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[xmca] further thoughts on layers and stages within socioculturally situated practice

Mike and others reflecting on layers/stages
I wasn't sure if I should add to your post on definitions and the role of
superordinate categories as imlpicated  the increasing decontextualization
of formal definitions. I decided I should  start a new thread.
As the article states, the cognitive ability to generate decontextualized
abstract FORMAL definitions is considered a cental ability for catergorizing
persons into IQ subgroups. Acquiring this ability is often viewed as a
hallmark of individual diplays of intelligence and an excellent tool for
creating "ability groupings" and people who "lack this innate ability" are
viewed as "lacking" intelligence.
 Therefore, if it can be shown that this "ability" is not an individual
attribute but rather a culturally valued bias implicit in the sociocultural
traditions of formal schooling, it raises fundamental questions about our
notions of IQ and what is measured. Every school psychologist as part of
there professional education should be required to read AND grasp the ideas
in this article. Thank goodness the sociocultural turn in psychology is
challenging the basic assumptions in this cognitive model.

"Developing" decontextualized definitions and abstract ways of thinking from
a sociocultural perspective is a matter of practicing generating "formal
definitions" in institutional structures which value this particular genre
as a  performance.

This article's focus on the centrality of practice can also be seen as
another example  that can be used to capture the tension in the various
accounts of the layering/stages antinomy.  If  the culture values
decontextualized ways of thinking then this "ability" will be privileged
over more concrete ways of thinking and  be labeled as "higher".  However,
as the article points out previous ways of constructing are not transcended
or sublated. Our horizon of understanding expands to include our emerging
capacity to use formal definitions as an often more efficient practice
especially in the "assembly-line" institutional structures of FORMAL school
settings. However, as B. Rogoff reminds us, assembly line practices are not
ALL pervasive, even in formal school settings. Other models of learning
co-exist with the assembly line practices. However, the dominant structure
is formal and the formal tests of vocabulary development capture who are
efficient in these particular situated genres.

In the spirit of considering the layering/stages antinomy I want to discuss
another "skill" that is often judged to be  foundational for categorizing
persons into ability groups and is often theorized as "innate ability".
This "skill" is verbal expression which is of central importance in
American  culture.  I want to suggest this is another example of American
cultural values [biases], which are historically situated, but are
often theorized as a universal developmental dynamic.  I will be summarizing
Suzanne Kirschner's account of "verbal expression" as articulated in her

"The Assenting Echo: Anglo-American Values in Contemporary Psychoanalytic
Developmental Psychology" (1990) in the journal SOCIAL RESEARCH, vol. 57,

Suzanne's article highlights how Freudian ideas [and ideals] when
transported to North America, are culturally transformed when translated
into a new cultural tradition. The hermeneutical process she articulates
when giving an historical account of psychodynamic developmental theory in
America is another example of the sociocultural embeddedness of all our
theories [including developmental theories]. If one rejects the basic
premises and assumptions of psychoanalytic accounts, then reading an
historical account of how these "invalid" notions could so profoundly
influence cultural notions of development becomes a hermeneutical narrative
that highlights how historically situated sociocultural processes develop.

Suzanne points out that American tradition values and  articulates 3
dominate themes when reshaping,  reframing and reconstituting developmental
theories from an American cultural imaginary.  Her article documents the
translation  of  pyschodynamic developmental theory when these European
notions were TRANSLATED in America.  However,  the historical process she
articulate in her article specifically for psychoanalytic developmental
theory is relevant to the translation of other developmental theories as
they are "borrowed" from other cultural traditions and become elaborated in
the American cultural imaginary.

