Making the ineffable empirical? An experiment lacking an outcome

'daring to allow the unbidden'

(Oeser, 2010, p.9)

Given my commitments to empirical research, I have faced something of a contradiction: documenting and analysing what partially evades discourse.4 By this time, the fieldwork was finished, so the challenge was in the data analysis. Paying attention to what felt weird in the prenatal interview data was fruitful but - given my critique of the limits of interview talk and my interest in a psychoanalytic epistemology, where should I take my data analytic methodology to address the ineffable features of becoming a mother? According to psychoanalysis, dream material goes beyond what is consciously known. In interviews we sometimes asked about participants' dreams, but I am uncomfortable with interpreting dreams outside the clinical setting, given how idiosyncratic their meanings are.

Thanks to its emergence within psychosocial studies, I encountered the method of social dreaming, based on the same Bionian principles that prioritise uncognised knowing (Chapter 5). Bion saw dreaming and reverie (sleeping and waking dreaming) as the precursors of thought (departing from a Freudian view of the repressed unconscious). Social dreaming, different from individual dreaming, is produced through the organisation of what Gordon Lawrence (the inventor of social dreaming) calls the social dreaming matrix (SDM), a gathering of people who come together to recount their dreams and share their associations to them. The choice of the term 'matrix' (not directly connected with matrixial theory) is 'being used in its basic sense - a place out of which something grows - and refers to the emotions and feelings, both conscious and unconscious, that are present below the surface in any social gathering' (Lawrence, 2010, p.2). In this context, individual meanings of dreams tend to get filtered out. Lawrence and Biran describe the difference between social and individual dreaming as follows:

Whereas Individual, Therapeutic Dreaming has the Dreamer as the focus of attention, follows an egocentric path by concentrating on issues of self knowledge, by dramatizing the personal biography and occurs within the clinical situation, Social Dreaming follows a different orientation. It focuses on the dream by holding a socio-centric view-point. It is knowledge of the environment that is important, as individuals face the tragedy, and comedy, of being. This is outside the clinical situation.

(Lawrence and Biran, 2002, p.224, cited in Lawrence, 2010, p.3)

Having attended four SDMs, with different configurations of participants, I was amazed by the relevance of what emerged in dream metaphors about the 'temporary system' that participants experience in common through the matrix. I became interested to explore its potential as a method for analysing my project data and organised a social dreaming weekend workshop of 15 participants, led by Gordon Lawrence, consisting largely of psycho-social researchers with experience of, or at least an interest in, social dreaming.

Initially I expected to use a single-case extract, chosen from interview data concerning the perinatal period, but realised that the social focus of the method suggested a use of data that went beyond individual cases. Eventually I compiled a 20-minute audio recording consisting of 11 of the women's voices. The extract from Becky, featured early in this chapter ('it warms your heartwas the inspiration for my compilation and the first voice, affectful and commonplace at the same time.

When playing the recording to social dreaming participants, I provided no information about the participants, who were not given names: this helped move away from individual experience (the voices were digitally anonymised to add a level of confidentiality). Additionally the time gap between one woman's voice and another was only two seconds, so the sequence had a dream-like quality, hard to follow for a listener seeking a coherent narrative that can be organised and made knowable through conceptual categories. Julian Manley (one of the participants) describes this terrain as 'on the edge' and in this way the mothers' voices were consistent with social dreaming:

Because the language of communication in the social dreaming matrix is that of dream, the participants do not experience understanding in 'normal language' mode, as they would during a debate or discussion, for example. Instead, meaning in social dreaming seems to be embedded in a collage of images that seem, in turn, to be laden with feelings and emotions.

(Manley, 2010, p.1)

After Friday evening arrival and dinner, workshop members convened for a short introduction to the aims of the workshop and then listened to the audio recording, afterwards dispersing for the night. The following morning the first session was conducted in the standard way for a SDM, led by Gordon Lawrence, with no reference made to the data from the previous evening. The opening question is always the same: 'what is the first dream'? This formulation, and the arrangement of seats in a snowflake pattern (not all facing each other as if in a group), is intended to be 'a physical statement of the different container structured for Social Dreaming (...) One dream is offered, perhaps another, and then another. Then free associations begin to follow' (Lawrence, 2010, p.3). A note-taker was appointed for each session.

My intention was to produce a psycho-social form of data analysis, based on this psychoanalytically informed method of eliciting uncognised knowing, accessible for further analysis. Unfortunately I do not have a product to offer here. To date, the kinds of analysis that exist within this method seem to me to be too far outside my expertise and research formation to find a place in this account, or possibly too far outside social science research method. My own dream that Friday night might cast light on my difficulty:

There's a woman manager at a demonstration. She has a huge scab on her chin, about to fall off. It's crusty and thick. I was impressed she hadn't picked it off. The skin was cured underneath. T. said that I should be told, people should know that I had crossed a line. I said: 'You can call me a scab but your whole way of looking at this is out of date'. I was really cross.

The SDM probably represents the furthest I have taken my explorations of psychoanalytically informed method. It has psycho-social potential, but the step required of me is here revealed to be full of conflict.

 
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