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Archive for March, 2016

Contributed by Rhonda Rinehart. This is the first installment of the “Psychology of…” book of the month blog series.

It has been said that we are what we eat.  Can the same be said for clothes?  Are we what we wear, or does what we choose to wear have implications beyond mere style or utilitarianism?  And ultimately, how is our identity defined by what we wear?

Two books at CCHP turn to psychology to answer these sometimes philosophical questions.  Fashion, it turns out, has a checkered past.  Revolutions, tyrannies, martyrs and reformers have all put their respective stamps on the humble act of covering the human body.  But is it really such a humble act?  The Psychology of Dress: an Analysis of Fashion and its Motive, published in 1929, paints a rather tawdry picture of fashion’s history and the mostly ego-driven reasons pushing it forward.  The Psychology of Clothes, published twenty-one years later, focuses on the more clinically-defined psychological factors behind the clothing choices people make.  These factors borrow ideas from Thorndike and Freud but project an equally nefarious history of clothing.

Page from The Psychology of Clothes, emphasizing the relationship between clothing and well-being.

Page from The Psychology of Clothes, emphasizing the relationship between clothing and well-being.

As with anything involving Homo sapiens and our big brains, the mere act of dressing oneself is at once complex and complicated.  People follow fashion, according to author Elizabeth Hurlock in Dress, for fear of ridicule and scorn.  And if you’ve ever experienced either (ask me sometime about my clothing-related experience as a high school sophomore), you know this to be a true assertion. Fear plays a huge role throughout fashion’s narrative as a catalyst for larger historical movements, largely movements in which fear of belonging or fear of rejection play a role.

The price of not following fashion trends – from The Psychology of Clothes.

The price of not following fashion trends – from The Psychology of Clothes.

Historically, women suffered many health problems at the hand of fashion, regulatory laws prevented social “inferiors” from copying clothing of the aristocracy, and clothing marked one’s social status.  These events all ended in rebellion and eventually, reform.

These two popular trends in hair and clothing represented of prosperity and wealth – both images from The Psychology of Dress.

These two popular trends in hair and clothing represented of prosperity and wealth – both images from The Psychology of Dress.

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In Clothes, J.C. Flugel names nine different individual differences, or personality types, that he states control our clothing choices.  Do you find yourself in one of these categories when you get dressed in the morning (or in the afternoon)?

  • The rebellious type.
  • The resigned type.
  • The unemotional type.
  • The prudish type.
  • The duty type.
  • The protected type.
  • The supported type.
  • The sublimated type.
  • The self-satisfied type.
Diagram from The Psychology of Clothes depicting gender choices in clothing.

Diagram from The Psychology of Clothes depicting gender choices in clothing.

So we’ve come full circle.  That same riddle is still perhaps unanswered: Are we what we wear, or do our choices in clothing define us?  Whether we are fashion pioneers or fashion followers has a lot to do with our experiences and our socioeconomic status.  So perhaps that answer lies with the ability to make choices; and it is power that determines whether we get to make those choices or whether they are made for us.

Both titles from the Ludy T. Benjamin, Jr. library at the Cummings Center for the History of Psychology.

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Contributed by Lizette Royer Barton, Reference Archivist.

Ross Stagner is well known in the history of psychology for his work in Industrial/Organizational Psychology, the study of personality, and his involvement with the founding of the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues.

And it started here in Akron, Ohio!

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Ross Stagner’s 1936 Tel-Buch faculty photograph
Photo credit: Archival Services, University Libraries, The University of Akron

Ross Stagner accepted his first regular faculty position at The University of Akron in 1935 and the United Rubber Workers organized that very same year. According to Stagner’s SIOP autobiography, “My enthusiasm soared when, on my first day in that city, I saw a huge banner welcoming the “Rubber Workers Organizing Committee….”[and] before long I had gotten involved in educational and organizational efforts of this group.”

At one point Akron was the Rubber Capital of the World as companies like Goodyear, Goodrich, Firestone, and roughly twenty other lesser known rubber factories called Akron home. The rubber industry employed 40,000 Akronites at its peak but according to Brecher (1972) by 1933 nearly half of Akron’s rubber workers were unemployed. Firestone and several other factories had closed and Goodyear was operating on a two-day work week.

The early 1930s were an interesting time in the history of industry and a critical time in Akron industry. Among other things, Congress passed the National Industrial Recovery Act in 1933 and section 7A included a provision that allowed employees the right to organize and bargain collectively without interference or coercion from employers. This opened the gates for thousands of Akron rubber workers to join local trade unions and the United Rubber Workers Union (URW) was established in 1935.

Stagner’s arrival in Akron coincided with the height of trouble in the Akron rubber industry. In response to increased production demands and decreased wages, workers organized numerous strikes at several different companies in the early 1930s. Then, on February 14, 1936 tirebuilders in Goodyear’s Plant No. 2 shut off their machines and sat down signaling the start of a giant “sit-down” strike.  In addition to the sit-downs, workers also organized long picket lines and production at Goodyear Tire and Rubber came to a halt.

A settlement was reached on March 22, 1936 with the management at Goodyear accepting the majority of the workers’ demands.

Industrial/Organization Psychology wasn’t Ross Stagner’s focus in graduate school and in fact he’d never even had a single course on the topic. However, he admitted to learning a great deal about industrial working conditions from the rubber workers and according to Zickar (2004) he went on to be one of only a handful of early researchers in the field to take a pro-union stance. He conducted numerous research studies throughout his career that focused on union commitment, collective bargaining, and union socialization. And aside from his pro-union work in Industrial/Organizational Psychology he was also a pivotal, founding member of the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues in 1936 – a group dedicated to using psychology to make social change.

AbrahamMaslowPapers_StagnerLetter_BoxM4495_folder3_PICASA

Ross Stagner to Abraham Maslow, April 1936
Abraham Maslow papers, box M4495, folder 3
Cummings Center for the History of Psychology, The University of Akron

References:

Brecher, J (1973). Strike!. Straight Arrow Books, San Francisco, CA.

Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company Records, 1898-1993. Archival Services, University Libraries, The University of Akron.

Lachman, S. J. (1998). Ross Stagner (1909-1997). American Psychologist, 53(4), 482-483.

Abraham Maslow papers. The Cummings Center for the History of Psychology, The University of Akron.

Ross Stagner papers. The Cummings Center for the History of Psychology, The University of Akron.

Zickar, M. J. (2004). An analysis of industrial-organizational psychology’s indifference to labor unions in the United States. Human Relations, 57(2), 145-167.

 

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