Tavistock Institute

The Tavistock Institute of Human Relations or TIHR is a British not-for-profit organisation which applies social science to contemporary issues and problems. It was initiated in 1946, when it developed from the Tavistock Clinic, and was formally established as a separate entity in September 1947. The journal Human Relations is published on behalf of the Tavistock Institute by Sage Publications.[1] The Institute is located in Tabernacle Street in Islington, London.[2]

Tavistock Institute of Human Relations
TIHR Logo.png
Formation20 September 1947; 72 years ago (1947-09-20)
FoundersElliott Jaques, Henry Dicks, Leonard Browne, Ronald Hargreaves, John Rawlings Rees, Mary Luff, Wilfred Bion, and Tommy Wilson
Legal statusCharity
  • Tabernacle Street, London
Coordinates51°31′24″N 0°05′10″W / 51.5232°N 0.0861°W / 51.5232; -0.0861Coordinates: 51°31′24″N 0°05′10″W / 51.5232°N 0.0861°W / 51.5232; -0.0861
United Kingdom
Servicesaction research, organisational development and change consultancy, executive coaching and professional development
FieldsSocial Science

History of the TavistockEdit

The early history of the Tavistock Institute overlaps with that of the Tavistock Clinic because many of the staff from the Clinic worked on new, large-scale projects during World War II, and it was as a result of this work that the Institute was created.

During the war, staff from the Tavistock Clinic played key roles in British Army psychiatry.[3] Working with colleagues in the Royal Army Medical Corps and the British Army, they were responsible for innovations such as War Office Selection Boards (WOSBs) and Civil Resettlement Units (CRUs), and also worked on psychological warfare.[4][5][6][7] The group that formed around the WOSBs and CRUs were fascinated by this work with groups and organisations, and sought to continue research in this field after the war. Various influential figures had visited the WOSBs during the war, so there was scope for consultancy work, but the Clinic staff also planned to become a part of the National Health Service when it was established, and they had been warned that such consultancy and research would not be possible under the auspices of the NHS.[8] Because of this, the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations was created in 1947 to carry out organisational research when the Clinic was incorporated into the NHS.[9] The Rockefeller Foundation awarded a significant grant that facilitated the creation of the TIHR.

In the early years of the TIHR, income was derived from research grants, contract work, and fees for courses.[10] During the 1950s and 1960s, the TIHR carried out a number of signature projects in collaboration with major manufacturing companies including Unilever, the Ahmedabad Manufacturing and Calico Printing Co., Shell, Bayer, and Glacier Metals.[11][12] They also conducted work for the National Coal Board. Particular focuses included management, women in the workplace, and the adoption (or rejection) of new technologies. Projects on the interaction between people and technology later became known as the sociotechnical approach.[13]

The 1950s also saw the TIHR conducting consumer research and exploring attitudes to things as varied as Bovril, fish fingers, coffee and hair.[14]

In the 1960s and 1970s, the TIHR had a notable focus on public health organisations such as hospitals. Studies examined a range of aspects of healthcare, from ward management and operating theatres to the organisation of cleaning staff.[15]

More recently, the TIHR conducted work for the European Commission and British government bodies.[15]

Research unitsEdit

In the TIHR's early years, there were four main units: Programme Groups A and B within a Committee on Human Resources; Organisation and Social Change and Operations Research Unit; and a Committee on Family and Community Psychiatry.[15]

The Human Resources Centre (HRC) and the Centre for Applied Social Research (CASR)[16] were established in the 1950s, and in 1963 the Institute of Operational Research (IOR) was established in conjunction with the British Operational Research Society.[17] The Centre for Organisational and Operational Research (COOR) was created from a merger of the HRC and the IOR in 1979.[17]

The Self Help Alliance project begun in the 1980s led to further work in evaluation and the creation of a dedicated unit, the Evaluation Development Review Unit (EDRU) in 1990.[18]

Key figuresEdit

The Institute was founded by a group of key figures from the Tavistock Clinic and British Army psychiatry including Elliott Jaques, Henry Dicks, Leonard Browne, Ronald Hargreaves, John Rawlings Rees, Mary Luff and Wilfred Bion, with Tommy Wilson as chairman.[8] Other well-known people that joined the group shortly after were Isabel Menzies Lyth, J. D. Sutherland, John Bowlby, Eric Trist, and Fred Emery. Although he died before the TIHR was formally established, Kurt Lewin was an important influence on the work of the Tavistock: he was a notable influence on Trist, and contributed an article to the first issue of Human Relations.[19][20]

Many of the 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.[9] 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.[9] One of the most influential figures to emerge from the Institute was the psychoanalyst Isabel Menzies Lyth. Her seminal paper 'A case study in the functioning of social systems as a defence against anxiety' (1959) inspired a whole branch of organisational theory emphasising unconscious forces that shape organizational life.[21] A.K. Rice did considerable work on problems of management, increasing productivity at one factory by 300%.[22] Eric Miller became director of the Group Relation Program in 1969, and in this function he later developed the design of the Nazareth-Conferences.[23]

The Tavistock Institute became known as a major proponent in Britain for psychoanalysis and the psychodynamic theories of Sigmund Freud and his followers. Other names associated with the Tavistock include Melanie Klein, Carl Gustav Jung, J. A. Hadfield, Samuel Beckett, Charles Rycroft, Enid Mumford and R. D. Laing.[26]

Current activitiesEdit

The Tavistock Institute engages in educational, research, consultancy and professional development work in the social sciences and applied psychology.[1] Its clients are diverse, ranging from public sector organisations, including the European Union, several British government departments, Third Sector and private clients. The Institute owns Human Relations, the international social sciences journal. It also edits the journal Evaluation.[27]

Focus of conspiracy theoristsEdit

The Tavistock Institute is associated with conspiracy theories, the most common of which associate it with the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. Two books focusing on this are The Tavistock Institute of Human Relations: Shaping the Moral, Spiritual, Cultural and Political (2006) by John Coleman and Tavistock Institute: Social Engineering the Masses (2015) by Daniel Estulin.

