Key Contributors to the Evolution of Theory in Developmental Psychology

Sharain Clark By Sharain Clark, 4th May 2013 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
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In what ways have theorist’s contributions to the field of developmental psychology influenced and shaped the personal and professional perspectives held today?

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In what ways have theorist’s contributions to the field of developmental psychology influenced and shaped the personal and professional perspectives held today?

An overview, analysis, and personal application of the contributions made by James Mark Baldwin (1901-1909), Robert Kegan (1980), and James W. Fowler (1980) to the field of developmental psychology.

Abstract

Like a flower that pushes up through the earth to soak up the sun in early Spring, giving a sign of brighter, warmer days ahead; developmental psychology is experiencing its own kind of early Spring in the practice of understanding what it means to “be” human. Drawing from the work of developmental psychology theorists such as James Mark Baldwin (1901-1909), Robert Kegan (1980), and James. W. Fowler (1980), this essay explores some of these theorist’s key contributions to the field and their influence on my own personal development and constructions of meaning making. Through the reflections and insights gained by these and a few other significant contributors to the field of developmental psychology, along with spiritual ideas, tenets, and personal experience, this paper explores and questions the limits of my understanding, while reaching for a greater, comprehensive integral picture for the future of our field. The purpose of this is to clarify and substantiate my thoughts concerning the inherent universality of interconnectedness held by the active stream of consciousness of humanity.

Introduction

Developmental psychology is in the throws of a dynamic, but quiet revolution. Its proponents, both past and present, have propelled the field in directions that may eventually change the way we look at the evolution of epistemology forever. That would be a wonderful thing for humanity. Until fairly recently, the field was somewhat comfortable with its compartmentalized understanding of development; but just as any other ‘soft science’ driven by curiosity, and the need to attend to increasingly demanding and complex problems, the field is experiencing its own kind of developmental growth spurt. Contributors to the field that have helped spur this ‘quiet revolution’ include many, but this paper shall only attend to three of them, including James Mark Baldwin, Robert Kegan, and James Fowler. Each of these theorists has made extremely valuable contributions to not only the field of developmental psychology as a whole, but to the understanding and influence of my own development. Their work as developmental psychologists and theorists have helped lay the foundation necessary to bring an Integral perspective to the field, theory, and practice of future developmental psychologists and theorists around the world, in ways that have the potential to greatly influence lasting change for the greater good of mankind. Focusing on a few unique contributions by Baldwin, Kegan (1980), and Fowler (1980) in building this integral foundation for the future of developmental psychology, I would like to explore how each of their perspectives attends to a much larger, integral and universal picture of the truths that each of their theories touch on.

Literature Review

BALDWIN
James Mark Baldwin brought many unique contributions to the field of developmental psychology, but the contribution that I found most interesting and relative to my own development were his views concerning stages of religious development. Baldwin offers up the notion that;

The deity, being at least something like a person, is constructed out of what the adherent already understands and appreciates about the basic characteristics of personality, in him self and others. Comprehension of the religious object is a byproduct of the dialectical growth of self-other consciousness. The deity profits from the same give-and-take between an individual and his fellows whereby consciousness and moral worth of personality is gradually refined. (Baldwin, 1901-05, vol.2, p. 461), (Ernest Wallwork, in The Cognitive Developmental Psychology of James Mark Baldwin: Current Theory and Research in Genetic Epistemology, pp. 343-344)

Baldwin’s strong argument for correlation between developmental stages and stages of religious development and comprehension, put an integral spin on my own experiences and development that would ultimately open my eyes to an entirely new personal interpretation and understanding, giving me cohesion in my meaning making that I had not held before.

KEGAN
Robert Kegan (1980) is another wonderful contributor to the field of developmental psychology, and the contribution I would like to focus on here is his Constructive-Developmental Framework, expounded upon in his piece, Making Meaning: The Constructive-Developmental Approach to Persons and Practice. Kegan (1980) has a fantastic way of bringing an integral perspective to developmental psychology, not only in theory, but in practice as well. Kegan’s (1980) Constructive-Developmental Framework refers to a mapping and “study of the development of our constructing or meaning-making activity.” (p. 373)

The contribution of constructive – developmental theory opens developmental psychology up to an entirely new world of practice and theory in regards to working with individuals and their respective needs. Kegan (1980) poses a question of great magnitude and implication in response to his observations of these developmental constructions of meaning-making in terms of mental health when he asks; “What is the possibility that the constructive-developmental perspective offers us a nonromantic growth-focused understanding of much that is taken for psychopathology?” (p. 378)

This question alone could lead to an altered industry perspective on mental health issues, leading practitioners and theorists alike down a more holistic, visionary path toward integral solutions and better treatment programs that create a greater chance for enduring change.

