Rejecting Splits and Bedrocks

A relational metatheory begins by clearing splitting from the field of play. Because splitting and foundationalism go hand in hand, this also eliminates foundationalism. Splitting involves the belief that there are pure forms, but this belief itself springs from the acceptance of the atomistic assumptions that there is a rock bottom to reality and that this rock bottom is composed of elements that preserve their identity, regardless of context. Thus, acceptance of atomism leads directly to the belief that the mental (ideas, mind) and the physical (matter, body) are two absolutely different natural kinds of things. And if nature is composed of such natural kinds, then it is possible to cut nature at its joints. A relational metatheory abandons atomism and replaces it with a more holistic understanding, which proposes that the identity of objects derives from the relational context in which they are embedded. As a consequence of this form of background idea—as the philosopher John Searle (1992) has suggested—"the fact that a feature is mental does not imply that it is not physical; the fact that a feature is physical does not imply that it is not mental" (p. 15). Similarly, the fact that a feature is biological does not suggest that it is not cultural, the fact that a feature is cultural does not suggest that it is not biological, and so forth.

The rejection of pure forms or essences has broad implications for developmental psychology. To briefly give but one example, consider the seemingly never-ending nature-nurture or biology-culture debate. This debate is framed by the modern agenda of splitting and foundationalism. In the debate's current form, virtually no one actually asserts that matter-body-brain-genes or society-culture-environment provides the cause of behavior or development; however, the background idea of one or the other as the real determinant remains the silent subtext that continues to shape debate. The overt contemporary claim is that behavior and development are the products of the interactions of nature and nurture. But interaction is still thought of as two split-off pure entities that function independently in cooperative ways, competitive ways, or both. As a consequence, the debate simply becomes displaced to another level of discourse. At this new level, the contestants agree that behavior and development are determined by both nature and nurture, but they remain embattled over the relative merits of each entity's contribution. Within the split foundationalist agenda, battles continue over which of the two is more important for a specific behavior, which of the two determines the origin versus the appearance of a specific behavior, or how much one or the other contributes to that behavior. Thus, despite overt conciliatory declarations to the contrary, the classical which one and how much questions that have long framed the split debate (see Anastasi, 1958; Schneirla, 1956) continue as potent divisive frames of inquiry. In fact, it would be impossible to cast questions of development as issues of nativism and empiricism (Spelke & Newport, 1998) were it not for the assumption of pure forms (see Lerner, 2002, for a further elaboration).

The Identity of Opposites

Rejecting atomism eliminates the idea of pure forms and consequently makes any notion of natural foundational splits untenable. This in itself destroys the scientific legitimacy of questions such as the which one and how much questions of nature-nurture. However, the mere rejection of atomism does not in itself offer a positive approach to resolving the many fundamental dichotomies that have framed developmental as well as other fields of inquiry (see Table 1.1). A general positive resolution requires a second component; this component is the generation of a context in which the individual identity of each formerly dichotomous member is maintained while simultaneously it is affirmed that each member constitutes and is constituted by the other. Thus, a general context is needed in which (for example) both nature and nurture maintain their individual identities while simultaneously it is understood that the fact that a behavior is a product of biology does not imply that it is not equally a product of culture, and

TABLE 1.1 Fundamental Categories of Analysis Expressed as Either-Or Dichotomies



































that the fact that a behavior is a product of culture does not imply that is not equally a product of biology—that is, it must be shown that while there are both biology and culture, there is no biology that is not culture and no culture that is not biology.

Splitting entails casting categories into an exclusive either-or form that forces an understanding of the terms as contradictions in the sense that one category absolutely excludes the other (i.e., follows the logical law of contradiction that it is never the case that A = not A). The next step in the formulation of a relational metatheory involves replacing this exclusive framework with an inclusive one. The inclusive framework must accomplish the seemingly paradoxical task of simultaneously establishing both an identity between the opposite categories and retaining the opposite quality of the categories; this is accomplished by considering identity and differences as two moments of analysis.

Guided by a more holistic contextual background assumption that assumes that parts and wholes define each other, the identity among categories is found by recasting the previously dichotomous elements not as contradictions, but as differentiated polarities of a unified matrix—as a relation. As differentiations, each pole is defined recursively; each pole defines and is defined by its opposite. In this identity moment of analysis the law of contradiction is suspended and each category contains and in fact is its opposite. Further— and centrally—as a differentiation this moment pertains to character, origin, and outcomes. The character of any contemporary behavior, for example, is 100% nature because it is 100% nurture. There is no origin to this behavior that was some other percentage—regardless of whether we climb back into the womb, back into the cell, back into the genome, or back into the DNA—nor can there be a later behavior that will be a different percentage. Similarly, any action is both expressive and instrumental, and any developmental change is both transformational and variational.

