behavior and an inability to internalize social norms. On the other hand, he claims sociopaths have relatively normal temperaments; their personality disorder being more an effect of negative sociological factors like parental neglect, delinquent peers, poverty, and extremely low or extremely high intelligence. Both personality disorders are the result of an interaction between genetic predispositions and environmental factors, but psychopathy leans towards the hereditary whereas sociopathy tends towards the environmental.[38]” Retrieved from, 1/10/10)

In his online article, “Beware the Psychopath, My Son” ( Clinton Callahan draws on sources such as, Snakes in Suits by Robert Hare and Paul Babiak, to propose that because psychopaths (and by definition, sociopaths) are not constrained by human empathy yet mimic normal emotions well, that they often rise to the top of (dominator) hierarchies. He points to bloody history and to the amoral posture of many organizations to suggest that organizations are somewhat (if not more substantially) influenced by sociopathic norms.¬† The article is thought provoking and worth reading.¬†¬†

¬†What do you think?¬† Have you ever worked with a sociopathic personality?¬† How did it affect the dynamics of the organization?¬† (Please don’t post any names or organizations).

Thralldom vs. Self-Actualization (On Our Relationship to the Whole)

Good morning, Carman. Welcome back ūüôā We are hoping for some rain today, as well — just 40% chance of thundershowers – would be great writing weather!

Your post seems to describe several dimensions of thralldom, with freedom from one form of thralldom found at the cost of subjection to another, presumably better form of thralldom. For example, there is freedom from slavery to become the servant of God and the larger vision of community, and freedom from flesh to become the servant of Spirit.¬† As you describe, it’s¬† framed as a matter of which master one serves. (I disagree with Paul’s dichotomization of flesh and spirit, but that view¬†is very¬†consistent with philosophical atomism).¬†

And, insightfully, you make the connection to leadership (great distinction of leadership as pull and management as push) while both for the sake of something larger.

So much to respond to in this!

It’s been said that meaning is derived from the larger context. So if we are at the 1 mile mark in a race, the meaning of that accomplishment is relative to whether we are in a 1 mile race or a five mile race, and¬†whether an act is moral or immoral depends on the nature of the universe.¬† (As Whitehead writes, any assertion of fact drags along with it¬†a whole universe of understanding in which the fact is true).¬†It is my personal experience that serving a greater good is the greatest form of satisfaction. But is this thralldom or self-actualization? And what is the difference?

My initial thoughts relate to paradigm. I do share the increasingly repeated view that we are in a time of paradigm change.  Considering the modern paradigm: When we think of ourselves as separate atoms, and the world as a collection of separate objects (the modern paradigm), then we think/find it necessary to control or dominate others to meet our needs. Hence, the dynamics of domination and thralldom.

In this paradigm, that which is larger than ourselves is a separate, dominating, all powerful, entity, which psychologist Jean Baker Miller correlates with the classic patriarchal father. Miller describes how subordination to the father was explicitly desribed in the childrearing texts of pre-war Germany as preparing children to assume their proper relationshp to the State and ultimately to God. In this model, there is virtue in subordination to the all powerful other. Implicit in this model is the power of the other to reward the subordinate and punish the non-compliant.

Further, in relationships of domination and abuse, there is a well-recognized psychological syndrome in which the injured party inflicts a similar injury on others, and in doing so, identifies with the dominating person or entity, and thereby obtains a temporary feeling of power and relief from his or her pain. (Hence the cycle of abuse).

Your quote from 1984, “But if he can make complete, utter submission, if he can escape from his identity, if he can merge himself in the Party so that he is the Party, then he is all-powerful and immortal-Nineteen Eighty-Four,” seems to describe freedom from the pain of the experience of thralldom through identification with the all powerful other.

These are the dynamics of domination, and a review of history shows us that these cultural dynamics have certainly shaped our approach to leadership and organization.

That said, if we look at the same issue from the perspective (or pardigm) of holism and process, then I think we reframe the question. If we are not isolated atoms — if our sense of separation is an optical illusion of consciousness, as Einstein proposed — then we are different kinds of beings than we have imagined.¬†

If we are, indeed, not separate from the rest of the world, then we are paradoxical beings in that we have both our unique experience from a particular perspective and are also internally related to the rest of the world. We are part of the world and the world is part of us. In this paradigm, we can never be independent and separate from rest of the world. (This notion of a self that is purely independent has been described as the “soul slowly twisting in the void”). The fact that most of us would find this notion terrifying tells us something about our psychological nature, at minimum.

