Kurt Lewin

Kurt Lewin (September 9, 1890 – February 12, 1947) was a Jewish social, organizational, and applied psychologist, known for his field theory of behaviour; this holds that human behaviour is a function of an individual’s psychological environment. He was one of four children born into a middle-class Jewish family in Mogilno, County of Mogilno, Province of Poznań, Prussia (modern Poland). His father, Leopold, owned a farm jointly with his brother Max and a small general store. The family occupied an apartment above the store. Lewin received an orthodox Jewish education at home.
Lewin is most associated with the early Frankfurt School, originated by a notorious group of Jewish Marxists at the Institute for Social Research in Germany. In 1933 when the Institute members moved to England, then to America Lewin met with Eric Trist, of the London Tavistock Clinic. Trist was impressed with his theories and went on to use them in his studies on soldiers during WWII. Lewin moved to the United States in August 1933 and became a naturalized citizen in 1940. A few years later Lewin began asking people to pronounce his name “Lou-in” rather than “Le-veen”. He worked at Cornell University and the University of Iowa’s Child Welfare Research Station (1935–45) It was here that he performed his “social climates” experiment centred on manipulating groups of children and significantly became involved in various applied research initiatives linked to the war effort including psychological warfare, and the orienting of food consumption (study of famine). It was as early as WWII (1939-1945), that Lewin experimented with a ‘collaborative change-process’; basically a euphemism for the dialectical process. This was the forerunner of his ‘action research’, (the institution of a dialectical strategy that appears to resolve a situation but in reality only papers over the cracks) an important element of Organisation development (OD). Later he became director of the Centre for Group Dynamics at MIT were he perfected the dubious ‘art’ of the dialectic. At the same time Lewin was also engaged in a project for the American Jewish Congress in New York – the Commission of Community Interrelations. It made use of Lewin’s model of ‘action research’. An example of Lewin’s ‘action research’ takes the strained ‘human relations’ between disparate races forced together in a rundown residential area. Lewin indicates that it is the negative environment that is promoting the strained relationships (OD) and initiates a program of regeneration in the area. He suggested that moral is better following this but that the races remain largely separate. What is vital to note here is that no room is given to discuss entitlement. While the issue is ‘environment’ it is fundamentally whose environment and who is encroaching and this issue is never resolved. Moreover, since he did not get the result he clearly wanted Lewin set up a workshop to conduct a “change” experiment, which laid the foundations for what is now known as ‘sensitivity’ training a fundamental part of political correctness. The outcome is that now it is always the invaded (host) who must show ‘sensitivity’ to the invader.

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