Seeking Asylum Project

The Seeking Asylum Project ( SAP ) was developed to apply group-relations, socioanalytic, system psychodynamic skills and methods to the study of Australia’s response to asylum seeking in its many forms - from political refugees through to social and other forms of asylum seeking.

The SAP aims to improve our shared understanding of the conscious and unconscious processes in groups, communities and society as we respond to asylum seeking - to understand the unconscious dynamics behind prevailing attitudes and reactions to asylum seeking; to analyse societal processes that have been developed for the ‘management’ of asylum seeking; and to reflect on how we respond to asylum seekers as individuals and as a ‘group’.

The design, methodology and participation processes of the project also provide opportunity for members to work with colleagues to extend or develop new methods; to reflect on their own processes as these might relate to asylum seeking; and to exercise leadership and authority for task in a complicated, contested and essentially fraught context.

This project reflects the purpose or primary task of Group Relations Australia, which is to promote the study of group dynamics and the interactions between conscious and unconscious processes in organisations, groups, and society, and their application in professional practice.

One of GRA’s key aims is: to play a socially responsible role, taking up, wherever appropriate and within scope of the organisation’s purpose, current issues in society.

Although the SAP is ambitious in the development and application of group-relations methods, it is a direct response to the importance and urgency of the issue. The Seeking Asylum Project aims to ‘stretch’ traditional group-relations methods and perhaps create new ones. The project assumes both analysis of the issue and ‘live’ application – understanding the group processes of how we respond to asylum seeking and acting directly to re-consider and re-shape these responses.

The design of the project includes several interdependent ‘sub-projects’ or activities each working with their own chair or co-ordinator.  These sub-groups work interdependently, working with the Co-ordination group and leading to the publication of a special edition of GRA’s peer-reviewed journal, Socioanalysis, as shown below:



Activities – ( Sub Groups )

The key SAP activities and the people leading these activities are shown below.

Reading Group ( Coordinator John Newton )

The aim of the Reading Group has been to stimulate its members to frame and conceptualise, in socioanalytic terms, the act of seeking asylum in contemporary Australian society. This stimulus is anticipated to flow from shared discussion and association to ideas expressed in a variety of selected readings.

It is hoped that participants will be motivated to write their own socioanalytic accounts of the desire and need for asylum. Such accounts might be further explored through related events and may ultimately find publication to a wider audience through our journal Socioanalysis.

In the first instance, however, it has only been necessary to to read, discuss and think with others about this phenomenon of seeking asylum.

The Reading Group met every 3-4 weeks for two hours of an evening.

Social Dreaming (Coordinator Sara Taylor )

Social Dreaming (first developed by Gordon Lawrence in 1982) was offered as a methodology and experiential practice through which to contemplate issues and feelings associated with the seeking of asylum in Australia.

Social Dreaming was considered a useful modality for two reasons:

  • Firstly, dreams do not obey rules pertaining to hierarchy, national boundaries, and territory (Taylor, 2012) and hence allude to a useful means through which to hold in mind those people that cross borders seeking asylum.
  • Secondly, in this experiential practice the meanings of any given dream are created relationally and collectively through associations offered by members of the Social Dreaming Matrix, and hence this practice may provide a way to understand collective experiences of seeking, allowing, and refusing asylum.

The Social dreaming matrix was completed in September 2015.

Community Arts Event (Coordinator Jinette de Gooijer)

‘Crossing Borders: A Slow Walk’
The Walk, 10-11 am Sunday 31st July

A group of people performed a slow walk across and along the Yarra River from Queensbridge Square, to the Immigration Museum in Melbourne. Participants wore black clothing, walked in a single file, kept a constant arms-length distance from the person in front and walked in silence.

Visual artists (students at La Trobe University, Bendigo) will be photographing and videoing the performance.

Afterwards all participants shared reflective dialogue led by the socioanalysts.

Reflective Dialogue, 11:30 am -12:30 pm

Socioanalysts (members of Group Relations Australia) facilitated a reflective dialogue with participants on their experience of ‘Crossing Borders’. This took place inside the Immigration Museum. The form of the reflective dialogue includes discussion, creative writing and drawing, inter alia.

Artists who walk: Hamish Fulton, Mona Hatoum, Marina Abramovic, Richard Long


Hamish Fulton, Margate Walk, 2010, still from video, (Source: Turner Contemporary Exhibitions)

Intergroup Event ( Coordinator Greg Cook )

Members of the various working groups and the coordination group participated in a facilitated intergroup event which became identified as a “whole-group event” to review their various experiences and explore a shared understanding of the separate and combined activities. It was intended that the intergroup event focus on the ‘double task’ of the Seeking Asylum project and the processes within and between groups – including the co-ordination groups - and how this is shaping the overall project.

A further intergroup event is planned for October 2016.

Scientific and not-so-scientific meetings

A showing and discussion of the film “Between the Devil and Deep Blue Sea” was held early in 2015. Other scientific meetings have not as yet been planned.

Socioanalysis Special Edition (Editor Allan Shafer )

One of the key sub-projects and purposes will be the publication and public launch of a special edition of  GRA’s journal Socioanalysis. It was anticipated that this would build on the component activities of the overall project. It might include:

  • Contextual and factual summary of policies, international law and refugee conventions, numbers of refugees, refugee application processes in Australia and overseas, etc
  • Systems psychodynamic / academic articles including
    1.      Mental health of children
    2.      Language analysis of the media / political / social debate

    3.      International experiences of responses to real and perceived threat 
  • Case studies
    4.      Experiences of ‘settled’ refugees
    5.      Experiences of community members helping in the ‘camps’

International and Australian submissions have been received. It is intended that the special edition will be published in December 2016 and will be launched at a significant public event, with invited stakeholders and interested parties.

Launch of Journal

The launch event will be designed to gain public and professional exposure to socioanalytic views of the theme, with the aim of encouraging thinking. In that sense it is a socioanalytic intervention.

Co-Ordination Group ( Greg Cook )

The Co-ordination Group supports and co-ordinates the work of each working group, maintaining focus on the socioanalytic task, assisting with finding resources, promotion of activities, overall scheduling and liaison with the GRA CoM.

For any further enquiries please contact Greg Cook as Coordinator on or the coordinator for each sub project.

This is a space for GRA Members and Associates to explore and find information on the Seeking Asylum project. Read the initial invitation from the President, Allan Shafer.


Further reading, suggested by members

Weblinks, suggested by members

Asylum seekers can be managed with cheaper and more humane options, Julian Burnside in The Age, June 18, 2014