Commentary About Social
Psychology in the Golden Age
Albert Pepitone describes the wide range of subjects studied by social psychologists in the field's early years (a point Leonard Berkowitz has made earlier in this volume). After reviewing the most influential books published in the field before World War II, Pepitone concludes that the range and diversity of the subject matter in those early days, with special emphasis on "macrosocial phenomena at the level of society and culture," extended well beyond what is covered in contemporary texts. He next considers the wartime period, during which there was particular reference to social influence, judgments, reference groups, and group membership. Most of the chapter covers what Pepitone calls the "golden age," the postwar period up to approximately the late 1980s. Pepitone offers a critical analysis of some of the most significant research programs during this period. Pepitone is critical of the excess of experimentalism in testing hypotheses derived from narrow theories rather than suggested by field observations. He is also concerned with the disappearance of theoretical systems that synthesize a wide diversity of social phenomena. Finally, although he acknowledges advances in the specification of fundamental cognitive processes, he believes a more comprehensive understanding of social human beings requires that the discipline address theoretically and methodologically a broader range of phenomena, particularly through real-life observations of cultural and mass behavior.
If one were to make an end-of-century assessment of social psychology -- a sort of state-of-the-field report -- the most relevant desiderata would certainly be the findings of the major experimental research programs, the theories used to interpret them, and the contributions made to enduring bodies of knowledge. But without looking at the historical development of the field, especially the philosophical and methodological ideas that have driven it, even a detailed review of research would not provide a full understanding of what we social psychologists are, what essentially we have done, and where the field is going. For