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Carol Gilligan, PhD – Internationally Renowned Psychologist And Gender Studies Pioneer

By Admin | January 17, 2008

Dr. Carol Gilligan is University Professor at New York University, where she holds appointments in the Steinhart School of Culture, Education, and Human Development; the School of Law; and the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

A prolific writer in her chosen fields of psychology and gender studies, she has won numerous awards and has been named as one of the 25 most influential Americans by Time magazine. Her first novel, Kyra, has just been published by Random House. Dr. Gilligan gives us her thoughts.

Who was your mother and what was she like?

My mother was a remarkable woman, an artist by temperament, and she encouraged me in ways for which I am deeply grateful. After I had read the actual diary of Anne Frank, not the edited version which I had been familiar with, I came to see my relationship with my mother in a new light, and I write about this in The Birth of Pleasure.

Do you have any siblings?

I was an only child.

You have an undergraduate degree in English Literature from Swarthmore and also are a playwright. How would you rate yourself as a writer?

I really don’t know how to answer this question because in finding my way in writing, I have had to put that kind of judgment aside. What I would say is that I have found my voice in many ways through writing.

When you worked with Erik Erikson at Harvard, what was he like as a person and also to work with?

He was an inspiring person, very alive and engaged with the world, and teaching with him led me back into psychology, because of the sheer creativity and intelligence of his approach to understanding human experience.

Have you read your Wikipedia biography and, if so, what do you think of it?

I haven’t read it, but a friend tells me that I should. Apparently, there is no mention of the Graham chair that I held at Harvard, which was the university’s first chair in gender studies.

You have received many prizes and honors for your scholarship and professional work. Which one is most important to you?

The Heinz award. I was deeply honored by the award which was given for my contribution to understanding the human condition.

After more than forty years at Harvard you left to take a position at NYU. Why?

I had grown up in New York and when I came to NYU in the late ’90s as a visiting professor, I found that I loved being back in the city. My husband also loves New York.

I found wonderful colleagues at NYU, and I also wanted to finish a novel I had started writing. Being a University Professor gave me the kind of freedom I needed to expand the scope of my work.

You reportedly wrote Focus on The Family’s Dr. James Dobson to request that he stop quoting your scholarship. Did you ever hear back from him and, if so, what was your reaction?

I did write to him, and he never wrote back.

Why did you make the transition from English Literature to Psychology. What influenced that decision?

At the time, when I graduated from college, I thought I would rather work directly with people.

What book or writing project are you working on currently?

I’ve just finished my first novel, Kyra, which Random House is publishing in January. And I’m also at the moment doing final revisions on a book, Darkness Visible, that my colleague, David Richards and I have written and Cambridge University Press will publish next fall.

David is a philosopher and a constitutional law scholar, and our collaboration has made possible a fuller exploration of the relationship between people’s inner and outer worlds.

What do you like to do in your free time, away from Psychology and writing?

I am studying piano again which I love, I swim, and having been a dancer, I like to do pilates. I love to hang out with my kids and my grandchildren. My husband and I go to theater and concerts and museums, which makes New York a great place to live. And then I spend time with friends.

Do you have any granddaughters?

I have two granddaughters—Nora who is nine and Maxine who is four-and-a half.

Which is your favorite book that you have written?

My novel, Kyra.

If you could do one thing differently in your career, what would it be?

Start writing fiction sooner.

Twenty-five years after it was published, what are your thoughts and feelings about In A Different Voice? Did you realize when you were writing it how seminal a book it would become?

In a Different Voice is like a child whose life becomes wildly different from anything you imagined. I’m beyond delighted when people come up to me, which they still do, and say that the book affected them, led them to listen differently to themselves and to others, or even changed their lives.

When I wrote it, I thought only my mother would read it, and a few colleagues who worked on the same floor of Larsen Hall at Harvard.

I wrote it to sort out a confusion for myself—why it had been so hard for me to connect what I knew through experience with the psychology I was reading and teaching.

I had the privilege of teaching with Erikson and with Lawrence Kohlberg, and I was always fascinated by the connections between their work and their lives. That Erik, who had named himself Erikson—because he grew up not knowing who his father was, would write about identity made sense to me.

But it didn’t occur to me, even when I saw these connections between men’s lives and their work, that I could make such connections myself. Like many women, I had been educated to take men’s experience as human experience. So listening to other women and to myself and taking women’s voices seriously—in their own right and on their own terms—was a revelation to me, in many, many ways. And that’s what I wrote about.

The opinions expressed in this interview are solely those of the person being interviewed and are not attributable to DailyInterview.com or the editors.

Copyright 2007 DailyInterview.com

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