Carol Gilligan

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Carol Gilligan
Carol Gilligan and James Gilligan, 2011
Carol Gilligan and James Gilligan, 2011
Born (1936-11-28) November 28, 1936 (age 81)
Occupation Professor
Nationality United States
Subject Psychology, Ethics, Feminism
Notable works In a Different Voice

Carol Gilligan (/ˈɡɪlɪɡən/; born November 28, 1936) is an American feminist, ethicist, and psychologist best known for her work on ethical community and ethical relationships, and certain subject-object problems in ethics.

She is a professor at New York University and a visiting professor at the University of Cambridge. She is teaching as a visiting professor at New York University, Abu Dhabi. She is best known for her 1982 work, In a Different Voice. Her work has been credited with inspiring the passage of the 1994 Gender Equity in Education Act. In 1996, Time magazine listed her among America's 25 most influential people.[1] She is the founder of ethics of care.

Background and career[edit]

Carol Gilligan was raised in a Jewish family in New York City.[2] She was the only child of a lawyer, William Friedman, and nursery school teacher, Mabel Caminez. She attended Walden School, a progressive private school on Manhattan's Upper West Side, played piano and pursued a career in modern dance during her graduate studies. Gilligan received her B.A. summa cum laude in English literature from Swarthmore College, a master's degree in clinical psychology from Radcliffe College, and a Ph.D. in social psychology from Harvard University.[3]

She began her teaching career at Harvard in 1967, receiving tenure with the Harvard Graduate School of Education in 1988. Gilligan taught for two years at the University of Cambridge (from 1992–1994) as the Pitt Professor of American History and Institutions. In 1997, she became Patricia Albjerg Graham Chair in Gender Studies at Harvard.[3]

Gilligan left Harvard in 2002 to join New York University as a full professor with the School of Education and the School of Law.[4] She is also visiting professor at the University of Cambridge in the Centre for Gender Studies.[5]

Best known for her work, In a Different Voice (1982), Gilligan studied women’s psychology and girls’ development and co-authored or edited a number of texts with her students.[6] She contributed the piece "Sisterhood Is Pleasurable: A Quiet Revolution in Psychology" to the 2003 anthology Sisterhood Is Forever: The Women's Anthology for a New Millennium, edited by Robin Morgan.[7] She published her first novel, Kyra, in 2008.[8][9]

She is married to James Gilligan, M.D., who directed the Center for the Study of Violence at Harvard Medical School.[10]


Gilligan is known for her work with Lawrence Kohlberg on his stages of moral development as well as her criticism of his approach to the stages. Despite being Kohlberg's research assistant, Gilligan argued that Lawrence Kohlberg's stages of moral development were male-oriented, which limited their ability to be generalized to females. Gilligan thus proposed her theory of stages of female moral development based on her idea of moral voices. According to Gilligan, there are two kinds of moral voices: that of the masculine and the feminine. The masculine voice is "logical and individualistic",[11] meaning that the emphasis in moral decisions is protecting the rights of people and making sure justice is upheld. The feminine voice places more emphasis on protecting interpersonal relationships and taking care of other people. This voice focuses on the "care perspective,"[12] which means focusing on the needs of the individual in order to make an ethical decision. For Gilligan, Kohlberg's stages of moral development were emphasizing the masculine voice, making it difficult to accurately gauge a woman's moral development because of this incongruity in voices. Gilligan argues that androgyny, or integrating the masculine and the feminine, is the best way to realize one's potential as a human. Gilligan's stages of female moral development has been shown in business settings as an explanation to the different ways men and women handle ethical issues in the workplace as well.[13]

Ethics of care[edit]

In her book In a Different Voice Gilligan presented her theory Ethics of Care as an alternative to Lawrence Kohlberg's hierarchal and principled approach to ethics. In contrast to Kohlberg, who claimed that girls did not, and therefore neither women, in general develop their moral abilities to the highest levels, Gilligan argued that women approached ethical problems differently than men.[14] According to Gilligan women's moral is centered around the understanding of responsibilities and relationship whilst men's moral is instead centered around the understanding of morality of fairness, which is tied to rights and rules. Women also tend to see moral issues as a problem of conflicting responsibilities rather than competing rights so whilst women perceive the situation as more contextual and narrative men define the situation as more formal and abstract. She calls the different moral approaches "Ethics of care" and "Ethics of justice" and recognizes them as fundamentally incompatible.[15]


