.. to Tavistock's Anthology Volume I

The  Social Engagement of Social Science
Volume 1, The  Socio-Technical Perspective

by Eric  Trist

The  contributions selected to represent the socio-psychological perspective of The Social Engagement of Social Science are arranged in five  "families" which form the Themes of this Volume. They show the variety of  work included in each Theme and its underlying coherence.

The first  Theme, A New Social Psychiatry: A World War II Legacy, is the foundation  on which the concept of The Social Engagement of Social Science has been  built. The second, Varieties of Group Process, describes experience with  the primary group, which was one of the first two fields with which the  post-war Institute became pre-occupied. The other was the family - hence  the Theme of New Paths in Family Studies. Somewhat later, work under the  fourth Theme, The Dynamics of Organizational Change, became salient. From  this background projects emerged related to the fifth Theme, The  Unconscious in Culture and Society.

The range of  social phenomena thus presented, is from micro to macro: the primary  group; the family; organizations; the larger society. Different system  levels are represented.

As explained in  the Historical Overview, the source concepts which gave rise to the  socio-psychological perspective are psychoanalytic object relations  theory, Lewinian field theory, the personality-culture approach and the  theory of open systems. These have been drawn on to guide action-oriented  projects of considerable scope and duration. The experience of these  projects has led to further conceptual developments. Usually more than  one, sometimes all four, of the source concepts have been drawn on in  order to obtain a better understanding of what was taking place or what  had to be designed.

Though it would  be preposterous to suggest that everybody did everything, most staff  members moved with some facility from one domain of inquiry to another and  from one system level to another. An ideal was to keep alive in one's  experience the reality of the person, the group, the organization and the  wider society, so that one could sense their interconnections. It was also  thought desirable to maintain contact with projects in more than one  social sector - not, for example, to spend all one's time in industrial  projects.

Because most of  the projects were conducted in an action-oriented frame of reference,  multiple aspects of the situation came into play. This compelled an  holistic approach. Experiential holism reinforced cognitive holism. New  perceptions arose from this reinforcement.

A generalist  capacity was needed as a background for specific competence. What one  lacked oneself could be supplied by a colleague, since projects were  carried out by teams. But communication in such circumstances fails  without the common background of a shared perspective such as that  provided by the source concepts.

The aim was to  maintain a variety of experience, however much at a given time a staff  member was focussing on a particular level or domain. Experiential  learning provided a basis for conceptual advance.