Three World Views of Development and Learning
Mechanistic World View
The Mechanistic world view involves the fundamental belief that it is possible to tease apart various factors that influence behavioral change and assign an independent relative level of importance to each; mechanistic theories differ in the relative weight each assigns to the influence of environment and genetic factors.
Preference for specificity
Analogy of the machine
Each of the components of a machine exists independent of the others, and this existence can be expressed in precise quantitative terms.
Each of the machine’s elements exists in a particular relationship to the other elements of the machine.
The components function in an exact quantitative relationship to one another.
Secondary qualities are those that are not essential for a given machine to operate.
Common Threads among Mechanistic Theories
viewing behavior as a response to discrete, antecedent events
seeing observation and interpretation as separate and distinct
describing causal agents as acting independently of one another
classifying all behavior at all ages as consisting of the same basic elements
concluding that all behavior, theoretically at least, is lawful and therefore fully predictable.
separation of observation and theory
discovery of universal laws
independence of antecedent variables
integration of human development with other disciplines
Main goal is to predict, which requires establishment of cause/effect relationships
requires ability to independently assess antecedent factors:
primary task is to explain the way in which antecedent forces (IV) act on human behavior (DV) to change it
IVs are either efficient or material
between subjects comparisons
within subjects comparisons
single subjects comparisons
data analysis: ANOVA or ABA/ABAB designs
Summary: Primary Characteristics of the Mechanistic World View
Belief that behavior and behavioral change are naturally occurring, universal, lawful phenomena
Belief that it is possible to use objective, neutral empirical research strategies to study these phenomena
Belief that behavior and behavioral change are caused by one or more material and/or efficient causes
Belief that the influence of each efficient and/or material cause can be known independent of all others
Belief that the process of behavioral change over time is best understood as a quantitative process involving the increasing complexity of a set of basic elements common to all age groups
Organismic World View
Metaphor of a living organism
emphasizes the key element of the organismic view as the process through which elements are integrated to form a synergistic whole.
the whole is more than the sum of its parts
individual elements acquire meaning only when they interact with other elements in the system
Development as integrative change
Behavioral change is inherent in the living organism rather than externally driven
development consists of continuing integration of fragments into even larger wholes, making development directional
Dialectical process: at any given level of integration, fragments stand in opposition to each other as thesis and antithesis; they integrate to form, at the next-higher level, a synthesis. The synthesis now becomes the fragment or thesis of the new level, which integrates with the antithesis of this level to form a new synthesis, and so on and so on and so on.
developmental process is directional
though endpoint exists, it is not preordained
Organismic theory is holistic, in that development cannot be reduced to the study of its components.
Organicists believe that reactive behavior is not sufficient to explain human development across the life span.
Organicists believe that our efforts to make meaning out of our experiences, or to construct knowledge, is a lifelong activity.
Directionality (implies endpoint)
Shifts in focus from identifying cause/effect relationships to identifying the status of the organizational structure at any particular time.
Shift from prediction to explanation.
Less need for high levels of control and statistical analyses.
Usually more qualitative data than quantitative data.
clinical approach, to document organizational structure
research approach, to document behavioral sequences
longitudinal research designs
retrospective longitudinal study – gathering information from the past rather than waiting to gather it as the future unfolds
Summary: Primary characteristics of the organismic world view
Belief that development is best understood as a qualitative process involving the progressive, active construction and reconstruction of levels of organization
Belief that development is a universal, unidirectional process typical of all humans
Belief that there is an idealized end point toward which all development proceeds
Belief that individuals actively attribute meaning to their experiences
Belief that development proceeds through a series of syntheses, each leading to a greater potential for effective adaptation to life experiences
Contextualist World View
Metaphor is historical act
The meaning of any behavioral event is dependent on the context in which it occurs.
Makes no universal claims.
Focuses on interdependency of individual within a sociohistorical context.
Scrutinizes what a person is doing and what meanings he or she ascribes to both these actions and the surrounding events.
Characteristics of Contextualism
Time and place
no permanent structures to discover, but only temporary confluences of incidents.
prediction is not valued, as it is in mechanism, nor is direction valued, as in organicism
relative; defined from the perspective of individual in a given time and place.
Quality and texture
Quality is the intuited wholeness of an event.
Texture is the details and relations that make up quality.
Contextualism and Context
Mechanists consider context in their study of individuals but seek to isolate variance through ANOVAs.
Contextualism asserts that elements cannot be analyzed out of context or they will lose their meaning (the ANOVAs used in Mechanistic studies are questionable).
It is the character of quality and texture of an event or historical act, as viewed by the participant, that defines his or her context.
Organicists agree that context is an interdependent nexus, but they also believe that the result of the interactive process is universal developmental sequences.
Contributions to the Study of Development
emphasis on practical and immediate
individuals as active meaning makers in social settings
open-ended nature of human development
scientific inquiry as a fallible, human endeavor
Contextualists pursue a range of methodologies, both quantitative and qualitative; both share 3 basic assumptions:
The intent is to identify sociohistorically or contextually based information rather than to discover some universal truth.
The goal is a better understanding of the person in context rather than the person out of context.
Methods are not value neutral – there is a reason one question rather than another is asked.
Cohort Analysis: Purpose is to determine long-term, cumulative impact of the slice of history experienced as a result of the group’s shared characteristic.
Pattern analysis: Every context describes a pattern of interrelationships, which can be depicted through correlational methods.
Ethnographic analysis: Purpose is to understand particular culture; involves prolonged, active contact with the culture, collection of all sorts of data, and is usually more descriptive than interpretive in nature.
Narrative analysis: Focuses on the voice of the participant and attempts to provide an interpretive understanding of his/her life experiences.
Summary: Primary Characteristics of the Contextualist World View
Belief that the study of human development always reflects the sociohistorical perspective of the researcher
Belief that the meaning of an event is best defined from the perspective of the individual experiencing that event
Belief that explanations and interpretations of human development are always situated in and restricted to any particular sociohistorical context
Belief that human development is an open-ended phenomenon, with no necessary theoretically implied directions, patterns, or limits
Belief that there is a moral and ethical imperative in the study of human development that is directed toward a “politics of liberation”
Mechanist: metaphor of the machine, derived from physical and natural sciences
Organicist: metaphor of the living organism, derived from life sciences
Contextualist: metaphor of the historical act, derived from humanities
Strategies of the World Views
Reductionistic vs. holistic
Universalism vs. time and place
Fundamental Theoretical Differences
Asks questions about variability within and between populations
Fine-grained level of analysis; identifying basic building blocks of human development and learning
Asks questions about patterns and sequence over time
Research methods reflecting belief that individual, functioning as an integrated system, is the most basic level of analysis.
Asks questions about the situated experience of our lives, about the here and now
Research methods are answerable only at the holistic level, like organicist’s, but the basic level is not the person but the person in context. Because the basic level is person-in-context, whatever discoveries the contextualist makes are limited to that context.