Social Dreaming

by Franca Fubini

social dreamingSocial Dreaming was discovered by G.Lawrence in the 1980’s when he directed Tavistock Institute of Human Relations in London.
Lawrence, recovering a historical and anthropological knowledge, hypothesized that it is possible to dream socially (i.e., to consider the dream as a manifestation of the social dimension in which we live) and that dreams can shed some light on the shared social context (just as Freud hypothesized that dreams, in the course of analysis, can shed some light on the unconscious life of the dreamer).

Social Dreaming is a methodology to transform the dream-thought using free association, amplification and systemic thinking, so as to create links, find connections and reliese or generate new thoughts.

The basic event is the Social Dreaming Matrix, where some basic concepts of social dreaming have developed: matrix, free association, amplification, working hypothesis, systemic thinking.

The matrix is the "locus" where waking conscious life mirrors the unconscious/infinite world of the dream-work that occurs in the sleep. The matrix is a place where 'something can grow’.
The matrix is a group of people (from six to sixty persons with one or more ‘hosts’ – who act as facilitators) assemble to share dreams and, through free associations and amplification of some themes, find links and create connections to explore the dream-thought.
Lawrence hypothesized the need for a dream container – the matrix – different from the group – which is a word saturated with meanings, a too well-known tool that had been explored for decades in the history of reasearch at the Tavistock Institute and in many other contexts –, as the latter would stir already explored dynamics and observation verteces that would mainly lead to the psyche of the individual in the group.
The matrix constitutes a new container to unveal new context of dreaming. The matrix is at the same time a form and a process. As a form, it is represented by a group of people that together create a container to think the dreams, their contents and their potential meanings. As a process, the matrix is the system, the network of the thoughts, the emotions and the connections in each relationship, but it is not always recognised or taken into consideration.

The free associations were discovered by Freud as he invited his patients to say whatever came to their minds without censorship.
To explain this concept Freud used the metaphor of a journey by train. When we look out the window, every aspect of the landscape stirs impressions, images and thoughts that are free associations.
In the process of yielding to free associations elicited in the account of the dreams, we find out paths that escape the rational linear thinking. Without needing to judge what emerges in the mind, we can associate to the images of a dream and other images may connect and further more images, striving together to make sense of the dreams.

Amplification means to expand a thought, an image, a sentence.
The participants use their imagination to explore the dream, to frame it in the cultural context in which it was produced, to understand its symbolism. Without thinking that there are right or wrong answers, an idea will lead to another idea, a dream to another dream in the process of transforming the thought, which is the primary task of a matrix. Amplification respects the integrity of the dream.

The systemic thinking of dreaming looks for configurations that interconnect dreams, and similar dream elements group up and identify common themes. The systemic thinking does not look for the best and successful option, as the analytic thinking would do, but considers all the options to let then emerge a synthesis, the product of all the elements and something different from the sum of the elements themselves. A sum that becomes the key to reveal an unexpected reality and possibly a new vertex of observation.
In the SD matrix the chair of the members are arranged as a snowflake or a hive, that is, an initial geometrical module of 4, 5, 6 chairs that develop a pattern made up of multiples of the original module. As if the first hive cell is the building block that is then duplicated to create the whole arrangement.
The arrangement in space somehow takes up the development of the dream thought. Very often, if not always, the first dream that is told in the matrix becomes the fractal around which the entire ensuing thinking of dreaming builds or unwinds.
In Social Dreaming dreams are not interpreted and no reference to the dreamer’s life is made; dreams are rather used to put forward some working hypotheses, some approximations to reality as it is perceived. The working hypotheses can match the evidence or become redundant, in which case new working hypotheses need to be formulated.
It is the scientific method whereby we learn from experience.
It occurs as we reach the limit of our own understanding of the reality in which we live and we acknowledge the need to formulate new hypotheses to work with.
This is particularly helpful within the business contexts, where one is periodically forced to verify the limits of planning and those of understanding the market.
Times of change might require faster responses than the ones an enterprise can give. At these times it is necessary to access what the unconscious/infinite of the system has already picked up and its potential creativity to put forward new hypotheses that respond more promptly to the market’s requests.

In Italy SD programmes have been applied within consultancy to business and training projects: in public insitutions, hospitals, universities, intercultural workshops and within the context of research, in profit and non-profit organisations, in many associations dealing with immigrants and refugees, etc.
It is taught in Psychology faculties in three Italian universities (Rome, L’Aquila, Turin).
Intensive research seminars are regularly held in Rome and Turin, where G.Lawrence used to participate in running them.
However extremely versatile and very interesting, SD has more or less appropriate contexts in which to be applied. It is necessary to evaluate when and how to use it, in relation to a specific analysis of the clients’ demands and being aware about its potential results.

- Social Dreaming is very accurate for the climate analysis. It reveals clearly what are the thoughts and the concerns of the system to which the group participating in the matrix belong.
- It favors a fluid, non-hyerarchical interaction among the members: ‘meaningful’ connections and conversations develop.
- It favors a non-dependence culture, in which the capacity to exert one’s own authority and to work in a group of people develops.
- It fosters the capacity to tolerate not knowing, so as to really access new thoughts.
- It promotes the development of systemic and complex thinking.
- When it is used with continuity, it leads to change that sometimes, by its nature, appears in an unexpected and surprising way.