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A spanner in the works : a critique of social psychology.

Wilby, Kevin Christopher (1991) A spanner in the works : a critique of social psychology. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent. (doi:10.22024/UniKent/01.02.94730) (KAR id:94730)


A critique is made of experimental social psychology in which its claim to give a "deep" understanding of human social behaviour is examined, and found to be groundless. Social psychology's methodological and theoretical assumptions are traced to the work of Kurt Lewin, whose advocacy of a "Galilean", scientific approach to psychology seemed to allow the use of experimentation on human motivations and higher order thought processes. Examples of contemporary social psychological research are examined, revealing the implicit Lewinian assumptions they make use of It is shown that Lewin's assumptions are without foundation, because they distort acknowledged facts about human beings by their imposition of a causal explanatory system onto all instances of behaviour. Lewin's "topological psychology" involves, amongst other things, the translation of common sense notions into a quasi-technical terminology. It is contended that this terminology contributes nothing to a more sophisticated understanding of people's behaviour. This contention is supported by an examination of the methodological implications associated with Lewin's terminology, and also by contrasting it with accounts that emphasize the diversity of explanatory forms in ordinary use. It is also shown, through a discussion of philosophical skepticism, that social psychology's justifications for assuming a fundamental inadequacy of common sense knowledge of behaviour, and the appropriateness of a general scientific approach to behaviour, are over-extended, and that while the motivations of behaviour are not always readily apparent, there is no serious reason to disregard all ordinary explanations of behaviour. Having shown the weaknesses inherent in social psychology's assumptions and justifications, it is concluded that social psychology cannot claim to have discovered a replacement for ordinary, common sense, explanations of behaviour.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD))
DOI/Identification number: 10.22024/UniKent/01.02.94730
Additional information: This thesis has been digitised by EThOS, the British Library digitisation service, for purposes of preservation and dissemination. It was uploaded to KAR on 25 April 2022 in order to hold its content and record within University of Kent systems. It is available Open Access using a Creative Commons Attribution, Non-commercial, No Derivatives ( licence so that the thesis and its author, can benefit from opportunities for increased readership and citation. This was done in line with University of Kent policies ( If you feel that your rights are compromised by open access to this thesis, or if you would like more information about its availability, please contact us at and we will seriously consider your claim under the terms of our Take-Down Policy (
Uncontrolled keywords: psychology
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Arts and Humanities > Department of Philosophy
SWORD Depositor: SWORD Copy
Depositing User: SWORD Copy
Date Deposited: 17 May 2023 11:32 UTC
Last Modified: 17 May 2023 11:32 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

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