From a holistic perspective, our freedom is inherently always in relation to others, to the world of our experience.

(If we were to address the theological dimensions of these ideas,¬†we might notice that although some theologies describe both a transcendent God who is separate from a holistic creatioin, theologically, holism is usually associated with immanence, the view that¬†we are both¬†internally related with each other and to the Sacred ( by whatever name we choose to call it — for example, God,¬†Goddess,¬†Cosmic¬†Intelligence, etc.) According to the perspective of immanence, the Sacred¬†might be experienced as¬†the deepest, wisest part of¬†ourselves).

The holistic paradigm offers the possibility that the small self may be informed by the wisdom of a larger intelligence within, and so expresses its unique nature towards the betterment of the whole. From this perspective, self-actualization and service are of the same cloth.

Obviously this is my personal view. For me, the experience of this paradigm and relationship to the world (to the extent that I have grasped it so far) is not one of thralldom, but rather one of empowerment and, to the extent that I feel really “in-tune”, ¬†joy. This feels very different to me than the drugs of status or “power over” in which one experiences the other side of coin of domination, or the satisfactions of certainty. (In my view, the conviction that one must be¬†“right” and that others must therefore by “wrong” privileges only our own perspective and experience and is, therefore, egocentric and in opposition the world).

There are other perspectives that value Partnership, which see the world differently. Personally, I find a holistic¬†and organismic approach (which sees the cosmos¬†as a intelligent and creative),¬†to be very coherent and workable.¬† Also, of course, one can apply a holistic¬†perspective to leadership and organization with interesting implications — another topic!¬†

Thank you for raising such a provocative question!

Enjoy your day,


The Evolution of Organizations

Hi Carman,

My apologies for my delay in responding! I appreciate your willingness to remain in dialogue with me during this period where I’m not able to respond as quickly as I would like.¬†

¬†Your post raises such insightful and powerful questions about organizations. First, you notice the parallel between Patterson’s description of the thrall or slave, “a body with natural movements, but without its own reason, -an existence entirely absorbed in another” [the Master] and Morgan’s description of employee in a bureaucratic organization (organization as machine). Both scenarios share the ethic of controlling others to achieve one’s ends. This ethic is common and even considered part of normal human condition in much of Western philosophy, psychology, management literature, etc.

¬†Your openness and willingness to dig – to notice the residue of the dominator paradigm in even the brain metaphor and learning organization demonstrate intellectual courage. I agree that we need to be willing to explore beyond even such valuable contributions as these — using them as stepping stones on the road to personal and organizational self-actualization.

¬†Thank you for introducing Dr. Tara Fenwick’s analysis that:

*¬† “Even within the Learning Organization – ample evidence of thralldom (disposition to dominate; propensity to submit).”

¬†* The learning organization while being “ostensibly egalitarian” remains “essentially authoritarian” in that all serves the organization “learning is technical, instrumental”¬†

¬†* “Critical scrutiny is deflected away from the power structures and the learning organization ideology itself, and focused on the individual”

¬†* “The voice of the learning organization sculptors is not self-critical. The agenda and vision of the leader or educational agent is bracketed out, obscuring the partiality and positionality of the voices calling for continuous learning and learning organizations.”

¬†This seems true on its face. Organizations are not self-existent, but exist within a larger social and economic framework. A colleague of mine has recommended business journalist Marjorie Kelly’s book, The Divine Right of Capital. Kelly’s work contrasts economic democracy with economic aristocracy, which is comparable to feudalism. (The feudal analogy is commonplace in organizations). We are all shaped, to a substantial degree by our inheritances. Therefore, many (most?) learning organizations are the convergence of these two streams. Further, leadership and organizational coaches, consultants and trainers usually serve larger organizations whose roots are in Theory X soil, and so we may emphasize how these approaches help organizational leaders serve their ends, which include the achievement of career success by delivering results to shareholders.

 Based on my own experience in organizations and conversations with corporate managers and leaders, I think many contemporary leaders also share a need for meaning, purpose, self-actualization, personal growth, contribution, and despite their privileges, and also often experience themselves as constrained by the system in which they operate.

¬†It comes back, I think, to this sense of self-searching and transformation. As Fenwick implies, this is particularly important at level of organizational leadership precisely because of the impact that the “beingness” of leaders has on the quality … and effectiveness of the organization.

