The Use of Personal Documents in Psychological Science: Prepared for the Committee on Appraisal of Research

By Gordon W. Allport | Go to book overview

Preface

A DECADE OF DEPRESSION, war, and misery has had one benign effect. It has brought out upon the center of our cultural stage the struggles of the common man, the picture of his daily life, his courage, all his homely values. It has brought the documentary film into popularity, the public opinion poll, radio programs dealing with the common man's life-- sidewalk interviews, "we the people"--candid cameras, autobiographies that give unaccented accounts of ordinary experience (These are our lives). Journals like Life and P M have sprung into being with their featuring of the ordinary soldier, the ordinary baby, the ordinary school girl. The layman has become interested in the personal document; and so too has the social scientist, caught up in the general cultural tide.

But unlike the layman, the social scientist knows that he is being affected by the prevailing winds, and he asks himself whether it is a healthy sign. Becoming methodologically- minded (as he does at the slightest provocation) he seeks to evaluate the increasing flood of personal documents that reaches his hands.

While he contemplates the matter he feels himself afflicted with a vertigo of contradictions. His scientific training and aspiration create doubts and misgivings concerning the representativeness of any single case and especially concerning the validity of subjective records. But at the same time he acknowledges to himself that in the single case confronting him he finds the vivid and irreducible stuff that constitutes such knowledge as to him is immediately certain and trust-

-xi-

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