Bibliography: History of Social Psychology

This post is written by Cathy Faye, Assistant Director, Archives of the History of Psychology, Center for the History of Psychology and is part of a special series of bibliographies on topics in the history of psychology.

In the following list of resources I have tried to provide literature that discusses social psychology from both a historical and a theoretical standpoint and that reflects both psychological and sociological approaches to the discipline. Nonetheless, my own interests are centred largely on the disciplinary history of twentieth-century American social psychology and the historiography of social psychology. This list reflects that focus. I’ve also focused on sources that take a very broad view of the field, and have therefore omitted reference to specific topics or time periods in the history of social psychology. For those interested in a more topical consideration of social psychology, I highly recommend Roger Smith’s (1997) bibliographic essay on “The individual and the social” (see Smith, The Norton History of the Human Sciences, pp. 993-999). I have provided brief explanatory notes regarding each book-length work in the list below. With a few exceptions, most of these works are standard histories, while the articles provided are mainly critiques of these standard histories or theoretical considerations of the discipline. Read together, they provide a really interesting story not only of what social psychology has been, but also of the changing views regarding what it should be. The list of articles is brief, but the best articles are those in the special issue of the Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences that I have cited.


Collier, G., Minton, H. L., & Reynolds, G. (1991). Currents of thought in American social psychology. New York: Oxford University Press. This book is a good place to start, since it highlights trends in the history of American social psychology. It does not, however, provide much detail or reflection.

Farr, R. M. (1996). The roots of modern social psychology, 1872-1954. Oxford: Blackwell. Farr provides a more reflective and critical history, along with a consideration of historiographical issues in writing the history of social psychology.

Greenwood, J. D. (2004). The disappearance of the social in American social psychology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Greenwood provides a critical, historical analysis of the individualistic nature of contemporary social psychology. He argues that early twentieth-century social psychologists had a rich conception of the social that has since dissipated. This book is particularly useful because it raises important questions regarding what constitutes a social versus an asocial psychology.

Jackson, J. M.(1988). Social psychology, past and present: An integrative orientation. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum. Like Collier, Minton, & Reynolds, this is another sort of “text-book” account of the history of social psychology. I find it less useful, but it does fill in some of the gaps.

Jahoda, G. (2007). A history of social psychology: From the eighteenth-century enlightenment to the Second World War. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Jahoda provides a history of social-psychological thought in the United States and Europe from the eighteenth century to the 1930s. The approach is somewhat biographical, focusing on the contributions of individuals from a variety of fields including philosophy, anthropology, sociology, and psychology.

Karpf, F. B. (1932). American social psychology: Its origins, development, and European background. New York: McGraw-Hill. Karpf’s book offers a unique perspective partially due to the fact that it was written before American social psychology was institutionalized. She therefore reviews the origins of social-psychological thought in nineteenth-century Europe and provides an excellent outline of the beginnings of social psychology in the sociological tradition.

Moscovici, S., Marková, I. (2006). The making of modern social psychology: The hidden story of how an international social science was created. Cambridge: Polity Press. Moscovici and Marková’s main purpose is to document the development of the Committee on Transnational Social Psychology, but in doing so they provide a very unique and contextualized history of social psychology. They extend other accounts first, by documenting social psychology in the years following World War II and second, by demonstrating the vast influence of the political, historical, intellectual, and scientific issues surrounding the discipline.

Ross, D. (1992). The origins of American social science. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press. This work traces the history of American sociology, economics, and political science from the late eighteenth century to the early twentieth century and provides an excellent context for understanding the development of a uniquely American social psychology, built on the model of the natural sciences.

Articles and Chapters

Apfelbaum, E. (1986). Prolegomena for a history of social psychology: Some hypotheses concerning its emergence in the 20th century and its raison d’etre. In K. S. Larsen (Ed.), Dialectics and ideology in psychology (pp. 3-13). Norwood, NJ: Ablex Publishing.

House, J. S. (1977). The three faces of social psychology. Sociometry, 40, 161-177.

Kruglanski, A. W. (2001). That “vision” thing: The state of theory in social and personality psychology at the edge of the new millennium. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 80, 871-875.

Lubek, I. (Ed.). (2000). Re-engaging the history of social psychology [Special Issue]. Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences, 36(4).

Morawski, J. G. (2000). Social psychology a century ago. American Psychologist, 55, 427-430.

Moscovici, S. (1972). Society and theory in social psychology. In J. Israel & H. Tafjel (Eds.), The context of social psychology: A critical assessment (pp. 17-68).
New York: Academic Press Inc.

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