¬†The topic of organizations, effectiveness, and the self-searching and self-actualization of organizations and their members is such a large topic, that I will postpone it to another post. But, I do want to acknowledge your question about structure and the implied consideration of the nature of power (is it unilateral or co-creative?) This question is also timely as we are increasingly seeing the realities that Tom Peters described in Thriving on Chaos 20 years ago, in which the employer-employee “contract” has been substantially dissolved and the boundaries between career and entrepreneurship have become increasingly blurred… What new structures are arising?¬†

 Thank you for bringing such an interesting discussion!


Ideological Inversion and Self-Deception (Illuminating dominator dynamics)

“It is impossible to see reality except by looking through the eyes of the Party”–Nineteen Eighty-Four”

Ideological Inversion and Ideological Self-Deception

Lisa, thank you for ‘making the darkness conscious’ by examining the root system of slavery. I especially love your powerful and prescient comment, “In considering how perspective – especially the perspectives of the powerful – shape social structures that reinforce beliefs, it is further reasonable to assume that women and slaves, whose rational facilities were assumed to naturally “lack authority,” would be denied the educational and leisure opportunities that would enable them to effectively counter these assertions – if indeed those in power would listen, given that women and slaves “naturally lack authority.”

Why prescient? Because you reference two dimensions of thralldom that I believe parallel our modern experience: 1) Parasitism and 2) Ideological inversion of reality. Your canine companions will especially relate to threat from parasites-like fleas!

Slavery, says Patterson, is a relation of domination, a relation of “parasitism.” Patterson has much to say about parasitism. I’ll now attempt to encapsulate his treatment. I believe parasitism is one of the most important issues you and I will explore.

In parasitism:

-Dependence may or may not entail destruction of the host
-The host may be dependent on the parasite
-The parasitism may be only a minor nuisance

As a parasite, the slaveholder camouflaged his dependence, his parasitism, by 1) ideological inversion of reality, and 2) ideological self-deception. This former technique, says Patterson, camouflages a relation by defining it as the opposite of what it really is. Isn’t that profound? Ideological inversion of reality camouflages a relation by defining it as the opposite of what it really is.

Who was responsible for creating the ideological inversion of reality? The slaveholder class. Were almost all masters insincere? No. “They genuinely believed that they cared and provided for their slaves and that it was the slaves who had been raised to depend on others.”

“Southern slaveholders,” says Patterson, “were hardly exceptional in their ideological self-deception. The same inversion of reality was to be found among slaveholders everywhere:

“We use other people’s feet when we go out, we use other people’s eyes to recognize things, we use another person’s memory to greet people, we use someone else’s help to stay alive-the only things we keep for ourselves are our pleasures” Pliny the Elder, a slaveholder (quoted in Patterson).

I’ll now attempt to epitomize the relation of parasites and their hosts.


The slaveholders (as parasites):
-defined the slave as dependent

-genuinely believed that they cared and provided for their slaves

-held that it was the slaves who had been raised to depend on them and others (this is ideological self-deception)

-believed (along with the community) that the slave existed only through the parasite holder, who was called the master

-fed on the slave to gain the very direct satisfactions of power over another, honor, enhancement, and authority

-rendered the slave the ideal human tool due to natal alienation and genealogical isolation (i.e., separated from family and kin).

“The slave, losing in the process all claim to autonomous power, was degraded and reduced to a state of liminality” (a marginal status) p.337. Parenthesis mine.

How did the slave resist her desocialization and forced service? By:

-striving for some measure of regularity and predictability in her social life

-yearning for dignity

-becoming acutely sensitive to the realities of community.

The slave’s zest for life and fellowship confounded the slaveholder class. The slave’s existential dignity of the slave belied the slaveholder’s denial of its existence.

Patterson sketches the covert antagonism between the classes thus:


-“retaliated ideologically by stereotyping the slave as a lying, cowardly, lazy buffoon devoid of courage and manliness,

-retaliated existentially: by refusing to be among his fellow slaves the degraded creature he was made out to be,

-fed the parasite’s timocratic character with the pretence that she was what she was supposed to be. She served while concealing her soul and fooling the parasite. “play fool, to catch wise.”


