Perla Serfaty-Garzon – a.k.a. Perla Korosec-Serfaty – as a young academic, was part of the early formation of Environmental Psychology. She studied Philosophy, Psychology and Sociology at the University of Strasbourg, France, where she became a full-time faculty member in 1969. After obtaining her PhD, she earned her State Doctorate (Doctorat d’État) under Paul-Henry Chombart de Lauwe’s mentorship at the Paris V Sorbonne, École des hautes études en sciences sociales.
It was an exciting time for Environmental Psychology in Europe and in the world. A number of academic individuals and groups, often independently, developed the field in France. The multifaceted and productive Strasbourg group, which included Perla Serfaty-Garzon, saw the first French text, Moles and Rohmer’s Psychologie de l’espace published in 1972. Denise Jodelet and Stanley Milgram offered psychological maps of Paris as early as 1976 in H. M. Proshanky, W. H. Ittelson and L. Rivlin’s 1976 Environmental Psychology: People and their Physical Settings. During that same period, Robert Pagès was developing his thought-provoking theory of “emprise”, i.e. hold and social control (1967, 1986) at the Sorbonne Laboratory of Experimental Social Psychology; Stanley Milgram’s Soumission à l’autorité was published in 1974 in French to great attention; Serge Moscovici was developing, at the Paris Maison des Sciences de l’Homme, his ground-breaking studies of social representations and introducing the use of cognitive maps in the field; while Claude Levy-Leboyer, who was then active in work and organizational psychology, was publishing, in 1980, her book Psychology de l’environnement, which, although mainly focused on American researchers, was the first review in French of the field. This period in France has been described by Jodelet (1987) in D. Stokols and I. Altman’s Handbook on Environmental Psychology and by E. Pol in his Environmental Psychology in Europe: From Architectural Psychology to Green Psychology (1993)
In this context, the key actor is clearly Perla Serfaty-Garzon. First for the pivotal 3rd IAPC event she organized in Strasbourg in 1976, and, second, for her steadfast commitment to Environmental Psychology research through the years. This translated into original empirical work and a compelling theoretical contribution to the field.
In the early 1970’s, Perla Serfaty-Garzon introduced the teaching of Environmental Psychology in France. The organization of the 3rd International Architectural Psychology (APC) Conference, the predecessor of the current IAPS, in Strasbourg, in 1976, on the topic of The Appropriation of Space, is a direct influence of one of her teachers, Henry Lefebvre. The awareness of the significance of this event increased over time as several keynote speakers rose to the challenge of the theme of this conference. This contributed to the rich heritage that followed as Environmental Psychology developed and grew. Among those speakers was Harold Proshansky who would later develop the concepts of Place Identity and Place Attachment.
Perla spent her Fullbright scholarship at the University of California Irvine, then a new Program of Social Ecology directed by Dan Stokols, and taught as a visiting professor in Sweden, the United States, and Canada. A dedicated teacher and inspiring research mentor, she has built scientific networks, e.g. currently with the University of Barcelona Environmental Psychology Master program and research group and with Sebastien Lord’s research team at the University of Montreal Faculty of Environmental Design. She is committed to practicing as an Environmental Psychologist in the non-academic world and to disseminating knowledge and its applications. This led her to head, at the City of Montreal, an urban planning team responsible for the enhancement and development of public open urban spaces, and for outlining municipal policies for the preservation of Montreal’s architectural and urban heritage as well as for its cultural heritage.
Perla Serfaty-Garzon has been an IAPS board member several times. She has been and currently is a key actor in the thematic evolution of Environmental Psychology as well as of its conceptual and theoretical development. She dedicated her first works to the concept of the appropriation of space, in particular in the context of urban public spaces, their daily uses, identity, and sociability.
Besides the seminal book The Appropriation of Space (1878), her innovative books and other publications focus on dwelling, home and on the differences and intricate links between these two notions that are rendered by the French concept of “Chez soi”, i.e. the intimate sense and self-awareness of being at home in a given place. Her research ranges from the meanings and appropriation of home territories, loss of home, existential and survival migration, exile and the restoration of the sense of being at home in the host country, to the feminine connection to home and one’s relationship to home in childhood and late life, thus making a significant impact and underlining Perla Serfaty-Garzon’s theoretical and empirical very powerful contribution to Environmental Psychology.
Enric Pol, Professor of Social and Environmental Psychology, University of Barcelona, Department of Social Psychology