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Rae Carlson: An Exemplary Life

Alan C. Elms

[Presented at the Nineteenth Annual Conference of the Personology Society, Portland, Oregon, June 29, 2002]

When Ravenna Helson nominated Rae Carlson for the Henry A. Murray Award in 1988, Ravenna's nominating letter appropriately began by saying, "Nobody now active in personality psychology has worked as hard or accomplished as much to foster work in the Murray tradition as Rae Carlson." Then Ravenna filled in the details: Rae's very influential conceptual papers on personality psychology; Rae's empirical research on personality variables drawn from Jungian type theory and Tomkins' script theory; Rae's advocacy of personality psychology in Division 8 (Personality and Social Psychology) of the American Psychological Association; Rae's establishment of the Murray Award itself; and Rae's founding of the Personology Society. Others at our meeting today have already discussed Rae's conceptual papers and research, and Ravenna will be talking in more detail about Rae's role in initiating the Murray Award and the Personology Society. I'll focus on the middle contribution on the list: Rae's activities within APA Division 8, perhaps the least interesting of these topics to anyone except those who were directly involved.

I was directly involved, and as a sort of part-time historian I feel it's time to begin organizing some of this history. But more important, I'd like to give those of you who were not so directly involved at the time, or who didn't witness any of that early history at all, some idea of how Rae's political activities in Division 8 in the late 1970s and early 1980s grew out of her theoretical and methodological concerns, led to the creation of the Personology Society, and displayed certain striking characteristics of Rae's own personality. Twenty minutes are not enough to do all this, so herewith I offer just some highlights. I'll be drawing as often as possible from Rae's own written comments to members of the Personality Committee of Division 8 concerning her dealings with the Division, and from her letters to officers of the Division, as found in the Personality Committee archives assembled by Ravenna and me.

Rae herself wrote for publication a brief set of "Notes on the Prehistory of the Personality Section" of Division 8,which some of you have seen. In it she says quite correctly that she was "the only witness of the very beginning." In other words, the idea of a distinct personality section within the Division came out of her head and through her activities. As Rae explained in the "Prehistory" and in a concurrent letter [to Bernard Weiner, September 10, 1977], she had been "Elected as an Alternate Council Representative of Division 8," a rather lowly position in the Division but one that entitled her to sit in on meetings of the Executive Committee. "Attending my first meeting . . . in January 1976, I was appalled to discover that the Division was frankly considered to represent 'social psychology,' period. At about 1 AM [during a 13-hour meeting], I spoke up passionately on behalf of the alienated personality psychologists in the Division, and was asked [by the Division president] to put-together a committee to 'do something' about personality. . . . The original committee [for the Advancement of Personality Psychology] (a Rutgers-Berkeley axis) [including Jack Block, Ravenna Helson, Seymour Rosenberg, Silvan Tomkins, and Rae] was intended to be a small, workable group of prominent people with different approaches and different networks (despite geographical proximity). We immediately announced our 'openness' [to ideas and suggestions from the Division 8 membership] . . . and planned our first open meeting [at the APA convention in Washington, DC, in 1976]. . . . Our open meeting was packed; discussion was extremely vivid." In 1977, "the committee was expanded to include three more members in different 'areas' (both geographic and intellectual) who had been vigorous participants in our work [Alan Elms, Bob Hogan, Eric Klinger]."

That was an auspicious beginning, or so it seemed, for the distinct representation of personality psychology in the Division of Personality and Social Psychology. But some social psychologists on the Division 8 Executive Committee were already trying to limit or control the initiatives of the Committee for the Advancement of Personality Psychology, and Rae reacted strongly to their efforts. In a letter to the next Division 8 president [Harry Triandis, June 19, 1977], Rae said, "The most important issue . . . goes beyond the specific matters [under discussion]. Rather, it is the question as to whether personality psychologists are to have a real voice -- basic rights to intellectual self-determination -- after a decade of neglect and cavalier treatment in Division 8. Who speaks for personality psychology?"

She continued in her next paragraph, "The creation of the Committee for the Advancement of Personality Psychology was welcomed by a substantial portion of the membership as evidence that personality might reclaim its intellectual 'home' in the Division of Personality and Social Psychology. We have been extremely fortunate in invoking the help of some of the most distinguished and able psychologists in the country to serve on this committee. And frankly, we have every reason to guard jealously the opportunity to revitalize personality psychology by insisting on the priority of scholarly, intellectual issues -- as defined by personologists. . . . (While we reject any paranoid notion that social psychologists mean to destroy us personologists, we are daily confronted with evidence that Division 8 is 'really' for social psychologists.)" Rae then provided several examples of such evidence.

