Notes on: Moscovici and Markova (2006) The making of modern social psychology: Ch 2

Chapter 2: “Two sources of modern social psychology”

“two traditions underlie modern social psychology and exert a living influence”

  1. “The Indigineous-American tradition”
  2. “The European-American tradition”

(p. 29)

In this chapter, the authors attempt to draw a distinction between the ‘dynamic’ ‘European-American’ tradition of the Transnational Committee, typified by the work of Kurt Lewin, and the ‘static’ ‘Indigineous-American’ tradition, typified by the work of Gordon and Floyd Allport, that preceded and was contemporaneous with the former. Both traditions are grounded in the use of experiment. However, the ‘static’ tradition is based on the individual as an isolated psychological-neurological object (as in general psychology), whereas the ‘dynamic’ tradition is based on relations between individuals and the social environment in which they act. They claim that the ‘static’ tradition came into ascendency after the First World War, as an ideologically mediated response to the social problems [for the state -L.C] that the war threw up. They claim the ‘dynamic’ tradition came on to the scene during and after the Second World War, also as a state supported response to the problems of the war, and afterwards. They say that experimental social psychology was from then on defined by a tension between these competing, sharply contrasting, traditions.

“[I]t seems to us that the diverse epistemological positions between them are so striking, so black and white, or positive and negative, that even schematic distinctions between such contrasts can sharply reveal their differences.”

“[T]hese contrasts do not peacefully embrace one another but are sources of conflicts, misunderstandings – indeed of strife.”
(p. 35)

1. The “Indigineous-American” tradition

Exemplified by: Floyd and Gordon Allport
Precipitated by: First World War
Characterised by: “individualism, positivism, and mechanistic epistemology”

i). Individualism

Values of freedom and individual rights:

Gordon Allport:
“How… to preserve the values of freedom and individual rights under conditions of mounting social strain?”

Focus on the individual:

Floyd Allport:
“Social psychology is the study of individual behavior and consciousness”

“there is no psychology of groups which is not essentially and entirely a psychology of individuals”

Gordon Allport:
“With few exceptions, social psychologists regard their discipline as an attempt to understand and explain how the thought, feeling, and behavior of individuals are influenced by the actual, imagined, or implied presence of others.”
(p. 30)

ii). Positivism

The Allport’s introduced “the positivism of Auguste Comte”

“three stages in science – theological, metaphysical, positivistic”

The “positivistic tools of experiment[al] social psychology – statistics, survey methods, and like instruments”

(p. 31)

2. “The European-American tradition”

Exemplified by: Kurt Lewin
Precipitated by: Second World War
Characterised by: Gestalt psychology (opposed to behaviourism), and Cassirer’s neo-Kantianism (opposed to positivism).

“Lewin and his students were interested in dynamic interaction rather than social behaviour or in the differences between individuals”
(p. 33)


“Theoretically, this tradition was based on orientation and attention to the reference group and to group dynamics”
(p. 33)

Most of the members of the transnational committee belonged to this tradition.

A more detailed comparison:


1. “The Door”

The authors characterise this tradition as treating social psychology as a “door”.

In this sense, SP is a door, through which social phenomena pass, to fit the rules and principles of general psychology.

“social psychology is above all else a branch of general psychology”
(Allport, in Moscovici and Marková, p. 36)

As a door, this social psychology is closed to other disciplines, namely, the social sciences.

Against the idea that psychology is social, that is, essentially in relation to others, Allport claimed that problems of human nature need to be solved separately, giving the examples of:

“psychopyshics, sensory process, emotional functions, memory span, the nature of personality integration”
(Allport, in Moscovici and Marková, p. 37)

For Allport, social-psychological phenomena and problems are reducible to an isolated individual; a mechanistic combination of separate psychological processes.

Two possible intepretations:

a. social phenomena are reducible, and hence explainable, by physiological or neural processes.
b. “social psychologists are above all neuro-disciplinary”, i.e. it is physical/natural science, and closes the door to social sciences, thus it conceives “the social” only in a common sense manner.
e.g. Norman Triplett’s “competition” studies.


1. “The Bridge

SP bridges the gap between cultural anthropology and sociology

“Social science needs an integration of psychology, sociology, and cultural anthropology into an instrument for studying group life”
(Lewin, in Moscovici and Marková, p. 39)

Inspired by the physics of relativity, the MIT institute displayed “flexibility in tackling social scientific problems”:

experimental science [displayed] “a lack of perspective on cultural values, institutions, and ideologies”
(Sherif, in Moscovici and Marková, p. 40)


“experimental science ignored ‘sets of stimulus factors confronting the individual in any culture, [thus] conducive to an SP that could not help being ethnocentric, even though unwittingly”
(Sherif, in Moscovici and Marková, p. 40)

Difference between “bridge-science” and interdisciplinarity:

Interdisciplinarity merely combines knowledge of different disciplines about a specific subject matter.

Whereas “a bridge-science builds new knowledge about a specific subject area using knowledge of other disciplines”

“What conclusions can we draw about the scientific nature of social psychology?

Simply, that it does not make sense to search for a general definition of a scientific theory independent of the context to which it refers.”
(p. 40)

2. The Stable

  • concepts are unequivocal
  • follow rigid rules with respect to the application of these concepts
  • concepts linked by rules
  • true/false by hypothesis linking concept to reality.

E.g. classical mechanics in physics

E.g. Harold H Kelley’s ‘cube model’ theory of attribution:

Attribution “refers to the process of inferring or perceiving the dispositional properties of entities [including behaviours, attitudes etc. – L.C] in the environment. These are stable features of distal objects such as colour, size, shape, intention, desire, sentiment, and ability”
(Kelley, in Moscovici and Marková, p. 41)

For Kelley both:

  • human cognitive processes, and
  • characteristics of the environment

are static, thus:

  • the logic of his analysis is “obviously akin to an analysis of variance” (Kelley, in Moscovici and Marková, p. 41).

In his view, a simple cube model can cope with all the complexities of causal attribution about the self, credit and blame, trust in interpersonal relations, as well as with socialization and language training”
(p. 41)

kelleys cube

 2. The Dynamic



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