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"If you want truly to understand something, try to change it"
Kurt Lewin's (1890-1947) work had a profound impact on social psychology and,
more particularly for our purposes here, on our appreciation of experiential
learning, group dynamics and action research.
Good information on Kurt Lewin can be found at:
The Kurt Lewin Institute
'Life-space' and Field Theory
Based on Gestalt (wholeness) theory, Lewins concepts of lifespace and his
field theory emphasized the effect of all factors on behavior. Perceptions
of self and environment were factors, as were the various 'life-spaces' each
individual participated in; work, family, church, school, etc.
The central feature of field theory were:
- Behaviour is a function of the field that exists at the time the behaviour occurs
- Analysis begins with the situation as a whole from which are differentiated the component parts
- The concrete person in a concrete situation can represented mathematically
Lewins approach involved a wider variety of influences than anyone before him;
and this approach gave his work an appeal and power, raising it above those
that preceeded him. It increased our awareness of ourselves and the roots of
behavior in group settings, which is the next point.
Much of the following and more can be found here
Lewins research and intervention efforts were centered around group dynamics,
and emphasized that group life was to be viewed in its totality, not just with
regard to the individuals.
His emphasis was on the following three areas:
1. The conditions which improve the effectiveness of community leaders who
are attempting to better intergroup relations.
2. The effect of the conditions under which contact between persons from
different groups takes place.
3. The influences which are most effective in producing in minority-group
members and increased sense of belongingness, and improved personal
adjustment, and better relations with individuals of other groups.
He delved into the deeper reasons for group behavior, helping those involved to
see for themselves the roots of their own actions. In one famous case, religious
services had been disturbed on Yom Kippur by a gang of Italian Catholics. Lewin
assembled a group of workers comprised of Catholics, Jews, Blacks, and Protestants.
The groups first action was to get the four young men who were arrested for the
crime put into the custody of local priests and the Catholic Big Brothers. Next,
they involved as many community members as possible to make improvements more
likely. It was decided that the act was not one of anti-Semitism, but one of
general hostility. Likewise, it was not a problem that could be solved by
sending the men to jail. The solution was to eliminate the frustrations of
community life by establishing better housing, enhancing transportation, and
building recreational facilities. These would allow members of different
backgrounds and groups to integrate.
Plans were put into motion to get the projects completed. The members of the
gang kept in contact, and within a year, conditions had improved greatly.
There seemed to be no change in attitude toward the Negroes and Jews, but
aggression towards them had ceased.
Lewins intervention in this case is in stark contrast to todays 'zero-tolerance'
approach, which only displays a lack of willingness to work with people in
difficult situations, and also a lack of patience and skill that seems to be
characteristic of modern politics. Schools that encounter difficult students
merely suspend them, shifting the burden of these students onto the police, or
onto society in general.
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