Kurt Zadek Lewin (September 9, 1890 - February 12, 1947), a German-born psychologist, became one of the pioneers of social psychology. Often called "the father of social psychology," and one of the first researchers to study group dynamics and organizational development, he advocated Gestalt psychology.
Lewin became associated with the early Frankfurt School, originated by an influential group of largely Jewish Marxists at the Institute for Social Research in Germany. But when Hitler came to power in Germany in 1933 the Institute members had to disband, moving to England and America. In that year, he met with Eric Trist, of the London Tavistock Clinic, whom he impressed with his theories, which Trist went on to use in his studies on soldiers during the second world war.
While working with a group at MIT in 1946, Lewin received a phone call from the Director of the Connecticut State Inter Racial Commission, requesting his help in finding an effective way to combat racial and religious prejudices. He set up a workshop to conduct a 'change' experiment, which laid the foundations for what is now known as sensitivity training. This led to the establishment, in 1947, of the National Training Laboratories, at Bethel, Maine. Carl Rogers wrote of sensitivity training as "perhaps the most significant social invention of this century."
Following the second world war Lewin was involved, along with Dr Jacob Fine at Harvard Medical School, in the psychological rehabilitation of former occupants of displaced persons camps. When Eric Trist, and A T M Wilson wrote to him proposing the establishment of a journal in partnership between their newly founded Tavistock Institute and his group at MIT, Lewin agreed, and the Tavistock Journal Human Relations was founded, with two early papers by Lewin entitled "Frontiers in Group Dynamics".
Lewin coined the notion of genidentity (1922), which has gained some importance in various theories of space-time and related fields. He also proposed Herbert Blumer's interactionist perspective of 1937 as an alternative to the nature versus nurture debate, in that he suggested that neither nature (inborn tendencies) nor nurture (how experiences in life shape individuals) alone can account for individuals' behavior and personalities, but rather that both nature and nurture interact to shape each person. Prominent psychologists mentored by Kurt Lewin included Leon Festinger (1919 - 1989), who became known for his cognitive dissonance theory (1956), environmental psychologist Roger Barker, and Bluma Zeigarnik.
Born in 1890 into a Jewish family in Mogilno, Poland (then in County of Mogilno, province of Posen, Prussia). Lewin joined the German armed forces when World War I began. But due to a war wound, he completed his Ph.D., with Carl Stumpf (1848 - 1936) as the supervisor of his doctoral thesis.
Lewin emigrated to the United States in August 1933 and became a naturalized citizen in 1940. He died in Newtonville, Massachusetts of a heart-attack in 1947. He was buried in his home town.
Impact on organizational development
- Action research
- Force field analysis
- Marrow, Alfred J. The Practical Theorist: The Life and Work of Kurt Lewin (1969, 1984) ISBN 0-934698-22-8 (Marrow studied as one of Lewin's students)
- White, Ralph K., and Ronald O. Lippitt, Autocracy and Democracy (1960, 1972) ISBN 0-8371-5710-2 (White and Lippitt carried out the research described here under Lewin as their thesis-advisor; Marrow's book also briefly describes the same work in chapter 12.)
- Weisbord, Marvin R., Productive Workplaces Revisited (2004) ISBN 0-7879-7117-0 (Chapters 4: Lewin: the Practical Theorist, Chapter 5: The Learning Organization: Lewin's Legacy to Management.)
Ecological Systems Theory
- Fritz Perls
- M. Pat Korb
- Brian J. Mistler
- Eric Trist
- David A. Kolb
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