Thegoals of developmental science are to describe, explain and optimisewithin-person change and between-person differences in within-person change acrossthe life span (Baltes, Reese, & Nesselroade, 1977; Lerner, 2012). The thirdfoci of the field, optimization, the application of developmental sciencedescriptions and explanations to policies or programmes, has been often beensplit off from these first two foci- yet almost four decades ago, UrieBronfenbrenner operationalized a theory that integrated all three loci of humandevelopment. Bronfenbrenner (2001) defined his bioecological theory as “anevolving theoretical system for the scientific study of human development overtime” (p.
6963- 6964). This conceptualisation of human development is a four-element model, involving the synergistic interconnections among proximalprocesses, person characteristics, context and time (PPCT). At its core, it modelsan active person enmeshed in an active, dynamic, social- ecological systememphasising developmental change and the individual context. A Contextualist FrameworkThetiers of the PPCT model is nested upon one of the three main worldviews,contextualism as stated by Pepper (1942).
As Pepper (1942) discussed, withinpsychology, these paradigms are mechanism, organicism, and contextualism. Mechanistsbelieve that in order to comprehend something it must be broken down into itssimplest form. In addition that accept the idea of environmental, genetic,biological and physiological causes, whereas organicists and contextualistspostulate that causes are formal, which emanate from interrelations betweenmultiple variables. There is, however, also a distinction between organicistsand contextualists that should not be blurred. The former, but not the latter,hold that there are “final” causes—that is, that there is directionality todevelopment and that individuals typically go through stages in a given order(Goldhaber, 2000; Pepper, 1942). Contextualist theories, such as those ofVygotsky and Bronfenbrenner, have no such universal end point of development inview; rather, what counts as competent development will vary in part according tosituation-or culture-specific pressures.Theperson process, context and time model is rooted in the contextualist metaphorof cognitive change as a concrete historical process (Pepper, 1942).
That beingsaid, dialectical considerations play an important role, in Bronfenbrenner’sconception of the complex and changing reciprocity in the relations between thedeveloping individual and the simultaneously changing world. Within thisdialectial or contextualist theory, it is assumed that the source of allknowledge lies in the continuing interactions between individual andenvironment, neither of which can simply impose itself on the other. In keepingwith their contextualist root metaphor, view the resulting knowledge not as anequilibrated, abstract, content-free structure but as a concrete item in apopulation of interrelated concepts, always context-laden and highly subject tofurther idiosyncratic contradictions. For the most part, then, development doesnot follow a universal, predictable sequence but rather is a partiallyunpredictable outcome of interacting changes at several levels – biological,psychological, sociological, and physical (e.g.
, Lerner, Skinner, & Sorel1,1980; Riegel, 1979). A Pioneer for NaturalisticResearch”Muchof developmental psychology, as it now exists, is the science of the strangebehaviour of children in strange situations with strange adults for thebriefest possible periods of time” (1979, p. 19). This famous quote aptlycaptures Bronfenbrenner’s assertion that, empirically, assessments of developmentmust be conducted with the recognition that contexts are complex, denoted by Bronfenbrenner’s(2005) notions of the micro-, meso-, exo- and macro-systems).
With that said,the PPCT model has made some of its greatest contributions to human developmentresearch by acting as the impetus behind the reorientation of developmental researchtowards context into the family, peer group, school neighbourhood and widercommunity and society. Importantly, the PPCT model was not a causal model, andwas not predictive. Rather, Bronfenbrenner advocated empirical testing inparticular instances to see cause in context. He believed that there waspotential relevance of all the factors in his model to be discovered at eachlevel of social context and encouraged researchers to extricate within anacross the various levels of his framework. Concluding that development is notas predictable and universal as once thought, he surmised that individualscannot necessarily act in ways that benefit all levels and all components ofthe context at all times and places (Elder et al.
, 2015). Thus, one may need totreat adaption not as a multivariate concept that is determined by theinteraction of multiple factors over time. composed of ordinal or intervaldimensions. He also emphasised acknowledgement of the impact of culture humandevelopment.
Understanding and promoting these culturally sensitive adaptivedevelopmental regulations can provide, as Bronfenbrenner (2005) argued, the knowledgebase for making human beings human.