The cartel is the basic working unit on which Lacan based his school of psychoanalysis, the École Freudienne de Psychanalyse (EFP), and most Lacanian associations continue to organize work in cartels today.
"Those who enter this School will undertake to fulfil a task that is subject to both internal and external supervision. In exchange they are assured that nothing will be spared in order that anything valuable they do gets the attention it deserves and in the appropriate place. To carry out this work we shall adopt the principle of sustained elaboration in small groups.”
The cartel is essentially a study group consisting of three to five people (though Lacan considers four the optimum number), plus a supervisor (known as a "plus-one" (plus-un)) who moderates the group's work. A cartel is created when a group of people decide to work together on a particular aspect of psychoanalytic theory which is of interest to them, and it is then registered in the school's list of cartels.
Although participation in cartels plays an important part in the training (formation) of Lacanian analysts, membership of cartels is not restricted to members of the school. Indeed, Lacan welcomed the exchange of ideas between analysts and those from other disciplines, and saw the cartel as one structure which would serve to encourage this exchange.
By organizing research work around a small-scale unit like the cartel, Lacan hoped to avoid the effects of massification which he regarded as partly to blame for the sterility of the International Psycho-Analytical Association (IPA).