Reflections on the Flinders Conference on Social Psychology May 1972 – Leon Mann

The following are the notes from a speech given by Leon Mann at the 50th anniversary of SASP on November 26, 2022, Adelaide.

Here is a link to the first conference proceedings

A photo taken together with Emma Thomas of Flinders Uni, SASP 50 Conference Organiser, at the Dinner in Freemasons Hall, North Terrace, Adelaide

President Brock Bastian, colleagues, thanks for the warm social psychology welcome.

We are meeting in Adelaide on the traditional land of the Kaurna people.

We didn’t know about that in 1972. How times have changed.

As co-founder of the 1972 Social Psychology Conference at Flinders University I am something of a relic, Exhibit A. Anyone here, apart from me, at the Flinders 1972 conference?

My buddies Norm Feather (92) Ron Taft (102) and Brian Crabbe (age unknown) were at the 1972 Conference. They send greetings and best wishes. They regret they couldn’t be here for the Celebration. We are all proud that an initiative begun at Flinders 50 years ago has grown and flourished.

Fortunately, records remain of the 1972 conference.  Flinders University Library has news items and photographs. Brian Crabbe sent me his annotated Conference program.

You have a handout at your table with the 1972 program, participants, and a few photos.

Why did we organise a conference at Flinders?

Many Australian social psychologists had US postgrad degrees. They had attended meetings of Regional Associations of Social Psychologists, Society of Experimental Social Psychology, and Society for the Psychological Study of Social issues. They liked the idea of doing this in Australia.

Higher education was growing rapidly in Australia and social psychology was in great demand with the establishment of many new Universities e.g., Latrobe 1964, Macquarie 1964, and Flinders 1966.  Social psychologists had learned to work in research labs and research teams while studying aboard. They were interested in collaboration, partnership, research networks, exchange of views and ideas.

The time was right. Flinders psychology was established with a social psychology mandate within a School of Social Sciences. Norman Feather, Foundation Professor, was a social psychologist. The second Professor, Leon Mann, was also a social psychologist. There were other social psychologists in the Department. We were ready to roll.

Over 20 years later, in 1995, as the discipline expanded, the very informal annual gatherings morphed into a formal organisation named SASP established with a constitution, elected President, Officers, membership, and fees, Medals, and early Career Awards. And the record shows not everyone was excited. 

So SASP is really a 27 year old, not a 50 year old. The header 50th Annual Conference of the Society of Australasian Social Psychology is something of a misnomer.

Some comments on the 1972 Conference Program

The Papers were almost all single authored. A few co-authored, not a single trio. Organisers accepted almost everything submitted. The meeting was very informal and inclusive.

The Topics – Racism. Indigenous (2).  Groups.  Values.  Motivation. Research Methods. 

Presenters from 10 Universities. Melbourne. Flinders. UNSW, Sydney, Macquarie, ANU, Adelaide. UNE, Monash, and Newcastle. Faculty dominated. Mainly male.   Very few students. Very generous session time for papers. 40 minutes! Note there was a discussion on the organisation of social psychology in Australia…New Zealand was yet to appear. We received telegrams. Meals cost $1 and $1.50 at the Flinders University Hall of Residence!!

At the 1972 meeting two presenters reported on Indigenous social psychology. Margaret Middleton of ANU in a paper “Distribution of tasks and responsibilities in Walbiri family life” (The Walbiri are a community north-west of Alice Springs).  And Rae Boyd of UNSW in a paper “Use of measures of achievement and affiliation with Aboriginal amd White children”.

To the class of 2022

I looked at the SASP 2022 program. Now there is more focus on genders and sexualities, diversity, moral values and moral repair, emotion regulation, social identity, collective action and social activism, racism, prejudice, inequality, conflict, and environment.

Anyone for Peace studies? Political trust and integrity?  Relative deprivation and protest? Life-span social?  Decision making? Covid compliance and conspiracies? The Queuing society?  I was surprised to find little or nothing about Indigenous social psychology at a time when Indigenous reconciliation and an Indigenous Voice are burning issues.

Some acknowledgments 

SASP President Brock Bastian for suggesting I speak at the Conference.

Norman Feather, my co-founder of the Flinders Conference, Mr Social Psychology Flinders.

Prof Ronald Taft age 102, the oldest and wisest social psychologist in Australia.

Norm amd Ron presented papers at the 1972 Conference. Both remain involved and interested.   Brian Crabbe and Mike Innes, social historians and archivists, custodians of social psychology records, programs, directories, everything everyone else tosses out.

Christine Cornell, archivist at Flinders University Library.

In memory of Professor Margaret Foddy, First President of SASP 1995-1997. 

The terrific SASP 2022 Conference Organising Committee – Emma Thomas, Lydia Woodyatt, Michael Wenzel, and Morgana Lizzio-Wilson of Flinders University.

All those who were with us 50 years ago but are no longer here.

Looking back with nostalgia, the 1972 Flinders Social Psychology conference was a great success. It began 50 years of lively annual meetings of social psychologists held throughout the Commonwealth and New Zealand. It initiated a positive welcoming culture for young social psychologists to present their work and receive a helpful, supportive hearing. It established a network of social psychologists across Australia and New Zealand who collaborated, promoted the discipline, and became its leaders. The Flinders Conference of 1972 was a significant event in the history of social psychology in this country.

A message to aspiring historians and others.

Do record and celebrate the history of our Discipline.  Know where we came from and where we are heading.  Our issues. What’s new, and what’s not. Our influences. Our paradigms. Our contribution and impact. Keep the handout with the 1972 Conference Program, photographs, and my brief reflections.  I hope someone will display it at SASP 2072.

My best wishes to everyone at this 50th birthday party. Every success in your lives and careers. You are a part of the history of Australian social psychology.  

Leon Mann Adelaide   November 26, 2022. Minor revision December 11, 2022