Kurt Danziger’s innovative contributions to the history of psychology 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 (e.g. Danziger, 1963). This research is still cited and has been continued by others up to the present day (e.g. Du Preez & Collins, 1985; Nelson, 1992; Finchilescu & Dawes, 1999). 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 within and outside the academy, eventually lead 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), both of 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 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 his most recent 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 has continued this line of work and is currently writing a book on the history of the ancient concept of ‘memory’. Some of his work on this subject has already appeared (Danziger, 2001; 2002).
Danziger has received many honours and awards during his career. For example, he became an Elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada in 1989. He also received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Society for the History of Psychology in 2000 and an Honorary Doctorate in Social Science from the University of Cape Town in 2004.
An edited collection, Rediscovering the history of psychology: Essays inspired by the work of Kurt Danziger was published in 2004 (Brock, Louw & van Hoorn, 2004). It contains chapters by prominent historians of psychology from North America, Europe and South Africa, as well as a commentary on the chapters by Kurt Danziger. For those who require an introduction to Kurt Danziger’s work, the introduction to this book is recommended (Brock, 2004). The book also contains a comprehensive bibliography of Kurt Danziger’s publications from 1951 to 2003.
Further information on Danziger’s life and work can be found in a 1994 interview that is available on the internet:
A more recent interview was published in the journal, History of Psychology (Brock, 2006).
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.ISBN 0306479060
Brock, A. C., Louw, J. & van Hoorn, W. (Eds.) (2003). Rediscovering the history of psychology: Essays inspired by the work of Kurt Danziger. New York: Kluwer.ISBN 0306479060
Brock, A. C. (2006). Rediscovering the history of psychology: Interview with Kurt Danziger. History of Psychology, 9 (1), 1-17.
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. (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.ISBN 0521467853
Danziger, K. (1997). Naming the mind: How psychology found its language. London: Sage.ISBN 0803977638
Danziger, K. (2001). Sealing off the discipline: Wundt and the psychology of memory. In C. D. Green, M. Shore & T. Teo (Eds.), Psychological thought in the nineteenth century: The transition from philosophy to science and the challenges of uncertainty (pp. 45-62). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Danziger, K. (2002). How old is psychology, particularly concepts of memory? History and Philosophy of Psychology, 4, 1-12.
Du Preez, P. & Collins, P. (1985). Ideology and utopia in South Africa: Twenty years after. South African Journal of Political Science, 12, 66-78.
Finchilescu, G. & Dawes, A. (1999). Adolescents’ future ideologies through four decades of South African history. Social Dynamics, 25, 98-118.
Nelson, R. D. (1992). The analysis of styles of thought. British Journal of Sociology, 43, 25-54.