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Kurt Lewin's field theory: a review and re-evaluation

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article

Published
  • Bernard Burnes
  • Bill Cooke
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<mark>Journal publication date</mark>10/2013
<mark>Journal</mark>International Journal of Management Reviews
Issue number4
Volume15
Number of pages18
Pages (from-to)408-425
Publication statusPublished
Early online date9/09/12
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

Field theory was central to Kurt Lewin's work yet, after his death, interest in it declined significantly until the 1990s when a variant, force field analysis, became widely used. This paper examines the origins, purpose and continuing relevance of field theory. It especially looks at the influences of gestalt psychology, topology and Ernst Cassirer's philosophy of science on its development. It argues that Lewin's attempt to replace conventional topology with his own Lewinian mathematics-based topology in pursuit of scientific rigour resulted in the undermining of its relevance. The paper also compares force field analysis with Lewin's original conception of field theory and shows that it has significant weaknesses in terms of rigour. It concludes that a return to Lewin's original conception of field theory, based on gestalt psychology and conventional topology, can provide academics and practitioners with a valuable and much-needed approach to managing change.