Ecological Psychology in Context: James Gibson, Roger Barker, and the Legacy of William James's Radical Empiricism

Ecological Psychology in Context: James Gibson, Roger Barker, and the Legacy of William James's Radical Empiricism

Ecological Psychology in Context: James Gibson, Roger Barker, and the Legacy of William James's Radical Empiricism

Ecological Psychology in Context: James Gibson, Roger Barker, and the Legacy of William James's Radical Empiricism

Synopsis

In this book Harry Heft examines the historical and theoretical foundations of James J. Gibson's ecological psychology in 20th century thought, and in turn, integrates ecological psychology and analyses of sociocultural processes. A thesis of the book is that knowing is rooted in the direct experience of meaningful environmental objects and events present in individual-environment processes and at the level of collective, social settings. Ecological Psychology in Context: *traces the primary lineage of Gibson's ecological approach to William James's philosophy of radical empiricism; *illuminates how the work of James's student and Gibson's mentor, E.B. Holt, served as a catalyst for the development of Gibson's framework and as a bridge to James's work; *reveals how ecological psychology reciprocally can advance Jamesian studies by resolving some of the theoretical difficulties that kept James from fully realizing a realist philosophy; *broadens the scope of Gibson's framework by proposing a synthesis between it and the ecological program of Roger Barker, who discovered complex systems operating at the level of collective, social processes; *demonstrates ways in which the psychological domain can be extended to properties of the environment rendering its features meaningful, publicly accessible, and distributed across person-environment processes; and *shows how Gibson's work points the way toward overcoming the gap between experimental psychology and the humanities. Intended for scholars and students in the areas of ecological and environmental psychology, theoretical and historical psychology, cognitive science, developmental psychology, anthropology, and philosophy.

Excerpt

Has there been a moment since its formal founding in the late 19th century when experimental psychology was not in a state of theoretical conflict? Select any historical point during its first 120 years, and you will find psychologists embroiled in some theoretical squabble. It is true that psychology is by no means alone among the sciences in having ongoing theoretical tensions. And yet there is an important difference here. Inmost other sciences, especially those that share psychology's roots in natural science, these disagreements typically occur around the edges of a core set of shared theoretical presuppositions. But, in psychology, it is these very core presuppositions that are often being contested. Since its inception the discipline has been rife with claims from various quarters that particular theoretical approaches and conceptual tools, levels of analysis, and methods are canonical, with other contenders for that status lacking legitimacy. Psychologists continue to struggle among themselves concerning the best way to think about the subject matter of psychology, and to some extent even about identifying the proper subject matter of psychology.

What is the reason for this ongoing conflict and instability? In the aftermath of Kuhnian analyses of science, in which work in mature sciences is portrayed as being structured by an underlying common paradigm, the view of some psychologists seems to be that this turmoil reflects the ongoing preparadigmatic state that befits any immature science such as psychology. This explanation, however, lets psychologists too easily off the hook, and in so doing, covers up the source of the problem. One underlying purpose of this book is to offer a different explanation. Much of this theoretical instability can be explained by the fact that our systematic attempts to understand ourselves have been typically built on a conceptual foundation ill suited for this task. If . . .

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