A few members of IPI recently returned from the beautiful city of Lyon at the confluence of the Rhône and Saône rivers in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region of France. This was the site of the 3rd International conference on couple and family psychoanalysis organized by the International Association of Couple and Family Psychoanalysis in July, 2018. The program was packed with multiple tracks of small presentations in one or another single language. At the center of the conference venue lay the main auditorium where panel presentations with translation to English, French and Spanish succeeded one another in rapid succession. There was provision for audience response in the form of written questions on scraps of paper. These questions were not to be answered in the open forum but would be addressed in subsequent small group sessions at which the presenters would not necessarily be present. This felt constraining to us, but we respected that it was the conference design and appreciated why the organizers adhered to it to make room for many points of view and global perspectives.
We were grateful to hear in translation some interesting presentations that we could not have understood otherwise. But we found the design so different from what we are used to at IPI that we experienced quite a bit of culture shock. We did not have the leisure to listen to a fully developed presentation and to engage in a multilogue within the large group of the audience as we do at IPI. We experienced frustration as we submitted to the frame within which we found ourselves. As presenters on the dais ourselves, the best we could do was create a dialogue between presenter and discussant so as to avoid the tedium of presentation and discussion being read aloud and without the benefit of immediate audience response.
Imagine our amazement and delight when one of our colleagues from Tavistock Relationships took action. Chris Clulow having kept his discussion short, asked the audience a question. But the audience, previously compelled to silent acquiescence, hesitated to respond. In an astonishing act of freedom, he left the dais and plunged into the audience brandishing his hand-held microphone like a liberating white knight with his lance lowered for the charge. A few hands went up in response, and Clulow extended the microphone towards them as they tentatively negotiated who would go first. Unable to wait, the presenter himself answered the discussant’s question, which gave the conference organizers time to caucus. They reasserted control, and insisted that all questions be written and delivered to the Chair for use in other venues. Chastened, the rebellious Clulow withdrew. A wonderful opportunity was lost, not to be regained in that conference.
It was a moment that highlighted the cultural differences we had come to learn about. It brought home to the English speaking group what a minority we are. Perhaps that is why we hung out together, Americans, British, and Australians. At the end of the day, we Uber’ed to a wonderful dinner that evening at Au Sud where we toasted our new champion, the intrepid Chris Clulow.