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February 12: Kurt Lewin and Social Psychology

February 12, 2015

Kurt-Lewin1Kurt Lewin, a German founder of social psychology and experimental psychology, and one of the first psychologists to write about group dynamics and organizational development, died at 56 on this date in 1947. Lewin worked with the psychologists of the Gestalt school, with the Marxist philosophers associated with the Frankfurt School, and as an academic at the Psychological Institute of the University of Berlin before fleeing Nazi Germany in 1933. In the U.S., where he became a citizen in 1940, he worked at Cornell University, the University of Iowa, and the Center for Group Dynamics at MIT, where he devised practical field experiments for lessening the virulence and impact of racism. He also wrote in depth about the problems of Jewish migration and individual and group identity. Lewin's work on managing organizational change, on active learning, on group dynamics (he coined that term), and on the impact of the environment on an individual’s psychology, all helped lay the foundations of modern management philosophy — even though Lewin was a lifelong socialist.

"If you want truly to understand something, try to change it." —Kurt Lewin