Kurt Danziger

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Kurt Danziger
Born (1926-06-03) June 3, 1926 (age 90)
Breslau, Germany
Residence Toronto, Canada
Nationality German
Fields Psychology, History
Institutions University of Melbourne
University of Natal
Gadjah Mada University
University of Cape Town
York University
Alma mater University of Cape Town
University of Oxford
Known for History of psychology

Kurt Danziger is an academic whose work has focused on the history of psychology, particularly in the 20th century. His innovative contributions to this field have received widespread international recognition.


He was born in Germany in 1926 and emigrated to South Africa at the age of 11. After receiving degrees in Chemistry and Psychology from the University of Cape Town, he continued his studies at the newly established Institute of Experimental Psychology at the University of Oxford in England. His work there involved standard 1940s psychology experiments using laboratory rats (e.g. Danziger, 1953). On completing his doctorate, he joined the University of Melbourne in Australia where he did research in developmental psychology, studying children’s understanding of social relationships (e.g. Danziger, 1957).

In 1954, Danziger moved back to South Africa where social psychology soon became his main area of research. Following a two-year stay as Visiting Professor at Gadjah Mada University in Jogjakarta, Indonesia, Danziger returned to South Africa as Head of Psychology at the University of Cape Town. There he conducted some groundbreaking studies inspired by the sociology of knowledge (Danziger, 1963). This research was continued by others for many years afterwards and is still discussed (e. g. DuPreez et al., 1981; Finchilescu & Dawes, 1999; Leslie & Finchilescu, 2013). Danziger’s time in Cape Town, and his eventual departure from South Africa, were marked by his opposition to the apartheid policies which were being enforced with increasing violence and brutality. This active opposition, both inside and outside the academy, eventually led to threats and reprisals on the part of what was becoming a repressive police state. He left South Africa for Canada in 1965 and was prohibited from returning until the collapse of the old system after 1990.

Danziger took up an appointment as Professor of Psychology at York University, Toronto, where he continued to work in social psychology. His publications from this time include a textbook, Socialization (Danziger, 1971) and a monograph, Interpersonal Communication (Danziger, 1976), which were translated into several languages.

Danziger had a longstanding interest in the history of psychology and began intensive study of primary sources in the early 1970s. He became particularly interested in Wilhelm Wundt's work. Around the time of psychology’s "centennial", marking the establishment of Wundt’s laboratory in 1879, Danziger published a number of chapters and articles related to this topic (e.g. Danziger, 1979a). However, during the 1980s, he became increasingly interested in the history of psychological research methods (e.g. Danziger, 1985). This interest culminated in what is probably Danziger’s best-known book,Constructing the Subject: Historical Origins of Psychological Research (Danziger, 1990). Danziger was also interested in the history of psychological concepts and categories, and in a later book, Naming the Mind: How Psychology Found Its Language (Danziger, 1997), he traced the historical origins of modern psychological concepts like "behavior", "intelligence", "attitude", "personality" and "motivation". He continued this line of work in his book, Marking the Mind: A History of Memory (Danziger, 2008). The book is a wide-ranging history of the concept from Ancient Greece to the present. Much of the book consists of what Danziger calls 'historical psychology'. This field is to be distinguished from history of psychology in that it is concerned not so much with the theories and practices of psychologists but with the subject-matter of psychology and this sometimes has a longer history than the discipline itself (Danziger, 2003).

Danziger was invited to contribute an autobiographical chapter to an edited collection titled, A History of Psychology in Autobiography, which was published in 2009 (Mos, 2009). The contributors to the volume are eminent but unorthodox psychologists. Danziger's chapter is titled, "Confessions of a Marginal Psychologist" (Danziger, 2009).[1]

He produced a web book titled, Problematic Encounter: Talks on Psychology and History in 2010 (Danziger, 2010). The book consists of 12 talks which, for the most part, were previously unpublished or published in outlets with a limited readership, such as newsletters and conference proceedings. Danziger revised some of these talks, grouped them together according to common themes and wrote a new introduction to them.[2]

Danziger has returned to the theme of historical psychology in a book chapter titled, "Historical Psychology of Persons: Categories and Practice" (Danziger, 2012).[3] He was involved in a debate with Daniel N. Robinson on the historiography of psychology in the December 2013 issue of Theory & Psychology.[4]

Honours, awards and tributes[edit]

Danziger has received many honours and awards during his career. He was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada in 1989. In 1994, he received the Canadian Psychological Association's Award for Distinguished Contributions to Education and Training for his role in creating the graduate program in history and theory of psychology at York University, Toronto. He also received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Society for the History of Psychology in 2000, an Honorary Doctorate in Social Science from the University of Cape Town in 2004 and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the History and Philosophy of Psychology Section of the Canadian Psychological Association in 2011.

