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Psychic Prison Metaphor

Reading Assignment:

Students will read the following material: The Allegory of the Cave and The Psychic Prison Metaphor.

Location for Book VII of The Republic: The Allegory of the Cave:

Location for the Psychic Prison Metaphor Supplemental Reading Material (Attached)

Research: Conduct Research and locate two scholarly journal articles that pertain to Organizational Behavior (follow the directions below for incorporating the journal material into your Assignment).


Morgan (1997) introduced the Psychic Prison metaphor to describe the "predicament of human beings as prisoners of their thoughts and actions. Discuss the Psychic Prison Metaphor and The Allegory of the Cave and relate both to organizations. This is your opportunity to develop a thorough discussion using your gradate level writing skills. Use a standard essay format.

Include the Following in your Discussion:

Describe an organizational problem that is relative to the Psychic Prison and The Allegory of the Cave (consider organizational members)
How does the Psychic Prison Mentality affect organizational culture?
Discuss the Psychic Prison in detail - Possible causes/effects
Incorporate The Allegory of the Cave in your discussion and explain in detail. How is it relevant to organizations?
Use chapters from the text (Hint - Culture) or other sources
Incorporate real world examples to help substantiate your point of view and explain the Psychic Prison Metaphor and The Allegory of the Cave.
Incorporate other theories, explanations, etc. from the scholarly journal articles and reference the journal articles in the body of your discussion and use in-text citations.

The Psychic Prison Metaphor (Excerpt)

Organizations are ultimately created and sustained by conscious and unconscious processes, with the notion that people can actually become imprisoned or confined by the images, ideas, thoughts, and actions to which these processes give rise. The psychic prison metaphor alerts us to pathologies that may accompany our ways of thinking and encourages us to question the fundamental premises on which we enact everyday. The psychic prison mentality exists when people become trapped or caught in favorite ways of thinking and acting that confine individuals within socially constructed worlds and prevent the emergence of other worlds. Preconceived ideas become traps for people when they begin to hold onto their preconceived notions and biases that eventually become their reality.

According to the psychic prison metaphor, organizations are seen as socially constructed realities based on unconscious preoccupations of people in the organization. These socially constructed realities or cultures may be experienced as problematic and confining, which is the reason why Morgan uses the term psychic prisons. Morgan subsumes several explanations of human behavior based on psychological mechanisms under the psychic prison metaphor, including the theories of Janis, Freud, Becker, the Tavistock school of psychoanalysis, Jung, and Mitroff. Most of these theories assume that people develop unconscious mechanisms, and construct realities, in order to handle anxiety and desire, and that these mechanisms and realities are reflected in organizations.

An example of a phenomenon that restricts thinking is groupthink (Janis, 1972). In groupthink, the members of a group develop shared illusions as a result of self-affirming processes that produce conformity, and screen group members from information that might damage the shared beliefs. Freud's (1953) theory is based on the idea that the unconscious is created by the repression by humans of their innermost desires and anxieties. A person's personality results from the way he or she learns to control his or her impulses from early childhood on. Freud believed that ". . . in order to live in harmony with one another, humans must moderate and control their impulses, and that the unconscious and culture were thus really two sides of the same coin . . ." (Morgan, 1986, p. 203) Freud and his followers distinguish a rich repertoire of mechanisms that people use for controlling their impulses: denial, displacements, fixation, projection, rationalization, regression, sublimation, and so on. A special type of dealing with impulses is learnt by people in patriarchal families, leading to a persistence of male dominance and male values in society: ". . . patriarchy operates as a kind of conceptual prison, producing and reproducing organizational structures that give dominance to males and traditional male values." (Morgan, 1986, p 211)

Becker (1973) explains human culture and human artifacts, such as organizations, based on the way people handle a special kind of fear: the fear for death. "Though we may in quiet times confront the fact that we are going to die, much of our daily life is lived in the artificial realness created through culture. This illusion of realness helps to disguise our unconscious fear that everything is highly vulnerable and transitory." (Morgan, 1986, p. 213) It is interesting to note Bridger's theory about transitional phenomena in organizational life. This theory states that "Just as a child may rely on the presence of his or her doll or teddy bear as a means of reaffirming who and where they are, managers and workers may rely on equivalent [transitional] phenomena for defining their sense of identity." (Morgan, 1986, p. 221) If people or organizations keep clinging to a special privilege, structure, task, or other phenomenon in a way that cannot be explained by rational motives, this may be due to their status as transitional phenomena.

The psychic prison metaphor depicts a layer of organizational reality that is uncontrollable by nature, and, therefore, should be used in a descriptive and interpretative way: "In highlighting the role of the unconscious in organization, there is a danger that many will now want to find ways of managing the unconscious as well. This, of course, is impossible, because the unconscious is, by nature, uncontrollable." (Morgan, 1986, p. 231)


Gazendam, H.W. (1993). Variety controls variety: On the use of organization theories. Groningen: Wolters-Noordhoff..

Morgan, G. (1986)

Solution Preview

Structural Inertia and Organizational Change
By, Michael T. Hannan, John Freeman
American Sociological Review, Vol. 49, No. 2 (Apr., 1984), pp. 149-164

Describe an organizational problem that is relative to the Psychic Prison and The Allegory of the Cave (consider organizational members)
One organizational problem that has been described in the article Structural Inertia and Organizational Change it that of structural inertia in organizations. In times of globalization, it has become important to change the organizational structure quickly to remain competitive, but the phenomenon of the structural inertia slows down the responsiveness to the market forces. From the perspective of Psychic Prison this inertia is an organizational reality that is uncontrollable by nature (top management), originates from the unconscious, cannot be explained by rational motives, originates from the unconscious fear of employees and has an artificial realness.
From the perspective of the allegory of the Cave the present organizational structure along with its culture is all the employees know. They cannot even think of some other structure and culture.

How does the Psychic Prison Mentality affect organizational culture?
The Psychic Prison Mentality affects organizational culture because the images, ideas, thoughts and actions that are related to the current organizational processes are accepted as unchangeable realties. The organizational culture creates ways in which people think and act and the people become trapped in these ways. Any attempt to change is resisted causing inertia.

Discuss the Psychic ...

Solution Summary

This answer provides you an excellent discussion on Psychic Prison Metaphor