“All slaves, like oppressed peoples everywhere, wore masks in their relations with those who had parasitized them. Occasionally a slave, feeling he had nothing to lose, would remove the mask and make it clear to the slaveholder that he understood the parasitic nature of their interaction.”


“However firm their belief in their ideological definition of the slave relation, slaveholders simply could not deny the stark fact that their slaves served under duress: a combination of punishments and rewards was essential.”


Slaveholders knew that incentives were better than punishments to promote efficient service.


“The well-looked-after slave redounded to the generosity and honor of the slaveholder.” The slave’s response “emphasized the slave’s apparent “dependence” and gave credence to the paternalism that the parasite craved.”

Patterson’s discussion of parasitism is provocative, is it not Lisa? As always, I look forward to your comments. Thank you for including the neglected dimensions (e.g., feminism).

Bye for now,


I hear the sea gulls squawking outside my kitchen window. I wonder what’s bothering them? It’s raining here today. I guess I better wear my Wellingtons (gum boots) on the sea wall. I could just write an ode to my boots. Though they cost less than $10, they’ve been a godsend. “Adventure in ideas.” I like the sound of that!

Adding Gender to the Analysis of Thralldom (Dominator Dynmaics)

I love your term, “messays.” It’s certainly appropriate to a blog — especially this one, which is, to borrow the title of one of philosopher Alfred North Whitehead’s books, an “adventure in ideas.”

Freire’s analysis substantially overlaps the a feminist and womanist analysis, which isn’t surprising, given our cultural history in which women were considered to be inferior human beings (relative to men) and therefore¬†accorded the status of property.

Ecofeminist philosopher Charlene Spretnak observes that a hierarchal, utiliatrian (even adversarial) stance towards the natural world had profound implications for women, who as birth-givers, have historically been habitually (though not inevitably) associated with nature: cultural attitudes towards nature tend to coincide with attitudes towards women (Ortner 1974; Sanday 1981).

This was certainly true in classic Greek thought: men were understood to participate in divine rationality, whereas women were understood to either lack the rational soul principle or to be deficient in this regard, and therefore part of the natural matrix that men sought to transcend in their quest for the divine. Thus, divine-world and mind-body dichotomies mirrored the “natural” dichotomy of male and female: the left-hand term was understood to be masculine and superior, and the right-hand term was feminine and inferior (Code What Can She Know 29).

The heart of the male-female dichotomy is captured by the classical Greek understanding of conception: according to Aristotle, man provides the active principle and rational (human) soul; woman, who lacks the soul principle, contributes the body (Aristotle “On the Generation of Animals” 278, S737a; Shepherd 4). If the soul-principle in the male seed is able to overcome the pull of (female) matter, a male child results; otherwise the result is a female child – who is, essentially, a defective male (Aristotle, The Politics of Aristotle 13: S1254b and 327: S1335b; Shepherd 4).

Thus, in this train of thought, it is the male who is considered fully human. (This speaks also to our culturally inherited view of animals as automatons. As a “parent” to two very smart dogs, I can say that this is not true in my experience!)

The relationship between knowledge and power is self-sustaining, as we can see in Aristotle’s rendering of gendered reality:

“[M]ale rules over the female, or the man over the child; although the parts of the soul are present in all of them, they are present in different degrees. For the slave has no deliberative faculty at all; the woman has, but it is without authority, and the child has, but it is immature” (“Politics” 1260b; Code 9 n. 5).

(Tellingly, in light of the power dynamics, even the male slave is thought to have “no deliberative faculty at all.” Also,¬†the term “woman” here seems to refer to a female person¬†who is not a slave.)

Consequently, women and slaves attended to the material and bodily necessities of life – what de Beauvoir called “immanence,” while elite men concerned themselves with “transcendent” cultural projects, such as writing philosophy. Further the life experience shaped by such stark sex role separation might be seen to re-enforce for privileged males the sense of living in a “glass box” on top of nature; and for women a concern with the concrete facts of existence. ¬†

One analysis is that women (and all oppressed groups in general) share an experience of being “other” to economically and educationally privileged white males (Hurtado 833), and being the recipients of projections of men’s own embodiment and immanence (Anderson 32).¬† Similarly, J.B. Miller (1976) describes a sweeping commonality in the projections that dominants apply to subordinate groups. Given the power of the perceptions of dominant groups to shape reality, these commonalities may give rise to some similarities of experience amongst diverse “others” who may learn to conform to the expectations of dominants as a matter of survival.

