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EASP – European Association of Social Psychology

Mauk Mulder (1922-2016)

06.10.2016, by Sibylle Classen in announcement

Obituary by Kees van den Bos and Naomi Ellemers, Utrecht University

Mauk Mulder (1922-2016)
Mauk Mulder (1922-2016)

It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of Mauk Mulder, one of the founders of our association (see Mauk Mulder died on September 15, 2016 at the age of 93 years, in the presence of his wife and family. He lived a truly rich and very active life.

In the Netherlands, Mauk Mulder, his work, and the PhD candidates he supervised, were crucial for the development and success of social and organizational psychology. Internationally, he greatly contributed to the field as co-founder of the European Association of Experimental Social Psychology and as the first Editor-in-chief of the European Journal of Social Psychology.

Between 1963 and the early seventies Mulder supervised a dozen PhD-candidates. Under his leadership, they developed inventive methodologies, and examined very interesting populations to study a variety of research questions, including the origins of anti-authoritarianism among beatniks ("provo’s," Buikhuisen, 1965), decision processes in hockey clubs (Veen, 1970), and group performance in sea fishing (Van der Vlist, 1970). Many of his former students subsequently developed successful academic careers, and had a great impact on the way social psychology developed in the Netherlands. One of them, Henk Wilke, who received his PhD in 1968 under the supervision of Mulder, trained a large "third generation" of social psychologists, many of whom currently hold chairs at Dutch Universities. We are both part of this latter group of descendants from the Mulder tradition.

Over the years, Mulder’s experimental approach of decision structures has attracted considerable national and international attention. His theory of social power, the results of his studies, and central premises of his approach ("power erodes;" "power feels good") are still relevant, and cited as key references in manuals and important handbooks such as Leadership in Organizations (Yukl, 2006).

Mulder greatly valued high-quality empirical work and conducted many experiments. He complemented this work with other research methods, including surveys, observations, and interviews, to develop his scientific work and apply these insights in his career as practitioner. This approach was also reflected in his role as a co-founder of the then called "European Association of Experimental Social Psychology". The specification "experimental" reflected the importance Mulder attached to empirical research and quantitative data, obtained with carefully constructed research designs (see also Thomas Ostrom's 1986 memoriam of John Thibaut in Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 22, 505-506).

Mauk received numerous awards for his work, including the Henriëtte Roland Holst Prize from the Society for Dutch Literature (Maatschappij der Nederlandse Letterkunde), for the high literary quality of his writings.

As a practitioner he benefited from his scientific knowledge in advising many mergers and organizational change processes. He also paid considerable attention to female leadership. His efforts to document how women can contribute to the effectiveness of organizations have influenced the Dutch women’s movement in this respect.

At Utrecht University, Professor Mauk Mulder was the founder and first chair of the Department of Social and Organizational Psychology (founded in 1961 as the ‘Institute of Social Psychology’). In 1971 he became the Rector of the Institute of Business Administration at Delft University of Technology and Professor at the Erasmus University in Rotterdam. During the ten years that professor Mulder led the department at Utrecht University, he did such profound work, that he is to this date considered the “founding father” of the social and organizational psychology group. He was always a warmly welcomed visitor. The Faculty of Social and Behavioral Sciences at Utrecht University has honored him by naming one of the "Freshmen Colleges" for first-year Psychology students after him.

During the time that Mauk Mulder served as chair at Utrecht, he contributed to developing a curriculum that included experimental social psychology as well as research of psychological processes in organizations. This combination of basic research for theory development and application in practice was unique at the time. Mulder had great foresight in emphasizing the interaction between the two, as this vision again guides some of the most innovative research in social psychology today.

An example of the long-term influence of Mauk Mulder’s contributions to the field, is the PhD thesis of Jan Bruins, whose passing was way too early. Jan re-examined Mulder’s power distance reduction theory twenty years after it was developed. This research offered additional support for the basic premises of the original theory but also led to important qualifications and additions. This is the way it is supposed to be with theory that is truly groundbreaking and inspirational, as Mulder's work was.

In 2008, Mauk’s impressive career was a reason for members of our department and others to apply for a Royal Distinction. This request was awarded, so it was our job to get him to the auditorium of our academy building to surprise him with this honor. This turned out to be quite a difficult task….

To get Mauk to the auditorium, we invented a formal debate and invited Mauk to participate. However, the formal stuff did not appeal much to Mauk and he therefore replied that he was busy and did not have time to become involved in official occasions such as this debate. And indeed, over the years, he would rather be seen walking across campus in his jeans and body warmer to discuss new data with members of our department instead of attending all kinds of official meetings. Mauk: “I am not going. They can figure it out for themselves.”

His wife and friends – who were involved in the conspiracy – tried to persuade him to attend the official debate, but this did not help one bit. And this is exactly how we knew him. This attitude represents his scientific spirit and his focus on the content of scientific arguments rather than the outward displays of his authority. When we called him, however, and told him our department needed him to inform attendees about his expertise in experimental social and organizational psychology, he immediately said yes. Mauk: “I will be there. You can count on me! I will come for you, for social and organizational psychology in Utrecht.” This characterizes Mauk in terms of his passion for science, his strong opinions, his refusal to be impressed by formal requests, as well as his fundamentally cooperative attitude. We will truly miss him, and continue to cherish his legacy...