The 3 American values which Suzanne suggests are often implicit in American
versions of developmental theories  are
 1) Self-reliance  2) Self-direction and 3) verbal expression.
 Suzanne believes these 3 values are central and pervasive in American
cultural imaginaries.  The perceived "lack" in an individual of these
values is often theorized  as an indication of a lack of maturity or
becoming stuck at an earlier developmental stage. By examining the value
assumptions implicit in the cultural biases of developmental theories that
posit particular human expressions as  "lacking" in the person's development
we can glimpse the pervasive constraints of cultural traditions on our

Suzanne points out the lack of "self-reliance" is viewed as being stuck in
DEPENDENCY.  Takeo Doi a Japanese psychiatrist points out there is a
cultural assumption in America that others can help a person ONLY INSOFAR AS
THE PERSON HELPS HIM OR HER SELF.  To help a child become independent "is
probably the single most important goal of American parents" [Kirschner] and
overdependence is seen as a lack of development.  Developmental progress is
viewed as displaying increasing self-reliance and detachment from dependency
relationships. The goal of development is the achievement of autonomy and
the ability to regulate a life of ones own choosing.  Suzanne suggests along
with this bias to valorize self-reliance is a sense of "separateness" and
"detachment" as one focuses on the capacity to improve ones own life THROUGH

The 2nd cultural ideal is the developing capacity for SELF-DIRECTION. This
cultural ideal assumes one should know what is in ones heart and mind and
that one should make choices and live in accordance with these inner beliefs
and feelings.  It is by examining the perceived negative qualities of the
LACK of self-direction that the cultural value of "self-direction" is
implicated in our developmental theories.  The opposite of self-direction is
COMPLIANCE with someone else's desires which distorts, constricts, or
suppresses one's true self.  If  one is seen as compliant and ones true self
becomes inaccessible then development is seen as stuck or "arrested" at an
earlier stage of development where one lacks autonomy. Again the hallmark of
"lacking autonomy" is being DEPENDENT on others to give direction to ones
life. Robert Bellah in "Habits of the Heart" describes "finding oneself" and
being faithful to that self in one's lifestyle as central values of American
cultural values. [what Bellah calls expressive individualism]

The 3rd cultural ideal which is implicit in developmental theories is the
ideal of SELF EXPRESSION.  There is a cultural bias to encourage using
language as a means of expressing ones own opinions and feelings.  Kirschner
references Joseph Tobin's study of preschool in 3 cultures [Japan, China,
and the United States.] Tobin reported dialogue from an American school in
which the teacher asks
"Do you want juice, Rhonda? Milk? A cracker? What do you want? Don't just
keep shaking your head. How am I supposed to know what you want if you don't
tell me?"
Kirschner points out 2 assumptions implicit in this exchange. 1) Everyone is
entitled to freedom of choice and a variety of options 2)You CANNOT EXPECT
explicitly. In other words you cannot DEPEND on another person to ANTICIPATE
your needs.  Takeo Doi in Japan documents a different cultural account
of development.  In Japan  the cultural ideal is to be able to anticipate
anothers needs intuitively and it is rude to wait until the other expresses
an explicit need.  In the American context to communicate verbally is
highlighted as a sign of higher development. "EMPATHIC COMMUNICATION CANNOT

As Kirschner summarizes in her article, these 3 cultural ideals imply a
tradition of hyperindividualism which Kirschner traces to the historical
situation of America's radical Protestant heritage and its secular
offshoots.  She suggests developmental theories in America have developed
along similar lines in their idealization of the self-regulated and
self-reflective autonomous individual.  In the context of our discussion on
layering and stages the idea of layering allows recognition of the
CONTINUING tension between a sense of  DEPENDENCY AND INDEPENDENCE and is
capable of valueing both sides of the tension.  In contrast the concept of
stages idealizes one side of the tension and views dependency as a LACK
of  development.  Seeing human needs as "immature" and "lacking" because of
being embedded in relations of DEPENDENCY which the person must separate
from has parallels to the account of developing decontextualized
As a psychological tool decontextualization and decentering are ways to
expand a person's horizon of understanding BUT NOT AT THE EXPENSE OF
RECOGNIZING EARLIER WAYS of being at home in the world.

Mike, this is another reflection on the discussion of layers/stages and the
implicit values and judgements within accounts of development.

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