Encountering the World: Toward An Ecological Psychology

By Edward S. Reed | Go to book overview

9
Becoming a Person

The Populated Environment of the Human Infant
Becoming a person is something one cannot do all on one's own; it is an inherently social process. As we have seen in chapter 8, the human environment itself is the result of collective efforts and activities. The loud arguments within psychology over "nature versus nurture" have tended to obscure the plain fact that no human society ever allows most of its children to grow up on their own. The human race's record when it comes to infanticide and abandonment is nothing to be proud of; nevertheless, even in the worst of circumstances, the majority of infants who are born are surrounded by an intensely active and helpful populated environment. Moreover, this populated environment always includes a considerable amount of structuring that is aimed at facilitating the development of the infant. The subject of this chapter is how we become persons in this very special populated environment.As best we can tell at present, the active structuring of infant environments is a universal attribute of all human cultures. However, unlike the traditional concept of nurture--centered on person-to-person interaction and focused on the elements of caregiving--the ecological analysis of the infant's environment casts a wider net. The special environment created for all the babies of a given culture includes selected objects, places, and events, as well as other people. It is also a developmentally structured environment, changing in time in at least rough concordance with the infants' developmental changes. This developmental niche, as some have called it ( Super & Harkness, 1986; Bril, 1993), also includes selective barriers that prevent children from encountering specific objects, places, and events deemed harmful or inappropriate by the caregiver.I find it useful to distinguish three dimensions of structure within this developmental niche.
1. Specialpersons. Caregivers for infants are always specially identified people within a culture, whether they are the biological parents, siblings, or individuals brought to the task from outside the biological family. Who takes care of babies varies with culture, geography (e.g., urban versus rural child rearing), and class. There may be no universal patterns here at all--except that, for a majority of children in any given culture, some older female individual is the baby's regular caregiver. Male caregivers are not unknown, but they are everywhere in the minority.

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