Key Thinkers in Psychology


Rom Harré

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    The 20th century was rich in attempts to characterize and explain psychological phenomena and so to understand the human mind. These projects were undertaken by a huge and diverse cast of characters. Among the most important were ivan Pavlov, Sigmund Freud, Alexander Luria, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Lev Vygotsky, Jean Piaget, Burrhus Frederick skinner, Alan Turing, Noam Chomsky, Frederic Bartlett, Jerome Bruner and James Gibson. Each contributed a distinctive perspective on the nature of persons and their cognitive and emotional capacities. Some, such as Lev Vygotsky and Jerome Bruner, have left an enduring mark on our understanding of ourselves. Others, such as Burrhus Frederick Skinner and Raymond Cattell, influential in their time, followed trails that seem to have reached dead ends.

    Choosing the people whose life and work has been of notable importance involved two decisions. A century is a somewhat arbitrary division of time. A cut-off point had to be chosen. I settled on the simple criterion that the major works by which a person influenced the development of scientific psychology should have been published in the 20th century. Under this principle the lives and work of Wilhelm Wundt and William James were reluctantly excluded. Sigmund Freud and Emile Kraepelin, though very active in the late 19th century, met this requirement for inclusion.

    To select a cast of characters from those who are indubitably figures of the 20th century involves a second decision. The people I have chosen reflect a certain presumption on my part as to how psychology evolved in the 20th century and how it is likely to develop in the 21st. To choose about 40 influential thinkers from so many interesting people in the end must reflect one's personal perception of where psychology came from and where it is headed.

    This book is an account of the lives and work of the people I take to have been major innovators in several important branches of psychology. I make no claims to comprehensiveness. There are several massive tomes devoted to the lives of psychologists, past and present. There are some excellent biographical articles on the web in various electronic encyclopaedias. References to these will be found in the Further Readings attached to each section, and the bibliography at the end of the introduction.

    On looking over the cast of characters I have put together in response to the publisher's original suggestion for this project, it struck me that it did not include any women. This is not due to my testosterone-induced blindness. It was a noticeable feature of 20th century psychology. However, if we were to take the human sciences as a whole, rather than the narrow realm of psychology as it was understood in the last century, women made notable contributions. For instance, one would include Deborah Tannen (1991), whose academic location is linguistics. She showed how the patterns of men's and women's talk tended to lead to mutual incomprehension. The work of Hélène Cixous (1986), social and literary critic, displayed the gender patterning of Western literature. Catherine Lutz (1988), anthropologist, demonstrated the cultural specificity of repertoires of emotions. Bronwyn Davies (1989), educationalist, developed a research method based on phenomenological poetics, and tracked the development of the sense of gender in human development. Anna Wierzbicka (1992), anthropological linguist, demonstrated some of the universal features of human cognition. This list could be extended in various directions. The work of none of these women is in the received canon of ‘scientific psychology’. So much the worse for that canon, one might well say.

    There might also be thought to be an omission of a major branch of psychology, namely the psychology of the emotions, to which one might couple the psychology of the arts generally. In the last century studies in the psychology of the emotions have ranged from cultural-historical investigations, to ethological research into emotion displays as signalling systems, to the neurophysiology of arousal. However, no one individual stands out as a true innovator or a major influence on the way the field developed. With neither a commanding figure nor an especially innovative approach exclusive to the psychology of the emotions, the remit of this book leaves no place for any one representative. Of course, in any general history of psychology in the last century it would feature prominently.

    In a masterly analysis of the history of scientific schools, Lewis Feuer (1963) showed how the development of a natural science, such as physics or chemistry, in one of the great centres of research, passed through an 80-year cycle. The story begins with the work of a ‘Maverick Guru’, whose innovations are resisted or ignored by the established leaders in the field. However, the promise of a new field of research attracts a generation of exceptionally talented disciples who take up the work of innovator. The cycle ends with minor variations of known results as successive generations of lesser talent are attracted to a now famous research programme. A similar pattern is discernible in the recent history of psychology. Through the lives of our cast of characters we will follow the progress of some of the great innovations of the 20th century as they rose into established paradigms, and sometimes declined into obscurity.

    The life stories presented here are arranged in roughly chronological clusters around topics to which a major part of the life work of each of our characters was directed. The clusters are grouped under heads that suggest the content of the topics they cover. Of course, many of these exceptionally active and innovative people contributed to more than one domain of the official dimensions of academic psychology. Should Jerome Bruner be placed among the developmentalists or the cognitivists? Should Sigmund Freud be located as a psychopathologist or as a developmentalist? And so on. Cross references take us to and fro across the clusters.

    Lists for further reading include a selection of major works, some secondary sources, and, wherever they exist and are accessible, biographies and autobiographies. References to some of the excellent articles and biographies available on the internet have been included.

    Cross-references are indicated in bold with the full name of the author discussed in the section to which reference is made. The names of people who have made lesser but significant contributions to psychology are displayed in italics.

    The book is based on a course given at American University, Washington DC during the spring semester 2004. To comply with the constraints of the semester a selection was necessary. The course comprised the lives and work of the following: Ivan Pavlov, Burrhus Frederick Skinner, Lev Vygotsky, Jean Piaget, Jerome Bruner, Gordon Allport, Erving Goffman, Alan Turing, Noam Chomsky, Wilder Penfield, Alexander Luria, Karl Pribram, Sigmund Freud, Ludwig Wittgenstein and Michel Foucault. Though in some sense arbitrary, this proved to be a workable selection. Other choices could certainly be made, and other course structures developed on the basis of the material in this volume.

    A study like this depends very much on the ready availability of the relevant books. I would like to express particularly warm thanks to the staff of the Radcliffe Science Library in Oxford and of the Medical Library at Georgetown for their help and interest.


    Oxford and Washington DC, 2005

  • Name Index

    Unless family members exerted a notable influence on the work of our cast of characters, their names have not been included in this index.

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