Beyond the Century of the Child: Cultural History and Developmental Psychology

By Willem Koops; Michael Zuckerman | Go to book overview

Preface

William James tried unavailingly to warn them. From the modern birth of their discipline in the last decades of the nineteenth century, psychologists have aspired to study human behavior according to the norms of science. Most took physics for their model. Some, such as the developmental psychologists, took biology. But even the developmental psychologists idealized the quest for universal laws and aimed to devise theories as timeless as possible.

Classic studies in developmental psychology, such as Lewis Terman’s Study of Gifted Californians (1925; Oden 1968) and August Hollingshead’s Elmtown’s Youth (1949), did not even collect, let alone take into account, data linked to experiences of war or economic collapse. Neither did the well-known trio of longitudinal studies: the Berkeley Growth Study, Berkeley Guidance Study, and Oakland Growth Study (Eichorn et al. 1981; Elder, Modell, and Park 1993). Neither did the investigations of the next generation, which were predicated on the same scientistic premises and the same disdain for the historical dimension.

It was not until Glen Elder’s brilliant Children of the Great Depression (1974) that the crucial impact of economic hardship and military mobilization received its first theoretical elaboration. But in recent years he and an increasing contingent of his followers have produced a succession of revelatory studies of the connections between large historical developments and the development of individuals across the life course. The most influential of their works may be their 1993 collection, Children in Time and Place (Elder, Modell, and Park 1993).

That collection demonstrated convincingly that cooperation between historians and developmental psychologists was not only possible but also productive. It addressed old problems in new ways, posed new problems, and advanced innovative solutions to both the old problems and the new ones. Mike Zuckerman participated in the conference that produced the collection and wrote the historians’ concluding chapter for it. His position was a bit more radical than that of the other participants. As Willem Koops pointed out in a review of the book (Koops 1996), the agreements achieved by the historians and developmental

-vii-

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