A peculiar psycho-social experiment:
The twentieth century

Laszlo Garai

Institute for Psychology, Hungarian Academy of Sciences

Budapest, Hungary

Abstract: The basic statement of the paper depicts the twentieth century as the one with the main tendency of manufacturing large scale social changes. This tendency characterizes a second modernization the main difference of which is made with the 19th century first modernization in manufacturing not only material but also human factors of the actual socio-economic system's functioning. It is stated that, unlike the material production depending only on technical attributes of both producing and produced factors, the modern human production is determined also by the factors' social relations.

From the point of view of the second modernization's necessity of producing human and not only material resources are analyzed such constructions of 20th century as totalitarian societies. The fascist type totalitarian societies are claimed to directly apply the strategies of the 19th century large scale material processing industry in establishing a large scale human processing industry that dealt with both producing and produced people mostly in terms of technical attributes. On the other hand, the Bolshevik type totalitarian societies established a large scale human industry processing social relations and not only technical attributes of both producing and produced people, the paper argues.

Some rather peculiar psycho-social features (like the Nomenklatura) are presented; both their functioning and crash are analyzed from the point of view of a paradoxical self-establishing vs. self-undermining psycho-social effect.

I am deriving great intellectual pleasure from participating in a meeting of experimental social psychologists about the social change, and the more it is so for two reasons:

For the one, because the EAESP organized once before an East-West Meeting on our today's topic of social change and at that time (in 1974 at Visegrad, near to Budapest) it was I who insisted as an organizer of that meeting on this choice of topic. And if the topic of social change was very important for the social psychology at mid-seventies, a couple of years after 1968, it may be twice as important now, as many years after 1989. Now, for me participating on both of these meetings gives the chance of a comparison for considering if there has occurred any social change in meetings about social change.

And my second reason for an intellectual excitement is the contradiction between, on one hand, the fact of not just one, but two gatherings of experimental social psychologists about the topic of social change having been organized, and that other fact that this topic is not at all marked out by fate for an experimental social psychology. We are indebted indeed to Serge Moscovici (1980) and his invisible college (Doms and Moscovici, 1984; Mugny, 1982) for having discovered for psycho-social experimentation the universe of innovative minorities getting the whole society changed. But what about questions like: How an innovative minority does emerge during the history of a genuine society, as opposed to an experimental group with the minority being introduced in it by the experimenter? How a genuine innovative minority gets organized into a movement? How that movement does change those joining it? How in the long run may it change the totality of a society? And how that change may get radical, that is having an impact not only on people's behavior but on their attitude, too; and not merely on the behavior and the attitude of people but on their social identity and the network of their social relations as well?

May answers to these questions be tested by way of psycho-social experiments? I hardly believe it. It is no mere chance that one may scarcely find entries linked to the social change in subject indexes of books in experimental social psychology. You may read chapters about the topic mostly in psycho-social monographs and handbooks written in sociological perspectives (see, e. g., Rosenberg and Turner, 1981). Those chapters deal with changes that occurs to a society spontaneously. But what about planned changes that would be carried out according to an experimenter's hypothesis with the subsequent scientific consideration about the outcome being or not being conform to that preliminary design?

It appears that the questions about radical social changes aren't normally questions for an experimental social psychology. But, on the other hand, we all do know a peculiar psycho-social experiment in which we all play-ed, to a greater or lesser extent, the role of both experimenter, his confederate and subject. We know this experimentation with, so to speak, manufactured radical changes in society, under the name of twentieth century.

In order to advance arguments for the twentieth century representing just that kind of experimentation let's make a slight detour into the world of manufactured changes.

The first and the second modernization

Manufacturing radical changes is intimately linked to the modernity. The traditional world was unchanged until some quite spontaneous radical change happened: an earthquake or the Black Death, a devastation of the country by the Barbarians, Mongolians, Turks, Huns or Hungarians.

The modernization of that world meant, first of all, a recurrent artificial intervention by the society into natural processes, in order to provide itself with optimum conditions of its own functioning.

However, in a first period of the modernization (during the 1819th centuries) material and human conditions of that socio-economic system were treated in a completely opposite way: the system produced the material factors it depended on and made itself independent of the human phenomena which had not been produced by it.

It is a truism, for instance, that the socio-economic system of that first modernization period to an increasing extent substituted machines for human faculties; hence, there were an increasing need for manufacturing machines and no need for manufacturing human faculties. When manufacturing machines, the system manufactured intended changes, but only in its material world. The more the material world changed according to preliminary plans (from a virgin country to an industrialized area with railway lines and factory chimneys), the more the human world remained unchanged (as in the Victorian England) or changed in the most unplanned manner (as in France during the century of revolutions, coups d'état and wars that separated from Napoleon the Great World War).

Now, the matter is that the tendencies that made the economic growth of the social system independent from human conditions turned at a given moment into their opposite.

Lets take the story of those very machines. Their operator during the 19th century was supposed to do nothing but intervene into their running, at an appropriate moment and in an appropriate way. Only technical development simultaneously resulted in an increase in both the speed and the complexity of mechanical equipment: due to its increased complexity the operator needed more and more time to process all informations needed for responding in an appropriate way; on the other hand, due to the increasing speed he had less and less time to react in an appropriate moment. Those persons who could coordinate these requirements working against each other, were no more a wild fruit that would need only being picked. If such a faculty got needed for running the socio-economic system this human condition (and human conditions, in general) further on has to be manufactured the same as it was done earlier with the material conditions for the system's functioning.

Hence, it is rather useful to distinguish from the first, 19th century phase of the modernization a 20th century second modernization that deals with both human and material conditions the same way of artificially introducing planned changes in them the first modernization period dealt with material conditions only.

















* The paper was presented at in Prague,1992 at an East-West Meeting of the European Association of Experimental Social Psychology