Henri Tajfel Papers – Now Available to Consult!

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By | From the Collections

The papers of Henri Tajfel (1919-1982), the Bristol University Professor of Social Psychology and eminent social psychologist, following the completion of the cataloguing process, have today become accessible at the Wellcome Library. An extensive obituary for Tajfel appeared in the Journal of Language and Social Psychology, Vol. 1, No. 1, 87-89 (1982). He also has an entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography and an extensive Wikipedia biography where he is credited as the principal co-developer of Social Identity Theory. This theory, developed by Tajfel and Turner, suggests that people categorize themselves into groups which Tajfel and Turner called “in-groups”, and categorize everyone else into other groups, called “out-groups”. This categorization helps to promote a sense of identity but this leads to unfavourable comparisons between the in-group and the out-group and the enforcement of boundaries between the groups which can result in conflict in various guises.

The Tajfel papers at the Wellcome Library do not cover the development of Social Identity Theory to any great extent and anyone wishing to discover more about this and related theories would be better advised to read one of the following books:

• Tajfel, H. (Ed.). (1978). Differentiation Between Social Groups: Studies in the Social Psychology of Intergroup Relations. London: Academic Press.
• Tajfel, H. & Turner, J. C. (1979). “An Integrative Theory of Intergroup Conflict”. In W. G. Austin & S. Worchel (Eds.), The Social Psychology of Intergroup Relations. Monterey, CA: Brooks-Cole .
• Tajfel, H. (1981). Human Groups and Social Categories. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
• Tajfel, H. & Turner, J. C. (1986). “The Social Identity Theory of Inter-group Behavior”. In S. Worchel & L. W. Austin (Eds.), Psychology of Intergroup Relations. Chicago: Nelson-Hall

However, what the Henri Tajfel papers do cover is his extensive involvement with numerous social psychological societies, journals and books, particularly the Academic Press series of books which Tajfel edited, the European Monographs in Social Psychology. Tajfel’s files cover his lecture notes from the early 1960’s and are full of papers submitted for publication in various journals and books and presented at the many conferences/seminars which he attended in the 1960’s, 1970’s and 1980’s. There is also extensive correspondence concerning books, journal articles and letters both published and unpublished by other social psychologists of the time.

To date, Henri Tajfel has not benefited from a full biography covering his life and works. For those interested in his place in the history of social psychology theory, his legacy has been discussed in numerous books and journals in the almost 30 years since his death and one place to start is by referring to John C. Turner’s, “Henri Tajfel: An introduction”, which appears in W. P. Robinson (Ed.) Social groups and identities: Developing the legacy of Henri Tajfel. Oxford: Butterworth Heinemann (1996). Professor John Turner began as a research associate working for Tajfel at Bristol University and they worked together over many years.

Rather than repeat what has been said about Tajfel in these many sources, I thought it would be illuminating to see what Tajfel chose to write as his own biography in 1981, the year before his death. The following biography, written by Tajfel, is taken from the Cambridge University Press “Advance Information Sheet” produced in April 1981 for the book “Human Groups and Social Categories”.

“Professor of Social Psychology, University of Bristol. Born 22 June 1919 in Poland. Educated in several European countries. Prisoner-of-war in Germany June 1940 – May 1945. In the first few years after the war, working in various European countries for international organisations concerned with the rehabilitation of children and adults, victims of war. First degree and Ph.D. in Psychology, University of London. 1954-56, Assistant, University of Durham. 1956-67 in Oxford, University Lecturer in Social Psychology and Fellow of Linacre College. 1967, Professor of Social Psychology, University of Bristol. Longer-term visiting appointments at Harvard University; University of Western Ontario; Centre for Advanced Study in the Behavioural Sciences, Stanford, California; University of Leiden; Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, Paris; The Van Leer Foundation, Jerusalem; University of Bologna. Short visits to a number of universities in Europe and North America including Katz-Newcomb Lecturer, University of Michigan and Special Lecturer, University of Helsinki. Fellow of the British Psychological Society. Past President of the European Association of Social Psychology. Past Chairman of the Social Psychology Section of the British Psychological Society. First Annual Gordon Allport Intergroup Relations Prize, S.P.S.S.I.. Co-author and editor of several books in social psychology and publications in a variety of psychological journals in Britain, U.S.A., Canada, France, Italy, Germany, etc. Editor of the European Monographs in Social Psychology, Academic Press, London.”

What is clear from the 64 boxes of Tajfel papers, part of the deposit of the papers of the British Psychological Society at the Wellcome Library, is how hard Henri Tajfel worked, how many organisations he belonged to, how many books and journals he contributed to, how many conferences and symposia he attended, and how many people with whom he corresponded both agreeing and disagreeing with points made in private and in public. His prodigious output did not stop with issues of social psychology and where he felt newspapers or even the school curriculum was biased against matters dear to his heart such as the coverage of Israel, he would take up his pen and begin a lengthy correspondence. Henri Tajfel died at the relatively young age of 62, and given the amount of work that he had demonstrated that he could tackle and that he was still planning to get through in early 1982, it can only be imagined how much more he would have been able to contribute to the field of social psychology had he lived for just a few years longer.

The catalogue of the Tajfel papers can be consulted on the Wellcome Library’s archives and manuscripts database, under the reference PSY/TAJ. The papers of the British Psychological Society will be released gradually as they are made ready for consultation. An earlier blog post has already described the papers of Charlotte Wolff, from the same source.

Author: Jon Cable

Chris Hilton

Chris Hilton

Dr Christopher Hilton was until August 2017 a Senior Archivist at the Wellcome Library.

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