A History of Developmental Psychology in Autobiography

By Dennis Thompson; John D. Hogano | Go to book overview

5
Dale B. Harris

Memoir has been described as the "invention of truth" ( Zinsser, 1987). Gordon Allport, who worked extensively with "personal documents" as data for psychology, also recognized the subjectivity of his material but, in an early anticipation of today's relativity, saw the personal account as a legitimate construction of a reality that could also be scrutinized in other ways and by other investigators. A memoir, being retrospective, allows the memoirist to superimpose a pattern not apparent in the writer of events as they occurred. Biographers may infer different patterns. The construction achieved by subjects themselves can take into account highly personal values and goals that may not readily appear to others. And the values and goals inferred by objective observers may be miles apart from those reported by the subjects. Who has the truth? Both are inventions.

The foregoing places me in a nonbehavioristic stance in our discipline, open to the charge of subjectivity. It is the purpose of this account to show something of my course from a rigorous intellectual position to a more broad, integrative, personalistic posture. Although I started from a position that allowed only observable behaviors, I was from the start dissatisfied with the idea that words were merely behavior units. Nor could I escape the conviction that intentions have an existential quality and that words could express a person's aims and perhaps motives.

The way I traversed can only be shown in general, through persons and the readings they suggested or I discovered. I shall stick to verifiable "facts" but necessarily must indicate some personal matters such as doubts and working convictions arrived at. Necessarily, also, limited space and the reader's other concerns decree that I omit many experiences that undoubtedly influenced this journey. Furthermore, this record of professional career and intellectual venture must also omit its complement -- the personal side. That account would tell of a loyal and supportive partner, our varied and exciting family life with our four children, and the extended family of occasional students, from here and abroad, to whom we supplied a "scholarship" of board and room.

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