A Lifetime of Contributions: Harry C. Triandis

august 2019 cross-cultural psychology cross-cultural understanding harry c. triandix pioneer tribute Aug 15, 2019

Submitted by Michele Gelfand

Harry C. Triandis (1926-2019) died peacefully Saturday, June 1, 2019, at the age of 92 at the care center in his retirement community in Carlsbad, Calif.

He is survived by his daughter, Louisa; son-in-law, James; grandchildren, Alex and Nico; and numerous students around the world whose lives he greatly impacted. He was preceded in death by his wife of 52 years, Pola.

Harry was born in Greece and moved to Canada is his early twenties. He did his undergraduate work (engineering) at McGill University (1951) in Montreal and his master's (commerce) at the University of Toronto (1954). Harry earned his Ph.D. (1958) in social psychology from Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y.  He also holds an honorary doctorate from the University of Athens in Greece (1987).

In 1958, Harry accepted a position with the University of Illinois and started what would be a long and distinguished career. Following his interests in how people of different cultures can live in a peaceful, sustainable way, Harry became a pioneer in the field of cross-cultural psychology. His book The Analysis of Subjective Culture is a classic in the field and is one of the first “texts” in cross-cultural psychology. After publishing the six-volume "Handbook of Cross-Cultural Psychology," some of his colleagues named him the "father" of this new branch of psychology. Because his research required collaboration with colleagues from different cultures, he circled the globe four times over the course of his life, spending many months in other cultures and lecturing in close to 40 countries on all inhabited continents.

During his career, Harry held various fellowships and teaching assignments. He was a Ford Foundation Faculty Fellow (1964-65), Fellow of the Center of International Studies at Cornell University (1968-69), a Guggenheim Fellow (1972-73), Honorary Fellow at International Association for Cross-Cultural Psychology (1982), a Distinguished Fulbright Professor to India (1983) and Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (1984), which administers the Harry and Pola Triandis Doctoral Thesis Award that is given every two years for the best dissertation in that field. He was named a University of Illinois Scholar in 1987 and professor emeritus of psychology at the University of Illinois in 1997. After his retirement from the University of Illinois, he taught for a semester at the University of California, Irvine; briefly at the University of Hawaii, Manoa; Nanyang Technological University in Singapore (twice); and Victoria University in Wellington, New Zealand.

A leader in his field, Harry served as president of six associations or societies of psychology: the Interamerican Society of Psychology, the International Association for Cross-Cultural Psychology, the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues, the Society for Cross­Cultural Research and the International Association of Applied Psychology.

Harry was a prolific author, publishing over 200 papers, book chapters and books. His most recent work includes: "Fooling Ourselves: Self Deception in Politics, Religion, and Terrorism" (Triandis, 2009), which received the William James Award from the General Psychology division of the American Psychological Association; "Managing Research, Development and Innovation: Managing the Unmanageable," third edition (Jain, Triandis, and Weick, 2010);  "Managing Global Organizations" (Bhagat, Triandis, and McDevitt, 2013), “Individualism-Collectivism” (Triandis, 1995), “Culture and Social Behavior” (1994), “Handbook of Industrial and Organizational Psychology, Vol 3” (Dunnette, Hough, & Triandis, 1994), “Interpersonal Behavior” (Triandis, 1977), “Variations in Black and White Perceptions of the Social Environment” (Triandis, 1976) and “Attitude and Attitude Change” (Triandis, 1971). His work has been translated into Chinese, Farsi, German, Japanese, Russian and Spanish and spans 60 years (1955-2015).

Harry and his work have been recognized by numerous national and international organizations. The American Psychological Association awarded Harry the Centennial Citation "for significant contribution to the establishment of cross-cultural psychology as a distinct discipline" (1992), the Award for Distinguished Contributions to International Psychology (1994), the Award for Distinguished Lecturer of the Year (1994) and the Award for Outstanding International Psychologist (2002). In 1994, he received the Otto Klineberg Award from the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues. Two years later, the American Psychology Society gave him the James Cattell Fellow Award. He received the Eminent Scholar in International Management Award from the Academy of Management. The Federation of Associations in the Behavioral and Brain Sciences included Harry on its list of honored scientists, which lists less than one hundred psychologists. He was named Honorary International Fellow of the Center for Applied Cross-Cultural Research, Victoria University, Wellington, New Zealand, in 2011. Recognizing his complete body of work, the International Academy for Intercultural Research gave Harry its Lifetime Contributions Award in Taiwan in 2004 and the Society for Personality and Social Psychology gave him its Career Contributions Award in 2012 in San Diego.

Harry lived a rich and full life. He and Pola were well known in the university community for their dinner parties and for welcoming orphaned graduate students to their home for holidays. He took great pride in mentoring his students and his two grandchildren, both of whom he cherished. He established the Pola and Harry Triandis Fellowship in Cross-Cultural Psychology at the University of Illinois. Harry loved classical music and was especially devoted to WILL (Illinois Public Media) and the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts. Motivated by a desire to move toward a world where “people can be brothers in spite of their cultural differences.” Harry treated all people he met around the world with respect and dignity. His tripartite advice was to “Be passionate, don’t be afraid to be controversial, and above all, don’t take yourself too seriously”—it is a forever inspiration. 

Honoring Harry’s interests and lifelong work, memorial contributions may be made to the Environmental Defense Fund or the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Michele Gelfand will be helping to put together a memory book—if you have stories and/or pictures of Harry, please send them to her at [email protected]