FOWLER
Fowler’s contribution to developmental psychology that I believe deserves attention is his bringing into view the stark contrasts and at-stake identity variables that play a role in faith development and what constitutes as true faith versus “fictive” or “imaginative” constructions of theoretical physics and those of faith and theology.” (Fowler, 1980, In Toward Moral and Religious Maturity, p. 62). Whereas other theorists have developed stages of development of faith, Fowler has deepened those perspectives to the place where the negative is accounted for as well as the positive, realizing and taking into account the malleability and humanness of the mind and heart. This dynamic perspective sets him apart from the cognitive realists in that he is truly seeking to embody the “truth” of the faith experience as a transcendental phenomena and not just another developmental stage, although there are correlations. The passage that struck a chord with me from Fowler was concerning this deeper view:

But we must recognize a critical distinction between the “fictive” or “imaginative” constructions of theoretical physics and those of faith and theology. The distinction arises primarily from our earlier point about the degree to which the identity and value of a self or selves are at stake in our acts of constitutive-knowing. I can live with curiosity and intrigue about the question of the nature and character of “black holes” in space. But in my unknowing, I am not paralyzed in my choices of life-style and commitments. At certain points in my life, and in the lives of all of us, however, situations arise in very practical contexts, and with fateful life-defining potential, that are of another sort. These are situations in which rational analysis and systemic mapping yield clarification of options, but provide no criteria for highly consequential value choices. (p. 62)

Here, Fowler brings an awareness and depth to the stages of development of faith that build upon and move beyond earlier concepts, while simultaneously trying to embrace the transcendental nature of the orders of consciousness in a rational model of faith development. It seems as if he is trying to map faith itself as an extension beyond the developmental scope of the framework itself.

Analysis and Application

Choosing a single point from each of the theorists covered in this paper was to say the least challenging. Each of them has shared so much valuable insight, influencing my own growth and development, that picking a single concept seems a disservice both to them, and myself. The process of learning about the history and evolution of developmental psychology, has been, for me, much like that of William James’ (1890/1981) description of the experience of consciousness being like a flitting bird, moving to and fro, here and there, with no seemingly apparent pattern, stopping only for short periods of rest to contemplate experience. (In Consciousness Explained Better, Combs, 2009, p. 9)

The readings, the theories, the theorists, and the cohesiveness of their similarities do not become obvious until you’ve done a lot of flitting and perching! This is an interesting analogy for me as I bring my understanding along side this concept with the whole of my education and development, and look at it from ‘a stream of consciousness’ perspective. Therein lies my theme. No matter the theory, or the theorist, or the student, no matter how different or how similar they are; there are universal principals at work in the undercurrent of developmental psychology that speak a deeper truth to its future. The contributions featured herein are ALL interconnected by the flitting and perching of consciousness, separated only by the individuality of personalities and ideas, yet the same in humanness and ultimate goal of understanding, whether understood as such, or not.

Making connections between ideas is somewhat of a passion of mine, and as much as this may have to do with my own style of growth and development, it is the theorists and their ideas explored, along with the help of holding environments in my life, that have provided the sustenance for this amazing journey. When I read, whether a book, or article, the text comes alive for me, like a teacher, that influences and shapes my thoughts at every “perch”.

JAMES MARK BALDWIN’S INFLUENCE
James Mark Baldwin brought into understanding an elusive perspective correlation between religious development and developmental psychology that I had been grasping at straws for, for years. I knew that it existed, but I did not know how to explain it or rationalize it. Although I do not entirely agree with everything that Baldwin presents, there are elements of his contributions that are, in my opinion, beyond reproach. One of the first things that really struck me from Baldwin’s perspective, I found in Ernest Wallwork’s essay, Religious Development. Wallwork points out;

