Children's Development within Social Context: Research and Methodology - Vol. 2

By Lucien T. Winegar; Jaan Valsiner | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 8
CHILDREN'S MORAL UNDERSTANDING: DEVELOPMENTAL AND SOCIAL CONTEXTUAL DETERMINANTS

Michelle L. Kelley Old Dominion University

Thomas G. Power University of Houston

Only recently has research on the moral development of children addressed the role of the social context. Although early theorists recognized that contextual factors can play a role, the major emphasis of these theories was on identifying universal laws of moral development that apply across contexts (e.g., Kohlberg, 1969; Piaget, 1932). The predominant approach was to isolate children's understanding of transgressions and conventions from the everyday social environments in which they occurred. The impact of cognitive developmental changes on moral reasoning was examined to the exclusion of other equally important aspects that may influence children's moral understanding. As has been described by Higgins and Parsons ( 1983), the predominant focus was on "dispositional" attributions (e.g., the child's abilities), rather than situational ones (social environments, social partners, etc.).

More recently, social scientists have begun to examine the social contextual determinants of moral development. A wide range of contextual factors appears to be important. These range from situational factors (such as the threat of detection or the promise of rewards) to relationship factors (such as the nature of the child's emotional attachment to the person in need) to larger cultural or subcultural factors (such as the norms of the neighborhood or culture in which the child is raised) (e.g., Bronfenbrenner, 1979; Shantz, 1982; Valsiner, 1988). Researchers now believe that social knowledge is a co-construction between the child and the environment. Social understanding is derived from physical surroundings, social partners, previous experiences,

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