Developmental Inquiry And The Metatheoretical

The Nature of Developmental Change: Transformations and Variations 15 What Changes in Development? The Expressive and the Instrumental 16 A BRIEF HISTORY OF METATHEORETICAL WORLDS AND THE BIRTH OF DEVELOPMENTAL PSYCHOLOGY 17 The Modern Period 17 The Postmodern Period and the Chaos of Absolute Relativity 21 RELATIONAL METATHEORY: A SYNTHESIS OF OPPOSITES 22 Rejecting Splits and Bedrocks 22 The Identity of Opposites 23 The Opposites of Identity 26 Synthesis: The View From the Center 26

A RAPPROCHEMENT: EXPLANATION IN A RELATIONAL CONTEXT 28 Step 1: Relational Analysis—Synthesis Replaces

Split Reductionism 28 Step 2: Relational Action Pattern—Conditions Explanation

Replaces Split Causes 29 Step 3: Abductive Logic Replaces Split Induction and Deduction 31 EMBODIED DEVELOPMENT: A RELATIONAL CONCEPT 32 Person-Centered and Variable Approaches to

Developmental Inquiry 33 The Person-Centered Point of View 34 CONCLUSIONS 38 REFERENCES 38

In this chapter I focus on some ideas that usually rest quietly in the background when development is explored. Background ideas are not unlike the foundation of a house. A foundation grounds, constrains, and sustains the nature and style of the building that can ultimately be constructed. So, too, do background ideas ground, constrain, and sustain both theory and methods of investigation in any area of inquiry. A foundation is usually ignored by those who live and work in the house; at least until something goes wrong—for example, when cracks appear in walls or the house begins to sink into the ground. So, too, are background ideas often ignored by investigators, at least until something goes wrong with theoretical or empirical efforts in the field of study. In this chapter I try to bring these ideas from background to foreground; I also examine how they form the basis for—and constraints of—both theory and research in developmental psychology.

In scientific discussions background ideas are often termed metatheoretical or metatheories. They transcend (i.e., meta-) theories in the sense that they define the context in which theoretical concepts are constructed, just as a foundation defines the context in which a house can be constructed. Further, metatheory functions not only to ground, constrain, and sustain theoretical concepts, but also to do the same thing with respect to methods of investigation. For convenience, when specifically discussing background ideas that ground methods, these will be termed metamethods. Methodology would also be an appropriate term here if this were understood in its broad sense as a set of principles that guide empirical inquiry (Asendorpf & Valsiner, 1992; Overton, 1998).

The primary function of metatheory—including meta-method—is to provide a rich source of concepts out of which theories and methods emerge. Metatheory also provides guidelines that help to avoid conceptual confusions—and consequently, help to avoid what may ultimately be unproductive ideas and unproductive methods.

Theories and methods refer directly to the empirical world, whereas metatheories and metamethods refer to the theories and methods themselves. More specifically, a metatheory is a set of rules and principles or a story (narrative) that both describes and prescribes what is acceptable and unacceptable as theory—the means of conceptual exploration of any scientific domain. A metamethod is also a set of rules and principles or a story, but this story describes and prescribes the nature of acceptable methods—the means of observational exploration—in a scientific discipline. When metatheoretical ideas—including metamethod—are tightly interrelated and form a coherent set of concepts, the set is often termed a model or paradigm. These coherent sets can form a hierarchy in terms of increasing generality of application. Thus, for example, a model that contains the basic concepts from which a theory of memory will be constructed is a relatively low-level model because it applies only to memory. A model such as dynamic systems applies to a number of domains, including social, cognitive, and emotional domains; hence, it functions at a higher hierarchical level. The hierarchical dimension of any given set of metatheoretical ideas also forms a coherently interrelated system of ideas, and the model operating at the pinnacle of this hierarchy is termed a worldview (Overton, 1984). Worldviews are composed of coherent sets of epistemological (i.e., issues of knowing) and ontological (i.e., issues of reality) principles. In this chapter, most of the discussion concerns ideas that have a very high range of application.

Metatheories and metamethods are closely interrelated and intertwined. For example (as we will see shortly), when considering the very nature of development, a prevailing metatheory may assert the claim that change of form (transformational change) is a legitimate and important part of the understanding of developmental change. If a prevailing metatheory asserts the legitimacy of transformational change, then theories of development will include some type of stage concept, because stage is the theoretical concept that is used to describe transformational change. Further, if transformational change and stage are a part of one's metatheory, then the related metamethod will prescribe the significance of methods that assess patterns and sequences of patterns that are appropriate to empirically examining the stage concept in any given specific empirical domain. On the other hand, if a metatheory asserts that transformational change is unimportant to our understanding of development, then any theoretical concept of stage will be viewed negatively, and methods of pattern and sequential assessment will be understood to be of marginal interest.

Broadly, a metatheory presents a vision of the nature of the world and the objects of that world (e.g., a metatheory might present a picture of the child as an active agent constructing his/her known world, and another metatheory might picture the child as a "recording device" that processes information). A metamethod presents a vision of the tools that will be most adequate to explore the world described by the metatheory.

Any rich understanding of the impact of the metatheoreti-cal requires an historical appreciation of the emergence of specific alternative metatheoretical approaches to knowledge. Developmental psychology was born and spent its early years in a curious metatheoretical world. This world, which began in the seventeenth century, has been called the modern world or modernity. In the past century, the modern world has undergone major crises; these form the context for alternative contemporary metatheories. Before describing this history, a brief examination of the broad ways that metatheory colors an understanding of the nature of development deserves some attention. This discussion will establish a developmental framework serving as a general context for the remainder of the chapter.

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