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developmentality as generative modeling
december 26, 2010



Human development is more than a change process, but it’s at least that; and change processes are always specifiable, in terms of some schema or model, or else talk of change isn’t very informative or useful.

For a given situation that’s changing, there is no essence of change that’s there to be discerned, unless the entirety of the situation, in all its features, can be specified (which is not possible for the living presence of a growing mind). Models of change serve given interests or purposes of understanding (e.g, healthy development or school success along a long road to productive independence), and a given model is applied to situations with more or less efficacy (informativeness or usefulness); e.g., a standard model of 7 year-old, grade 2 development is not itself a theory of individual differences (due to a fluid range of background factors).

Yet, again, development is more than change; it’s a progression, in some sense. However developing is modeled, any model attends to a progression, e.g., from incipient to emerged; immature to mature; not-yet to better; lower to higher; less to more; etc.

There are many models of human development. A good way to understand this might be to pick an era of childhood and look at that era through the lens of various models (a manifold perspectivity), as each model is “sliced” at the given region or era of childhood. But the boundaries between eras are diffuse—between, say, toddlerhood and early childhood, early and preschool childhood, etc. Various models conceive eras in accord with their interest. What is typical for age 7, according to which modeling interest? What is standard for grade 2 (now gaining national consensus)? Is a grade level a developmental era? Most children would think so (if they could understand the concept): “Third Grader!!” (What is being age 7 but learning at a fourth grade level? Probably lonely.)

An entire model of development (or progressive growth) or the model of an era of development relative to its entire model (i.e., a specific era as part of an approach to development altogether) I like to call a developmentality. The developmentality of a preschool child is what a model of developmental holism especially claims (physical and cognitive and emotional and identity formative and social) for a typical preschool child. Something is developmental inasmuch as it’s an element of development (passive, an inclusion) or a catalyst (eduction, evincement, or facilitator) of development (active, inclusive), progressing toward some horizon (a graduation, a degree of autonomy, a profession, a kind of life, etc).


I readily turn figurative in writing about development. In “broadening oneself...,” I emphasized self-formativity by alluding to “enactive worldliness, enacted capability, and enacting Self,” which might be regarded as an enactivity of Self<->world relations (ontogeny generally) relative to growing capability. I like a triadic way of thinking, which is extensively influenced by the leading theorist of intelligence, Robert J. Sternberg, which I’m not going to discuss here, except to say that I’ve found 70+ ways to understand—or isomorphisms of—a triarchic approach to mental development, encompassing his extensively corroborated research and a range of humanistic themes that have interested me over the years, from other psychologies, psychotherapies, Literature, and philosophy.

Triadic modeling is intuitively easy. For example, there’s externality, internality, and the mediation of the two. (This simple-minded difference gets profoundly implicative in the next section here.) There’s a givenness of the world (internal and external), enactivity in light of that (according to purpose or preference), and anticipated satisfaction or fulfillment of action (a triarchy which can be an extensively richer kind of modeling than stimulus, decision, response). There’s representability of mind (objectivistic), constructibility of mind (purposive), and appreciability of mind (subjectivistic). There is complexity of understanding (representing), novelty of understanding (constructing), and sophistication of understanding (appreciating). Right there are 4 isomorphisms (or versions) of a 3-fold sense of action:

  • Given: representability | objectivistic stance toward a present | complexity
  • Enactive: constructibility | purposive stance toward a present | novelty
  • Fulfillment: appreciability | subjectivistic stance toward a present | sophistication

Developmental assessment of activity is always a matter of the degree to which some aspect is shown. In the above instance, it’s easy to imagine employing a continuum of standards of school curriculum; or, for adult development, academic subject mastery (a continuum of subject domain interest, from “Intro.” through graduate-level independent study).

Is insightfulness a melding of complex representation and novel construction? Is originality a melding of novelty and sophistication?


Models are easy to find. (By the way, Sternberg and others provide compelling arguments for why developmental psychology is in a post-Piagetian era, thanks to advances in evidence-based theory of the past couple of decades.)

Via the internet, it seems that Erik H. Erikson’s character model remains popular, with its specific character-developmental focus and strength for each era (derived from decades of clinical experience and decades of observational corroboration), which spans the life cycle. His model indicates aspects of future happy adulthood that are most salient for each era of child development (or eraic aspects of child character development that are especially prospective for a good life). The salient aspects of each era are indicated as having two kinds of trait: (1) a most-salient dyadic challenge to character; and (2) a key character strength that consolidates itself in the era. For example:

infancy (birth to 18 months):

  • 1: eraic character dyad: grounding adult trust (vs. mistrust)
  • 2: eraic character strengths: adult drive and hope

(1) The salient dyad is the eraic character-developmental conflict/challenge whose resolution in that era is especially prospective of happy adulthood. This should not be understood as basically a conflict of opposites, since selfidentity gains complexity in adulthood that finds each earlier challenge returning generatively for prospecting a new mode of understanding for specifics in one’s life. This is a complex kind of theme for me, as a clash is not necessarily an obstructive or pointless or destructive advent. Problem finding is essential to the “irt”ness of creative life. (2) The character strength(s) are especially prospective in that era for those strengths in happy adulthood.

early childhood (18 mos to 3 yrs):

  • character dyad: autonomy (irt shame)
  • strengths: self control, courage, will

play age (3-5 yrs):

  • character dyad: initiative (irt guilt)
  • strengths: purpose

Woven with character development are those other common modes that aren’t Erikson’s especial (clinical) interest: physical, cognitive, and interpersonal. Is this even the natural way to parse modes of development?