Five symposia on Kurt Danziger's work have been organised since the publication of Constructing the Subject in 1990.[5] The edited book, Rediscovering the History of Psychology: Essays Inspired by the Work of Kurt Danziger (Brock, Louw & van Hoorn, 2004) contains chapters by prominent historians of psychology from North America, Europe and South Africa, as well as a commentary on the chapters by Danziger.[6] The book also contains a comprehensive bibliography of Danziger’s publications from 1951 to 2003.

In 1994, one of Danziger's students, Adrian Brock conducted an interview which was published in a special issue of the History and Philosophy of Psychology Bulletin on Kurt Danziger (Brock, 1995). Danziger had always thought that this interview concentrated too much on him as a person and not enough on his work and so another, more work-focussed, interview was conducted many years later. The second interview was published in the journal, History of Psychology (Brock, 2006).[7]

A website devoted to Kurt Danziger's work was started in 2010. It currently contains 25 of his journal articles and 23 of his book chapters.[8]

Danziger is the subject of entries in the Encyclopedia of the History of Psychological Theories (2012) and the Encyclopedia of Cross-Cultural Psychology (2013).[9]


  • Danziger, K. (1953). The interaction of hunger and thirst in the rat. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 5, 10-21.
  • Danziger, K. (1957). The child’s understanding of kinship terms: A study in the development of relational concepts. Journal of Genetic Psychology, 91, 213-231.
  • Danziger, K. (1963). Ideology and utopia in South Africa: A methodological contribution to the sociology of knowledge. British Journal of Sociology, 14, 59-76.
  • Danziger, K. (1971). Socialization. London: Penguin.
  • Danziger, K. (1976). Interpersonal communication. New York: Pergamon Press.
  • Danziger, K. (1979). The positivist repudiation of Wundt. Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences, 15, 205-230.
  • Danziger, K. (1985). Origins of the psychological experiment as a social institution. American Psychologist, 40, 133-140.
  • Danziger, K. (1990). Constructing the subject: Historical origins of psychological research. New York: Cambridge University Press.
  • Danziger, K. (1997). Naming the mind: How psychology found its language. London: Sage.
  • Danziger, K. (2003). Prospects of a historical psychology. History and Philosophy of Psychology Bulletin, 15, 4-10.
  • Danziger, K. (2008). Marking the mind: A history of memory. New York: Cambridge University Press.
  • Danziger, K. (2009). Confessions of a marginal psychologist. In L. P. Mos (Ed.), History of psychology in autobiography (pp. 89-129). New York: Springer.
  • Danziger, K. (2010). Problematic encounter: Talks on psychology and history. Retrieved on 1 January 2013 from http://www.kurtdanziger.com/title%20page.htm.
  • Danziger, K. (2012). Historical psychology of persons: Categories and practice. In J. Martin & M. H. Bickhard (Eds.), The psychology of personhood: Philosophical, historical, social-developmental and narrative perspectives (pp. 59-80). New York: Cambridge University Press.


  • Brock, A. (1995). An interview with Kurt Danziger. History and Philosophy of Psychology Bulletin, 7 (2), 10-22.
  • Brock, A. C. (2004). Introduction. In A. C. Brock, J. Louw and W. van Hoorn (Eds.), Rediscovering the history of psychology: Essays inspired by the work of Kurt Danziger (pp. 1–17). New York: Kluwer.
  • Brock, A. C. (2006). Rediscovering the history of psychology: Interview with Kurt Danziger. History of Psychology, 9 (1), 1-16.
  • Brock, A. C. (2012). Kurt Danziger. In R. W. Rieber (Ed.), Encyclopedia of the history of psychological theories (Part 4, pp. 142-143). New York: Springer.
  • Brock, A. C. (2013). Kurt Danziger. In K. Keith (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Cross-Cultural Psychology (p. 364). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-Blackwell.
  • Brock, A. C., Louw, J. & van Hoorn, W. (Eds.) (2004). Rediscovering the history of psychology: Essays inspired by the work of Kurt Danziger. New York: Springer.
  • Du Preez, P. D., Bhana, K., Broekman, N., Louw, J., & Nel, E. (1981). Ideology and utopia revisited. Social Dynamics, 7, 52–55.
  • Finchilescu, G. & Dawes, A. (1999). Adolescents’ future ideologies through four decades of South African history. Social Dynamics, 25, 98-118.
  • Leslie, T. & Finchilescu, G. (2013). Perceptions of the future of South Africa: a 2009 replication. South African Journal of Psychology, 43, 340-355.
  • Mos, L. P. (Ed.) (2009). History of psychology in autobiography. New York: Springer.

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