Attack, Pain, and Danger in Group Life: "Thrown to the Wolves"

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Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
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Ostfield, Marc L.

This dissertation examined the process o f group attach those events when three or more members attack an individual in the small group setting. Using qualitative research with a grounded theory perspective, this study observed participants in a series of Tavistocktype self-study groups at a major university over a two-year period. The research identified three distinct perspectives on group attack: projection (i.e., scapegoating), displacement, and discarding. Data collected from the observation o f the small groups indicated that those groups that used more violent language and metaphors in initial discussions later had the most extreme or dramatic group attacks. Observation data also indicated that group attack virtually always took place in the first “half" of group life — when the institutionally-designated authority was perceived to be weak, absent, or nonresponsive. Groups appeared to use group attack to establish or reinstate the very authority they craved. Thus, groups “created” transgressors as a means of enforcing group norms. In addition, group attacks appeared to be driven by the members’ competition with the course’s authority figure. And, groups seemed to use group attack to create the role o f a “victim” in order to compel the Consultant (professor) to assert authority. Women initiated virtually every instance o f group attack observed, and were also the initial supporters in all episodes — possibly because the goals and format of Tavistock-type self-study courses privilege conventionally defined women’s interaction vii and simultaneously inhibit behavioral responses more conventionally available to men. The data also indicated that group members from non-Westem countries or cultures often seemed to be rendered essentially invisible — particularly with respect to group attack events. And, while this invisibility marginalized their perceived participation in group life, it also seemed to protect the students from non-Westem environments from involvement or implication in group attack episodes.

Carolyn Marvin
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