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

By Gordon W. Allport | Go to book overview

Chapter 2
Critical and Experimental Studies

THE ADVENT AND ASPIRATION of the critical age in the use of human documents are described by Murphy, Murphy and Newcomb:

Just as the spontaneous diary has tended to be crowded out (for scientific purposes) by the controlled diary, so the whole case method has tended to take on a flavor of 'control.' Though case studies are still plentiful (biographies and autobiographies extending all the way from a page or two up to elaborate documents of hundreds of pages), and though they are often of great clinical value, the collection of more and more material has inevitably led to statistical treatment of comparable data and to the attempt to define and measure each of the items of behavior which appear in the life history. (138, p. 842)

These authors speak likewise of the possibility of a systematic biographical technique becoming eventually "as exact a science as psychophysics." It is true, as the present chapter will show, that improvements in method are now constantly sought, but these improvements are not all in the direction of attaining acceptable statistical standards. Many of them have to do with augmenting the efficiency and meaningfulness of the single document. Further, it is questionable whether the emulation of psychophysics constitutes a desirable ideal for the personal document.


THE POLISH PEASANT AS A TURNING POINT

If any line can be drawn between the era of uncritical and the era of the critical use of personal documents, the publication of the research of Thomas and Znaniecki in 1920 marks

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