Challenging Taken-for-Granted Ideas in Early Childhood Education: A Critique of Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological Systems Theory in the Age of Post-humanism

  • Sue ElliottEmail author
  • Julie M. Davis
Reference work entry
Part of the Springer International Handbooks of Education book series (SIHE)


A significant theorist in the early childhood education field is Urie Bronfenbrenner who, in 1979, proposed his “ecological systems theory,” sometimes referred to as the “ecological framework for human development.” This theory offers a multidimensional systems model for understanding the influence of family through to economic and political structures; thus, it presents a way of understanding the human life course from early childhood through to adulthood. In this theory, the ecological framework enables the mapping of information about individuals and their contexts over time in order to understand their diverse systemic interconnections. A critique of this model, however, from a childhoodnature stance, is that it ignores consideration of human-nature interconnections. Thus, it is a deeply anthropocentric model of human development that is at odds with emergent posthumanist thinking that seeks to de-center the human condition. In this Chapter, we argue that the pervasiveness of this human-centered systems approach works against sustainability, in that it reinforces the sociocultural, political, and economic dimensions of being human at the expense of environmental interconnections. Drawing on systems theory, posthumanist theory, new materialism, a critical lens to pedagogy, and new sociology of childhood, we propose alternative ways of approaching Bronfenbrenner’s work that, both, facilitates human connections and strengthens children and nature connections that have implications for early childhood education philosophy and pedagogy.


Bronfenbrenner Systems theory Post-humanist theory Critical theory New materialism Sustainability Early childhood education Anthropocentricism 


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of New EnglandArmidaleAustralia
  2. 2.Queensland University of TechnologyBrisbaneAustralia

Section editors and affiliations

  • Marianne Logan
    • 1
  • Helen Widdop Quinton
    • 2
  1. 1.Southern Cross UniversityLismoreAustralia
  2. 2.Victoria UniversityMelbourneAustralia

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