A leading researcher, Katherine Nelson (Young Minds in Social Worlds, Harvard UP, 2007) caps her career with a model of early child development whose modes are (each with eraic “levels”): consciousness, self, mind, communication, and sociality. The complexity of her empirical model is emphasized by a diagram of “contributing sources leading to the emergence of autobiographical memory in the late preschool years” (p. 242) that looks like a set of unorganized arrows (vectors) drawn among aspects (multiple vectors going toward the same other aspects; multiple vectors leaving a given aspect): core self, intentionality, basic language, object self, conversations about the past, complex language, temporal concepts, mental concepts, self-representational concept of mind, narrative structures, and autobiographical memory—all pertaining to a preschooler! I’m reminded of contemporary school curriculum in math which anticipates algebraic competence at the level of kindergarten, in terms of addition and subtraction (i.e., the latter as the grade K components of a developmental continuum aiming for algebraic thinking in adolescence).

So, what is “the” developmental holism of life and world or Self <-> World ontogeny that encompasses the world-scalarity of school curriculum and a fullness of self development?

school age (6-12 yrs):

  • character dyad: industry (irt inferiority)
  • strengths: method and competence

adolescence (12-18 yrs):

  • character dyad: identity (irt role confusion)
  • strengths: devotion and fidelity

young adulthood (18-35):

  • character dyad: intimacy and solidarity (irt isolation)
  • strengths: affiliation and love

middle adulthood (35-65):

  • character dyad: generativity (irt self absorption or stagnation)
  • strengths: production and care

late adulthood:

  • character dyad: integrity (irt despair)
  • strength: wisdom

Yet, the above improvised allusion to hybridity in terms of two kinds of developmental interest (characterological life cycle and child developmental psychology) merely implies that very different approaches might have some kind of complementarity.

I find the best locus for hybrid modeling in theories of intelligence. One might claim that “intelligence” is a holistic developmental notion, such that practical intelligence is different from analytical intelligence; and intelligence is a rich notion not essentially appreciable from standard testing. Indeed, Sternberg’s review of the literature on intelligence decades ago showed a range of “metaphors of mind” in the history of research such that the reality of “intelligence” is the nexus or integration or holism of the entire scale of human interest: theories “looking inward” (biological, computational, epistemological) and theories “looking outward” (anthropological, sociological). The reality of intelligence is some hybrid synergy of inward and outward interest. Howard Gardner has become famous in educational psychology for his theory of “multiple intelligences” or capabilities. Understanding Gardner’s holism as the common locus of all the various research models (Sternberg’s set of metaphors) integrated by Sternberg’s own approach results in a very appealing research-based model of mental capability. Sternberg and Gardner have separately elaborated their theories for educational curriculum, resulting in a very appealing approach to mental development.

One can get vertiginously complex about active development. Dramatizing this has no practical effect, maybe, except to highlight a keynote of our nature: We are the form of intelligent life that enowns its development as essentially-open Project.

A very recent school of research on “positive youth development” ventures to generalize what any theory of development should involve. In a word, theories should be ecological, in a systematic sense of integrating and interrelating all modes of learning life (e.g., “mutually influential individual <-> context relations,” “temporality and plasticity in human development,” and intra- <-> inter-individual relations) and all modes of theorization (integrating levels of organization, multidisciplinarity of understanding, and promotive/preventive practices) (ref.1: 154).


A developmentality implies a scalarity of interest—on the one hand, as ecology of the child’s era; on the other hand, as inquirer model/theory of each era.

What height/depth or breadth of understanding can be anticipated in the play of an era? This isn’t a question that has a specific answer apart from consideration of a particular life.

What happens when eraic concepts reach their boundary of comprehending efficacy and a new play of possibilities or prospects calls for discovery? All such questions make no sense outside of a given theory.

What is a sea change in growing up? What is seafaring between eras? Such a question is an invitation to literary understanding in developmental studies.

How do opportunities emerge from invisibility to feasibility, due to increasing capability for perceiving chances and increasing appreciability of where one is or may be? Opportunity is a subjective sense of capability, as well as an objective state of affairs. What leads to durable hope about one’s desires and durable optimism about one’s capabilities?

How does fulfillment define a new level of givenness inspiring new modes of enactivity serving new ideas of fulfillment? In other words, how does learning become self-directive?

A life’s world returns to itself with the seasons’ change, transformed in the cycle by its progressive era, thus never wholly finding the same season again. Spiraling time ironically returns one to know a part of oneself for the first time, yet—like a lost innocence—of course, never wholly returns one there again.



  Be fair. © 2017, gary e. davis