Carol Gilligan was born in New York City on November 28, 1936. She studied literature at Swarthmore College and later attended Radcliffe University. She graduated from Radcliffe in 1960 with a Master's in psychology and continued her studies at Harvard, from where she received her Ph.D. in Social Psychology in 1964. Three years later, Gilligan took a teaching position at Harvard where she worked alongside Erik Erikson. She soon became an assistant to Lawrence Kohlberg. Gilligan began expanding Kohlberg’s theories on morality and took a special interest in young girls’ moral dilemmas and development. The Vietnam War was underway and Gilligan encountered many young men leaving for war and many young women left behind who were facing the moral decision of whether to abort their pregnancies or deliver children of absent fathers.
Although Gilligan worked closely with Kohlberg at first, she later was a harsh critic of his work. She believed that his studies that focused only on Caucasian males were biased and limited in nature. Additionally, Gilligan disagreed with his view that male morality was more influential on relationships than female morality. She spent much of her career exploring how women view themselves and how they are perceived by others.
Gilligan left Harvard in 1992 and began teaching in England at the University of Cambridge. After four years in England, Gilligan returned to Harvard and took the esteemed position as the Chair in Gender Studies. She held a key role in the Harvard Project on Women’s Psychology, Boy’s Development, and the Culture of Manhood. Gilligan’s work has been recognized by activists for women’s advancement, including Jane Fonda, who donated $2.5 million to an endowment in Gilligan’s name. Gilligan spent the last several years of her career as a professor at the School of Education at New York University.
Contribution to Psychology
Gilligan is known for her work on gender psychology. She developed the Listening Guide method, which focuses on how voice is interpreted in feminist and clinical ways. Gilligan uses this approach to better decipher the narrative of relationships. In 1982, Gilligan published In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women’s Development. The book detailed her views on female morality and explained how women thought more about the nurturing aspects of relationships than men who tended to view relationships from the perspective of social relevance and power. Gilligan’s theories propelled her to the forefront of the feminist movement and her followers joined her in encouraging society to view women and men equally in terms of influence and justice.
Gilligan’s work on moral development outlines how a woman’s morality is influenced by relationships, and how women form their moral and ethical foundation based on how it will affect others. She believes that women tend to develop morality in stages, including states of selfishness, social consciousness, and morality that conforms to conventional ideals. Although her theories have received much criticism, Gilligan has been recognized by many institutions and organizations for her efforts in the area of women’s advancement and moral psychology. In addition to the Grawameyer Award for Education, Gilligan has also received the Heinz Award for Human Condition and was named one of the most influential people of the year by Time Magazine in 1996.
Last Update: 04-13-2012