Early days

Alastair Bain

In 1988 I went to the Oxford Symposium, a gathering of practitioners from around the world working in the Bion / Tavistock group relations tradition.  The Symposium was sponsored by the Tavistock Institute (London) and the A. K. Rice Institute (U.S.). At this Symposium I re-met Gordon Lawrence who had been a colleague of mine at the Tavistock Institute. Gordon and I had fought for many years.  But the gap in  connection for about six years and neither of us working at the Tavistock perhaps allowed us to re-meet and talk again without acrimony and with respect.

I learned about Social Dreaming from Gordon, which he had explored together with Patricia Daniel in a project carried out at the Tavistock Institute in 1982. Gordon had been inspired by Charlotte Beradt’s The Third Reich of Dreams which documented 300 dreams collected in Germany from 1933 – 1939 (Beradt, 1966). The dreams she collected leave one in no doubt about social and societal meanings in dreams. Lawrence framed a working hypothesis that it would be possible to have a set of people who met for the purpose of having social dreams. In 1982 the first venture in social dreaming took place – 8 weekly sessions involving 13 people. In order to differentiate what they were doing from the usual perceptions of group behaviour and basic assumptions Patricia Daniel suggested the word "matrix" which would allow us to suspend temporarily notions about group processes”. “Matrix” was chosen because it is a “place out of which something grows: it is derived from the Latin for uterus”.

In 1988 and six years after the first Tavistock experience of Social Dreaming Gordon Lawrence was invited to direct a Conference in Israel. He designed a working conference with the title Social Dreaming, Consultancy and Action Research: A Series of Dialogues.

I invited Gordon to work with us - Australian Institute of Social Analysis - AISA - on a Social Dreaming Conference in Australia (The “Australian Institute of Social Analysis” changed its name to the “Australian Institute of Socio-Analysis” in 1996).

The first Australian Conference was held in September 1989 at Janet Clarke Hall, University of Melbourne. Gordon Lawrence directed the Conference with a staff of four AISA consultants – Alastair Bain, Susan Long, Ann Morgan, Suzanne Ross – and an Administrator Greg Holland King. The Conference included a Social Dreaming Matrix, Mutual Consultation Sets, Dialogues, and Plenaries. It ran over 5 days and involved 21 members (from Victoria, New South Wales, South Australia, Western Australia, and United States).

Over the last 100 years since Freud we have tended to lose sight of dreams bearing the truth about group, organisational, societal, and other realities. Dreams have largely come to be regarded in Western societies as the property of an individual, and interpretations which may be correct for an individual in psychotherapy, are wrongly projected into other arenas, and perhaps more seriously other arenas are treated as though they are simply extensions of the dynamics of the two person psychotherapeutic relationship. Through social dreaming one comes to realize that the vertex of dreaming in social dreaming is different from the vertex of dreaming in psycho-analysis and to respect both (see Bion, 1970 Chs 8, 9 and 10 for a discussion of the context of 'vertex').

My fascination with Social Dreaming from the start lay in the liberation of the dream from its individual nexus in Western psychology, and its possible use for social exploration and connection.


Bion, W.R. Attention and Interpretation, Tavistock ,London, 1970.

Beradt, C. The Third Reich of Dreams Chicago, Quadrangle 1966.

Lawrence, W.G. “Won from the void and formless infinite: experiences in social dreaming” in Free Associations. Vol, 2, Part 2, No,22, 259 -294, 1991.