Serge Moscovici (1925 - 2014) was a Romanian-born French social psychologist. Moscovici was director of the Laboratoire de psychologie sociale (Laboratory of social psychology) at the École des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (EHESS). He founded and directed the Laboratoire Européen de Psychologie Sociale (European Laboratory of Social Psychology) at the Fondation Maison des Sciences de l'Homme in Paris. Moscovici is one of the fathers of European social psychology. He was one of the original founding members and the first president of the European Association of Social Psychology (EASP). Moscovici received several honorary doctorates and several awards for his work, including the prestigious Balzan Award (2003) for his work in social psychology and the Wundt -James Award (2007) by the American Psychological Foundation.
Moscovici was born in Braïla, Romania, to Jewish parents and grew up at a time of immense anti-Semitism. He was excluded from school due to anti-Semitic laws and suffered from the 1941 pogrom in Bucharest. In 1945 he left Romania, arriving eventually in France in 1948 where he studied psychology at the Sorbonne. Under the supervision of the psychoanalyst Daniel Lagache, Moscovici completed his doctorate thesis on the social representations of psychoanalysis in the French society of the 1950s (La psychanalyse, son image et son public: Étude sur la représentation sociale de la psychanalyse, 1961).
In La Psychanalyse, Moscovici outlined his theory of social representations. Against the dominant behaviourist tradition of psychology at the time, Moscovici studied representations as forms of social knowledge, putting everyday knowledge at the centre of his social psychology. Moscovici was particularly interested in the relationship between science and common sense and in that work he examined how science becomes familiarised as common-sense thinking. Communication was central in the psychoanalysis study and in Moscovici’s thinking in general. Breaking up with dominant social cognition models, Moscovici conceptualised social representations as products of social interaction within a ‘thinking society’. According to his theory of social representations, different modes of communication give rise to the construction of different forms of knowledge.
The psychosocial perspective (‘le regard psychosocial’) is at the root of Moscovici’s contribution to psychology. Moscovici analysed social psychological phenomena in terms of the interrelationships between subject-other-object. He thus challenged the duality between subject and object through the mediation of a third party (other).
Moscovici’s work is characterised by a concern for understanding social change. His theory of social representations is a theory about the construction and transformation of social knowledge through processes of communication in the public sphere. His widely known work on minority influence is more apparently a theory of social change. In his book Social Influence and Social Change, Moscovici reviewed the social psychology of social influence and concluded that it focused heavily on compliance to the majority paying no attention to social innovation and also that it conflated social power with influence, thus focusing on how powerful majorities exert influence. Partly due to his own experiences with the green movement of the 1960s’ and 1970s, Moscovici was interested in how minorities with no or little power can exert influence and produce social innovation. The theory of minority influence, also known as theory of innovation, is about the processes through which active minorities are able to challenge and transform the status quo. In his ‘genetic model of social influence’, Moscovici studied how consistent minorities create cognitive conflict and produce social innovation by disrupting established norms and making visible their alternative point of view.
Moscovici is also widely known within psychology for his theory of group polarisation which states that following group discussion, the views of the group become more polarised compared to prior the discussion.
Serge Moscovici died in Paris on November 15, 2014. After his death, he became Honorary President of the Réseau Mondial Serge Moscovici (Serge Moscovici Global Network), founded in 2014 in the Fondation Maison des Sciences de l'Homme in Paris.
Written by Eleni Andreouli