Teaching and Learning Forum 96 [ Contents ]

The use of symbo-constructive pictures to explore the shadow side of our teaching-learning

Mark Campbell Williams
Information Systems Department, Business Faculty
Edith Cowan University


As an introductory part of the seminar, I will encourage participants to draw a symbo-constructive picture of their present work situation as a form of self-reflection. These pictures can be interpreted as images similar to the symbolic images in dreams (Barry, 1994, 1995). In this light, I will lead a whole group discussion of participants images, pointing out areas of possible interest and insight that are indicated by elements of the drawings. For example, the great psychologist, Carl Gustaf Jung refers to the 'shadow' as that side of our lives that we have not developed. Shadow areas can often be seen in symbo-constructive pictures. Symbo-constructive pictures can be seen to be a way in which we can tap into the creative potential of including the voice of the unconscious in our university teaching-learning. This paper will focus on a theoretical background for exploring unconscious symbols in dream images.

Insights from Critical Social Theorists

From the late 1930s onwards, critical theorists have used and defended psychological foundations and the whole approach of being attentive to 'the language of the unconscious' (Adorno, 1955). A fundamental tenet of critical theory is that both the rational and the irrational susceptibilities of the human condition need to be addressed in serious study (Held, 1980, p.119). Indeed, Osborne (1992) uses metaphorical language to stress the importance of including psychoanalytic elements to critical theory: "the Frankfurt School felt they needed a wedding between Marx and Freud". Adorno referred to the necessary balance as a continuous rational and aesthetic 'immanent critique' always open to a "moment of possibility, of possible transcendence" (Held, 1980, p.221). Horkeimer's later work in the 1960s centred around attempts to find a 'theological moment' for philosophy as an expression of a universal human longing (Held, 1980, p.198).

Herbert Marcuse

In considering the sometimes non-rational picture symbols of the unconscious in this study, there are parallels to Marcuse's later work in which he argues for the 'truth value' of fantasy, dreams and wishes (Held, 1980, p.242). In Eros and Civilisation (1969) he presents a bold integration of eros (as broad sensuality - the ground of human existence) and the necessity for work and labour. Applying Freud's understandings of psychology, he sees this integration in terms of a balancing of the demands of labour with a relaxing into a deeply grounded pleasure. Marcuse argues for the erotic liberation of the human from the repressing consciousness conditioned by modernity. Here there is a longing for reconciliation on personal levels which flow into a vision of a more balanced society. He asserts that there is a knowledge behind the illusion of dreams, fantasy and art (pp.146, 147). In this knowledge there is a holistic harmony of sensuality and reason which is grounded in socio-biological human beginnings (part II).

Marcuse's later book, One Dimensional Man, takes these themes into a political thesis. He compares Imagination (spontaneity, originality, play, creativity, dreams) with the technological rationality of modernity "which swallows up or repulses all alternatives" (p.xvii):

... [Imagination] is likewise recognised in psychoanalysis, which is in theory based on the acceptance of the specific rationality of the irrational; the comprehended imagination becomes, redirected, a therapeutic force. (p.249)
He wonders whether such "rationality of the irrational" may be therapeutic in a wider social sense (p.249). Here again he implicitly comes close to moving beyond Freud's essentially negative view of the unconscious. I see Marcuse's understanding as related to Jung's positive viewing of the unconscious as an active, guiding, potentially healing inner wisdom. Indeed, the cover paragraphs of Marcuse's (1964) One Dimensional Man, and Jung's (1989) Man and His Symbols, both stress the that the central theme is the importance of imagination and the creative aspects of human nature.

However, Marcuse used the ideas of Freud and not those of Jung. What is more, he scathingly dismissed Jung as 'right wing' (Marcuse, 1969). He does not explain this dismissal. I can take a guess that Marcuse interpreted Jung's attention to the individual (as opposed to the 'collective'). Marcuse may have seen this as a form of 'right wing' conservative 'capitalist' individualism, as opposed to Marx's insights into the importance of political social involvement. Marcuse also may have reacted negatively to Jung's somewhat negative description of communism in general (Jung, 1989).I also hazard a guess that Marcuse did not think much of Jung's somewhat affluent reliance on his wife's family fortune and his clinical practice to the often rich and bourgeois. I can understand this perspective, but Marcuse seems not to appreciate the genuinely radical nature of Jung's hope for a better world through the cumulative effect of personal inner journeys to wholeness and inner contact with powerful experience of the collective unconscious.

Although deeply influenced by Marx and Freud, Marcuse is essentially Hegelian in that he advanced a comprehensive project of philosophical doctrine decrying positivism and bourgeois capitalist society's infatuation with scientific technocratic attitudes and analysis. In the end, his main contribution is not Jung's idea of an inner journey to wholeness but a call for sensual freedom as counter revolutionary and his ideas of selective intolerance and counter-indoctrination. His final word is the "Great Refusal". Part of this is that the role of critical theory is to be negative, to refuse to join in with the hegemonic ideology of technocratic rationality (p.257). As part of the repressive nature of modernity, technological rationality renders traditional protest ineffective (p.256); one-dimensional society inexorably leads to false consciousness (p.253); only the outcasts, outsiders, exploited, persecuted, unemployed and unemployable start "refusing to play the game" (p.257) and, for Marcuse, the critical theorist must stand with them.

