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Diana Blumberg Baumrind (1927-)

by Hendrika Vande Kemp, Fuller Theological Seminary*

Biography of Diana Blumberg Baumrind

Diana Blumberg was the first of two daughters born to Hyman and Mollie Blumberg, a lower middle-class couple residing in one of New York's Jewish enclaves. Diana developed a strong intellectual friendship with her father, an atheist with a strong sense of Jewish cultural tradition, and she deeply admired the political activism of her uncle and aunt, Isadore Blumberg and Hannah (Levine). Hyman and Isadore, sons of Eastern European immigrants, were educated at City College and developed anti-Zionist and pro-Soviet philosophies shared by Diana. Isadore Blumberg schooled his niece in the principles of dialectical materialism, and imprinted her with his concern "to empower the disenfranchised and underrepresented."

Diana, the eldest in an extended family of female cousins, inherited the role of eldest son, which allowed her to participate in serious conversations about philosophy, ethics, literature, and politics. In her teens, Diana supplemented her personal education in Marxist philosophy and economics by attending night classes at the Catholic Worker newspaper office and House of Hospitality in the slums of New York. Diana joined the Communist party, and at the Worker's School she met such celebrities as Pete Seeger and Paul Robeson, whose left-wing activism subjected them to McCarthy-era investigations.

Diana earned an AB in philosophy and psychology (1948) at Hunter College. Many of Diana's teachers were closet Marxists who reinforced her social consciousness and strengthened her philosophical grounding in dialectical materialism. Diana was influenced by John Somerville, Bernard Frank Riess, and Otto Klineberg, whose careful research on selective migration and racial stereotypes challenged American racism and eugenics programs. Klinebergian cross-cultural sensitivity permeates Baumrind's writings on ethical theory and moral development.

Newly married, Baumrind began graduate school in 1948 at the University of California's Berkeley campus, which was about to withstand the turmoil of the loyalty oath controversy of 1948-1949 that led to the legal battle of Tolman vs Underhill. Baumrind studied developmental, clinical, and social psychology, earning the MA (1951) and PhD (1955). Many Berkeley professors modeled personal convictions and professional interests that strengthened Baumrind's Marxist and humanitarian convictions. Baumrind was influenced by the research of Adorno, Frenkel-Brunswik, Levinson & Sanford on anti-Semitism and the authoritarian personality; by the teaching of Egon Brunswik; and by the conformity research of Krech (a persecuted Jewish Marxist) and Crutchfield. Baumrind completed her thesis under Hubert Coffey, who initiated the NIMH-funded research project that culminated in the publication of Leary's Interpersonal Diagnosis of Personality (1957).

Baumrind completed a clinical residency at the Cowell Hospital/Kaiser Permanente (1955-1958) and was a fellow under the NIMH grant investigating therapeutic change, extending her leadership research to families and therapy groups. In her later family socialization research, she focuses on a structured (authoritative) parental leadership style which couples directive elements of the authoritarian style with responsive elements of the democratic style. By 1960, Baumrind was affiliated with Berkeley's Institute of Human Development, where she still directs the Family Socialization and Developmental Competence Project. Baumrind, who eventually divorced, chose a research focus because it provided the flexible hours required for the mothering of her three daughters. Her work from 1960-1966 was funded by an NIMH grant. Further grants of nearly $3.5 million have funded research resulting in the publication of more than three dozen articles and book chapters on family socialization, developmental competence, adolescent risk-taking, and ethics. Baumrind is a recipient of the G. Stanley Hall Award (APA Division 7, 1988), and an NIMH Research Scientist Award (1984-1988).

Baumrind's work on research design, socialization, moral development, and professional ethics is "unified" by her belief that individual rights and responsibilities are inextricable and moral actions determined "volitionally and consciously," and by her assertion that "impartiality is not superior morally to enlightened partiality." She applies these principles in her critiques of Milgram's research on obedience to authority (her most widely cited work) and APA's principles for research ethics. 

Baumrind's early criticism of the NIMH group therapy research focused on the unjustified leap "from test scores" to "traits, to constructs," and she pleaded for better construct and content validation. She also identified the problems inherent in evaluating change scores in tests designed specifically to measure stable traits. In her discussion of "specious causal attributions" she criticized researchers who use the concept of causality in a manner  differing greatly from that of the public and of social policy planners, who understand causality as "a necessary connection or intrinsic bond embedded in the very nature of things." 

Responsible relatedness undergirds all the more specific principles in Baumrind's writing. In her moral development theory and meta-ethics, she rejects approaches that value rationalization over personal involvement, and those that favor individual human existence over the communal good. In her family socialization and adolescent risk-taking research, she rejects the stance of humanists who see socialization as detrimental to self-actualization; affirms a balance between the feminist values of nurturance, intimacy, and interconnectedness and the masculine values of agency and self-assertion; and refutes the child liberation movement by challenging parents to take an authorative nurturing stance that includes the inculcation of societal values. In her critique of research ethics, she summons social psychologists to an ethical posture that recognizes the dignity and intentionality of persons and takes responsibility for any violation of what we affirm as inalienable human rights. In her criticism of research design and statistical procedures, she abhors self-deception in researchers who pretend to unwarranted certainty and deceive the public and their colleagues with misleading statements. Throughout, she is unwavering in her commitment to what she understands as humanism, and courageous in her challenge to insincere orthodoxies, whether these be embodied in "McCarthy red-baiting," "gender feminism," or "rationalizations" for mistreating participants in order to promote sanctity of scientific method.


The above sketch is abstracted from two companion chapters by the author in the forthcoming volume Humanistic and Transpersonal Psychology: Historical and Biographical Sourcebook (Don Moss, Ed, Greenwood, 1997): "Humanistic Psychology and Feminist Psychology" (with Tamara L. Anderson) and "Diana Baumrind (23 August 1927-): Researcher and Critical Humanist."


*Originally published in The Feminist Psychologist, Newsletter of the Society for the Psychology of Women, Division 35 of the American Psychological Association, Volume 24, Number 3, Summer, 1997.  Appearing with permission of the author.

Date created: 2010