With regard to race and gender, womanist philosopher Patricia Hill Collins observes that despite differences in social experience, there are substantial similarities between womanist and feminist perspectives:

“The search for the distinguishing features of an alternative epistemology used by African-American women reveals that values and ideas Africanist scholars identify as characteristically “Black” often bear remarkable resemblance to similar ideas claimed by feminist scholars as characteristically ‚Äėfemale.’¬† This similarity suggests that the material conditions of race, class, and gender oppression can vary dramatically and yet generate some uniformity in the epistemologies of subordinate groups” (207).

¬†In considering how perspective — especially the perspectives of the powerful — shape social structures that reinforce beliefs, it is further reasonable to assume that women and slaves, whose rational facilities were assumed to naturally “lack authority,” would be denied the educational and leisure opportunities that would enable them to effectively counter these assertions – if indeed those in power would listen, given the assumption that¬†these groups¬† “naturally lack authority.”

Of course, thankfully, the whole system (from philosophy, to psychology, to families, orgaizations, politics, etc.) has shifted so that a greater diversity of perspectives can be heard. Yet, it’s fair to say that many of our organizations and social structures are still shaped by dominator dynamics in our cultural inheritence.

I am writing this of course to suggest that integrating the consideration of gender opens up key psychological and social dynamics of dominator systems. It’s not simply a matter of including women as an historically oppressed class (certainly,¬†economic class, race, and other factors come into play as well), but of noticing how¬†ideas and values surrounding gender have¬†shaped our psyches,¬†language, values and institutions.¬†¬†¬†

Thank you for mentioning Patterson’s analysis of the three facets of slavery: social, psychological, and cultural. I think it is very helpful to look at whole systems. Anthropologist Peggy Reeves Sanday also brings up the dimension of ecology/environment as a factor in the power relationships between women and men. I’ll save that for another time!

Best wishes,

P.S. We may have rain today — good writing weather!


Anderson, Pamela Sue. A Feminist Philosophy of Religion: The Rationality and Myths of Religious Belief. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 1998.

Aristotle, The Complete Works of Aristotle. The Revised Oxford Translation. Ed. Jonathan Baines. Princeton, N.J.:Princeton University Press, 1984 (1912-52).

—. “On the Generation of Animals.” The Works of Aristotle. Trans. Arthur Platt from vol 2 of The Great Books of the Western World. Chicago: William Benton, 1952.

—. The Politics of Aristotle. Trans.E. Barker. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1946.

—. Politics. Trans. Benjamin Jowett. The Basic Works of Artistotle. Ed. Richard McKeon. New York: Random House, 1941.

Code, Lorraine. What Can She Know?: Feminist Theory and the Construction of Knowledge. Ithica, New York: Cornell University Press, 1991.

Collins, Patricia Hill. Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment. Perspectives on Gender, Vol. 2. New York: Routledge, 1990.

Hurtado, Aida. “Relating to Privilege: Seduction and Rejection in the Subordination of White Women and Women of Color.” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 14 (Summer 1989).

Miller, Jean Baker. Toward a New Psychology of Women. 2nd ed. Boston: Beacon Press, 1987.

Ortner, Sherry B. “Is Female to Male as Nature is to Culture?” Women, Culture, and Society. Ed. M.Z. Rosaldo and L. Lamphere. Stanford, CT: Stanford University Press: 67-88.

Sanday, Peggy Reeves. Female Power and Male Dominance: On the Origins of Sexual Inequality. Cambridge, N.J.: Cambridge University Press, 1981

Shepherd, Linda Jean. Lifting the Veil: The Feminine Face of Science. Portland, OR: FireWord Publishing, Inc., 1993.

Spretnak, Charlene. Resurgence of the Real: Body, Nature and Place in a Hypermodern World. New York: Routledge, 1999.

Organizational Culture

Thank you for this contribution. It’s so relevant to our whole discussion, I’m also posting it up here in the main blog.

Best regards,

Hello Denis and Lisa,

I’m not sure about the question but I believe you are asking about the odd language academics use to describe organizational culture. It’s so easy to feel overpowered by academic writing. Simply put, It has been said that “the water is the last thing the fish see.” If we imagine that organizations are fishbowls then the challenge of helping fish to comprehend their environment is obvious [if fish could think like we do!] We so often take words for granted. “Culture” is an example. So let’s go back to basics. What do we mean by “culture”?

