Bronfenbrenner book sums up human development


ITHACA, N.Y. -- Cornell University Professor Urie Bronfenbrenner, among the world's best-known psychologists, has been publishing articles and books for 60 years on what really matters in the development of human beings. Now he has pulled his ideas together and published a new book that traces the historical development of his groundbreaking bioecological model of human development and detailing how it can be applied via programs and policies.

Making Human Beings Human: Bioecological Perspectives on Human Development (Sage Publications, 2004) is Bronfenbrenner's culminating work and statement that he hopes will shape the future of his field. Bronfenbrenner, the Jacob Gould Schurman Professor Emeritus of Human Development and of Psychology at Cornell, is a co-founder of the federal Head Start program and is widely regarded as one of the world's leading scholars in developmental psychology, child-rearing and human ecology -- the interdisciplinary domain he created.

His model of the ecology of human development acknowledges that humans don't develop in isolation, but in relation to their family and home, school, community and society. Each of these ever-changing and multilevel environments, as well as interactions among these environments, are key to development, he says.

Before Bronfenbrenner, child psychologists studied children, sociologists focused on families, anthropologists considered culture, economists the economic framework of the times and so on. Bronfenbrenner's groundbreaking concept of the ecology of human development, however, viewed these environments -- from the family to current society and the times -- as nested settings in which a person develops over time throughout the life course. Since 1979, when Bronfenbrenner published his bioecological theory, he has transformed how many social and behavioral scientists approach the study of human beings and their environments.

The theory led to new directions in basic research and to applications in the design of programs and policies affecting the well-being of children and families both in the United States and abroad. The book is divided into two parts; the first primarily presents edited versions of 12 key papers by Bronfenbrenner that reflect the development of his bioecological theory. The second part

details specific ways that Bronfenbrenner's ideas have framed programs and policies promoting positive human development. The chapters cover, for example, how children are raised in contemporary society and the role of peers in influencing child development, a comparison of child development in the United States with that in the former Soviet Union, as well as the challenges of child development in disadvantaged socioeconomic settings.

"Bronfenbrenner has himself been the foremost theoretician of human development over the past half-century," says Richard M. Lerner, the director of the Institute for Applied Research in Youth Development at Tufts University, in his foreword to Making Human Beings Human . "Urie Bronfenbrenner stands as first among his peers. His ideas have been the ones that have stood the test of time to represent the fundamental concepts used in all of the developmental systems theories that constitute the cutting-edge modes of human development."

Because of the book's emphasis on social context within the bioecological theory (and Bronfenbrenner's role in shaping educational and public policies, for instance, as a co-founder of the Head Start program), the book is intended for audiences across disciplines, including psychology, human ecology, human development and family studies, education and public policy. In addition to a foreword by Lerner, the book includes an afterward by two of Bronfenbrenner's colleagues at Cornell, Stephen F. Hamilton and Stephen J. Ceci.

"In his latest book, Dr. Bronfenbrenner's bioecological theory of human development offers an important framework upon which to examine the effectiveness of our early childhood policies, programs and practices on the lives of America's children and families," adds Evelyn Moore, president of the National Black Child Development Institute. "In the unfolding of his theory, we find evidence that what, when and how we do our work does make a critical difference in the developmental outcomes of young children and their families, especially those who are most vulnerable."

"This is a marvelous book to read and cherish from one of our giants in the field of human development," says Glen H. Elder, professor of sociology and research professor of psychology at the University of North Carolina.

For a review copy, contact Nichole Angress at [email protected] or telephone, (805) 499-0721, ext. 7564.

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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