Photo Reference: http://what-is-psychology.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/10091_gilligan_carol.jpg

Carol Gilligan is an internationally recognized psychologist, feminist, professor, and writer. For over three decades, Gilligan has made arguments that psychology has systematically ignored women in trying to answer questions on how humans make ethical judgments. She pioneered the existence of the feminine voice within moral reasoning.


Born in New York City in 1936. Gilligan received her B.A. in English literature from Swarthmore College in 1958, a master’s degree in clinical psychology from Radcliffe College in 1961, and a Ph.D. in social psychology from Harvard University in 1964, where she later taught.

Work with Erickson and Kohlberg

Gilligan’s career began in 1967 in the psychology department at Harvard, as a part-time research assistant alongside Erik Erikson and Lawrence Kohlberg, two idols in developmental psychology. Erikson is known for his theory of the eight stages of development, Kohlberg for his six-stage theory of moral development. Gilligan identified a gap in Kohlberg’s research, namely that the subjects studied were privileged white men and boys, which caused a bias against women.(1) Kohlberg’s theory of moral development placed the male view of individual rights and rules higher than the women’s development in terms of the caring effect on human relationships.(2)
Criticism of Kohlberg’s work became the basis for Gilligan’s most famous book, In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women’s Development, published in 1982. This seminal book argued that the standards of maturity and moral development used in psychological testing did not hold true for women. Gilligan held that women’s development was set within the context of caring and relationships, rather than in compliance with an abstract set of rights or rules.

Ethic of Care

Gilligan’s research on identity and moral development led to the identification of the ethics of care as a “different voice”—a voice that joined self with relationship and reason with emotion. By reorienting pre-existing frameworks, it shifted the paradigm of psychological and moral theory. The ethics of care originates from the premise that as humans we are inherently relational, responsive beings and the human condition is one of connectedness or interdependence.

Her theory was based on the three main divisions used by Kohlberg, albeit the fundamental difference that the transition between the stages of pre-conventional, conventional and post conventional were fueled by changes in the sense of self. (3) Gilligan proposed that males and females have a different way of experiencing and conceiving of oneself in relation to others. Women view moral conflicts as negotiable and having consequences, unlike the male tendency to see a conflict as either right or wrong.(4) Ultimately, she uncovered an inherent risk of resentment of the very people for whom a woman cares if one’s own needs become secondary to those receiving care.(5)

Gilligan’s research moral reasoning is different between males and females because mothers, as primary caretaker for girls are the same gender, which leads to differences in personality structures. Girls identify with mothers as they create their identities whereas, boys distance themselves to identify themselves as masculine. Men, therefore, value independence and women fear abandonment. This develops into an orientation of women towards others expressed in an ethic of care and an orientation of men towards an ethic of justice.


Gilligan made a number of other contributions to the field of women’s moral and identity development. In 1989, she coedited Mapping the Moral Domain: A Contribution of Women’s Thinking to Psychological Theory with Janie Victoria Ward, Jill McLean Taylor, and Betty Bardige. In 1991, she published Making Connections: The Relational World of Adolescent Girls at Emma Willard School, coauthored with Nona P. Lyons and Trudy J. Hammer; Meeting at the Crossroads: Women’s Psychology and Girls’ Development; and Women, Girls and Psychotherapy: Reframing Resistance, coauthored with Annie Rogers and Deborah Tolman. The Birth of Pleasure was published in 2002.

Her work earned her several awards, including the Grawemeyer Award in Education (1992) and the Heinz Award (1997). As well, she was named one of Time Magazine’s twenty five most influential people in 1996.

Present Day

Gilligan’s newest writing was Joining the Resistance, a book published by Polity Press in 2011. Shecurrently isa visiting professor with the University of Cambridge (Centre for Gender Studies).

Additional Links

Makers Video: http://www.makers.com/carol-gilligan
Big Think Video: http://youtu.be/wvZGkqZtueM


[1] http://www.feministvoices.com/carol-gilligan/
[2] http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/paper.cfm?paperid=278
[3] Gilligan, C. (1982/1993). In a different voice: Psychological theory and women's development. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press and http://www.stolaf.edu/people/huff/classes/handbook/Gilligan.html
[4] Gilligan, C. (1982/1993). In a different voice: Psychological theory and women's development. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

[5] Gilligan, C. (1982/1993). In a different voice: Psychological theory and women's development. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.