Marie Jahoda Annual Lecture

Find out about the Marie Jahoda Annual Lecture – launched in 1997 to celebrate the outstanding contributions that Professor Marie Jahoda CBE made to SPRU.

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Last lecture

The most recent Marie Jahoda Annual Lecture took place on 4 February 2020, shortly before the Covid-19 pandemic hit the UK.

Under the name of Living with Technology: Scientific Knowledge and the Good Life, it took place at the Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts.

Professor Jennifer RubinThe guest speaker was Professor Jennifer Rubin (pictured), Executive Chair of the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).

Professor Rubin’s presentation drew on Marie Jahoda’s Marienthal study on the economics of unemployment to discuss the role of social sciences in technology and innovation.

Opening the Lecture, Professor Adam Tickell, Vice Chancellor of the University of Sussex, shared the meaning of Marie Jahoda’s legacy today, her rich and eventful life from her emigration from Austria to her contribution in the shaping of the interdisciplinary, innovative, forward thinking principles of the Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU). Professor Tickell referred to the need for more interdisciplinary research and noted SPRU’s long running contribution to this endeavour.

Professor Jeremy Kent Hall, before introducing Professor Rubin, gave an overview of Marie’s last presentation, which he attended in person. Drawing again on her classic Marienthal: The Sociography of an Unemployed Community (German: 1933; English: 1971), she discussed the problems in the Balkans after the breakup of Yugoslavia and the basic thesis, “that prolonged unemployment leads to a state of apathy in which the victims do not utilize any longer even the few opportunities left to them”. From her personal experience of fascism in Austria, this vicious cycle, between reduced opportunities and aspirations, allowed for the manipulation of people by dubious political elements. In that presentation, Marie discussed how elements within the former Yugoslav Republics manipulated various factions to brutally turn on each other.

In her speech, Professor Rubin underlined how the axioms of Marie’s work are more relevant today than ever, especially the findings of the Marienthal study. Then she emphasised that the experience of regular work was a fundamental human need for most people, not only for economic reasons but also for a personal sense of identity, for social contacts, and for the structuring of time.

As Jennifer noted, there is still little investment (within the research scope) allocated to understand how people think and behave in relation to pressing issues such as the development of technologies that may have broad societal impacts in the near future (e.g. artificial intelligence). Jennifer argued that incorporating social science into the study of technology and innovation can broaden up our understanding about how social relations shape technology and vice versa.

Jennifer continued that more attention needs to be put into questions such as ‘what societal need is a technology meeting?’ ‘whose needs are identified and prioritised and why?’ ‘what are the actual or likely impacts of such technologies in society?’ and ‘how should technology be governed, regulated and shaped?

A Q&A session discussed the role of social sciences in broadening its scope of analysis to include the study of technology, from the purpose of a technology to the social power relations involved in it.

About Marie Jahoda

Marie JahodaMarie Jahoda was born in Vienna in 1907. In 1928 she earned her teaching diploma from the Pedagogical Academy of Vienna, and in 1933 her Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology from the University of Vienna. In 1937, she fled Austria, staying in England during World War II. In 1946 she emigrated to the United States. During her time there she worked as a researcher for the American Jewish Committee and Columbia University and as a Professor of social psychology at New York University where she founded the Research Centre for Human Relations.

Marie came to the University of Sussex in the 1960s and played a full part in the academic life of the University and its governance.

After her official retirement at 65 years old, Marie began a new period of active creative work participating in the interdisciplinary research of the Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU). She made major contributions to research programmes on social and technological forecasting and the social psychological consequences of prolonged unemployment.

Marie's work has been recognised with a prestigious Kurt Lewin Memorial Award from the American Psychological Association and was belatedly honoured by the German Social Democratic Party and by the Austrian Social Democratic Government. She was awarded an honorary degree by Sussex in 1973 and received a CBE in 1974.

Past lecture speakers

In 1997 the inaugural Marie Jahoda annual lecture was given by Sir Robert May, Government Chief Scientist.

Other speakers have included:

  • Professor Helga Nowotny, founding member and former president of the European Research Council
  • Professor Jeremy Farrar, Director of the Wellcome Trust Professor Jeremy Farrar
  • Sir Paul Nurse, President of the Royal Society and Director of the Francis Crick Institute in London
  • Professor Linda Wilson, President of Radcliffe College, Cambridge, MA
  • Professor Chris Freeman, founder and first Director of SPRU
  • Professor David King, Government Chief Scientific Adviser
  • Baroness Sharp, House of Lords
  • Lord Giddens, former director of the London School of Economics
  • Professor Sir Gordon Conway, Chief Scientific Advisor, Department for International Development
  • Sir Howard Newby, Vice-Chancellor, University of the West of England
  • Professor Carlota Perez, Professor of Technology and Socioeconomic Development, Technological University of Tallinn, Estonia
  • Professor John Beddington, Government Chief Scientific Adviser
  • Calestous Juma, Professor of the Practice of International Development and Director of the Science, Technology, and Globalization Project at Harvard Kennedy School

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