On September 9, 1890, German-American psychologist Kurt Zadek Lewin was born. Lewin is known as one of the modern pioneers of social, organizational, and applied psychology in the United States. He is often recognized as the “founder of social psychology” and was one of the first to study group dynamics and organizational development.
Kurt Zadek Lewin first studied medicine at the University of Freiburg, but later transferred to University of Munich to study biology. In 1910, Lewin transferred to the Royal Friedrich-Wilhelms University of Berlin, where he was still a medical student, however, one year later his enthusiasm has shifted to psychology. At the University of Berlin, Kurt Lewin completed his Ph.D. with Carl Stumpf.
Lewin had originally been involved with schools of behavioral psychology before changing directions in research and undertaking work with psychologists of the Gestalt school of psychology, including Max Wertheimer and Wolfgang Kohler. He also joined the Psychological Institute of the University of Berlin where he lectured and gave seminars on both philosophy and psychology. At the University of Berlin, Kurt Lewin served as professor from 1926 to 1932, where he conducted experiments about tension states, needs, motivation, and learning.
In 1933, Lewin immigrated to the United States, and he worked at Cornell University and for the Iowa Child Welfare Research Station at the University of Iowa. Lewin later became director of the Center for Group Dynamics at MIT. After World War II, Lewin was involved in the psychological rehabilitation of former occupants of displaced persons camps with Dr. Jacob Fine at Harvard Medical School. When Eric Trist and A.T.M. Wilson wrote to Lewin proposing a journal in partnership with their newly founded Tavistock Institute and his group at MIT, Lewin agreed. The Tavistock journal, Human Relations, was founded with two early papers by Lewin entitled “Frontiers in Group Dynamics”.
Kurt Lewin was an applied researcher and practical theorist. Despite this debate within the social sciences at the time, Lewin argued that “applied research could be conducted with rigor and that one could test theoretical propositions in applied research.” Lewin managed to become a “master at transposing an everyday problem into a psychological experiment.” Kurt Lewin was further known for his action research, a term he coined for himself. Especially, he was interested in the concepts of Jewish migration and identity. He was confused by the concept of how while an individual distanced themselves from performing the Jewish identity in terms of religious expression and performance, they were still considered Jewish in the eyes of Nazis. This concept of denying one’s identity and the promotion of self-loathing as a form of coping with a dominant group’s oppression represented the crisis of Lewin’s on migration to the United States.
In the 1940s, Kurt Lewin drew a triangle to represent the interdependence of research, training, and action in producing social change. Lewin’s world view and paradigm are believed to have furthered his research and determined precisely how he was going to utilize the findings from his field research.
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