Developmental Inquiry And The Metatheoretical

How should we understand the field of developmental inquiry? Although it is clear that change is central in any definition of development, the process of identifying the specific nature of this change and identifying what it is that changes in development is shaped by metatheoretical principles. The most popular current text definition of development is some variation of the idea of age changes in observed behavior. Any reflection, however, reveals that serious problems arise when development is shaped by this definition. Age has no unique qualities that differentiate it from time; age is simply one index of time. There is also nothing unique or novel about units of age-time, such as years, months, weeks, minutes, and so on (see Lerner, 2002). Thus, this definition merely states that development is about changes that occur in time. The difficulty with this is that all change occurs "in" time, and—as a consequence—the definition is an empty one, merely restating that development is about change. At a minimum the definition omits what some would consider to be critical features of development, including the idea that developmental change concerns change that has a directional quality to it, change that is relatively permanent and irreversible, and change that entails orderly sequences. However, making a judgment that direction and sequence are central concerns—or making the judgment that they are of marginal interest—is a direct product of the metatheoretical platform from which the definition is launched.

Similar problems arise when the definition of 'what' develops is limited to observed behavior. Although observed behavior is clearly central to empirical investigations—the dependent variable of psychological research efforts— whether it is the ultimate goal of inquiry is an issue defined by metatheory. Except in a metatheoretical world identified with behaviorism, observed behavior may be primarily a jumping-off point—a point of inference—for an exploration of unseen processes and patterns of processes that identify mental life. Again, however, making the judgment that mental events are central to understanding—or the judgment that mental events are marginal—is a metatheoretically motivated judgment.

The Nature of Developmental Change: Transformations and Variations

Perhaps the broadest conceptualization of developmental entails the recognition of two fundamental types of change, transformational and variational (see Figure 1.1). Transformational change is change in the form, organization, or struc ture of any system. The caterpillar transforms into the butterfly, water transforms into ice and gas, the seed transforms into the plant, cells transform into the organism. All nonlinear dynamic systems, including the human psyche, undergo transformation change. Transformational change results in the emergence of novelty. As forms change, they become increasingly complex. This increased complexity is a complexity of pattern rather than a linear, additive complexity of elements. As a consequence, new patterns exhibit novel characteristics that cannot be reduced to (i.e., completely explained by) or predicted from earlier components (indicated

Figure 1.1 The development of the person: levels of transformational and variational change emerging through embodied action in a sociocultural and physical world.

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