Carol Gilligan's research methods and the scarce availability of her evidence have been criticized by many scholars and psychological researchers (e.g. Christina Hoff Sommers). This was especially relevant for the publication of her book In a Different Voice, for many researchers have searched for the evidence, which had been kept confidential because of the sensitive nature of the subject. That was however, according to some, a sign of obstruction of evidence, which is a recurring flaw with her studies.[citation needed]

The Boston Globe stated that "In a Different Voice has been the subject of so many rebuttals that it is no longer taken seriously as an academic work", and that Gilligan's findings, that differences in moral reasoning had anything to do with gender, could not be replicated.[1]

Gilligan wasn’t surprised by the critiques. She based her conclusions on interviews, not statistical surveys, and never meant for her ideas to be set in stone. “I thought of the book as the opening of a conversation,” she said, “certainly not the close of one.”[16]

Carol Gilligan's Ethics of care have rendered critique from other feminist scholars such as Jaclyn Friedman who argues that the different ethics of women and men are in fact a result of societal expectations. Since we expect women and men to think differently about ethics women and men as a result do present differences. The different modes of reasoning are therefore a socially constructed dichotomy simply reproducing itself through our expectations of how women and men act.[15]


Selected bibliography[edit]


From the novel The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Co-written with her son Jonathan and produced by Prime Stage Theatre in November 2011.
Educational fact sheet about the play.

Book chapters[edit]

  • Gilligan, Carol (1997), "Woman's place in man's life cycle", in Nicholson, Linda, The second wave: a reader in feminist theory, New York: Routledge, pp. 198–215, ISBN 9780415917612. 


  1. ^ a b "Carol Gilligan - The Boston Globe". 27 June 2012. Retrieved 9 January 2018. 
  2. ^ "Carol Gilligan | Jewish Women's Archive". Retrieved 2012-07-22. 
  3. ^ a b "Carol Gilligan". 1936-11-28. Archived from the original on 2012-07-16. Retrieved 2012-07-22. 
  4. ^ "NYU - Press Release". Retrieved 2012-07-22. 
  5. ^ "Gilligan to Be MHC Commencement Speaker :: News & Events :: Mount Holyoke College". 2008-04-18. Retrieved 2012-07-22. 
  6. ^ "Gilligan to Be MHC Commencement Speaker :: News & Events :: Mount Holyoke College". 2008-04-18. Retrieved 2012-07-22. 
  7. ^ "Library Resource Finder: Table of Contents for: Sisterhood is forever : the women's anth". Retrieved 2015-10-15. 
  8. ^ "Gilligan Turns to Fictional Love Story in 'Kyra'". National Public Radio. 2008-01-13. Retrieved 2012-07-22. 
  9. ^ [1]
  10. ^ Harvard Office of News and Public Affairs (1997-09-25). "Gilligan a pioneer in gender studies". Retrieved 2012-07-22. 
  11. ^ Muuss, R.E. (1988). "Carol Gilligan's theory of sex differences in the development of moral reasoning during adolescence". Adolescence. 23 (89): 229–43. 
  12. ^ Kyte, Richard (1996). "Moral reasoning as perception: A reading of Carol Gilligan". Hypatia. 11 (3): 97–113. doi:10.1111/j.1527-2001.1996.tb01017.x. 
  13. ^ White, Thomas (1992). "Business, ethics, and Carol Gilligan's "Two Voices"". Business Ethics Quarterly. 2 (1): 51–61. doi:10.2307/3857223. 
  14. ^ McHugh, Nancy Arden (2007). Feminist Philosophies A-Z. Edinburgh University Press. p. 39. ISBN 0-7486-2217-9. 
  15. ^ a b Kymlicka, Will (2002). Contemporary Political Philosophy. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0198782748. 
  16. ^ "The Book that Listened to Girls". The Attic. Retrieved 9 July 2018. 
  17. ^ "1992- Carol Gilligan". Archived from the original on 2015-06-10. 
  18. ^ "The Heinz Awards :: Carol Gilligan". Retrieved 2018-03-15. 

External links[edit]