For Baldwin, secularization cannot mean the end of religion, because the religious interest is ubiquitous. Far from being an epiphenomenon or a mere useless artifact of culture, religion is an essential dimension of personal and social growth. The self cannot develop without constantly constructing and reconstructing an ideal personality, which it spontaneously ejects upon reality. The heathen who carves out an idol with his hands and the philosopher who writes a learned treatise both reveal the same human impulse: “that of setting up a Self, ideal in character, personal in form, as the goal of development and the end of striving.” (Baldwin, 1909, p. 105 in The Cognitive Developmental Psychology of James Mark Baldwin: Current Theory and Research in Genetic Epistemology, 1982 p. 362)

Now, this may not be the most important concept that Baldwin or Wallwork contributed to the field of developmental psychology, but it explains a lot. I liken the perspective to having been given a 3-D, 360 degree view of my own personal spiritual experience, and I can tell you rather definitively that I had never viewed my relationship with and comprehension of God in terms of a reflection of my developmental process and evolution. This was an enormous realization for me that helped me break free from the “I” that was gripped in its hold, eventually leading to the freedom I needed to move through the process of letting the old self “go” and allowing a new construction of self to take hold. This new “Self” that is forming, is even experiencing what Baldwin (1909) explains as:

The man who scoffs at a creed stands in awe before the mysteries of table-turning and spirit-rapping; and the skeptic in the matter of miracles, accepts faith cures, telepathic messages from the unseen world, second sight, and other equally miraculous violations of the natural order. The religious spirit, in short, outlives its recurrent forms of embodiment, and the rejection of this religion or that, this ideal or that, is always in the interest of some other embodiment, in which the same spiritual movement hastens to clothe itself. (Baldwin, 1909, p. 106 in The Cognitive Developmental Psychology of James Mark Baldwin: Current Theory and Research in Genetic Epistemology, 1982 p. 362)

Here, Baldwin affords an explanation for my insatiable curiosity about other forms of religion. A new sense of freedom is felt in determining a belief system that embodies who I am now, and I had to chuckle at Baldwin’s acute insight into the process that helped me explain my own behaviors and curiosities, which now range from Tae Qi to Taoism, to Christian Mysticism, to Herbal Alchemy! This tells me that my newfound curiosity is in process of being in a “spiritual movement hastening to be clothed!” (Baldwin, 1909, p. 106)

ROBERT KEGAN’S INFLUENCE
My favorite of the three theorists that this paper covers is Robert Kegan (1980), partially due to his contemporary style and presentation, but more so because of his contributions to the field and the influence and understanding he has brought to my own experience as a ‘flitting’ bird. Drawing on and expanding upon the ideas of Jean Piaget, Kegan (1980) employs a neo-Piagetian foundation for his constructive developmental framework explained in his article titled Making Meaning: The Constructive-Developmental Approach to Persons and Practice. (p. 374) Kegan (1980) has expanded upon the basic tenets of Constructive Developmental Theory with newer tenets in his article that suggest:

1. The deep structure of these meaning-making systems (their “biologic”) involves the developing person’s distinction between self and other, or, put more philosophically, between subject and object. . . Development, therefore, involves a process of redifferentiating and reintegrating this relationship.

2. The internal experience of developmental change can be distressing. Because it involves the loss of how I am composed, it can also be accompanied by a loss of composure. This is so because surrendering the balance between self and other through which I have “known” the world, I may experience this as a loss of myself, my fundamental relatedness to the world, and meaning itself.

3. As practitioners, we can be most responsive to the person being helped by learning more about and engaging this meaning-making activity, rather than orienting first to the person’s “illness”, “problem”, “learning deficit”, or “stage”, none of which is the person. (p. 374)

Focusing on a single tenet here for the sake of brevity or specificity defeats the entire purpose of what Kegan (1980) is attempting to do in launching a hallmark integral approach to the field of developmental psychology. There are several aspects to the framework that have resonated with me and brought my awareness into new perspective. The first tenet truly opened my learning up to the promise of “being human is meaning making”. (p. 374) When I read this the first time, I had to stop and think about it beyond the scope of thinking of “human” in terms of a species. The term “being” rounds up a conceptualization of an active act, adding immense depth and meaning used in conjunction with “human”. The “is” resonates as the active stream of consciousness that meaning-making is made of. Thus, Kegan’s (1980) description becomes a living definition of constructive-developmental theory, perfectly captured in a simple, yet profound statement.

