Reflections On Bronfenbrenner’s “Toward An Experimental Ecology Of Human Development”

In this article as I interpret it, Bronfenbrenner argues that science, at least the sciences that relate to human development in theory, method, and substance, are generally caught and placed in a box to verify stringent ideas of what science defines as evolving and developing as a human.  When studies do not allow for variation and exception, when studies attempt to find and prove rules and ignore exceptions and other conditions, I believe Bronfenbrenner is correct in pointing out the limited significance of such a study.  I also see this when I am faced with statistics, but my bias at the moment is that statistics can be made to prove anything, however slim.  She calls it being caught between the rigor of science and its relevance in the real world.

However, the science is still relevant if applied correctly.  It isn’t rejected outright.  The science has validity if applied to the wider public properly.  As the article title states,  a scientific perspective of the ecology of human development is proposed.  In the first definition, studying the human being as s/he relates to his/her environments is proposed.  In the immediate past, I would have described sociology simplistically in much the same way.  However, I don’t believe that definition is accurate any longer.  I do believe this definition comes close to explaining social psychology that I have a particular interest in learning much more about.  In fact, the article cites the varied systems of microsystem, mesosystem, exosystem, and macrosystem that relate to human development and environmental interaction as it relates to Kurt Lewin’s psychological and sociological substance.

Throughout the definitions proposed to explain an individual’s action and reaction upon his or her environment and visa versa, the idea that the identification of those systems properties and processes that affect, and are affected by, the behavior and development of the human being” (p. 518) is of primary importance to a proposed study or studies.  Not only does Bronfenbrenner propose the relevance of those environments, but also proposes the interaction of the individual between those environments.  In other words, isolating the individual from his/her environments that h/she naturally interacts with will yield a wholly inaccurate result much like the science that is criticized at the beginning of this article.

What is particular telling about this article is that I have in the past, prior to entering grad school, believed that all aspects of an environment would have been studied thoroughly to gain a balanced and wider understanding of a phenomenon. But after over a year in grad school, I have at noticed, at least in sociology, that phenomenon and conditions are isolated to prove a specific point.  Theorists’ ideas are taken out of context, isolated, even expanded to phenomenon that the original theorist never intended.  Theories sometimes evolve, but this seems to seldom be the norm.  Theories or parts of theories have been taken out of context to prove a unrelated point. I see this in the sociological associations different divisions who seem more divided than united in their pursuit of knowledge to help people. Bronfenbrenner’s idea here may be an earlier effort to unite disparate theories and theorists.  I don’t see any union happening between divisions in sociology anytime soon when each, like different religious sects that believe they are the only chosen people of the Divine, believes that their division is somehow more valid than the others.

Source:

Bronfrenbrenner, U. (1977). Toward and experimental ecology of human development. American Psychologist, July, 513-531.

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