In the second or oppositional moment of analysis, the law of contradiction is allowed to operate and each category again asserts its individuality. The parts are opposites and they assert their differences. In this oppositional moment nature is nature, it is not nurture, and, nurture is nurture, it is not nature. This moment of analysis pertains to settings or momentary context. Thus, it is possible to analyze any behavior from the standpoint of either nature or nurture when this either-or is considered as an inclusive rather than an exclusive disjunction. I return to this point in the following section.

Because the idea and implications of suspending the law of contradiction on the one hand and applying it on the other hand is not a familiar idea, some clarifying comments are needed. Here it must be noted that the relational stance owes much to the notion of the dialectic as this was articulated by the nineteenth century philosopher G. W. F. Hegel (1807-1830). For Hegel, historical—and by extension developmental—change is a dynamic expressive-transformational process of growth, represented and defined by the dialectic. The essence of Hegel's dialectic is that of a process through which concepts or fundamental features of a dynamic system differentiate and move toward integration. Any initial concept or any basic feature of a dynamic system—called a thesis or an affirmation—contains implicit within itself an inherent contradiction that, through action of the system, becomes differentiated into a second concept or feature—the antithesis or negation of the thesis. As a consequence, even in the single unity of thesis there is the implicit contradictory relation of thesis-antithesis, just as in the unity of the single organic cell there is the implicit differentiation into the unity of multiple cells. This points to the fundamental relational character of the dialectic.

As thesis leads to antithesis—thus producing the differentiation of a relational polarity of opposites—a potential space between them is generated, and this becomes the ground for the coordination of the two. The coordination that emerges— again through the mechanism of action of the system— constitutes a new unity or integration called the synthesis. The coordinating synthesis is itself a system that exhibits novel systemic properties while subsuming the original systems. Thus, a new relational dynamic matrix composed of three realms—thesis-antithesis-synthesis—is formed. The integration that emerges from the differentiation, like all integrations, is incomplete. The synthesis represents a new dynamic action system—a new thesis—and thus begins a new growth cycle of differentiation and integration.

In this relational scheme, the polarity of opposites (i.e., thesis and antithesis) that emerges from the initial relatively undifferentiated matrix (i.e., thesis) does not constitute a cutoff (split) of contradictory categories that absolutely exclude each other. Having grown from the same soil as it were, the two, while standing in a contradictory relation of opposites, also share an identity. Hegel, in fact, referred to this relation as the "identity of opposites" (Stace, 1924) and illustrated it in his famous example of the master and slave. In this example Hegel demonstrated that it is impossible to define or understand the freedom of the master without reference to the constraints of slavery; and it is consequently impossible to define the constraints of slavery without the reference to the freedom of the master. Freedom thus contains the idea of constraint as constraint contains the idea of freedom, and in this we see the identity of the opposites freedom and constraint.

The justification for the claim that a law of logic—for example, the law of contradiction—can reasonably both be applied and relaxed depending on the context of inquiry requires a recognition that the laws of logic themselves are not immune to background ideas. In some background traditions, the laws of logic are understood as immutable realities given either by a world cut off from the human mind or by a prewired mind cut off from the world. However, in the background tradition currently under discussion, the traditional laws of logic are themselves ideas that have been constructed through the reciprocal action of human minds and world. The laws of logic are simply pictures that have been drawn or stories that have been told. They may be good pictures or good stories in the sense of bringing a certain quality of order into our lives, but nevertheless they are still pictures or stories, and it is possible that other pictures will serve us even better. The twentieth century philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein (1958), whose later works focused on the importance of background ideas, made this point quite clearly when he discussed another law of logic—the law of the excluded middle—as being one possible picture of the world among many possible pictures.

The law of the excluded middle says here: It must either look like this, or like that. So it really . . . says nothing at all, but gives us a picture. . . . And this picture seems to determine what we have to do and how—but it does not do so. . . . Here saying 'There is no third possibility' . . . expresses our inability to turn our eyes away from this picture: a picture which looks as if it must already contain both the problem and its solution, while all the time we feel that it is not so. (1953, para. 352)

The famous ink sketch by M. C. Escher titled Drawing Hands (Figure 1.2) presents a vivid graphic illustration both of the identity of opposites that is found when the law of contradiction is relaxed in this second phase of a relational

[Image not available in this electronic edition.]

