Gordon Lawrence was schooled at Robert Gordon's College, and Aberdeen University; later educated at Leicester, Edinburgh and Bergische (Wuppertal) Universities, where he gained his doctorate. After a career in the Army (captain with a short service commission), a period in industrial banking, and teaching in further education, he ended as senior lecturer in sociology at Bede College, then of Durham University.
He attended his first Tavistock conferences in 1975 and '79, both directed by Kenneth Rice. The conferences were an epiphany for him - never having encountered such a truthful methodology for discerning the unconscious in systems. But gradually becoming aware, in time, that it is such a powerful methodology that individuals on conference staffs, inadvertently, have to sabotage its scientific purity through narcissism and ambitions for 'stardom'.
In 1971 he joined the Tavistock Institute, from about 300 applicants, as a project officer, after a War Office Selection Board type selection, originally devised by Wilfred Bion. Two were selected, the other being Penny Jones. It was the last time for such a selection process.
He underwent advanced training in groups with Pierre Turquet and Isabel E. P. Menzies. He counts himself fortunate to have had Pierre Turquet and Eric Miller as mentors; the former in groups, the latter in social science, as he gained competitive grants from the Leverhulme Trust, the Department of Employment, The European Foundation in Dublin, and in the Quality of Working Life as a research fellow; as well as consultancy assignments. He was appointed to 'consultant' two years after joining.
Then, it was exciting to be in group relations with Turquet being a brilliant intellectual adventurer, Menzies perspicacious, and Miller as the surest of directors; steadfast in his belief that authority came from the ability of individuals to manage the boundary between their inner world and the realities of their external environment. (Before Lawrence joined the Tavistock, Miller memorably had said to him at a conference at Manchester Business School, 'All authority is there to be examined!') During the '70s and into the '80s, Lawrence represented annually for a decade the Group Relations Training Programme (GRTP) in India for Gouranga Chattopadhyay, often sponsored by the British Council, and in Germany, France, Canada and Ireland.
When Turquet was accidentally killed in 1975, Miller invited Lawrence to be joint-director of the GRTP, which he did till 1982. They ran the Leicester Conferences with whoever was director representing the 'Establishment', the associate being the 'mystic/genius' 1. It was a partnership that worked, e.g. the innovation that separated 'consultants' from 'management' in the Institutional Event; the introduction of the Very Small Group; Role Analysis within the Application Event; and the Politics of Relatedness to explore Turquet's concept of 'management in the mind'.
Lawrence was sedulous in recruiting new staff members for the GRTP, e.g. Brendan Duddy, whom he mentored from the mid '70s while Duddy forged a mediatory role as a peace-maker between the IRA and the British Government. They still work together.
In 1977 Lawrence took conferences to France, having contacted Georges Gueron, then President of The International Foundation for Social Innovation. There he devised the Praxis Event, an attempt to devise a contrapuntal event within the frame of the conference - to make a potentially creative space outside of the task-orientated activities of the conference (Lawrence, 1985: 306-329). This was taken to Leicester Conferences in the late '70s and early '80s.
Miller in Lawrence's last eighteen months invited him to join OPUS, funded for Miller by Sir Charles Goodeve. For OPUS Lawrence devised Listening Posts, subsequently taken over by it.
Events at Leicester Conferences and in OPUS led Lawrence to intuit that the basis of selection for Conferences staffs was to change from merit, based on task and fitness to exercise authority and leadership, to sentience and nepotism. As events turned out, he was right in his deduction. Lawrence resigned reluctantly from the Tavistock in '82.
However, Lawrence's last years at the Tavistock were pre-occupied with dreaming in systems, starting from experiences at Leicester Conferences. Dream was regarded at the Tavistock as being a private matter and had no place in action-research. But through perseverance the Social Dreaming Matrix was first attempted at the Tavistock in the spring of '82, with Patricia Daniels as the other 'host'/consultant. The working hypothesis that it is possible to dream socially - to focus on the knowledge contained in the dream - was substantiated. Since then Social Dreaming Matrices have been conducted in the UK, Ireland, Australia, the USA, Germany, France, Holland, Sweden, Israel, India, Hungary, Poland, Finland and Japan, coupled with a number of books (Lawrence, 1998, 2003, 2005, 2007).
