Hans Kilian Award

Hans Kilian's ideas – A brief outline

Hans Kilian, who until his early retirement in 1984 had been professor of social psychology and applied psychoanalysis at the Univerisity of Kassel, during all his life used to advocate the branch of psychology and psychoanalysis entrenched in social and cultural theory that linked up the individual development of humans with the broader historical and social development. History, society and individual appear in this perspective as closely interrelated "cases".

Kilian conceptualised the main features of a theory of human evolution in which he discerned three stages corresponding to the specific modi of development. The biological emergence of the human species is called "hominisation". It takes place primarily on the genetic level under the influence of epigenetic and environmental factors on the genes' characteristics and selection. The second stage takes place in a form of "humanisation", a process encompassing the socialisation and enculturation of humans (and culminating in what Kilian termed as transcultural development). Kilian's theory of the third stage (remaining a series of fragments), namely, that of "metacultural humanisation", conceives of the postmodern present as an epoch, in which we are entering a new phase of the development of humankind (and have to steer it ourselves).

This theory is largely based on a critical diagnosis of our time which takes as its point of departure the steadily widening gap between the scientific and technological development on the one hand, and the cultural, social and psychological development of humans on the other. In the dynamic and differentiated, in many respects globalised world of the 20th century, humans have steadily been confronted with ever more new challenges and pressures. Kilian's reflections were embedded in the idea of a reconstruction of the social (and cultural) evolution of the humankind. They implied a historically substantiated world- and self-conception of the postmodern human subjects engaging in a critical revision of traditional views.

As shown above, Kilian saw anthropogenesis as a generally differentiated process coevolutionarily encompassing in a complex way not only biological but also cultural, social and psychical trends of development. In his theoretical analysis of these developments, Kilian drew upon numerous concepts and models from natural sciences (in the first place those from biology and physics), which he transposed (often by using analogies) onto the traditional social and cultural sciences including contemporary psychology, psychoanalysis and psychohistory.

Kilian presumed that, in accordance with identifiable laws, the multichain evolution takes place at certain historical stages marked by specific characteristics. In Kilian's view, the cognitions brought about by his historical theory of the social (and cultural) evolution accompanied (or yet to be accompanied in future) by the parallel psychical developments could be usefully deployed for the "steering" of future evolutionary processes. Kilian reckoned that in the course of the 20th century, there occurred an evolutionary as well as historical structural turn that subsequently required new ways of thinking and acting critical of the traditions and habits. Kilian regarded the 20th century as a turning point occasioned by multifarious functional, cultural, and social processes of differentiation and an unprecedented intensification of complexity which those entailed.

Groups as well as individuals react towards an extreme increase in complexity and dynamics of an accelerated and rapidly transforming culture and society with a desire for a complexity reduction (and the ensuing hope to regain some orientation security). As Kilian puts it, I noticed long ago that there is a fundamental human endeavour towards complexity reduction and simplification, which manifests itself especially strong in the situations of overstimulation. It takes the lead as a self-preservation instinct in emergencies. Growing complexity effects confusion and disorientation, such as those, which were actually observable on the collective level during the Weimar period. Complexity reduction in the collective life can be produced by the enforcement of order and unity through disciplining but also, if necessary, through wars and massacres, as it was the case in the traditional cultures of domination. In earlier times, wars served under circumstances as vents for those societies that were fraught with the complexity of the unsolved collective problems. One slips in a polarising, simplifying mode of thinking in terms of "friends versus foes" (accompanied by the assignments of guilt like "Jews are to blame for everything"), which serves to reduce complexity.

