Carol Gilligan Reconsidered

The Boston Globe has a fascinating piece today on the legacy of Carol Gilligan, the Harvard psychologist whose 1982 book In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women’s Development has been hotly debated ever since.

Ruth Graham, interviewing Gilligan and her colleagues in the field, seeks to discuss whether an academic (or a text) whose studies and research haven’t really withstood the test of time or the peer review process can still have a place in our dialogue.

Whatever has befallen “In a Different Voice” since its publication, then, its legacy — a wave of new research, a renewed openness within feminism to sex differences, and the notion that abstract detachment isn’t the apex of moral maturity — has marked the world for good. Gilligan’s book may have turned out to be more a call to arms than a work of science, but the research she inspired among her peers has been valuable nevertheless.

Thirty years after her book’s publication, even many of Gilligan’s early critics now respect what it accomplished. “She was a major intellectual contributor at the time,” Hyde said. “She’s like Freud. Today his ideas have less credibility, and we don’t use them so much in scientific psychology. In 1982, it was a revolutionary step forward.”