Internationally acclaimed psychologist and prolific writer, Carol Gilligan was born on November 28, 1936, in New York City.
Having majored in literature, she graduated summa cum laude from Swarthmore College in 1958. She went on to do advanced work at Radcliffe University receiving a Masters in clinical psychology in 1960. She earned her doctorate in social psychology from Harvard University in 1964.
Gilligan began teaching at Harvard in 1967 with renowned psychologist Erik Erikson. In 1970 she became a research assistant for Lawrence Kohlberg. Kohlberg is known for his research on moral development and his stage theory of moral development, justice and rights. Gilligan's primary focus came to be moral development in girls. Her interest in these dilemmas grew as she interviewed young men thinking about enlisting for the Vietnam War and women who were contemplating abortions.
Gilligan would go on to criticize Kohlberg's work. This was based on two things. First, he only studied privileged, white men and boys. She felt that this caused a biased opinion against women. Secondly, in his stage theory of moral development, the male view of individual rights and rules was considered a higher stage than women's point of view of development in terms of its caring effect on human relationships.
Women were taught to care for other people and expect others to care for them. She helped to form a new psychology for women by listening to them and rethinking the meaning of self and selfishness. She asked four questions about women's voices: who is speaking, in what body, telling what story, and in what cultural framework is the story presented?
Her criticisms were published in 1982 in her most famous book titled, In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women's Development. She came to be known as the founder of "difference feminism." Many feminists insisted that there are no differences between males and females. Gilligan asserted that women have differing moral and psychological tendencies than men. According to Gilligan, men think in terms of rules and justice and women are more inclined to think in terms of caring and relationships. She asks that Western society begin to value both equally.
She outlines three stages of moral development progressing from selfish, to social or conventional morality, and finally to post conventional or principled morality. Women must learn to tend to their own interests and to the interests of others. She thinks that women hesitate to judge because they see the complexities of relationships.
There has been criticism of Gilligan's work and much of it has come from Christina Hoff Sommers, PhD. She says that Gilligan has failed to produce the data for her research. She condemns the fact that Gilligan used anecdotal evidence, that researchers have not been able to duplicate her work, and that the samples used were too small. She thinks the field of gender studies needs to be put to the test of people from fields such as neuroscience or evolutionary psychology rather than from the area of education. She feels strongly that promoting an anti-male agenda hurts both males and females. Public policy and funding has been allocated based on Gilligan's data, which Sommers says is not publicly available. Sommers does not find it helpful for girls and women to be told that they are diminished or voiceless.
The response to the criticisms have been just as adamant. Gilligan says that her findings have been published in leading journals and that Sommers points are not accurate.
Gilligan received tenure as a full professor for the Harvard Graduate School of Education in 1986. Gilligan spent 1992-1994 teaching at the University of Cambridge in England. She was invited there as a Pitt Professor of American History and Institutions. Her area of academic expertise is in human development and psychology. She is a considered to be a pioneer of gender studies and particularly in the psychological and moral development of girls.
In 1997, Gilligan was appointed to Harvard University's first position in gender studies which is a newly endowed position at the Harvard Graduate School of Education known as the Patricia Albjerg Graham Chair in Gender Studies. She has been an integral part of the Harvard Project on Women's Psychology and Girls' Development that she initiated. This project unites the psychological study of women with the study of young girl's development. In addition, she works with a program called, Strengthening Healthy Resistance and Courage in Girls which has now been enlarged to include boys in its prevention goals. It has been renamed the Harvard Project on Women's Psychology, Boy's Development and the Culture of Manhood.
Gilligan is currently coordinating the formation of the new Harvard Center on Gender and Education. This is becoming a reality much more quickly than expected due to the donation of 12.5 million dollars by actress Jane Fonda. 2.5 million of the donation is earmarked for an endowed chair to be named for Professor Gilligan. Fonda found Gilligan's work inspiring and feels that it has had a positive impact on women around the world.
Another of her recent works is in developing the Listening Guide Method. This is a voice centered, relational approach to understanding the human world. The method studies voice and resonance. In developing this approach, Gilligan and her associates have collaborated with voice teachers who are experienced in working in theatre. This method has literary, clinical and feminist ways of listening to people as they describe a relationship that they have experienced. The method was previously called a clinical interview as a method of inquiry.
Currently, Gilligan is teaching the fall semester course titled, Gender in Psychology and Culture: Theory and Method at Harvard. In addition to her duties at Harvard, she has been a visiting professor at the New York University School of Law since 1999. She teaches seminars on law and culture and works with the first year law students to enrich their sense of the responsibilities that are involved in practicing law.
After a career spanning over thirty five years, she will be leaving Harvard and joining the faculty of New York University as a fulltime professor. This will be an interdisciplinary position between the Graduate School of Education and the NYU School of Law and begins in June, 2002.
Recipient of numerous awards, in 1992 Gilligan was given the prestigious Grawemeyer Award in Education. This award is given to honor achievements in areas not recognized by the Nobel prizes, such as in the fields of music and education. She was named one of Time Magazine's twenty five most influential people in 1996. Then in 1997 she received the Heinz Award for knowledge of the Human Condition and for her challenges to previously held assumptions in the field of human development and what it means to be a human.
She has authored and coauthored numerous books and publications. Considered her principal publications in addition to In a Different Voice are: Women, Girls, and Psychotherapy: Reframing Resistance (1991), Meeting at the Crossroads (1992), Between Voice and Silence: Women and Girls, Race and Relationship (1995), and her soon to be published book titled The Birth of Pleasure which is due out in 2002.
In conclusion, Carol Gilligan has been instrumental in research on adolescence, moral development, women's development and conflict resolution. As a feminist, scholar, professor and author, she has helped to form a new direction for women.