Figure 1.2 M. C. Escher's "Drawing Hands" © Cordon Art B. V.—Baarn—Holland. All rights reserved.

metatheory, and as well as the opposites of this identity. In this sketch a left and a right hand assume a relational posture according to which each is simultaneously drawing and being drawn by the other. Each hand is identical with the other in the sense of each drawing and each being drawn. This is the relaxed moment of the law of contradiction. Yet they are op-posites and contradict each other in that one is a left hand and one is a right hand. Identity is achieved in the context of opposites that define and are defined by each other. It is a useful exercise to write on each hand one term of traditionally split concepts and to explore the resulting effect. Terms that can be written in this fashion range from nature and nurture, biology and culture, transformation and variation, expressive and instrumental to pairs such as subject-object, intrapsychic-interpersonal, interpretation-observation, certainty-doubt, absolute-relative, unity-diversity, stability-change, universal-particular, reason-emotion, ideas-matter, analysis-synthesis, and so on. This exercise is more than merely an illustration of a familiar bidirectionality of effects suggested in many in stances by many scientific investigators. The exercise makes tangible the central feature of the relational metatheory; seemingly dichotomous ideas that have often been thought of as competing alternatives can in fact enter into inquiry as complementary supportive partners.

This transformation of competing alternatives into complementary partners is illustrated in a recent exchange of comments concerning research on the topic that social psychology refers to as the fundamental attribution error. In this exchange, one group (Gilovich & Eibach, 2001) proceeds from a split position and notes that "human behavior is not easily parsed into situational and dispositional causes" (p. 23) and it is difficult to establish "a precise accounting of how much a given action stems from the impinging stimulus rather than from the faculty or disposition with which it makes contact" (p. 24). The reply to this comment, from a group committed to an identity of opposites (Sabini, Siepmann, & Stein, 2001), asserts that they reject such a position because it reflects confusion between competing and complementary accounts. They argue that the problem with the question of

How much John's going out with Sue stems from her beauty rather than from his love of beautiful women. . . . is not that it is difficult to answer; it is that it is conceptually incoherent. It is incoherent because it construes two classes of accounts that are in fact complementary as if they were competing. The heart of our argument is that one must take this point seriously. All behavior is jointly a product of environmental stimuli and dispositions. (p. 43)

A similar but subtler example is found in a recently published dialogue on spatial development. Uttal begins this dialogue with the seemingly complementary view that his claims about spatial development "are based on the assumption that the relation between maps and the development of spatial cognition is reciprocal in nature" (2000, p. 247). However, in a commentary on Uttal's article, Liben (2000) raises the question of whether Utall is in fact operating within the context of an identity of opposites, which she proposes as her own approach.

As I read his thesis, Uttal seems to be suggesting an independent contribution of maps, positing that exposure to maps can play a causal role in leading children to develop basic spatial concepts. My own preference is to propose a more radically interdependent [italics added] role of organismic and environmental factors. (p. 272)

The Opposites of Identity

If we think of the identity of opposites as a kind of figure-ground problem then, to this point, the figure has primarily been the proposition that within a relational metatheory, ideas—that in other metatheoretical systems act as bedrock foundational competing alternatives—exhibit an underlying identity. Equally important, but operating as ground to this point, is the already alluded-to fact that this identity is one of opposites. To now make these opposites the figure, opens the way to a third component of a relational metatheory: generating relatively stable platforms from which to launch empirical inquiry.

Without the opposites of identity there would be only the identity of identities and this would present little opportunity for serious empirical work. It has already been noted that a relational metatheory rejects splits and bedrocks. If this were the end of the story—as would be the case with an identity of identities—then we would have eliminated the absolute objective realism of modernity, but we would still be in danger of falling into the absolute relativism of postmodernism. What is needed is some way to introduce a relative relativism or a relative realism—both would mean the same—in order to establish a stability sufficient to make empirical inquiry possible and meaningful. This goal is met by taking the oppositional moment of analysis as figure and the identity moment of analysis as ground. When relational terms are viewed as opposites, each asserts a unique identity that differentiates it from other identities. These unique differential qualities are stable within any general system and thus may form a relatively stable platform for empirical inquiry. These platforms become standpoints, points of view, or lines of sight in recognition that they do not reflect absolute foundations (Harding, 1986). Again, considering Escher's sketch, when left hand as left hand and right as right are the focus of attention, it then becomes quite clear that—were they large enough—one could stand on either hand and examine the structures and functions of that hand. Thus, to return to the nature-nurture example, while explicitly recognizing that any behavior is 100% nature and 100% nurture, alternative points of view permit the scientist to analyze the behavior from a biological or from a cultural standpoint. Biology and culture no longer constitute competing alternative explanations; rather, they are two points of view on an object of inquiry that has been both created by and will only be fully understood through multiple viewpoints. To state this more generally, the unity that constitutes human identity and human development becomes discovered only in the diversity of multiple interrelated lines of sight.

