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Kurt Lewin

Kurt Lewin was a German-American psychologist who was one of pioneers of social, applied and organizational psychology in the US. Exiled from his home country of Germany before World War II, Lewin moved to the US and continued his exploits in the field of psychology. For many, he is recognized as the founder of social psychology and his contributions to the field are many.


Kurt Lewin

Born on September 9th, 1890 in Prussia, he was one of four children in a middle-class family that moved to Berlin in 1905. He attended both the University of Freiburg and the University of Munich and was involved in the socialist movement as well as women's rights. He served in World War I and suffered a wound that allowed him to complete his Ph.D. at the University of Berlin.

Over the next 15 years Lewin began his work with the Gestalt school of psychology and joined the Psychological Institute of the University of Berlin where he gave lectures and seminars on philosophy and psychology. However, his Jewish heritage and his association with socialists forced him to move from Germany once Hitler took power in 1933. First, Lewin moved to England and then to America where he continued to work on his theories and developed followers such as Eric Trist.

Lewin moved to the US in 1933 and became a naturalized citizen in 1940. He worked at Cornell University and then for the Iowa Child Welfare Research Station located at the University of Iowa. Later, he became director of the Center for Group Dynamics at MIT just after World War II. His work established the National Training Laboratories at Bethel, Maine which created sensitivity training considered by some to be the most significant social invention of the century.

Forming the Tavistock Institute at MIT, Lewin created numerous works and two of his early papers titled "Frontiers in Group Dynamics" helped form the Tavistock Journal and Human Relations. Unfortunately, Lewin's work was cut short when he died of a heart attack in 1947.

Kurt Lewin managed to achieve quite a bit in his life when it came to a variety of fields. He is the one who coined the term "genidentity" which has gained in importance over time. He also offered an alternative to the nature vs. nurture debate with the interactionist perspective first developed by Herbert Blumer. Lewin believed that there was more which shaped the personality than just nature and nurturing.

Above all, Lewin was a practical theorist as well as an applied researcher at a time when such work was feared by many in similar fields because of the potential backlash. Lewin however seemed to revel in this form of research and argued for its validity. Along with scholars such as Paul Lazarsfeld, Lewin pursued applied research and believe that acquiring money to further the studies could be done in an ethical manner.

Because of this, Lewin helped change the way that research was conducted and it helped it further his work in developing theories that are still being studied today. Lewin was a pioneer in so many ways and his dedication, work ethic and seemingly constant stream of research, theories and ideas has made him one of the giants in his field.

 

Rumor Has It

that if Lewin were alive today, he would have poked Zuckerberg in his pouty little lips and crowned himself First King of Facebook!

 

Written by Kevin Lepton

Published March 28, 2015

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 


 

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