Gareth Morgan’s excellent work “Images of Organization” [which I highly recommend] says that “culture” comes from the idea of “tilling and developing the land” (p.120) Morgan says the agricultural metaphor focuses our attention on “very specific aspects of social development.” What does he mean?

Does he mean that people are unique? Yes. Are you and I unique? Yes. But are we also alike in many respects? Yes. However, Morgan is talking specifically about “organizations.” So the metaphor of “culture” asks us to imagine that organizations are like countries and we are like anthropologists trying to understand the distinctive societies. Hence, an organization, like a country, will exhibit unique characteristics [I like to say that organizations are like fingerprints in that they both unique but exhibit commonalties].

Following are some elements of “culture”:

*Leadership: Who are in control?

*Structure-How have those in control arranged positions?

*Climate-How have those in control taught members to “feel” about one another?

*History-Who were originally in control? How did they and their successors shape the organization?

*Customs and rituals-What big meaningful events have been arranged by those in control?

*Language-How do those in control communicate with organizational members?

*Dress-How do those in control dress? How do they expect organizational members to dress?

*Beliefs-What things are accepted as true by those in control? How deeply are those beliefs held by those in control? How are those beliefs communicated to those with less control?

*Artifacts-How have those in control arranged buildings, furnishings and equipment?

*Values-What do those in control expect of those they control?

Culture is all about the creation of social reality. But power is key. Power is the ability to create or produce reality [organizations]. Here is an example from Morgan’s chapter on culture:

“We sit in the same seats, like cows always go to the same stall. It’s a real waste of time. It’s a situation where you can say just about anything and no one will refute it. People are very hesitant to speak up, afraid to say too much. They say what everyone else wants to hear” p.131.

*A modernist approach might begin by asking about the elements of culture-the big picture. For example, What elements of culture are useful in analyzing the above example? *A symbolic interpretivist approach might ask how members are making meaning within their experience. For example, How does the metaphor of the cow illustrate the member’s interaction? *A post-modernist perspective might ask about the member’s power and ability to make meaning and how the member’s perception impacts the organization [and yes, we can critique post-modernism].

My advice to those studying organizational theory is to pay attention to power and control. It’s all very well to talk about “shared” meaning and “rational” goals, for example. But in the final analysis members will say and do what they are expected to do-by those in power.

I hope this helps.

Bye for now!


Towards a theory of thralldom (from Carman de Voer)

Hi Lisa,

I love Sundays! Thank you for the references to Solzhenitsyn. It’s interesting that thralldom figures prominently in his text: “The whole raison d’etre of serfdom and the Archipelago is one and the same: these are the social structures for the ruthless enforced utilization of the free-of-cost work of millions of slaves” (Chapter 5). I’ve been bridging concepts we’ve discussed over the months and believe I see sufficient patterns to construct a comprehensive Theory of Thralldom.

Patterson describes the slave as dehumanized being who lives only through and for the master:


“The slave was a dominated thing, an animated instrument, a body with natural movements, but without its own reason, an existence entirely absorbed in another.”


“The proprietor of this thing, the mover of this instrument, the soul and the reason of this body, the source of this life, was the master. The master was everything for him: his father and his god, which is to say, his authority and his duty…Thus, god, fatherland, family, existence, are all for the slave, identified with the same being; there was nothing which made for the social person, nothing which made for the moral person, that was not the same as his personality and his individuality”(Henri Wallon on the meaning of slavery in ancient Greece, Cited in Patterson).

Though Friere does not use the word “thrall” or “slave” in Pedagogy of the Oppressed, he does use almost identical language to describe “the oppressed”: “For the oppressors, ‚Äėhuman beings’ refers only to themselves; other people are “things” (p.39). Friere says that the “oppressor consciousness” tends to reduce everything-including people-to “objects at its disposal” (p.40) Science and technology, says Freire, “are used to reduced the oppressed to the status of things” (p.114). The educational system is their “enemy” (p.16) and management is an “arm of domination (p.50).

Patterson’s decription of slavery also illuminates Freire’s statements, such as “adhesion to the oppressor,” the “boss within,” subjects-objects, and Friere’s discussion of the difference between animals and humans (thank you for your reference to dogs!). I could never quite understand why he devoted so much analysis to the distinction. Animals, for example are “ahistorical,” “beings in themselves,” “cannot commit themselves,” are “not challenged by the configuration that confronts them,” and so on (pp.78-79). Obviously, animals and thralls are subhuman, objects, things. Now I see why Freire spoke about the “ontological vocation to be more fully human-“fully human” versus “anatomical fragments” and “automata” (things).

