Tavistock Institute

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This article is about the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations. For the organisation which contains the Tavistock Centre for Couple Relationships, see Tavistock Institute of Medical Psychology, and for the current National Health arm see Tavistock Clinic

The Tavistock Institute of Human Relations is a British charity concerned with group behaviour and organisational behaviour. It was launched in 1946, when it separated from the Tavistock Clinic.

History of the Tavistock[edit]

The Institute was founded in 1946 by a group of key figures at the Tavistock Clinic including Elliott Jaques, Henry Dicks, Leonard Browne, Ronald Hargreaves, John Rawlings Rees, Mary Luff and Wilfred Bion, with Tommy Wilson as chairman, funded by a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation. Other well-known names that joined the group later were John D. Sutherland, John Bowlby, Eric Trist, and Fred Emery. Kurt Lewin, a member of the Frankfurt school in America, was an important influence on the work of the Tavistock, according to Eric Trist, who expresses his admiration for Lewin in his autobiography.

Perhaps the most influential figure to emerge from the Institute was the psychoanalyst Isabel Menzies Lyth. Her seminal (1959) paper 'A case study in the functioning of social systems as a defence against anxiety' inspired a whole of organisational theory focused on unconscious forces that shape organisational life.

Many of these founding members of the Tavistock Institute went on to play major roles in psychology. John Rawlings Rees became first president of the World Federation for Mental Health.[1]

Jock Sutherland became director of the new post-war Tavistock Clinic, when it was incorporated into the newly established British National Health Service in 1946. Ronald Hargreaves became deputy director of the World Health Organization. Tommy Wilson became chairman of the Tavistock Institute.[1][2]

Focal point for psychoanalytical theory[edit]

Many well-known psychologists and psychiatrists have passed through the Tavistock Institute over the years, and it became known as the focal point in Britain for psychoanalysis and the psychodynamic theories of Sigmund Freud and his followers. Other names associated with the Tavistock are Melanie Klein, Carl Gustav Jung, J. A. Hadfield, Beckett, Charles Rycroft, Wilfred Bion, and R. D. Laing.[3][6]

Current activities[edit]

According to its website, the Institute engages in educational, research, and consultancy work in the social sciences and applied psychology. Its clients are chiefly public sector organisations, including the European Union, several British government departments, and some private clients. The Institute owns Human Relations, the international social sciences journal. It also edits the journal Evaluation.

It provides two MSc degree courses:

Relation to other 'Tavistocks'[edit]

The Tavistock Institute shares common roots with other organisations that emerged from the Tavistock Clinic. This is a source of much confusion, though the facts can be ascertained from the historical account of the Tavistock by Eric Trist, one time chairman of the Institute.[1]

The Clinic is now part of a National Health Service trust, while the "Tavistock Institute", which once did research in many areas and was funded by many sources, is now a charity.

The name "Tavistock Institute of Medical Psychology", which was the name used for the original parent body, is now used to refer to an organisation that grew out of that parent body but now specialises in couples relationships under the section name of the "Tavistock Centre for Couple Relationships".

Focus of conspiracy theorists[edit]

In popular culture the Tavistock Institute is often associated with conspiracy theories, the most popular of which link it to The Beatles.

The Rough Guide to Conspiracy Theories notes that the Tavistock Institute has been named by some theorists in their worldviews, including having a part in "The most extravagant anti-Illuminati conspiracy theory" of John Coleman "known as [the] 'Aquarian Conspiracy'. This totalitarian agenda culminates in the Illuminati 'taking control of education in America with the intent and purpose of utterly and completely destroying it.'" By "'means of rock music and drugs to rebel against the status quo, thus undermining and eventually destroying the family unit'."[10]

The Citizens Electoral Council of Australia, a minor far-right party has alleged that the Institute, acting under the orders of the Royal Family, was responsible for the Port Arthur massacre in which 35 people were killed by Martin Bryant[11]

The Huffington Post also mentioned this idea "from popular conspiracy theorist Dr. John Coleman", saying that "The Tavistock Institute is a publicly known British charity founded in 1947, but conspiracy theorists believe the Institute's real purpose is to similarly engineer the world's culture." The Post looks at Coleman's claim The Beatles popularity was an Illuminati plot to advance the "Aquarian Conspiracy".[12]

The popular BuzzFeed website also listed the theory of a connection between the Beatles and the Tavistock Institute at number four on its list of "7 Ridiculous Conspiracy Theories".[13]


  1. ^ a b c [1]
  2. ^ A history of the Institute can be found in The Social Engagement of Social Science: A Tavistock Anthology published by the University of Pennsylvania Press in three volumes between 1990 and 1997.
  3. ^ [2]
  4. ^ [3]
  5. ^ [4]
  6. ^ Laing came to the Tavistock Institute in 1956 at the invitation of Jock Sutherland, who was then director of the Tavistock Clinic, to train on a grant.[4] His training, under Charles Rycroft, was at the Institute of Psychoanalysis.[5] He left in 1965, and went on to develop his own ideas, particularly with regard to schizophrenia, which he suggested might be a natural and understandable curative process, rather than a disease of the mind. His views of schizophrenia, based largely on the concept of family nexus, were explained in a series of famous books such as Sanity, Madness and the Family. Laing is often associated with the Antipsychiatry movement.
  7. ^ [5]
  8. ^ [6]
  9. ^ [7]
  10. ^ James McConnachie and Robin Tudge (February 4, 2013). The Rough Guide to Conspiracy Theories, Third Edition. Rough Guides. ISBN 1409362450. 
  11. ^ Sweetman, Terry (8 June 2001). "Dark side of the loons". Courier Mail. 
  12. ^ Todd Van Luling (December 3, 2014). "5 Beatles Fan Theories You'll Think Are So Crazy They Might Just Be True". The Huffington Post. 
  13. ^ Dan Meth (September 17, 2014). "7 Ridiculous Conspiracy Theories". BuzzFeed. 

Further reading[edit]