The Rough Guide to Conspiracy Theories notes that the Tavistock Institute has been named by some conspiracy theorists as 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'."[28] Todd Van Luling, writing in HuffPost 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 that the popularity of the Beatles was an Illuminati plot to advance the "Aquarian Conspiracy".[29]


  1. ^ a b "Human Relations". www.tavinstitute.org. Retrieved 29 August 2017.
  2. ^ "The Tavistock Institute". The Tavistock Institute. Retrieved 22 November 2016.
  3. ^ A history of the Institute can be found in the publication The Social Engagement of Social Science: A Tavistock Anthology published by the University of Pennsylvania Press in three volumes between 1990 and 1997.
  4. ^ Crang, Jeremy A. (18 November 2000). The British Army and the People's War, 1939-1945. Manchester University Press. ISBN 9780719047411.
  5. ^ Linstrum, Erik (4 January 2016). "Square Pegs and Round Holes: Aptitude Testing in the Barracks and Beyond". Ruling Minds: Psychology in the British Empire. Harvard University Press. ISBN 9780674088665.
  6. ^ Curle, Adam (1990). Tools for transformation: a personal study. Hawthorn Press. ISBN 9781869890216.
  7. ^ Pick, Daniel (14 June 2012). The Pursuit of the Nazi Mind: Hitler, Hess, and the Analysts. OUP Oxford. ISBN 9780191641046.
  8. ^ a b Dicks, H. V. (14 October 2014). Fifty Years of the Tavistock Clinic (Psychology Revivals). Routledge. ISBN 9781317587897.
  9. ^ a b c Trist, Eric; Murray, Hugh (1990). "The Social Engagement of Social Science". www.moderntimesworkplace.com. Retrieved 29 August 2017.
  10. ^ Fraher, Amy Louise (2004). A History of Group Study and Psychodynamic Organizations. Free Association Books. ISBN 9781853437045.
  11. ^ Jones, Geoffrey (1 July 2005). Renewing Unilever : Transformation and Tradition: Transformation and Tradition. Oxford University Press, UK. ISBN 9780191556388.
  12. ^ Alford, C. Fred (1994). Group Psychology and Political Theory. Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0300059588.
  13. ^ Baxter, Gordon; Sommerville, Ian (1 January 2011). "Socio-technical systems: From design methods to systems engineering". Interacting with Computers. 23 (1): 4–17. doi:10.1016/j.intcom.2010.07.003. ISSN 0953-5438.
  14. ^ "Social Science in Action: reports from Tavistock Institute Archive - TIHR Archive Project". TIHR Archive Project. 1 September 2016. Retrieved 29 August 2017.
  15. ^ a b c Tavistock Institute of Human Relations Archives, ID: SA/TIH. London: Wellcome Library.
  16. ^ Rose, Nikolas; Miller, Peter (2013). Governing the Present: Administering Economic, Social and Personal Life. John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 978-0745654928.
  17. ^ a b "Institute for Operational Research". mrc-catalogue.warwick.ac.uk. Retrieved 29 August 2017.
  18. ^ "Social science in action: reports from Tavistock Institute of Human Relations (TIHR) Archive". Wellcome Library. Retrieved 29 August 2017.
  19. ^ Trahair, Richard (1 June 2015). Behavior, Technology, and Organizational Development: Eric Trist and the Tavistock Institute. Transaction Publishers. ISBN 9781412855495.
  20. ^ "Human Relations - Volume 1, Number 1, Jun 01, 1947". journals.sagepub.com. Retrieved 29 August 2017.
  21. ^ Dartington, Tim (20 February 2008). "Isabel Menzies Lyth". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 29 August 2017.
  22. ^ "Albert Kenneth (Ken) Rice 1908-1969". www.ofek-groups.org. Retrieved 29 August 2017.
  23. ^ Erlich, H. Shmuel; Erlich-Ginor, Mira; Beland, Hermann (2009). Fed with Tears – Poisoned with Milk. The "Nazareth" Group-Relations-Conferences. Germans and Israelis – The Past in the Present. Gießen: Psychozial. pp. 35–47. ISBN 978-3-89806-751-5. With a Foreword by Desmond M. Tutu
  24. ^ "Rescuing R.D. Laing". The New York Review of Books. 20 February 1997.
  25. ^ "R. D. Laing".
  26. ^ 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.[24] His training, under Charles Rycroft, was at the Institute of Psychoanalysis.[25]
  27. ^ "Evaluation | SAGE Publications Ltd". uk.sagepub.com. 29 October 2015. Retrieved 29 August 2017.
  28. ^ James McConnachie; Robin Tudge (4 February 2013). The Rough Guide to Conspiracy Theories, Third Edition. Rough Guides. ISBN 978-1409362456.
  29. ^ Van Luling, Todd (3 December 2014). "5 Beatles Fan Theories You'll Think Are So Crazy They Might Just Be True". HuffPost.

Further readingEdit