Notes on: Moscovici and Markova (2006) The making of modern social psychology: Intro and Ch1

“Social psychology was therefore born as a discipline in the USA during the war.”
(p. 4)

  • This book charts the development of “modern social psychology”, which it maintains became an “autonomous science” after WW2.
  • It charts the life of the Transnational Committee of Social Psychology, set up by the American Social Science Research Centre in 1964.
  • The members of the committee included Leon Festinger, and John Lanzetta, as well as Serge Moscovici, one of the book’s authors.

Intro (Historical conjuncture):

The authors describe the sole task of the committee as “science building”. However its development (as the authors euphemistically recognise) was inextricably linked to global political, economic and ideological dynamics. In particular, their work was both supported by, and in tension with, the US State and its civil society, and the US imperial project (in the context of the Cold-War).

Three major factors:

  1. Political and historical circumstances: US Global Hegemony

    After WW2, the US led a project of “reconstruction in Europe”; social sciences were seen as useful for this end, because:
    a. it could develop “solutions to the new political and economic problems”
    b. enable “cooperation and exchanges in a divided world”
    c. “energize a new democratic life”

    [It doesn’t take much to see how these ends could be useful to the US project of securing liberal democracies and capitalist economies in Western Europe. -L.C]

  2. Intellectual and scientific circumstances: Experimental Social Psychology

    In the US, experiment fast became the paradigmatic method of social psychological research. Kurt Lewin’s MIT Center for Group Dynamics was important in this development. Experiment distinguished social psychology from other “human sciences”. (This means SP has an identity crises when not based on experiment – LC).

  3. Contradiction in the globalisation of US Experimental SP:

    Tests from the US were replicated in other countries, and the results were compared. This formed the basis for comparative studies of the data. But the psychologists of the Transnational Committee were critical of this. They felt that replication ignored the very different cultural-national contexts, and thus the results would be ambiguous and hard to interpret. They were skeptical that studies could be ‘translated’ in this way. Instead, they wanted to foster a heterogeneity of local/national methods and theories internationally, that would be mutually recognised and respected, rather than “compared”.

“a model of science rooted in local research or teaching communities”
(p. xv)


1st Chapter: ‘The Birth of a New Science’

US Global Hegemony, War, and internal development of SP

“American business… sought new markets for scientific and technological products”
“Offering “help” in the reconstruction of Europe through the Marshall Plan and challenging the threat of communism in Europe went hand in hand”

“Social psychology was therefore born as a discipline in the USA during the war.”
(p. 4)

1939-45-After: Utility of social psychology, and social sciences, to the military:

“During the war, a period of extreme human catastrophe, social psychologists, along with other social scientists, ‘proved their worth‘.” (emphasis added – L.C.)

“They were called on to provide social knowledge that could be applied to specific military problems” such as:

  • “rebuilding civilian integrity and combating demoralization”
  • “involvement in military administration”
  • “studying domestic attitudes and providing strategic information”
  • “developing international relations”

“All required new concepts and research tools (Cartwright, 1948)”.

Two of the foremost examples in social psychology, noted for “their practical impact”:

  1. “[Kurt] Lewin’s research on group dynamics”.
    Lewin, K. (1939) ‘Field theory and experiment in social psychology’ In Cartwright, D. (ed.) (1952) Field Theory in Social Science, pp. 130-54. London, Tavistock.
  2. “[Stouffer et al.’s] studies of The American Soldier”.
    Stouffer, S. A., Lumsdaine, A. A., Lumsdaine, M. H., Williams, R. M., Smith, M. B., Janis, I. L., Star, S. A. and Cottrell, I. S. (eds) (1949) The American Soldier: Combat and its Aftermath. Princeton, Princeton University Press

“In the post-war sitituation, social psychologists continued their involvement in important [euphamism!] organizational, business and management problems”.
(p. 5)

By 1949: the Cold War was at it’s height:

“Part of the American effort involved reinforcing non-Marxist social sciences in Western Europe”

“Documents of that period clearly show that the government agencies and [philanthropic] foundations did not work independently of one another”
(p. 6-7)

1950’s (early): UNESCO was set up:

UNESCO set up the International Social Sciences Council (ISSC) in 1952, with French anthropologist Lévi-Strauss as Secretary General (1952-61). UNESCO supported the development of social psychology internationally.
(p. 7-8)

1950’s (increasingly) transatlantic exchange programs solidified:

Exchanges between Europe and the US were facilitated by, for example, the Fullbright Scholarship system, and the European Agency for Productivity.
(p. 8-10)

1962-4: Formation of the Transnational Committee for Social Psychology, of the US Social Science Research Center. In response to two proposals:

  • Lanzetta’s proposal “to bring European social psychologists together”, to:
    share experiences… on the experimental method; “exchange info… on experimental research”, “facilities”, “personnel”, discuss “common problems” etc.
    (Via conferences funded by the Office for Naval Research)
  • Festinger’s proposal to move “from a US SP” to a “SP of human beings”, by:
    “training of, interaction with, opportunities for” social psychologists internationally, develop indigenous research programmes, etc.
    (To counter culturally-bound limits of US experiment replication abroad)
    (Via an international committee).



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