Erich Fromm

In the 1930s, Fromm was a theoretical social psychologist working in conjunction with the critical theorists Horkheimer, Adorno and Marcuse. He was part of critical theorist's major appropriation of Freud's concepts such as the unconscious, the libido energy for sexual impulse, emphasis on childhood experience, the death wish and his metapsychology (Held, 1980, chapter 4). However, in the 1940s and 1950s Fromm was roundly criticised for moving away from orthodox Freudian understandings. Fromm increasingly understood Freudian insights as just one among many tools for understanding human life. He eventually discarded the fundamental Freudian idea that humans, driven by dynamic struggles between conscious and unconscious forces, can never ultimately resolve their inner conflicts. Coming to understand the cultural and social perspective to psychoanalysis and being part of the first generation of critical theorists, he wrote widely on the ways in which the individual is influenced by social change. He was inspired not only by the writings of Marx, but increasingly by cultural anthropology and feminism.

Analysing modernity from a psychoanalytic standpoint, his later work emphasised the centrality of human relationships and satisfying work to individual fulfilment (Bullock & Woodings, 1983, p.245). He contends in his introductory work on dream understanding, The Forgotten Language (1951), that dream language should be taught in schools alongside other languages. Not sufficiently concerned with the underlying interests of their true selves people tend to get caught in the pursuit of power for its own sake and the acquisition of material goods (Park, 1991. p.141). His work from the 1950s warned increasingly of the alarming domination of technology over modern societies .

Jurgen Habermas

More importantly than some other influences in the development of his theory, Habermas explains: "I have considered psychoanalysis, despite all the dire predictions, as something to be taken seriously." (Dews, 1986, p.150). In his book Knowledge and Human Interests (1972, Chapter 10), he devotes a whole chapter to 'Self-Reflection as Science: Freud's Psychoanalytic Critique of Meaning'. Although he has not developed this early 1960s work on Freud's metapsychology (Dews, 1986, p.165), Habermas looks to psychoanalysis as a model and a method for critical reflexivity and communicative action approaching an ideal speech situation (Young, 1989, p.36).
Psychoanalysis ... is a tangible example of a science employing methodological self-reflection. The birth of psychoanalysis opens up the possibility of arriving at the dimension that positivism closed off, and of doing so in a methodological manner that arises out of the logic of inquiry. (Habermas, 1971, p.214)
From their discourse, the analyst and the client develop a critical conscious understanding of the client life situation. The unconscious speaks through dream analysis, unconscious word associations, imaginative inner dialogues and other methods designed to encourage unconscious images to percolate to consciousness. The analyst/client relationship is voluntary and can be stopped at any time. The correctness or usefulness of the analyst's insights are determined by free acceptance and judgement by the client. Professional standards and the analyst's professional body provide safeguards for the analyst/client relationship.

Habermas sees psychoanalysis as a model for the way in which the critical social theorist can act and, in general, the way that communicative action could proceed (Held, 1980, pp. 317-324). This exemplifies the self-reflection part of the reflective process which supplements rational reconstruction. This is similar to Bruner's understanding of human reflexivity "our capacity to turn around on the past and alter the present in its light, or to alter the past in the light of the present." (Bruner, 1990, p.109). Reflection must be maintained along with practical engagement in social and individual problems.

A Jungian Psychological Framework on Dream Symbolism

Jung found many valuable insights in Freud's rather mechanistic account of human behaviour. Indeed, Jung built upon Freud's foundational insights into the nature of the unconscious; the need for a strong and robust ego structure in the personality; and the emphasis on dreams as reflecting the enduring influence of infantile sexual wish-fulfilment (Segaller & Berger, 1989, p.74). The dreamer's inner and primal unconscious desires are fulfilled in what Freud saw as disguised fantasies. The dream message is disguised or censored by the continued action in sleep of the mental mechanisms of repression. This psychological repressive function serves to protect the individual from disturbing emotional desires or wishes originating primarily in the developmental sexual complexes and personality conflicts of early life. This dream censorship occurs through the mechanisms of condensation (condensing several ideas into one image), displacement (a shifting of attention from a potentially threatening image to something trivial) and dramatisation (the use of symbols or images to depict threatening feelings). For Freud, the interpretation of dreams was the process of undisguising, stripping away the censorship from the manifest content of the dream (as recollected) to reveal the inner psychological conflicts in the latent content. Freud usually used free association techniques in psychoanalysis to provide clues to the threatening wish or motive behind the dream. If this came to consciousness and could be discussed there was the potential for psychological healing.