Synthesis: The View From the Center

Engaging fundamental bipolar concepts as relatively stable standpoints opens the way and takes an important first step toward establishing a broad stable base for empirical inquiry within a relational metatheory. However, this solution is incomplete because it omits a key relational component. The oppositional quality of the bipolar pairs reminds us that their contradictory nature still remains and still requires a resolution. As suggested earlier, the resolution of this tension between contradictions is not found in the reduction of one of the system polarities to the other. Rather, moving to the middle and above the conflict—and here discovering a novel system that coordinates the two conflicting systems— establishes the resolution. This position is a position of synthesis and it constitutes another standpoint.

At this point the Escher sketch fails as a graphic representation. Although Drawing Hands illustrates the identity of opposites and shows the middle ground, it does not present a coordination of the two. In fact, the synthesis for this sketch

Person standpoint

Biology standpoint

Culture standpoint

Person standpoint

Biology standpoint

Culture standpoint

Biology Culture Person Culture

Figure 1.3 Relational standpoints in psychological inquiry: person, biology, and culture.


Biology Culture Person Culture

Figure 1.3 Relational standpoints in psychological inquiry: person, biology, and culture.


Person is the unseen hand that has drawn the drawing hands. The synthesis of interest for the general metatheory would be a system that is a coordination of the most universal bipolarity we can imagine. Undoubtedly there are several candidates for this level of generality, but the polarity between matter and society seems sufficient for present purposes. What then represents the synthesis of matter and society? Arguably it is the human organism (Latour, 1993). Because our specific focus of inquiry is psychology, we can reframe this matter-society polarity as the polarity of biology and culture. In the context of psychology, then, as an illustration write "biology" on one and "culture" on the other Escher hand, and what is the resulting synthesis?—the human organism, the person (see Figure 1.3). Persons—as integrated self-organizing dynamic systems of cognitive, emotional, and motivational processes—represent a novel level or stage of structure and functioning that emerges from and constitutes a coordination of biology and culture (see Magnusson & Stattin, 1998).

At the synthesis, then, there is a standpoint that coordinates and resolves the tension between the other two members of the relation. This provides a particularly broad and stable base for launching empirical inquiry. A person standpoint opens the way for the empirical investigation of universal dimensions of psychological structure-function relations (e.g., processes of perception, thought, emotions, values), their individual differences, and their development— (transformational-variational) across the life span. Because universal and particular are themselves relational concepts, no question can arise here about whether the focus on universal processes excludes the particular; it clearly does not, as we already know from the earlier discussion of polarities. The fact that a process is viewed from a universal standpoint in no way suggests that it is not contextualized. The general theories of Jean Piaget, Heinz Werner, James Mark Baldwin, William Stern, attachment theory and object relations theories of John Bowlby, Harry Stack Sullivan, Donald Winnicott all are exemplars of developmentally oriented relational person standpoints.

It is important to recognize that one synthesis standpoint is relative to other synthesis standpoints. Human and society are coordinated by matter, and thus—within psychological inquiry—biology represents a standpoint as the synthesis of person and culture (Figure 1.3). The implication of this is that a relational biological approach to psychological processes investigates the biological conditions and settings of psychological structure-function relations. This exploration is quite different from split-foundationalist approaches to biological inquiry that assume an atomistic and reductionistic stance towards the object of study. The neurobiologist Antonio Damasio's (1994, 1999) work on the brain-body basis of a psychological self and emotions is an excellent illustration of this biological relational standpoint. And in the context of his biological investigations, Damasio points out

A task that faces neuroscientists today is to consider the neurobiology supporting adaptive supraregulations [e.g., the psychological subjective experience of self] . . . I am not attempting to reduce social phenomena to biological phenomena, but rather to discuss the powerful connection between them. (1994, p. 124). . . . Realizing that there are biological mechanisms behind the most sublime human behavior does not imply a simplistic reduction to the nuts and bolts of neurobiology (1994, p. 125).