Personally and professionally, these concepts have brought me into greater understanding of the meaning-making systems that I have moved through. Change in all areas of my life has resulted from this new awareness, including in physical, emotional, spiritual, intellectual, and professional arenas. The situations that are called to mind concerning the greatest shifts of understanding concerning my meaning-making have been in the realms of personal empowerment through perspective and spiritually. Kegan (1980) is far from joking when he explains above that development can be a distressful experience. My meaning-making in relation to my background in fundamental Christianity provides a perfect example in that the premises or “truths” that constituted my meaning-making were painful to let go of, inciting fear for lack of identification with a grounding in some form giving structure of meaning-making. This “unknown” place of discovering what my spirituality meant to me personally verses what had been projected into my meaning-making by the community system was a painful and painstakingly long process of liberation. The recovery of my balance in this respect is on the horizon, but I also understand that development is a lifelong process, and have stopped looking for “the end of it”, so to speak.

Another important contribution that Kegan (1980) has made is in spurring thought in relation to practice through an integral approach to each person’s own meaning-making constructions (tenet three of the newer tenets). Kegan’s (1980) notion that we may be in the process of constructing a foundation that has the potential to forever alter the approach to pathological inquiry is a profound one. In fact, the premise makes me question the “reality” of pathological diagnosis to the point where I believe that that reality may be up for negation in many instances, redirecting the entire mental health industry to new paths of awareness and approach; a potentially huge victory for mankind.

Interestingly enough, I also have a couple of issues with what Kegan (1980) offers up as one of the basic tenets of constructive-developmental theory; namely tenet number eight, stating “But the framework is young, and its gleanings should be viewed cautiously and used tentatively.” (p. 374) The framework may be young, but my reasons for opposition stem in my conviction that Kegan’s (1980) theory existed as truth long before he did, and he is merely the one articulating it into the meaning-making history of mankind for what it is and how it can be “known” and applied. Close examination of Jesus Christ’s interactions and responses to the people He encountered in Biblical stories bear a striking resemblance in approach to using an integral, heightened awareness of individual meaning making construction, and that those interactions were driven precisely by that knowledge. Unfortunately, one of the most disturbing trends in organized religion today is the severe departure from this practice that Christ embodied in meeting people “exactly where they are” in their meaning making. I am by no means discounting Kegan’s (1980) contribution to the field with Constructive-Developmental Theory. Rather, I am attempting to highlight the intuitive brilliance of its translation into accessible, usable knowledge and wisdom.

JAMES W. FOWLER’S INFLUENCE
I would not ordinarily quote a passage twice in the same essay, but bringing the discussion back around to James W. Fowler (1980) leads me to be inclined to do so; not for repetition sake, but for reiteration and to drive home what I believe to be an important point. Fowler (1980) says:

I can live with curiosity and intrigue about the question of the nature and character of “black holes” in space. But in my unknowing, I am not paralyzed in my choices of life-style and commitments. At certain points in my life, and in the lives of all of us, however, situations arise in very practical contexts, and with fateful life-defining potential, that are of another sort. These are situations in which rational analysis and systemic mapping yield clarification of options, but provide no criteria for highly consequential value choices. (p. 62)

I could not agree with Fowler more. Having been through many such situations as what he describes here, the passage takes on its own life in my meaning-making; a sort of distinct articulation between what can be mapped by developmental psychology models and frameworks, whilst understanding and acknowledging the intricacies that stretch the boundaries of those frameworks toward new levels of consciousness. Fowler makes a strong, yet convincing statement that embodies and differentiates his contribution to developmental psychology quite matter-of-factly when he says:

Neither Piaget nor Kohlberg intends to provide a theory of ego or personality development. Both, therefore, have approached the task of identifying the forms of reason or logic characteristic of different “stages” in human thought without making a critically important distinction: They have not attended to the differences between constitutive-knowing in which the identity or worth of the person is not directly at stake and constitutive-knowing in which it is. (p. 60)

Again, I agree with Fowler (1980) here, but must add some experiential and field knowledge to his perspective. In a round about way, Fowler seems to be describing one of Kegan’s (1980) newer tenets here, specifically;

1. The internal experience of developmental change can be distressing. Because it involves the loss of how I am composed, it can also be accompanied by a loss of composure. This is so because surrendering the balance between self and other through which I have “know” the world, I may experience this as a loss of myself, my fundamental relatedness to the world, and meaning itself. (p. 374)

Add Baldwin’s notion of the internal “spiritual movement hastening to be clothed!” (Baldwin, 1909, p. 106 in The Cognitive Developmental Psychology of James Mark Baldwin: Current Theory and Research in Genetic Epistemology, 1982 p. 362), and we have the beginnings of a symphony of seemingly different perspectives working in perfect harmony with one another. To me, this paints a very accurate portrait of the discontent, uncertainty, and excited angst and curiosity that comes with and drives developmental growth.