In the decades since resigning from the Tavistock, he has directed, or participated, in working conferences on groups (but only once for the GRTP), and Social Dreaming Matrices, in UK, Australia, Ireland, USA, Taiwan, Israel, Italy and Hungary; and continues to publish.
1 Bion, W.R. (1970). Attention and Interpretation. London: Tavistock Publications, pp. 62-71. [822 words]
His selected publications on groups, social dreaming, and films are:
Groups and systems:
Lawrence, W.G. (1979). Ed. Exploring Individual and Organizational Boundaries. Chichester: John Wiley & Sons. The Management of Self in Role, reprinted as (1998) Selbsmanagement- in- rollen – Eine aktuelles
Konzept, Freie Assoziation, 1 Jahrgang, Heft ½.
Lawrence, W.G. (1999a) reprint of Exploring Individual and Organizational Boundaries, London: Karnac Books.
Lawrence, W.G. (1985). Beyond the frames. In Pines, M., ed., Bion and Group Psychotherapy. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
Lawrence, W.G. (1993). Signals of transcendence in large groups as systems. Group, Vol. 17, No. 4 New York NY: Brunner/Mazel.
Lawrence, W.G.(1993). How do we develop our tradition? In Hugg, T., N. Carson & R. Lipgar, eds., Changing Group Relations. Jupiter FL: A.K. Rice Institute.
Lawrence, W.G. (994). The politics of salvation and revelation in the practice of consultancy, In Casemore, R., G. Dyos, A. Eden, K. Kellner, J. McAuley, & S. Moss, eds., What Makes Consultancy Work. London: South Bank University Press.
Lawrence, A. Bain, & L. Gould (1996). The fifth basic assumption. Free Associations, Vol. 6, Part 1, No. 37.
Lawrence, W.G. (1998). Unconscious social pressures on leaders. In Klein, E. F. Gabelnick, & P. Herr, eds. The Psychodynamics of Leadership. Madison CT: Psychosocial Press.
Lawrence, W.G. & D. Armstrong (1998). Destructiveness and creativity in organizational life. In Bion-Talemo, P., F. Borgogna, & S.A. eds., Bion’s Legacy to Groups. London: Karnac Books.
Lawrence, W.G. ( 1999b). A mind for business. In French, R. & R. Vince, eds., Group Relations, Management and Organization. Oxford: University Press.
Lawrence, W.G., A. Bain & L. Gould ((1999c) Il quinto assunto di base. Psico-Terapia e Scienze Umane, Anno XXXIII, No. 1.
Lawrence, W.G. (1999d). Centring of the sphinx for the psychoanalytic study of organization. Socio-Analysis; The Journal of the Australian Institute of Socio-Analysis. Vol.1, No. 2.
Lawrence. W.G. (2000). Tongued With Fire: Groups in Experience. London: Karnac Books.
Lawrence, W.G, (2003). Narcissism v. social-ism governing thinking in social systems. In Lipgar, R.M. & M. Pines, eds., Building on Bion: Branches London: Karnac Books.
Lawrence, W.G. (2005). The infinite in business: the transformation of thinking. Socio-Analysis, Vol. 7.
Lawrence, W.G. (2008). Betrayal in organizations. Paradoxa, Gennaio-Marzo, Trimestral-anno II, numero 1.
Social dreaming, - excluding articles and chapters in edited books:
Lawrence, W.G. (1998). Ed, Social Dreaming @ Work. London: Karnac Books.
Lawrence, W.G. (2003). Ed. Experiences in Social Dreaming. London: Karnac Books.
Lawrence, W.G. (2005). Introduction to Social Dreaming: Transforming Thinking. London: Karnac Books.
Lawrence, W.G. (2007). Ed. Infinite Possibilities of Social Dreaming. London: Karnac Books.
1981 for BBC Panorama, 'Them and Us', with Bruce Reed (Grubb Institute).
1983 for Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 'Who's in Charge', produced by Allan King.
Top of page