Whose Got Personality? An interview with Merve Emre

In September 2018, Deborah Chase interviewed Merve Emre for the Boston Review, and they discussed, “what the test really measures and what it misses, how it has come to function as a form of divination and therapy in an age of secular alienation, and why its claims of innateness are at odds with richer understandings of personality and character”. A brief excerpt of that interview follows below.


Deborah Chase: You mention that there is a gender bias in the results: women are mostly “feelers,” guardians of personal relationships, and men are mostly “thinkers.”

Merve Emre: I would never refer to [Katharine Cook Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers, the creators of the Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator] as feminists because they really had no interest in any kind of political organization around gender. Toward the end of her life, Isabel was dismissive of what she called the “women’s libbers” of the 1970s. But both she and Katharine were interested in women’s flourishing in a deeply individualistic way. So it is appropriate that the indicator they designed has become such an agent of this neoliberal idea of compactualization and self-care. I think that was the limit of what they could imagine, in terms of progress. Isabel’s husband was more of a committed leftist and feminist than she was; he was dismayed by her lack of political understanding and political interest when it came to liberating women from what he viewed as the oppressiveness of their household role. But Isabel and her mother were so bound to certain Victorian ideals of femininity and domesticity that it would have been impossible for them to imagine any kind of different organization for work or care.


This interview was first published on the Boston Review on 18th September 2018. It is available to read in full here.

Our next event takes place on the 3rd June 2019 and we are thrilled to be welcoming Dr. Merve Emre to speak about her new book, What’s Your Type? Over the course of the evening, we will unpack questions around why personality tests are so popular and what their ongoing appeal says about humanity’s desire to define and label themselves. Dr. Emre will also be answering questions and signing books.

We look forward to seeing you there!

Tickets are available on Eventbrite.

Book Tickets

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