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The Sociology of Knowledge

Kurt Danziger has contributed to the fields of comparative psychology, developmental psychology, social psychology and history and theory of psychology at various points in his career. The website was designed to showcase his work in history and theory of psychology which dates back to the end of the 1970’s. An exception has been made for two studies using hypotheses derived from the sociology of knowledge that were conducted in South Africa in the 1950’s and -60’s since there is a certain degree of continuity between them and the later work. Danziger’s autobiography provides some background information for this work (Danziger, 2009).

The studies in question are:

Danziger, K. (1963). Ideology and Utopia in South Africa: A methodological contribution to the sociology of knowledge. British Journal of Sociology, 14, 59-76. [pdf]

Danziger, K. (1963). The psychological future of an oppressed group. Social Forces, 42, 31-40. [pdf]

In a book chapter that is available on this website, Louw (2004) has discussed the continuity between this work and Danziger’s later historical work. A chapter in the edited book, Psychology in Social Context represents a transition between the two (Danziger, 1979). Danziger has consistently adopted a sociological approach to the history of psychology. Readers who wish to explore this topic in more detail are referred to the chapter by Louw.

In addition to being of interest because of its link to Danziger’s later work, this work is generally considered to be a significant contribution to the sociology of knowledge. Up to that point, the field had had a largely conceptual character and few specific empirical studies had been carried out. Nearly 30 years after Danziger's work was published, Nelson (1992) wrote in the British Journal of Sociology: "The most satisfactory analysis of contemporaneous thought styles to date has been Danziger's studies of styles of thought in South Africa" (p. 30).

The work has also had a major resonance in South Africa. Danziger’s problems with the apartheid regime led to him leaving South Africa for Canada in 1965. However, others continued this research for many years afterwards (e.g. Du Preez et al., 1981; Louw, 1983; Du Preez & Collins, 1985; Finchilescu & Dawes, 1999). The latest discussion of the research on this subject was published as recently as 2013 (Leslie & Finchilescu, 2013).


Danziger, K. (1979). The social origins of modern psychology:  Positivist sociology and the sociology of knowledge.  In A. R. Buss (Ed.), Psychology in social context: Towards a sociology of psychological knowledge.  (pp. 27-45). New York:  Irvington. [pdf]

Danziger, K. (2009). Confessions of a marginal psychologist. In L. Mos (Ed.), A history of psychology in autobiography (pp. 89-129). New York: Springer. [pdf]

Du Preez, P. D., Bhana, K., Broekman, N., Louw, J., & Nel, E. (1981). Ideology and utopia revisited. Social Dynamics, 7, 52–55.

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.

Leslie, T. & Finchilescu, G. (2013). Perceptions of the future of South Africa: a 2009 replication. South African Journal of Psychology, 43, 340-355.

Louw, J. (1983). Changing expectations of the future. In J. B. Deregowski, S. Dziurawiec & R. C. Annis (Eds.), Expiscations in cross-cultural psychology (pp. 403–413). Lisse: Swets and Zeitlinger.

Louw, J. (2004). In search of method. In A. C. Brock, J. Louw & W. Van Hoorn (Eds.), Rediscovering the history of psychology: Essays inspired by the work of Kurt Danziger (pp. 33-52). New York: Springer. [pdf]

Nelson, R. D. (1992). The analysis of styles of thought. British Journal of Sociology, 43, 25-54.