An explanation of Jacques Lacan’s use of cartels in organisational structure

by Julia Evans on November 1, 1997

by  Julia Evans,   November 1997[i]

Jacques Lacan was a French psychoanalyst who was excluded from the International Psychoanalytic Association (IPA) in the 1950s and founded his own School – L’École Freudianne (‘Acte de Fondation[ii]’ and ‘Proposition[iii]’).  In chapter 11 ‘Summary and recent developments’ of ‘The works of Jacques Lacan[iv]’ by Bice Benvenuto and Roger Kennedy is an historical account of the various splits and their brief biography of Lacan is in Appendix 1. The cartel was an integral part of the Cause Freudienne which Lacan founded in 1980. I believe the issues he faced and his way of ‘working through’ provide guidelines which can be used elsewhere. His writings in ‘Seminar XVII: L’envers de la psychanalyse[v]are directly relevant to organisations. Unfortunately, in 1997, this work has yet to be translated into English.

Lacan observes[vi] that the effect of using a traditional organisational structure in analytic training schools is to glue the trainee to an imaginary identification to the organisation or knowledge. The organisation forms a defence againt the world for the trainee and because it does not recognise the transference to the ideal (imaginary identification) it fosters infantile dependency on the part of its members to those in authority who give the comfort of professional respectability in exchange. This identification with an ideal can not only lead to passive dependency but to the alienation of the subject’s truth. A subject becomes identified with the ideal and conforms to the organisational mould. Question about the ideal are not heard within the organisation. Lacan started to question the operation of this ideal in ‘Excommunication’ – Seminar XI – session of 15th January 1964[vii]) Some of the consequences of an organisation glued to an ideal are the exclusion of external influences, deviant behaviours, and the existence of an elite to sort out problems. An example of how deviant behaviours were (or are) processes bu the IPA is Lacan’s exclusion for operating variable sessions[viii]. Lacan developed organisational processes to deal with these effects. In Bice Benvenuto and Roger Kennedy’s book, they wonder where in British psychoanalysis there exists a ‘super-analyst’ to deal with the phantoms and symptoms that dependence on an ideal produces.

Lacan claimed that it was in order to ‘unstick’ those who were attached by too much ‘glue’ to his school, and to his authority, that he formed the Cause Freudienne in 1980 ‘at a stroke’. So it could be said that Lacan is saying that instead of being dependent on an orgaisational ideal as in the IPA, his school had become dependent on him as a ‘super-analyst’. What distinguishes the Cause from Lacan’s École Freudienne and traditional psychoanalytic schools is an academic emphasis on the interpretation of Lacan’s work and of his mathematical formulation, the ‘mathème’. The cause has maintained (1997) a teaching organisation, with work and study groups called ‘cartels’, meetings called ‘forums’, conferences, library facilities and numerous weekly and monthly publications. In order to be a member, one has only to be a part of a ‘cartel’, a small study group composed of four peope, plus a fifth person (the plus-one: +1) who acts as ‘witness’, invigilating and elaborating on the effects of the group’s work. Such a group can run for only two years, in order it is claimed, to prevent too many ‘glueing’ effects.

Lacan, in wanting to preserve a subjective freedom within a social body which requires regulations, introduced two innovations: the devices of “Cartels” and “La passe”. A cartel (Founding Act – 1964[ix]): “Each of the samll groups (we have a name for designating the groups)” states Lacan, “will be composed of at least three individuals, five at most, four being the proper measure (or number is a possible translation). PLUS ONE charged with selection, discussion and the outcome….. After a certain period of functioning, the elements of a group will be invited to shift to a different group.” This was Lacan’s first (1964) definition of the cartel, and he chose the name for several reasons: it implied the word “caardo”, a name chosen for the committee of entry (le comite d’accueil) to the School. Cardo is a Latin word, meaning a hinge on which a door turns, thus an opening, and cartels were meant to be a mode of entry to Lacan’s It also implied the number four (quatre), which was for Lacan the right number for a cartel.

The ‘cartels’ and ‘la passe’ become the guarantors of subjective freedom within the institutional bond. They mark the subject’s itinerary of “formation” rather than of institutional requirements. There is a dialectic between “training” and “formation”, corporative requirements versus cartels which work for a subjective formation. Lacan’s solution against collapse into a corporate mode of clinging onto the imaginary ideal was a “permanent dissolution”. The institution is viewed as a social body but with no head: an acephalous entity disjointed between the trainee and desire. This fragmented body lives thanks to its dissolvable cells. Lacan tried to design a social body with no head: cartels are the organisational process which binds together. A cartel is a social pace which is not defined by its permanence or by its hierarchical construction. The cartel, because of its properties, aims to undercut the effects of groups dominating the organisation.

Questions about knowledge[x]

1) Is knowledge held by a person or persons, who know subjectively  by virtue of their particular learning from their experience (savoir-y-faire)


By a particular system of thinking or practice, commonly associated with frameworks, models, etc (savoir)


Is it a savoir-faire, a work-in practice?

The first one is defined primarily by reference to ‘fittingness’ or ‘appropriateness-in-the-context’.  The second two, involve an approach to an ideal.  In the case of a ‘performative alliance’[xi], which is what I think Jacques Lacan had in mind, the learning is very much jointly owned – it arises out of the nature of the process itself.

Which form of knowledge is used by (1997 – AMED), (2011 – the Government in its schemes or the IPA(British Psychoanalytic Council), BACP (British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy), UKCP (United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy), the members of the New Savoy Group, of the ‘Famous Five’)?

2011 answer: Savoir – the One Knowledge.

1997 question: How can this knowledge be built on?

