Academic journal article Outlines : Critical Practice Studies

Children, Development and Education. Cultural, Historical, Anthropological Perspectives

Academic journal article Outlines : Critical Practice Studies

Children, Development and Education. Cultural, Historical, Anthropological Perspectives

Article excerpt

Review of M. Kontopodis, C. Wulf & B. Fichtner (Eds.) (2011): Children, Development and Education. Cultural, Historical, Anthropological Perspectives

During a summer University on cultural and activity research in Moscow, I met Michalis Kontopodis who kindly asked me if I would like to review a book edited by him together with Christoph Wulf and Bernd Fichtner, Children, development and Education. Cultural, Historical, Anthropological perspectives (2011). I accepted the project with enthusiasm and gratitude for giving me this chance and was looking forward to discovering the book that I review here with a great pleasure.

As it may be deducted from the title, the aim of the book is, amongst others, mainly an epistemological one: putting into dialogue two (distinct but complementary) approaches, namely cultural-historical psychology and historical anthropology, to study children, development and education. This book is a critique of mainstream western developmental theories concerned with a "general child" developing into an adult and of educational practices that often rely "on the normative conception of a universal, a-historical, rational human being" (p. 9). It brings together different theories and approaches and offers some powerful insights for future research on childhood and development. As a young researcher myself, I found in this volume many great ideas and shared interests. Unfortunately, I will not comment here on all the chapters, despite the fact they are all bringing a new and interesting view on children's development. Rather, after some general considerations about the whole edition, I would like to highlight in this review some interesting points and observations and discuss them critically in the hope of bringing new perspectives on the topic.

The book is divided into two main parts. The first one, "Culture, history and child development", contains five chapters. As written in the introduction, "human development is thus explored and conceptualized in regard to its interrelated semiotic, material/embodied, mimetic and performative aspects" (p. 12) and "focuses more on infancy and early childhood development" (p. 13). The second part, "Gender, performativity and educational practice", contains seven chapters and is focused "on qualitative studies of school-aged children and young people" (p. 13). These brief factual considerations about the book bring me to some more critical observations. I would like to underline and comment four dimensions that I find interesting and relevant across the whole edition.

On the social character of developmental processes. In the introductory chapter, the editors write that "Wulf's analysis leads to similar conclusions as those of Stetsenko and Hildebrand and Seeger: it foregrounds the social character of developmental processes" (p. 13). It is well established from previous research that developmental processes, especially cognitive development, do not happen in a social vacuum: they are influenced by social interactions, (see for example Doise, Mugny & Perret-Clermont, 1975, 1976; Iannaccone, 2010; Light & Littleton, 1999; Perret-Clermont, 1980). The role of social interactions on human development is recurrent all along the book and it is certainly acknowledged by each contributor. However, some authors in this volume focus specifically on the topic, albeit in different manners.

Klasen (chapter 5) and Wulf (chapter 6) both evoke the role of mimetic processes in learning and development. Wulf's main thesis is of a particular interest: "mimetic processes do not only refer to other people in face-to-face situations, but also to places, spaces, things, imaginary actions, scenes, and themes. Institutions such as the family, the school, the role play that is implicit in the media, but also values, attitudes and norms, are learned and embodied by children through mimetic processes" (p. 96). The quotation not only underlines the role of mimetic process but also refers to the role of institutions, as Hedegaard also highlights in her paper: "Children develop through participation in institutionalised forms of practice that are characterised by specialised and shared communication and activities" (p. …

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