A Lacanian perspective on individual learning in organisations and implications for qualitative research

Reading Michaela Driver’s paper in the latest issue of Management Learning.  She analyses individual learning in organisations drawing on psychoanalytic (Lacanian) theory.  The key premise is that the self is always constructed in and through speech, but what we say we know about who we are and what we want is an illusion, a fantasy designed to cover up a lack that is impossible to get rid of: “It is a fantasy because the self we construct in the imaginary order is always constrained by language and what Lacan described as the symbolic order. As we try to articulate in an authentic fashion who we are and what we want, we are always using language, which consists of words, structures and conventions made by others, even generations of others. Therefore, the language through which we construct the self is not authentic in the sense that it does not reflect who we really are or what we really desire.(p. 563, emphasis mine)

She proposes three key points emerging from Lacanian theory that are of relevance for learning in organisations (p. 564):

  1. Conscious speech consists of imaginary constructions of the self.
  2. These constructions continuously fail as they are disrupted by unconscious desires.
  3. Recognition of and reflection on this failure provides opportunities to experience the self as a creative, powerful subject of the unconscious that is free of and can never be contained by an imaginary order.

If we accept this explanation, then, moving beyond the implications for learning that is the main subject of this paper, I want to ask: what are the implications for qualitative methods of inquiry that rely so heavinly on constructions of self? (ironically, Driver uses a number of qualitative studies – interviews, diaries, etc- to support her argument).

Reference: [access by subscription] Driver, M. (2010). Learning as lack: Individual learning in organizations as an empowering encounter with failed imaginary constructions of the self. Management Learning, 41(5), 561-574.

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