„It´s the psychology, stupid!” one could paraphrase James Carville much cited remark. That´s because constructivism and social psychology hold that the inner workings of our minds and hearts heavily impact human relations, daily realities and our actions.
On that note, drawing on findings of psychoanalysis, evolutionary, cognitive, behavioural and neuropsycholgy social psychology illuminates the complex, sometimes evident, sometimes hidden mechanisms of individual and group experience.
It´s findings are both originated in and have in turn shaped such diverse theorists as Sigmund Freud, Theodor W. Adorno, Kurt Lewin, Erwin Goffmann, Paul Watzlawick, Aaron Beck and Daniel Bar-Tal that illuminate different aspects of the complex, sometimes hidden, sometimes evident mechanisms of individual and group relations that impact societies as a whole, political cultures and international relations.
To begin with: On an individual level, emotions, for instance, may function as prism for ideas, identities and beloning, they color human ties and can prompt people to commit brave or destructive actions. Also beliefs and selective knowledge (as components of stereotypes) may heavily influence our perception of the world by motivating distortion, selection and bias.
Moreover, such mechanisms appear enhanced on a group and intergroup level: Experimental psychology proves that simply belonginig to a certain group motivates positive emotions and a positive bias in interpreting ingroups actions, while there is a negative bias towards outgroups and outgroup members. Here, collective identities, norms and role models appear as pivotal for the mutual acknowledgement within the group members and the cohesion of the group as a whole.
Eventually, both levels help to illuminate what we can perceive on a social level: Ranging from small peer-groups, families, and political networks, to cultural communities and states, we can see how actors are guided by powerful norms and role models that lay the foundations of prestige, acknowledgement and mutual understanding: Taking the ideal images of the rational, clear-sighted man, the emotional and passive woman, the combative, belligerent party leader, the analytically-cryptic social scientist, or the investigative journalist that is only one step before uncovering the next scandal, we can see how prototypical models of how someone should „be“ and behave shape our evaluation of self and others. This is mostly a completely unconscious process. This is why only the deconstruction of these alleged self-evidence may clarify how normative role models impact social life, may impact political decision making, trigger populism or even kindle the most powerful idea of a „clash of civilizations“.
Our course will be twofold: In the first part we will discuss central concepts of social psychology, such as norms, identities, emotions, attitudes, persuation, group dynamics and their interaction as viewed through the lense of social emotion and identity theory.
In the second part be will discuss how these concepts impact peace and conflict within national and international relations. This will include the fields of gender, intercultural communication, and discourse analysis and their relevance for understanding intractable conflicts and their resolution. Thus, studens will get a profound and broad overview of the role of social psychology for understanding inter-human and international relations.
Students will be asked to independently apply the course´s theory to selected case studies.
There will be no oral presentations. Our course will be an „inverted classroom“, based on small homework tasks to be shortly presented in every class, on group work, social psychological experiments and in-depth discussion of the literature.