Since I walked away from the fundamental background I was entrenched in, and I use that word with caution, seeing as there was always a distinguishable discontent there for me; I have come into a new understanding of my experiences and feelings, with greater clarity and certainty. Everything mentioned that these wonderful theorists have contributed to the process of understanding human ‘being’, is exactly where I have been. Coming from a Christian background, the only way I can describe the process briefly is through the term “becoming new”. Second Corinthians 5:17 states; “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” This was always a fascinating passage to me, but I now see it in a completely different light, a light of understanding through the lens of developmental psychology.

The connotations and implications here are enormous in indicating erroneous interpretations and application of Scripture. I now see that my spirituality and the spirituality of those that surrounded me has as much to do with my religious development, if not more so, than the literal dictates of the fundamental perspective.
This disparity that I could not articulate or understand while being subject to the ‘system’ is what Fowler has attended to in his pointing out the importance of differentiating between constitutive-knowing in which the value and identity of a person is at stake, and when it is not. (Fowler, 1980, p. 60) Once this realization hit me, the struggle I endured to break free from being subject to influences that did not match my internal meaning making, made perfect sense, and I was finally able to take the experience as object. Although my curiosity is still blazing trails in directions of finding the correlations and truths in it all, it no longer holds the power of making or breaking my identity or freedom.

Conclusions

There is no argument on my part concerning the valuable contributions that Baldwin, Kegan (1980), and Fowler (1980) have made to the field of developmental psychology. There also will be no argument on my part as to how directly each of them has helped guide and shape my thoughts both personally, and as a future practitioner. The combination of their work brings into focus an integral map and path that not only advises my journey, but also opens my eyes to journeys that I didn’t even know I was on. Tying them all together into a larger, more comprehensive perspective is a natural course of thought and action for me, and has sparked an endless curiosity not only for myself, but also for the future of developmental psychology and humanity.

The implications of the ideas herein are staggering to the future of the helping professions. But in my mind, the individual efforts of these theorists, along with developing integral perspectives in the field, and successfully changed lives, are merely the beginning of an historical chapter: an era of cultivating an ultimate awareness and realization of the inexhaustible interconnectedness of the “perching” and “flitting” of the consciousness of humanity.

References

Broughton, J.M. & Freeman-Moir, D.J. , eds. (1982). The cognitive developmental psychology of James Mark Baldwin: Current theory and research in genetic epistemology. Norwood, NJ: Ablex Publishing.

Combs, A.L. (2009) Consciousness explained better: towards an integral understanding of the multifaceted nature of consciousness. St. Paul: Paragon House.

Fowler, J. Faith and the structuring of meaning, in Toward Moral & Religious Maturity. Pp. 52 - 85)

James, W. (1890/1981). The Principles of Psychology. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Kegan, R. Making Meaning: The Constructive-Developmental Approach to Persons and Practice, pp. 373-380 (in Resources)

Kegan, R., There the dance is: Religious dimensions of a developmental framework. In Toward Moral & Religious Maturity. Pp. 404 – 440.

Kohlberg, L. Moral development. In The Cognitive-Developmental Psychology of James Mark Baldwin. Pp. 277 – 325.

Toward Moral and Religious Maturity. (1980). Silver Burdett Company.

Wallwork, E., Religious development, in The Cognitive-Developmental Psychology of James Mark. Pp. 335 – 388.

Tags

Action Research, Consciousness Change, Consciousness Shift, Constructive Development, Development, Development Research, Developmental, Developmental Lessons, Essay, Essays, James Fowler, James Mark Baldwin, Psychological, Psychology, Religion And Spirituality, Robert Kegan

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author avatar Sharain Clark
In the beginning, a toddler with toy alphabet, chalkboard, and desk; then pencil and paper, a typewriter next; then journal, pen, and an old weeping willow; and still today, the story continues . . .

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