In his analytical inquiries, Kilian used to point out, time and again, inadequate, counterproductive and utterly detrimental ways of complexity reduction. As the above quotation evidences, these include propensity towards rushed solutions, yearning for palliatives and delusory simplifications, tendency towards a construction of ideologically biased collective and social identities as well as discriminating "friends-versus-foes" differentiations, encapsulation of the self in closed structures, etc. He contrasted these inadequate forms with those modes of complexity reduction that could only become possible after the actual causes of given problems had been correctly identified in a differentiated manner. In order to find such adequate solutions for the multifarious cultural, social and psychic problems of people in the late modern or postmodern epoch, Kilian tried to conflate and interlink systematically the recognitions of various social and cultural sciences including contemporary psychology and its subdisciplines (such as social or developmental psychology, clinical psychology and psychopathology). At the core of his thinking remain the historical humans and their social relations (within the family, in other small groups, in larger communities, and abstract systems such as society and the globally interconnected humankind).

Similarly with other thinkers of his time, Kilian also advocated a judicious and sustainable reformation of the socio-cultural orders and psychosocial skills concerning, along with cognitive faculties and more importantly still, such emotional competences as empathy and solidarity, tolerance and an ability to accept the other and the alien. Quoting Kilian once again:

"The conditions of life in the postmodern society are such that individuals, as well as groups, social strata and communities willing to organise their common development in freedom, are on the one hand confronted with incremented requirements as far as stability, autonomy, self-organsisation and self-constancy are concerned. On the other hand, however, they must comply with an ever more pressing necessity of relying on strangers and alien groups, with whom they have to co-exist and collaborate in the conditions of mutual interdependence as if living under the same roof. This is indeed an incremented requirement: to abide with, or to remain faithful to, oneself, and yet to entertain an empathic intercourse with strangers, those who think or feel in a different way, as well as - frequently - one's opponents, with whom one has to "co-habitate" (putting it in a word of the everyday political language of the French) so that development may go on. In other words, self-constancy and empathy are the very qualities that provide those who develop them with a selection advantage in the reality structures of the present. This hypothetical statement can be further expanded. Charity towards one's neighbours and even one's enemies, which remained largely utopian, or, else, confined to the acting radius of well-meant works compensating for the feelings of guilt in the social reality structures of the earlier fields of historical evolution, could find a kairos in the dawning adulthood of the postmodern humankind that would make it a eutopian value and a sustainable organising principle of further development.

Kilian believed the acquisition of new forms of perception to be just as essential as the attainment of an enhanced imagery. The differentiated sensate "aesthetical" and imaginative power as well as the emotional faculties have to be aided by a sharpened cognitive competence allowing to find suitable concepts, convincing descriptive models and adequate explanatory patterns for the rapidly transforming, and steadily growing more complex, reality. Kilian also discussed a yet-to-be-developed "four-dimensional sense of reality", or, a "metamorphological consciousness", that would aptly enable people to stay abreast of the new, dynamic relations in the postmodern world. Kilian considered the world subjected to incessant transformations as a reality that had to be diagnostically and prognostically apprehended in an objective manner with regard to the pivotal metamorphoses, which changed the conditions of life. Such is the task of a metamorphological consciosness that ultimately has to serve a viable and worthy life practice. In his theoretical conception of this topical consciousness, Kilian levelled criticism at the orthodox conceptual systems and forms of thinking (such as the traditional philosophical "metaphysics" or the established categorial separation of subject and object as well as theory and practice).

The normative foundation and in the broadest sense political goal of Kilian's inter- and transdisciplinary scientific endeavours was, by all apparence, strongly influenced by the extreme experience of violence in the 20th century and the self-alienation of people that has been going on up to the present. Kilian's ideas could be conscisely labelled as a revival of humanism under the sign of metacultural humanisation, which in our postmodernist modern epoch has become necessary, and even imperative. Kilian's historically enlightened reflections, which critically diagnose the present, display his scepticism and censorious attitude towards many phenomena and developments (actual or potential). On the whole, they help to reconstruct an intellectual portrait of a contemplative, inter- and transdisciplinarily working researcher who was, however, by no means a pessimistic or resentful observer of his time. Kilian firmly believed that the "adulthood of the humankind" still lay ahead of us: "The trend goes from the domination thinking towards a solidary development thinking. It gives me hope."


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