Two months later, after further discussion of such matters at an open meeting at the 1977 APA convention, Rae got a letter from Bernard Weiner, an experimental personality psychologist at UCLA who had attended the open meeting. Weiner complained that the personality committee was not representative of personality psychology as a whole and was too hostile toward the social psychologists in Division 8. Rae responded [September 10, 1977] with a vivid metaphor -- perhaps too vivid, as she seemed to feel in retrospect. "Bernie, I don't think the big problem is that the committee is 'non-representative of what personality psychology is' (But what IS it??). Because we're extremely open to different points of view, and actively seek participation. . . . There's no attempt to exclude 'traditional experimental personality.' But I wonder if it makes sense to try for proportional-representation-of-various-paradigms in order to get on with the 'revitalization' business? Let me try a gruesome metaphor. Let us say that 'personality' is lying there, nearly dead; its malady is such that some of its organs are hugely swollen, others totally atrophied -- and of course its central nervous system faded-out some time ago. Would we want to 'revive' it by putting together various parts in the shapes or sizes we see before us? I don't think so . . . even though we wouldn't leave anything out! (This grisly picture is my own, not the committee's!) But to pursue it a bit, what we quite desperately need is to restore heart and brain . . . before we worry about symmetry of the limbs and such. I hope you'll want to join us in the heart/brain restoration!"

I don't have a copy of Bernie Weiner's response. But two days later [September 12, 1977], Rae wrote a letter to the rest of the Committee for the Advancement of Personality Psychology, proposing her resignation as chair of the committee: "It is clear that I have antagonized several of the social psychologists on the Executive Committee of Division 8 through my outspokenness on behalf of 'personality.' I think this was 'good,' and absolutely necessary to get our committee established and taken seriously by the Division. Now, however, I am afraid that the antagonism I've incurred may be a serious liability [for] the committee . . . and the efforts to develop personality should not be saddled with my 'reputation.' Revolutionary leaders are generally replaced by more diplomatic successors; and I think we have 'won' our revolution, so that it's time for a change. . . . I become too involved, too enraged, in response to provocations. (You've seen some of the provocations . . . and some of my letters!) I simply haven't enough 'cool' for the task."

I should note here that the frictions between Rae and various members of the Division 8 Executive Committee had developed not only because of her confrontational style and because of conceptual differences regarding the place of personology in psychology, but because of the Executive Committee's resistance to her quite reasonable requests (which only sometime became demands) for changes in the Divisional allocation of resources to personality psychology versus social psychology. You can get some sense of such matters from a paragraph in her published "Notes on the Prehistory of the Personality Section" (p. 2): "Working on a shoestring, mainly at our own expense ([the Personality Committee's] maximum budget allocation never amounted to 1% of Divisional expenses . . . ), we accomplished a fair amount. We established the principles that standing committees [of Division 8] should include at least one personality psychologist, Invited Addresses at APA be allocated one-each to personality and social psychology, and so on."

When Rae resigned as the Personality Committee's chair, Ravenna was elected by the rest of the committee to become the new and presumably more diplomatic chair. After Ravenna served a two-year term, I succeeded her as what turned out to be the committee's final chair. Ravenna and I did try our best to be diplomatic in our interactions with the Division 8 Executive Committee, but we found it a constant struggle to do so. The Executive Committee continued to resist giving any significant roles in Division 8 to more personologically oriented personality psychologists, and indeed moved to reduce or eliminate the limited reforms and re-allocations that the Personality Committee had achieved under Rae's leadership.

Though she had resigned from the Personality Committee's chairmanship, Rae was not finished with her role as revolutionary agitator in Division 8. In the same batch of material she mailed to the Personality Committee with her resignation as chair, she raised for the first time (as far as I know) the possibility of forming an organization entirely separate from Division 8 and perhaps from APA: "We should consider seriously whether we are prepared to incorporate as a non-profit group and do it ourselves. That's perfectly feasible (I did it once for a service group in California), but it's also a fair amount of work; and not the way I plan to spend my sabbatical! I think it is quite legitimate -- and probably necessary -- to spell out that alternative to the Division, and straight-off. But we must be extremely realistic about how much work we are willing to take-on personally."