2011 answer: It can’t. This knowledge is static. It does not respond to change. It eliminates subjectivity in favour of the imposition of imaginary standards.

1997: I think that Lacan was trying to give savoir-faire, savoir-y-faire and the individual, prime emphasis in the Cause Freudienne.

What are appropriate mechanisms for AMED (2011: any training organisation or the HPC or the CHRE) to support an individual’s formation and how can AMED’s (2011: ditto) processes support the dissemination of savoir-faire & savoir-y-faire?

Background reading and references:

Bice Benvenuto and Roger Kennedy ‘The works of Jacques Lacan: an introduction’ Free Association Books 1986 from p206

Philip Boxer and Robin Wensley ‘Performative organisation: learning to design or designing to learn’ 1996 (See note xi below)

Russell Grigg ‘Lacan’s four discourses’ Analysis Number Four 1993

Jacques Lacan ‘Excommunication: Session of January 15th 1964: Seminar XI 1963-1964’ Chapter 1 of ‘The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-Analysis’ Peregrine Books 1987

Jacques Lacan ‘Proposition of 9th October 1967 on the Psychoanalyst of the School’ (Russell Grigg’s translation) See note iii below.

Jacques Lacan ‘ Le seminaire XVII: L’envers de la psychanalyse’ 1969-1970 Paris:Seuil 1991 Russell Grigg’s translation now available: See note vii below

Jacques Lacan ‘Acte de fondation de l’école de Paris – 21 Juin 1964’ in Annuaire de l’École Freudienne de Paris, 1971. Jeffrey Mehlman’s translation available as ‘Founding Act’ p97 of ‘Television: a challenge to the psychoanalytic establishment’ Norton and Co.: New York, 1990. See note ii below

Julien Quackelbeen ‘The theory of the four discourses’ Journal of the Centre for Freudian Analysis and Research Vol 7, Summer 1996. Now available at here

Appendix  1

Brief Biography of Jacques Lacan

Born in Paris, 1901

Medical training in the Paris Medical Faculty. Became Chef de Clinique in 1932. Doctoral thesis for psychiatric degree – ‘Paranoid psychosis in its relation to the personality’ (1932)

Associated with the French surrealist movement, from early 1930s.

1934 – Joined the Société Psychanalytique de Paris.

1936 – Presented paper on the ‘mirror stage’ to the International Psychoanalytic Congress in Marienbad.

Until 1952 – Distinguished member of the French psychoanalytic establishment. Intellectual contacts with Merleau-Ponty and Lévi-Strauss, through the Collège Philosophique, Paris.

1953 – Presentation of the Rome Discourse. Controversy within the Paris Psychoanalytic Society. Daniel Lagache, followed by Lacan, formed a new Société de Psychananlyse. Formation of Lacan’s Seminar.

1953 to early 1960s – continuous development of ideas, particularly those put forward as programme in the Rome Discourse, involving psychoanalysis and linguistics.

Expelled, finally, from the International Psychoanalytic Association, because of unorthodox practice and teaching methods.

1964 – Reformed his analytic society, calling it L’École freudienne de Paris.

1966 – Publication of his Écrits, followed by explosion of his influence in French society. He soon became a cultural phenomenon.

1966-1980 – Increasing interest in his work in france and abroad.

1968-May Revolution. Lacan supported the students’ revolt. President of the psychoanalytic department of the University of Vincennes.

1980 – dissolved the École Freudienne, and formed La Cause Freudienne. Expulsion of many previously close collaborators. Legal battles.

1981 – Death

From Bice Benvenuto and Roger Kennedy ‘The works of Jacques Lacan: an introduction’ Free Association Books 1986 p223


[i]When I wrote this I was Cartels’ Coordinator for CFAR (Centre for Freudian Analysis and Research) a Committee member of AMED (Association of Management Education and Development). I was known as Julia Green. So this was written, from within supporting cartels, to applying the principles to AMED’s structures.

[ii] ‘Founding Act’ 21st June 1964: Jacques Lacan: Availability in translation here

[iii]  ‘Proposal of 9th October 1967 
on the psychoanalyst of the School’: Jacques Lacan : For details of availability see here

[iv] The works of Jacques Lacan: an introduction : 1986 : Bice Benvenuto & Roger Kennedy  : Further information here  : from p206

[v] Seminar XVII: Psychoanalysis upside down/The reverse side of psychoanalysis: 1969-1970 : from 26th November 1969: Jacques Lacan : Information here

[vi] Benvenuto & Kennedy op.cit. p210

[vii] Chapter 1: Excommunication of Seminar XI : See Seminar XI: The Four Fundamental Concepts: 1963-1964 : beginning 15th January 1964 : Jacques Lacan : Information here

[viii] Benvenuto & Kennedy op.cit. p22

[ix] Founding Act op.cit. see note ii

[x] These questions were framed for a committee meeting of AMED and were intended to bring out whether ideal knowledge (Savoir) or subjective knowledge (savoir-faire & savoir-y-faire) are in place.

[xi] Term as used in Philip Boxer and Robin Wensley ‘Performative organisation: Learning to design or designing to learn’ 1996  Available at  Boxer Research Ltd @   here


Note : If links to any required text do not work, check If a particular text or book remains absent, contact Julia Evans


Julia Evans 

Practicing Lacanian Psychoanalyst, Earl’s Court, London


Further posts:

Groups & cartels : here

Some Lacanian history : here

Lacanian Transmission : here

Of the clinic : here

By Sigmund Freud here

Notes on texts by Sigmund Freud : here

By Jacques Lacan : here

Notes on texts by Jacques Lacan here

By Julia Evans : here   &  here