toward an experimental ecology of human development.pdf

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Toward an Experimental Ecology of Human Development URIE BRONFENBRENNER Cornell University ABSTRACT: A broader approach to research in hu- j man development is proposed that focuses on the pro- \ gressive accommodation, throughout the life span, between the growing human organism and the changing environments in which it actually lives and grows. \ The latter include not only the immediate settings containing the developing person but also the larger social contexts, both formal and informal, in which these settings are embedded. In terms of method, the approach emphasizes the use of rigorousj^d^igned exp_erjments, both naturalistic and contrived, beginning in the early stages of the research process. The chang- ing relation between person and environment is con- ceived in systems terms. These systems properties are set forth in a series of propositions, each illus- trated by concrete research examples. This article delineates certain scientific limitations in prevailing approaches to research on human de- velopment and suggests broader perspectives in theory, method, and substance. The point of de- parture for this undertaking is the view that, espe- cially in recent decades, research in human de- velopment has pursued a divided course, with each direction tangential to genuine scientific progress. To corrupt a contemporary metaphor, we risk be- ing caught between a rock and a soft place. The rock is rigor, and the soft place relevance. As I have argued elsewhere (Bronfenbrenner, 1974; Note 1), the emphasis on rigor has led to experi- ments that are elegantly designed but often lim- ited in scope. This limitation derives from the fact that many of these experiments involve situa- tions that are unfamiliar, artificial, and short-lived and that call for unusual behaviors that are difficult to generalize to other settings. From this per- spective, it can be said that much of contemporary developmental psychology is the science of the strange behavior of children in strange situations with strange adults for the briefest possible periods of time.* Partially in reaction to such shortcomings, other workers have stressed the need for social relevance in research, but often with indifference to or open rejection of rigor. In its more extreme manifesta- tions, this trend has taken the form of excluding the scientists themselves from the research process. For example, one major foundation has recently stated as its new policy that, henceforth, grants for research will be awarded only to persons who are themselves the victims of social injusticeA Other, less radical expressions of this trend in-1 volve reliance on existential approaches in which 1 "experience" takes the place of observation and I analysis is foregone in favor of a more personalized I and direct "understanding" gained through inti- \ mate involvement in the field situation. More, N.
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