KURT LEWIN – SOCIAL SCIENTIST OR POSTMODERN CRITIC?

 

 

 

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Introduction
This paper presents, what in my view are, significant contributions of Kurt Lewin
to postmodern perspectives on culture and critical theory. Kurt Lewin was born, eldest of four children, in 1890 in Prussia (Poland) in a middle class Jewish family. Although Prussia was part of Germany at that time, it was more anti-Semitic than the rest of Germany. He grew up experiencing oppression and exclusion in Christian schools.
Nevertheless, as a patriotic German, Lewin fought bravely in the First World War and received an Iron Cross. Lewin’s Jewish origin made him sensitive to social and communal problems of his times. Lewin’s biographer, Marrow (1969), claims that these oppressive experiences account for Lewin’s interest in group dynamics. As a social democrat, Lewin constantly discussed issues that related to democracy and societal reorganization. He was strongly influenced by the holistic approach of Gestalt psychology and neo-Kantian philosophy of science that championed a critical examination of scientific concepts, theories, values, and their validity.
He first came to the United States as a visiting professor to Stanford University in
1932 (and formally immigrated to the U.S. with his wife & daughter in 1933 and became a naturalized citizen in 1940). He taught at Cornell University (for two years), University of Iowa (for ten years), and finally the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (for just two years) until his premature death in 1947. Although he began thinking and writing in English only after visiting the U.S., his achievements are undoubtedly monumental considering his seminal ideas on action research, field theory, force field analysis, group dynamics, and organizational development theory still define the respective fields! Lewin strived to bring his research and understanding of psychological theory to study social issues and ameliorate social problems. His research interests included studies on cultural reconstruction, the humanization of industry, psychological conditions and liberation of oppressed minorities, use of scientific methods to examine the roots of racial prejudice,
welfare of children, and other aspects of human relations. He was a bellwether, who recognized the need to improve the position of women even as a student almost 100 years ago. Not surprisingly, these contributions also inspired pioneers such as Lev Vygotsky (1978, on the role of activities in learning and development), Herbert Simon (1981, for ideas on satisficing, bounded rationality, and selective search), Carl Rogers (1969, on the importance of relationships for learning), and Thomas Gilbert (1978, for the behavior engineering model framework), individuals who have greatly influenced my thinking.

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