Middle class educators reading this blog might bristle at my suggestion that we humans exist within a web of thralldom. Freire predicted such reaction when he spoke about the middle class’s “fear of freedom” which “leads them to erect defense mechanisms and rationalizations which conceal the fundamental (i.e., the conditions of oppression) emphasize the fortuitous (i.e., let’s be “positive”) and deny concrete reality” (the misery of the oppressed) p.85. (parentheses mine). Freire was clear that praxis meant reflection and action upon the world in order to transform it.

Freire’s indictment of global educational systems is understandable now given that the “educated individual is the adapted person, because she or he is a better fit for the world” (p.57). It now makes sense to me why Freire saw the need to develop a completely different “pedagogy”-a pedagogy of the oppressed, whose organs of sense perception have been switched off so long that they need educators’ help to reactivate those. I can now understand why Freire’s text appears in many graduate programs (I met “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” while enrolled in Athabasca University’s MDE Program).

I appreciate your allusion to perception Lisa. Patterson (quoting Weber) notes that slavery is built upon a power relation which has 3 facets: social, psychological and cultural. Perception, I believe, falls under the second category:

1) The use or threat of violence in the control of one person by another (Social)

2) The capacity to persuade another person to change the way he perceives his interests and his circumstances. (Psychological)

3) Authority: the means of transforming force into right, and obedience into duty (Cultural)

But how is slavery distinctive as a relation of domination? Perhaps we could discuss that later on.

Bye for now,


I would call my posts ‚Äėmessays’ because they represent mental chaos searching for coherence. Thank you for the ‚Äėmutual flourishing’ you promote Lisa.


Slavery and Social Death: A Comparative Study, Harvard University Press, 1982

Freire, Paulo. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Continuum, 2007.

Self Actualization vs. Dehumanization

Carman, Thank you for your note! I appreciation this whole process of deconstruction and reconstruction of ideas. It takes courage to relinquish our certainty enough to open our minds to new connections and possibilities. There is a period of chaos before new structures coalesce, which can be uncomfortable, to the say the least, but the insights we gain by allowing and processing this chaos or change can be enormously rewarding. Therefore, I appreciate Rosemarie Anderson’s term for that period, “auspcisous bewilderment”(1). One of the benefits of Partnership systems is that they are safe enough to allow the uncertainty inherent in the creative process.

As you requested, I moved our earlier conversation in the comments area of “Freedom vs. Slavery” to the main blog to make it easier to read.

Your quote from Freire aptly contasts the difference between the experience and concept of work as self-actualization in the context of community and work as dehumanization or exploitation. These are two different paradigms of leadership and organization (social relationship), and of ways of being in the world.

The Partnership paradigm reflects an ethic of mutual flourishing. Conversely, a dominator paradigm reflects a “dog eat dog” or “dog oppress dog” ūüėČ ethic. Both are part of our historical inheritance, but the ethic of domination goes deep. What is our reaction when we are crossed? And then, what response do we choose…

In considering Friere’s comment, I am also reminded of philosopher Jacques Derrida’s reminder that there is freedom and power throughout the system. Even in situations of extreme oppression, such as former Soviet labor camps, Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago demonstrated that the human being could choose a perspective of self-actualization. So we have these mulitple frontiers, the social and the psychological, for moving towards more creative, adpative and fulfilling systems..

It’s a pleasure to read and post your insightful and creative essays, as always!


1. Rosemarie Anderson, “Intuitive Inquiry,” Transpersonal Research Methods for the Social Sciences: Honoring Human Experience,” eds. William Broud and Rosemarie Anderson.

Anderson includes a quote from the mystic Jelaluddin Rumi in the opening to her chapter, which speaks to this place of auspicious bewilderment and creativity: “Today like every other day, we wake up empty and frightened. Don’t open the door to the study and begin reading. Take down a musical instrument. Let the beauty we love be what we do.”

