Towards a Dialectical Psychology of Commitment: Black Women, Individuation and Cultural Contradiction

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Previous inquiry on black female attitudes and personal growth has yielded conflictive and incomplete descriptions. Some movement toward greater individuation has been seen in recent years, however, particularly in choices and commitments regarding children, careers, and marriage. This inquiry sought to develop a theoretical framework capable of explaining aspects of the observed shift and guiding future research in this area. A heuristic model of commitment among the oppressed under conditions of cultural contradiction was devised and aspects of it tested with a sample of black female collaborators. Commitment theory and certain principles from ego developmental psychology, family theory and individuation psychology constituted the conceptual framework; and served as the basis for the interview schedule developed for use with the women. Data was classified by means of a content analysis grid devised especially for this study. Chief among the findings were two: (1) Classical formulations of commitment theory have lacked a dialectical understanding of the integrative role played by women and its consequences for the psychological state of commitment. Black female individuation behavior is significantly integrative: it seeks to be inclusive of both personal and collective (in and out-group) conflicts and contradictions. Because of this tendency, black female integration efforts, especially during periods of increased cultural upheaval, may tend to reflect the contradictions embedded in the culture as a whole. (2) The contradictions implicit in oppression seem to modify the popular description of commitment as a process of moving toward the in-group and away from the out-group. Among the oppressed there is a dual approach-avoidance process--one toward the in-group and one toward the out-group. Future research on commitment behavior among the socially oppressed must be responsive to the dialectical nature of this psychological state. Clinical interventions with persons trying to manage conflictive commitments must be sensitive to the cognitive and emotional contradictions such persons regularly seek to manage.








Boston College