The Legacy of European Social Psychology

An online compendium of ideas, schools and people in the field of Social Psychology

The Early Years: Smooth, But With a Few Bumps

So far, the description of the foundation and the early years of the Association might create the impression of a flawless start, but it cannot be denied that on its way to maturity the association had to cope with various types of problems. Without pretending to be exhaustive below is a description of some of these problems, as they could be traced from the Archives of the Association. Calling them ‘problems’ may be a bit of an overstatement. In retrospect ‘minor hurdles’ might be a better characterization.

Bump 1

Communication among the members of the Planning/Executive Committee was not always easy. For us, now living in the rapid world of social media and other IT-guided means of communication, it may be difficult to realize, but the means of communication in the 1960’s were more than limited. Letters sent by (air)mail, typed or handwritten, in English, French, or German, were the most common means of communication among the Committee and the members. Quite often letters would cross in the mail, sometimes leading to misunderstandings and even conflicts. Urgent matters were often handled by telephone, sometimes even by telegram exchanges.

Bump 2

At times members expressed concerns about the lack of respect for ‘democracy’ shown by the Committee. Amongst others there was the issue of attendance at the early conferences only by invitation which was experienced as unjust by some members. As another example some members expressed discontent that the early decisions regarding the
growth of the membership were made by those present on the occasion only. It was felt that the membership as a whole should have been consulted first.

Bump 3

The startup years of the European Journal were difficult, especially in terms of the relationship between the editor and Mouton, the first publisher of the Journal. As one example, editor Mauk Mulder complained in a letter to the publisher that, although the necessary copy for an issue had been turned over to the publisher in time, the publication of the issue
was delayed. As another example, in that same letter Mulder remarked that he had received letters from subscribers who, in spite of having paid, did not receive the journal, while others were receiving multiple copies of the same issue.

Bump 4

The description of the development of the Association above portrays the early members as a group of enthusiastic and highly involved people, keen on learning from their colleagues and on contributing themselves to the young organization. Some did, but others did not, or at least less so. In 1972, Tajfel—in somewhat cynical language—remarked that the Association had two kinds of members: A smaller group who were at the focus of practically everything that was done, and a larger more passive group. Such is not unusual of course, as long as the more passive group shows some amount of involvement, if only by reading the Newsletter. As a somewhat naughty test, Tajfel and Nuttin, president and secretary of the Executive Committee, announced in a Newsletter (1970) that the Executive Committee had decided to buy a yacht, which would be used as a mobile meeting place for small meetings by the Committee, or the members. The decision to buy the yacht would be carried out, unless at least three members objected. It turned out that only one member objected. Needless to say, the yacht was not bought, but Nuttin and Tajfel had proven their point!

Bump 5

Finally, there was of course the issue of finances. In the early years the activities of the Association had fully or mostly been paid for by American sources. Thereafter and in line with the Association’s philosophy of self-reliance, not only intellectually but also materially, other means of support had to be found. Such was not always easy, but the Executive Committee itself and members of the Association should be credited with always having found sufficient funds to support its activities. Money came from international and national organizations, private foundations, universities, research institutes, and from the modest membership fees.

These growing pains, natural for any starting organization, do not take anything away from the fact that by the early 1970’s the Association found itself on solid ground, ready to consolidate its primary goals: Creating a community of social psychologists in Europe, promoting and realizing high quality research inspired also by a specific European perspective, and having an impact on the field of social psychology at large.