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Campus & Community

Herbert Chanoch Kelman, 94

6 min read

Memorial Minute — Faculty of Arts and Sciences

At a meeting of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences on April 2, 2024, the following tribute to the life and service of the late Herbert Chanoch Kelman was spread upon the permanent records of the Faculty.

An 11-year-old Herbert Kelman watched Kristallnacht unfold from a window of his home in Vienna in November 1938.  Within months, the family had escaped to Antwerp and then again, in 1940, to the United States, just weeks before Germany invaded Belgium.

Kelman attended Brooklyn College, majoring in English and psychology while also obtaining a Bachelor of Hebrew Letters from the Seminary College of Jewish Studies.  He went to Yale for graduate studies in psychology, working with Carl Hovland, the eminent learning theorist who developed the Attitude Change Model of persuasion and propaganda.  The United States government invested generously in understanding the success of Nazi propaganda campaigns; the Yale Communication Research Program, of which Kelman was a graduate student member, is regarded as the first experimental attempt to answer a national call to respond to the threat posed by the mass communication of misinformation.  Kelman knew early on that he wanted to “explore the question of the relevance of social psychological analysis and research to issues of war and peace.”

After receiving his Ph.D. in 1951, Kelman did postdoctoral work at Johns Hopkins and the National Institutes of Mental Health, fulfilling his interest in emerging models of psychotherapy that interrogated the past to achieve psychological and moral clarity.  He spent 1955 at Stanford’s Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, where, with other kindred spirits, he helped to envision the Journal of Conflict Resolution, first published in 1957.  Conflict resolution remained at the heart of his life’s work.

Kelman first came to Harvard in 1957, where he began a project on the role of international educational and cultural exchange on self, professional, and national image.  Kelman then joined the University of Michigan’s Department of Psychology and Center for Research on Conflict Resolution.  Kelman was in his element at Michigan, surrounded by scholars from across all the social sciences who encouraged his thinking about the relationship between the individual and the nation state.  He later edited a volume titled “International Behavior: A Social Psychological Analysis” (1965).

Kelman regarded his intellectual development and contributions up to this point as “pre-history.”  The transformative event came in 1966 when he met John Burton, who was teaching international relations at University College London and developing an idea called “controlled communication.”  This idea involved bringing together third-party academic experts and political elites in conflict regions in an informal, confidential setting.  Kelman later wrote that he had been looking for a “theoretical point of entry for social psychology into the field of international conflict,” and he believed he could put the principles emerging from the nascent science of attitude change and resistance into practice through “problem solving” engagements.

Kelman’s basic research on the different paths by which social influencers change attitudes, beliefs, and values again brought him to the attention of Harvard’s Department of Social Relations.  In 1968, he returned to Harvard, this time as the Richard Clarke Cabot Professor of Social Ethics, a chair first occupied by Gordon Allport, Kelman’s mentor during his years as a lecturer.  Kelman remained in this position until his retirement in 1999.  During those years, he served as the director of the Program on International Conflict Analysis and Resolution at Harvard’s Weatherhead Center for International Affairs.  After retirement, he continued his affiliation with Weatherhead, especially through the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, which today hosts the Herbert C. Kelman Seminar on International Conflict Analysis and Resolution.

In 1967, Kelman trialed this third-party participant method in relation to the Middle East during the Six-Day War.  It remained a life-long and evolving model of conflict resolution in what is arguably the most high-stakes situation in which any academic psychologist has dared to participate.  Both Israeli and Palestinian observers stated that his efforts paved the way to the Oslo Agreement.  For four decades, Kelman conducted more than 70 “problem-solving” workshops.  While he mostly focused on the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, he worked with students on conflicts in the Balkans, Northern Ireland, Columbia, Sri Lanka, and Cuba.  Until the end of his life, even when reason to hope was fading, he believed that the outcome of major political events could be changed using conditions for dialogue that apply the principles that the science points to, among them, confidentiality and trust.

As a laboratory social scientist, Kelman remained committed to research on attitudes and attitude change.  His model characterized three distinct processes by which one’s attitude is changed — compliance, identification, and internalization — and is now part of the history of social psychology and a faithful entry in introductory textbooks.  His interest in the process through which personal responsibility must emerge, even in the face of unethical demands by authority figures, is showcased in his book (with V. Lee Hamilton), “Crimes of Obedience: Toward a Social Psychology of Authority and Responsibility” (1989).

Kelman was an energetic member of many scientific societies.  He was a founding member of the Society of Experimental Social Psychology, and he served as the president of several organizations (e.g., the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues, the Psychologists for Social Responsibility, and the International Studies Association).  Kelman received the Award for Distinguished Contributions to Psychology in the Public Interest, American Psychological Association (1981); the James McKeen Cattell Fellow Award, Association for Psychological Science (2000); the Grawemeyer Award for Ideas Improving World Order (1997); the Ben-Gurion Medal for this work on peace (2001); and the Socrates Prize for Mediation (2009).  He delighted in three awards from the city of his birth: the Austrian Cross of Honor for Science and Art, First Class; the Medal of Honor of the Federal Capital of Vienna in Gold; and the Grand Decoration of Honor for Service to the Republic of Austria.

Respectfully submitted,

Mina Cikara
Daniel T. Gilbert
Mahzarin R. Banaji, Chair

Portions of this Minute are based on: Herbert Kelman, interview by Julian Portilla, Beyond Intractability, The Conflict Information Consortium, University of Colorado, 2003,