A similar illustration comes from the Nobel laureate neurobiologist Gerald Edelman's (1992; Edelman & Tononi, 2000) work on the brain-body base of consciousness:

I hope to show that the kind of reductionism that doomed the thinkers of the Enlightenment is confuted by evidence that has emerged both from modern neuroscience and from modern physics. ... To reduce a theory of an individual's behavior to a theory of molecular interactions is simply silly, a point made clear when one considers how many different levels of physical, biological, and social interactions must be put into place before higher order consciousness emerges. (Edelman, 1992, p. 166)

A third synthesis standpoint recognizes that human and matter are coordinated by society, and again granting that the inquiry is about psychological processes, culture represents a standpoint as the synthesis of person and biology (Figure 1.3). Thus, a relational cultural approach to psychological processes explores the cultural conditions and settings of psychological structure-function relations. From this cultural standpoint, the focus is upon cultural differences in the context of psychological functions as complementary to the person standpoint's focus on psychological functions in the context of cultural differences.

This standpoint is illustrated by cultural psychology, or developmentally oriented cultural psychology. However, not all cultural psychologies emerge from standpoint background ideas. When, for example, a cultural psychology makes the social constructivist assertion that social discourse is "prior to and constitutive of the world" (Miller, 1996, p. 99), it becomes clear that this form of cultural psychology has been framed by split-foundationalist background ideas. Similarly, when sociocultural claims are made about the "primacy of social forces," or claims arise suggesting that "mediational means" (i.e., instrumental-communicative acts) constitute the necessary focus of psychological interest (e.g., see Wertsch, 1991), the shadows of split-foundationalist metatheoretical principles are clearly in evidence.

A recent example of a relational developmentally oriented cultural standpoint emerges from the work of Jaan Valsiner (1998), which examines the "social nature of human psychology." Focusing on the social nature of the person, Valsiner stresses the importance of avoiding the temptation of trying to reduce person processes to social processes. To this end he explicitly distinguishes between the dualisms of split-foundationalist metatheory and dualities of the relational stance he advocates. Ernst Boesch (1991) and Lutz Eckensberger (1990) have also presented an elaboration of the cultural standpoint. Boesch's cultural psychology and Eckensberger's theoretical and empirical extensions of this draw from Piaget's cognitive theory, from Janet's dynamic theory, and from Kurt Lewin's social field theory, and argues that cultural psychology aims at an integration of individual and cultural change, an integration of individual and collective meanings, and a bridging of the gap between subject and object (e.g., see Boesch, 1991).

In a similar vein Damon offers a vision of the cultural standpoint in his discussion of "two complementary developmental functions, . . . the social and the personality functions of social development" (1988, p. 3). These are presented by Damon as an identity of opposites. The social function is an act of integration serving to "establish and maintain relations with other, to become an accepted member of society-at-large, to regulate one's behavior according to society's codes and standards" (p. 3). The personality function, on the other hand, is the function of individuation, an act of differentiation serving the formation of the individual's personal identity that requires "distinguishing oneself from others, determin ing one's own unique direction in life, and finding within the social network a position uniquely tailored to one's own particular nature, needs, and aspirations" (p. 3). Although others could be mentioned as illustrative (e.g., Grotevant, 1998), it should be noted in conclusion here that Erik Erikson (1968), was operating out of exactly this type of relational standpoint when he described identity as "a process 'located' in the core of the individual and yet also in the core of his communal culture" (p. 22).

As a final point concerning syntheses and the view from the center, it needs to be recognized that a relational metathe-ory is not limited to three syntheses. For example, discourse or semiotics may also be taken as a synthesis of person and culture (Latour, 1993). In this case biology and person are conflated and the biological-person dialectic represents the opposites of identity that are coordinated by discourse.

As a general summary to this point, the argument has been made that metatheoretical principles form the ground out of which grow the theories and methods of any domain of empirical inquiry. This has been illustrated by exploring several issues that frame the field of developmental psychology. Historically, both the modern and postmodern eras have articulated broad metatheoretical paradigms that have functioned as competing alternatives in the natural and social sciences. The commonality of these paradigms has been that each shares the background assumptions of splitting and foundationalism. A relational paradigm, which begins by rejecting these assumptions, offers a rapprochement of the alternatives through an elaboration of the principles of the identity of opposites, the opposites of identity, and the synthesis of opposites. The question of the specific nature of this rapprochement remains.

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