Jung asserts that Freud, "by evaluating dreams as the most important source of information concerning the unconscious" (1989, p.169), and in his empirical research, Jung built on this most important work:

He [Freud] demonstrated empirically the presence of an unconscious psyche which had hitherto existed only as a philosophical postulate, in particular in the philosophies of C. G. Carus and Eduard on Hartmann. (Jung, 1989, p.169)
However, Jung (1989, p.152,153) soon moved beyond what he called Freud's doctrinaire "monotony of interpretation" on the unconscious as determined almost solely by sexual motives. Jung emphasised what Freud only partially admitted in his latter work - that dreams are not only heavily disguised recollections and fantasies dealing primarily with repressed deep emotional and infantile sexual reactions from early childhood (O'Conner, 1993, p.161). The dream events are imaginary but are evoked by real events in the dreamers life and relate to real needs. Some classes of dreams can re-enact traumatic recent events which would suggest a psychological attempt in fantasy to come to terms with reality. Moreover, Jung asserts that most dreams give messages from the unconscious in as graphic a way as possible for consciousness to take heed. As he says in Memories, Dreams, Reflections (1989)
I was never able to agree with Freud that the dream is a facade behind which its meaning lies hidden - a meaning already known but maliciously, so to speak, withheld from consciousness. To me dreams are a part of nature, which harbours no intention to deceive, but expresses something as best it can. (p.161).
For Jung, the character of most dreams reveal vital inner forces or psychological energies of the personality in the interface between consciousness and the unconscious (Sanford, p.126). Jung accepts, but moves beyond, Freud's somewhat negative perspective to understand a creative and communicative function in unconscious communication. This is especially so in the way the unconscious uses dreams to communicate with the conscious mind. Different from Freud's problem-oriented dream work approach, Jung saw a creative function within the unconscious. While Freud saw the unconscious as a region of the mind where consciousness dumped unwanted impressions and memories, Jung viewed the unconscious as an autonomous second psychic centre with its own mysterious authority, capable of its own processes and communication with consciousness (Monick, 1987, p.23). His focus was less on the psychological maturation problems (which is also encountered in dreams) than on the development of mature individuals with their aims, aspirations and racial/cultural historical contexts giving potential meaning and dignity. Ultimately, for Jung, dreams are part of interplay between psychological energies in the conscious and the unconscious as part the human journey of finding a meaningful place in a purposeful universe.

For example, one of my dreams revealed a dramatic symbolic picture which showed some of my inner energies represented as a group of academics talking around a table with the final scene one of abusive verbal opposition. Why would the unconscious give such a warning? I consciously worked with the dream and extended it by active imagination. This entails writing down the dream and continuing the dialogue of the dream as if writing the script of a play (Johnson, 1986, part III). I discussed the analysis with a person well experienced in this approach. In this process of the interplay of conscious and unconscious knowledge, I became aware of a needed balance and correction in my research - the more intuitive side of my nature was in conflict with the more rigorous analytical side. The result was an altering of research approach and emphasis. In general, from reflecting on my dreams during the research process I had a self-reflective check and gauge on my journeys towards wholeness in interpretive research. I came to realise that, in the words of Dr Edward Edinger, "... there is a second entity, second psychic centre, in the human psyche and it's interested in truth." (Segaller and Bergman, 1989, p.33).


Dream symbols can be used by the unconscious in a kind of inner open discourse to communicate with the conscious mind as a partner in the process of individuation. As Sanford puts it:
We can describe this relationship between the conscious and unconscious parts of the psyche as a dialogue, or discussion - auseinandersetzung in German, a word that implies "taking apart," "clarifying," as well as "confrontation." (Sanford, 1989, p.126).
In the example above we noted that the pictorial symbols of the dream depicted some of my inner energies as a group of academics talking around a table with the final scene one of abusive verbal opposition. Here the interplay warned of a needed balance and correction in the research. Dr. O'Conner talks about dream symbols with reference to academics:
The dreamer, having tied the boat up, discovers on the wharf a sack containing a number of decapitated male heads. Heads that have been severed, disconnected from their bodies and of course their hearts. This is such a clear image of so many over-intellectualized men, all head, no body, no substance, no pulsating feeling heart. Academics tend toward this beheaded image; all in their heads, often without substance or feeling. What better image could one have of an over-intellectual man, nothing more than a head!" (1993, p.61).
If a teacher were to have a similar dream could it not be that the teacher's own psyche is giving a warning. May not the teacher be in danger of ignoring other ways of knowing - the emotive, for example, or the somatic, or the intuitive, or the mystical, or even the olfactory. The crucial point is whether the teacher has an understanding of human beings that acknowledges the importance of the affective domain, of the body, of the senses and the unconscious as well as the conscious intellect. If not, the teacher may be indeed be in danger of unbalanced and unhealthy one-sided psychological development. This may be in line with the dream image of decapitated heads! With that scenario, it is little wonder that the voice of the unconscious, spoken in pictorial dream symbols, is silenced.


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Please cite as: Williams, M. C. (1996). The use of symbo-constructive pictures to explore the shadow side of our teaching-learning. In Abbott, J. and Willcoxson, L. (Eds), Teaching and Learning Within and Across Disciplines, p179-184. Proceedings of the 5th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, Murdoch University, February 1996. Perth: Murdoch University. http://lsn.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf1996/williamsm.html

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