The Polish Round Table as a Blueprint for “Successful” Social Change? Some Thoughts on “Liberal Hindsight” in the Social Sciences


  • Anna Kende
  • Martijn van Zomeren


The Polish Round Table offers a rare historical example where negotiations between representatives of opposing political sides achieved major political transformation in a peaceful way. Such an outcome should undoubtedly be labeled a success. However, in our commentary, taking the example of the Polish Round Table, we take a critical look at the interpretation of success of social movements by social scientists. In line with the ethos of social sciences, social scientists value (harmoniously achieved) progressive types of change, such as the change that followed the negotiations of the Polish Round Table. Indeed, when it comes to the Round Table, our definition of success may be blurred by the political evaluation of the changes of 1989 from a liberal perspective. The target articles point out the importance of specific structural conditions (both internal and international) and psychological processes (perceptions of power, efficacy and moral commitment) that led to the successful outcome. We therefore argue that it is pivotal to delineate the conditions of success, if we want to apply them to other contexts without bias. Neither hindsight, nor liberal bias are problematic per se, but they can evoke a form of wishful thinking that, as scientists, we may want to treat with some skepticism.