This paper explores the scientific contribution of a famous American feminist scholar Carol Gilligan to the development of modern psychology. It gives a brief biographical review about the scholar, focuses on her psychological perspective, main issues of the research, key theories suggested by the scholar, and also provides the analysis and evaluation of her endowment to the modern gender studies.
Carol Gilligan is one of the most famous and influential gender psychologists and ethicists in the world. Her critics to the Lawrence Kohlberg`s ethics and suggestion about the differences in moral guidelines of women and men gave rise to a new theory “Ethics of Care” described in her book “In a Different Voice. Psychological Theory and Women`s Development” published in 1982. In her research works and experiments she focuses on the problems of adolescence, women`s self-identification, their social roles in the patriarchal societies and cognitive and psychological bases of the ethics formation.
Carol Gilligan was born on November 28, 1936 in New York City in a family of a lawyer and a teacher. She studied at Swarthmore, Radcliffe, and later at Harvard where she got her Ph.D. in Psychology. Having taught Psychology at the University of Chicago, in 1968 Carol Gilligan returns to Harvard as a teacher where she works with an outstanding psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg (Medea, 2009). His theory of moral development becomes the subject of Gilligan`s critics and the basis for her further research which ended up with publishing the most famous Gilligan`s book “In a Different Voice. Psychological Theory and Women`s Development”. In this book (Gilligan, 1982) the scholar expresses the opinion that Kohlberg`s theory takes into consideration only the peculiarities of male identity and it is not suitable for the evaluation of feminine morality. She develops the idea that men and women are different in their moral concerns: women built their ethical views on the basis of such notions as responsibility and care, and always assess the situation as a concrete and context-dependent, but for men it is more common to perceive situations as abstract and evaluate them from the point of view of justice.
In her scientific effort Carol Gilligan also focused on the peculiarities of the psychological development of girls in the adolescence. During the experimental investigations, carried out by Gilligan together with Lyn Mikel Brown (Gilligan, Brown, 1993) and Lawrence Kohlberg (Kohlberg, Gilligan, 1971) using the voice-centered relational method, the scholars found out that most girls on the edge of the adolescence have no distinct psychological voice that means that they cannot denote their own self under the pressure of social standards and imposed bias: they have no clear picture of their personalities, desires and goals. Generally, Gilligan and Brown (1993) state that “women`s psychological development within patriarchal societies and male-voiced cultures is inherently traumatic” (p. 31).
On the one hand, in the period of adolescence girls still follow some behavioral patterns common for the child age. On the other hand, it is imposed by the society, that it is time for a girl to take a role-model of a woman and to become relationships-focused. As a result, trying to fit in the new role and searching for the relationships, the girls may lose the connection to their own self. Moreover, according to Gilligan and Kohlberg (1971), adolescence is a period of moral values and judgements shaping, that is why the system of education should take into consideration the cognitive peculiarities of teenagers and provide them with the information which would contribute to the formation of system of values (p.1084).
So, carrying out psychological gender-focused investigations Carol Gilligan did not just founded a new theory in ethics, but also gave rise to the new feministic branch of psychology which allows to perceive people`s behavior and cognitive processes from the perspective of their gender roles, social and physiological peculiarities. It is a one more attempt to prove all people`s uniqueness and to challenge the traditional male-centered theories.