Power and Leadership in Lewinian Field Theory: Recalling an Interrupted Task

  • Carl F. Graumann
Part of the Springer Series in Social Psychology book series (SSSOC)


Consulting the social psychological literature on leadership inevitably leads one back to the so-called pioneer studies of Kurt Lewin and his students published between the late 1930s and 1960s. However, as inevitable as they seem to be, references to these studies are of an intriguing ambivalence. On the one hand, they state and sometimes emphasize the historical significance of Lewin’s and the Lewinians’ conceptual and empirical contributions to power and leadership in groups, mainly in connection with the application of field theory to group problems, with the beginning of cognitive social psychology and with experimentation with groups in laboratory settings. On the other hand, the reader gets the feeling that this emphasized significance is merely historical, since the field-theoretical approach, with its topological and dynamic constructs, does not seem to have been continued, nor have the findings from the classic studies on group atmospheres or styles of leadership been reliably replicated. (For recent explicit evaluations of Lewin’s role in contemporary social psychology, see Evans, 1980; Festinger, 1980; Schellenberg, 1978). Furthermore, if we consider that neither Lewin nor his students presented an explicit theory or model of leadership, some justification is needed in the 1980s for discussing the Lewinian contributions to our understanding of leadership or even to resume his mode of thought.


Social Psychology Group Dynamic Social Power Field Approach Experimental Social Psychology 
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© Springer-Verlag New York Inc. 1986

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  • Carl F. Graumann

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