- Kenneth Boulding
Summary written by Conflict Research Consortium Staff
Citation: Kurt Lewin. Resolving Social Conflicts. New York: Harper and Row Publishers, 1948, 230 pp.
Resolving Social Conflicts is a collection of early essays exploring the relationship between individuals, groups, and the process of conflict, from a social psychological perspective.
Resolving Social Conflicts will be of interest to those who seek a better understanding of the role of group psychology in conflict. This work is divided into thirteen essays grouped in three parts, with a forward by Gordon Allport. These collected essays present Lewin's original work in social psychology. The essays share this common thesis: "The group to which an individual belongs is the ground for his perceptions, his feelings, and his actions."[vii] Written over the course of World War II, many of these essays focus on German culture, Jewish repression, and the possibility of cultural change.
The essays in Part One focus on the problems of changing national cultures. Chapter One addresses the issue of national psychology. Lewin contrasts the national characters of theUnited States and of Germany, and attempts to identify the features of their respective social systems which produce such characters. Building world peace will require the cultural reconstruction of aggressor nations. Chapter Two outlines the obstacles to changing culture, and suggests techniques for avoiding those obstacles and inducing cultural change. In Chapter Three Lewin explore the "special case" of Nazi Germany. He asks what conditions supported the rise of Nazism, and how might change toward a democratic German culture be promoted. Chapter Four considers the re-education of individuals, and argues that the re-education task for individuals is essentially similar to producing a change in culture.
Part Two explores conflicts within face-to-face, democratic groups. In the opening chapter Lewin describes the experimental approach to social psychology. He describes an experiment designed to investigate the differences in acquisition of either a democratic or an autocratic culture. Chapter Six explore conflict within marriage as a case of individual and group conflict. Chapter Seven examines the effect of individuals' perceptions of the future on morale, leadership, productivity, and level of aspiration. Chapter Eight illustrates the social psychological approach to conflict via a case study of a chronic workplace conflict.
In Part Three Lewin explores conflict between groups, and the effect of group belonging. Chapter Nine analyses the psycho-sociological problems of minority groups resulting from discrimination and prejudice, via the concepts of life space, social ground, and marginal membership. In Chapters Ten through Twelve Lewin draws further on these concepts to suggest coping strategies for minorities, particularly emphasizing Jewish minorities. He addresses both responses to external stress and danger, and to internal self-hate. Lewin also discusses the particular issues which arise when raising Jewish and other minority children. Lewin's concluding chapter outlines the further social psychological research needed to constructively address minority problems.
Resolving Social Conflicts introduces some basic concepts in social psychological research. While the particular issue he addresses may be dated, Lewin's approach and analysis remain insightful.