A History of Social Psychology: From the Eighteenth-Century Enlightenment to the Second World War

A History of Social Psychology: From the Eighteenth-Century Enlightenment to the Second World War

The term ‘social psychology’ was first established in the 1860s but the issues surrounding the subject have evolved over a much longer period. This book follows the history of the discipline over two and a half centuries, demonstrating the links between early and current thought. The first attempts at empirical approaches were made in France during the Enlightenment whilst some modern ideas were also being anticipated in Scotland. The search for laws of mind and society began in nineteenth-century Europe and, by the end of the century, it changed direction. Darwinian theory made a powerful impact on the emerging discipline and the center of gravity began to move to America where it reached maturity during the inter-war period. A History of Social Psychology is viewed against a background of radical social and political changes and includes sketches of the major figures involved in its rise.

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1 Comment so far »

  1. Yosem Companys "StanfordPhD" said,

    Wrote on December 14, 2011 @ 5:37 pm

    2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
    4.0 out of 5 stars
    Solid book, April 11, 2009
    Yosem Companys “StanfordPhD” (Stanford, CA USA) –

    One could say that the disciplines of economics, and to a lesser extent, psychology have forgotten their past. This may not be the case in Europe, but it certainly is the case in the United States. This book is a welcome addition, not only because it sheds light on the history of psychology, and social psychology, in particular.

    The breadth of this book is absolutely extraordinary given the relatively short text. The author starts with the eighteenth-century Enlightenment and ends with the Second World War. The historical journey is a fascinating one, starting with philosophy through the emergence of the first use of the phrase “social psychology” to the modern debates on whether the field belonged more to sociology or psychology, a debate that still rages on to this day. The author’s stance is very analytical, never simply summarizing “the historical facts” but rather always taking them in their historical context.

    The book is limited in several respects. What the book achieves in breadth it compensates in depth. In other words, while the book manages to survey the development of social psychology over this large time span, it is unable to explore the insights it reveals in greater detail, and thus often leaves the reader wanting to learn more. Of course, the goal of the book was not to explore the authors whose work is referenced but rather to explore the emergence of social psychology in that work, so the omission is understandable.

    Another limitation is that while the book explores earlier work in great depth, it ends in a cursory review of the modern literature. I would have liked to have learned more about the contemporary origins and raging debates of social psychology. The author, however, may have done so for practical reasons, as more is known about the recent history of social psychology. Thus, the book’s major contribution may be to trace social psychology’s unknown history in an earlier period.

    The connections that the author draws in social psychology’s historical development are quite insightful, highlighting in good social psychological form not only the individual contributions but also the interaction among individuals to yield group contributions that marked certain historical periods.

    A final limitation should be noted. While the author displays a wonderful understanding of the key figures’ biographies, published work, and historical context, he sometimes takes certain discursive forms used by these figures for granted. Note, for example, that Foucault in his conception of “governmentality” has explored how the notion of government has evolved in form over the centuries from personal to group to national government. It would have been an intriguing addition for the author to have done the same with some of the key concepts of social psychology. From the author’s writings, one can fathom that the author is well aware of this approach to historical analysis but does not employ it. Perhaps we may see him explore such an approach in his future books.

    This book is best for those interested in the historical roots of social psychology. The book does not require any specialized knowledge, though knowledge about philosophy and social psychology may enhance the reading experience.

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