The Legacy of European Social Psychology

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

The Past, the Present and the Future

The EASP was founded with clear goals in mind: To bring Europeans social psychologists together, advance the quality of research and research training with due respect for diversity in theoretical approaches and methodology, and put European social psychology on the map of the international scene of social psychology. Fifty years have passed since then. Have the goals of our founders been achieved? If they were still around, would they applaud? Would they still recognize the Association as they had it in mind? It is perhaps a bit unfair to even raise the question, because the world at large and the world of science and its support systems is by far not comparable to that of fifty years ago. Moreover, an evaluation of our history, as is true for any evaluation, depends on the choice of criteria used to make that evaluation.

Going by the tone of the presidential addresses that were presented at the end of each president’s term in office one can only observe that they all experienced our Association mainly as a success story, referring thereby often to the fact that the Association had remained loyal to the agenda set by its founders. They further express pride in the wealth of activities deployed and in the ever growing impact of European social psychology on the world of social psychology in general. The above pages of this history account support their evaluation.

Of course there are still challenges to be met. To give but a few examples, there is for instance the challenge of assuring our Association’s position in relation to European institutions and agencies, including gaining access to European funds. There is also the question of how we, as an Association, can take initiatives to support our members who live in countries still suffering from the economic crisis, or in countries imposing political repression. In recent years several initiatives have already been taken to address these challenges, but there is no reason to sit back. We are not there yet!

Respect for diversity and plurality is one of the values the founders of the Association stood for. Recent discussions have made it clear that we should continue to undertake efforts to safeguard these important values. Some feel that the ‘publish or perish’ culture present in many institutions of higher education, the emphasis on quantifiable indicators of quality and some prevailing publication norms constitute a potential threat to intellectual creativity and to diversity in theoretical approaches and the choice of methodologies. It remains the task of the Association to develop strategies that contribute to fostering diversity and plurality, in terms of substance, but for instance also in terms of the representativeness of the types of meetings it supports, or of the grants it awards.

More generally, we should not forget that our Association was created as a source of support for social psychologists everywhere in Europe, as a means to facilitate connections between people, with special attention to support and develop the work of those members who lack this support, for financial or other reasons, in their own academic environments. This supportive and facilitative core is unique to our Association, as it differentiates us from many other organizations. We should not lose sight of this unique character- istic. In their home environments some of our membership has ample access to research facilities and to research grants and they often belong to large research groups, but another significant part of our members are less fortunate in these respects. Of course, in allocating its means the Association has to weigh considerations of merit versus those of need. Nevertheless, continued efforts to prevent “Matthew effects” should remain high on the agenda.

Compared to the early years, with only about 60 members in the late sixties, our Association is now a large organization, with close to 1200 members. It may come as a surprise to some, but even in the early years size was already a source of concern. To repeat a quote of Tajfel, while writing about the General Meetings he said:

We did not wish to have an amorphous, mainly formal, large international body whose activities would mainly be restricted to organizing once every few years one of those ‘large jamborees’, known as International Congresses. We wished to have a small group of people, which would grow slowly, would have an active membership, and would also be capable of creating strong mutual links.

His concern was echoed by Moscovici in his 1969 presidential address:

Our Association broadens, due to an increase of its members. Since the small group, who in the beginning formed the center of the Association, has increased numerically as well as geographically, new problems will certainly arise. But we are sure that the friendly relationships formed during all these years, without overlooking the difficulties and divergences in opinion, are guarantees for the success in solving these new problems, because they have contributed to the establishment of confidence, mutual esteem and unity in the determination of our goals.

In many ways the present size of our membership is a source of strength, because it increases the variety of work that we represent and our impact on the international scene. At the same time, however, the ever growing size of the membership continues to be a challenge. It remains our task to reconcile the undeniable advantages of being large with finding creative ways to maintain the close knit family feeling that has always been so characteristic of our Association.

Professional as it must be, the Association should continue to feel like home! Such is not the expression of a sense of nostalgia for days and years passed. On the contrary, it expresses a firm belief in the future. Abraham Lincoln once said: “The best way to predict the future is to create it!” Therefore, let us join forces towards creating the future of our Association. The Association is us, and what it does is what we do.