(Reply) Bullying & Dominator Systems

Carman, I apologize for the delay in responding (I’m still writing on a deadline). I appreciate your exquisite thought process. Yes, understanding a problem more deeply can create a perspective from which we can see possible solutions. Personally, I suspect that because the problem is systemic, solutions must be multi-level and multidimensional. When the time comes, I am very interested to hear your ideas with respect to “bridges.”Bullying is a good example of dominator behavior. And we do (unfortunately but not unexpectedly) see this kind of behavior in the workplace.

I really like your fishing metaphor, “big ideational fish”!

Does this thread work for you as a locus for our conversation? If you should like to see some of this discussion move up a level, just let me know. You are, of course, always welcome to post there directly, if that seems appropriate.

Best wishes,
P.S. I always enjoy your description of the local sounds and surroundings. Having lived on a boat for several years, in Monterey and Moss Landing, California, I remember seeing seals sleeping on sunny sea walls… We really enjoyed that lifestyle.

Bullying in Dominator Systems

Hi Lisa,¬† I am happy to hear that you have experienced Partnership relationships where thralldom was not an active force. I would like to include myself in that relationship. Succinctly, I would say that “partnership” is more probable where one is not subject to the will of another. Even slaves experienced a kind of partnership, according to Patterson, in that they ‚Äėhad strong social ties among themselves though their relationships not recognized as legitimate or binding.’

However, as you observe, it is not enough to highlight elements of domination in our existing models of organization; it is also incumbent upon us to ‚Äėexplore some psycho-social-spiritual bridges to Partnership ways of being.’

I think I may have located one such a “bridge.” However, rather than rush to ‚Äėprescription,’ I would like to devote more time to ‚Äėdescription.’ Using raw materials from Patterson’s analysis of slavery, and incorporating the straight-edge of your critique, I would like to continue constructing a Theory of Organizational Thralldom that can speak to some of the more trenchant and troubling issues of organizational behavior. I want to demonstrate that asymmetrical power relations, characterized by domination and submission, activate the principle and practice of thralldom.

Let’s illustrate one such issue: psychological abuse, colloquially called “bullying.” To bully is to intimidate through blustering, domineering, or threatening behavior: workers who were bullied into accepting a poor contract ( Bullied Persons are routinely forced into submission through fear. Now, most texts I’ve consulted approach this ubiquitous phenomenon through the perspective of the powerless. They typically treat the abused worker to psychology-How to understand the abuser, What are the characteristics of the abuser? How to personally cope, and so on. Because the systemic relationship remains untouched-and unchallenged-power continues to be weighted in favor of the abuser.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) website observes: “On June 1, 2004, Quebec became the first North American jurisdiction to include protection against psychological harassment of employees in its Act respecting Labour Standards.

Bullying, known as psychological harassment is defined as:

“Any vexatious behaviour in the form of repeated and hostile or unwanted conduct, verbal comments, actions or gestures, that affect an employee’s dignity or psychological integrity and that results in a harmful work environment for the employee. A single serious incidence of such behaviour that has a lasting harmful effect on an employee may also constitute psychological harassment” (

Two things stand out in the above:

1) Quebec is the first “North American” jurisdiction to legislate against the practice, and

2) “Protection.” There’s that word again.

In his discussion of injustice Patterson quotes an American ex-slave who recounts: “the most barbarous thing I saw with these eyes-I lay on my bed and study about it now-I had a sister, my older sister, she was fooling with the clock and broke it, and my old master taken her and tied a rope around her neck-just enough to keep it from choking her-and tied her up in the back yard and whipped her I don’t know how long. There stood mother, there stood father, and there stood all the children and none could come to her rescue.”

I have personally witnessed the verbal equivalent of such physical abuse as colleagues stood by and did nothing to stop a psychological assault. Patterson rightly asks, How could persons be made to accept such natural injustice? Not simply the victim but more particularly, “those who stood by and accepted it.”

Patterson isolates two dimensions: 1) denying the slave’s humanity, his independent social existence 2) the master’s authority was derived from his control over symbolic instruments, which effectively persuaded both slave and others that the master was the only mediator between the living community to which he belonged and the living death that his slave experienced.

Perhaps we can expand on the above dimensions later? I trust that as we cast our mental seine wide we will capture some really big ideational fish.

Bye for now,


I love listening to the University of Wyoming classical station in the morning. Saturday mornings are especially exquisite. I wonder how many seals I’ll see on the seawall today. Hey, that alliteration sounds a lot like ‚Äėthe big black bug bled blue blood.’


Slavery and Social Death: A Comparative Study, Harvard University Press, 1982