HUMAN DEVELOPMENT, as well as social change, often proceeds in fits and starts. Sometimes it is linear, sometimes orderly. Frequently, however, its movement reflects the chaos of its major elements--age, culture, and history--which are constantly shifting and realigning. 1 For this reason, it is clear that historians and social scientists need each other. Historians understand the nature of social change, including the significance of culture, but they generally fail to recognize that social change has differential effects based on whether children, adolescents, or adults are affected. Psychologists fall into the other trap; they value age as the most significant variable, while discounting the other variables.
Psychologists, however, have begun to question their priorities. In 1985 Erich W. Labouvie and John R. Nesselroade criticized their discipline's "ahistorical paradigm," which has "resulted in a slavish reliance on chronological age as the only time parameter of importance." At the same time, other psychologists have lamented the "progressive fragmentation" of their field, "that is, looking more and more at less and less." In a discussion published in the American Psychologist, Urie Bronfenbrenner, Frank Kessel, William Kessen, and Sheldon White argued that psychologists generally fail to take serious account of the outside world in which children develop because that world--in its economic, social, cultural, and political realities--is simply too overwhelming to contemplate, let alone quantify. Kessen stated that "the fractionalization or modularization of developmental psychology represents... primarily a loss of nerve. One tries to get the research domain that is small enough and in which there are few enough competitors that one can live without raging anxiety." Bronfenbrenner was also critical, arguing that developmental psychology has become "the study of variables, not the study of systems, organisms, or live things living." The result, said Bronfenbrenner, was "the almost pointed avoidance among developmental researchers across the decades of speaking to the question, What do we mean by human development?" And "that, you see," said Kessen, "runs against the notion of... the community