Rae was never that realistic about how much work she was willing to take on personally. I don't know how well that sabbatical leave went for her professionally, but she was involved in a good deal of discussion during the rest of that academic year about the possibility of establishing a new Division within APA, a Division of Personality Psychology. Some of us argued instead, perhaps unwisely but still trying to be diplomatic, for the establishment of a distinct Personality Section that would remain within Division 8. When Ravenna, as Personality Committee chair, first proposed such sectioning to the rest of the committee (August 22, 1978), Rae responded enthusiastically (in a letter to Ravenna, October 7, 1978):

"Even though we won't be able to accomplish anything 'definitive' at the January [Division 8] Executive Committee meeting, I would think it important to get the 'sectioning' move onto the agenda. That group needs a lot of time to process any important ideas! This idea will shake-them-up considerably, so they should get-started at facing realities!

"In fact, there's quite a lot 'going' for us. The Division is appropriately scared of its dwindling membership, [and its financial] overcommitment to PSPB [the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin]. It's less aware of its intellectual bankruptcy, but may be convinced by the evidence of personologists' active disaffection. . . . The Executive Committee is collectively -- not individually -- sort of dense, belatedly concerned with 'order, legitimacy, deliberate progress' stuff; and frankly slow-learners who don't do their homework! Probably only a strong and dignified threat to the viability of the Division will induce them to broaden their intellectual/political vision. But we have a genuine and important threat to their business-as-usual stance . . . and it should register!" [All emphases indicated in Rae's quoted letters are her own.]

I don't have the time or the inclination today to track the initially encouraging, ultimately dispiriting history of the sectioning process in Division 8. Suffice to say that sectioning did happen -- a Personality Section of Division 8 did exist for about four years -- and that it was then abolished on the initiative of the still-largely-social-psychological Executive Committee of Division 8. The Personality Section accomplished some useful things during its existence, but its effectiveness was largely compromised by the inclusion of more social psychologists than personality psychologists in its membership. (Anyone in the Division could join either section or both; many social psychologists joined both.) One early sign that the personological personality psychologists had been outmaneuvered in this way was the vote for the first chair of the Section, with Jerry Wiggins defeating Rae Carlson. Jerry was a good guy, a solid personality psychologist, but not a personologist as I'd define the term. The Personality Section would clearly have been a very different place if Rae had won that election instead of Jerry. What she did instead, once the Personality Section's promise began to fade, was to start putting together the Personology Society, as a genuinely personological organization with no ties whatsoever to Division 8. I'll let Ravenna talk about that.

I do want to make a few concluding comments about Rae Carlson, relevant to the history of the Division 8 Personality Committee and to the process of sectioning:

(1) Rae referred to her role at times as a "revolutionary" figure, as an agitator, and at least once as "the most assertive/paranoid person on the [personality] committee at just the time when we may need such a voice" (letter to Ravenna Helson, July 22, 1981). I would describe her role also as that of charismatic leader. Saul Friedlander has defined charismatic leadership as involving (a) the presentation of a new or different vision to potential followers, and (b) the development of a plan or program to put this vision into effect. Rae repeatedly provided us with both a vision and a plan. Charismatic leaders, including such psychobiographically interesting figures as Martin Luther and Lawrence of Arabia and Mohandas Gandhi and even Jesus, have often been perceived by the authorities as major irritants; and so was Rae.

(2) Rae described herself, in some of the writing shared with us by her daughter Leslie and in Rae's published case analysis of herself as "Jane," as often living a nuclear script. But I see plenty of evidence as well for Rae's commitment script: a persistence in the face of great odds and of repeated defeats, and a working toward higher goals with a level of commitment comparable to Eleanor Marx, Rae's primary example of commitment scripts in her fine paper "Exemplary Lives."

(3) In addition to the achievements cited earlier from Rae's nomination for the Murray Award, Ravenna Helson listed one other contribution Rae made to our field that has been especially important to me and to several of you. I'll finish with that, quoting Ravenna: "Finally, she [Rae] has a long history of personally encouraging psychologists whose work she believes can contribute to the goals of personology. . . . There are many of us whose careers she has made more committed, visible, and productive. She has been giving Carlson Awards very effectively for many years."

[Quotations from Rae Carlson's correspondence are used by permission of Leslie Carlson and Tracy Carlson.]

IN MEMORY OF RAE CARLSON, 1927-2003


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