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

Living reference work entry
Part of the Springer International Handbooks of Education book series (SIHE)

Abstract

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 post-humanist 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, post-humanist 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.

Keywords

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

References

  1. APA. (2004). Early intervention can improve low-income children’s cognitive skills and academic achievement. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/research/action/early.aspx.
  2. Apple, M. (1996). Cultural Politics and Education. Teachers College Press, New York.Google Scholar
  3. Arthur, L., Beecher, B., Death, E., Dockett, S., & Farmer, S. (2015). Programming and planning in early childhood settings (6th ed.). Sydney, NSW: Cengage.Google Scholar
  4. Ballam, N. (2013). Defying the odds: Gifted and talented young people from low socioeconomic backgrounds. PhD thesis http://researchcommons.waikato.ac.nz/bitstream/handle/10289/8424/thesis.pdf?sequence=3.
  5. Bateson, G. (1979). Mind and nature: A necessary unity. New York, NY: Ballantine Books.Google Scholar
  6. Berry, T. (1988). The dream of the earth. San Francisco, CA: Sierra Club Books.Google Scholar
  7. Berthelsen, D. (2009). Participatory learning: Issues for research and practice. In D. Berthelsen, J. Brownlee, & E. Johansson (Eds.), Participatory learning in the early years: Research and pedagogy (Routledge Research in Education, Vol. 21, pp. 1–11). New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  8. Boon, H., Cottrell, A., King, D., Stevenson, Robert B., & Millar, J. (2012). Bronfenbrenner’s bioecological theory for modelling community resilience to natural disasters. Natural Hazards, 60(2), 381–408.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Borkfelt, S. (2011). Non-human otherness: Animals as others and devices for othering. In S. Sencindiver, M. Beville, & M. Lauritzen (Eds.), Otherness: A multilateral perspective (pp. 137–154). Frankfurt, Germany: Peter Lang.Google Scholar
  10. Bowes, J., Grace, R., & Hodge, K. (2012). Children, families and communities contexts and consequences (4th ed.). Melbourne, VIC: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  11. Braidotti, R. (2013). The posthuman. London, England: Polity Press.Google Scholar
  12. Bronfenbrenner, U. (1988). Foreword. In A. Pence (Ed.), Ecological research with children and families from concepts to methodology (pp. ix–xix). New York, NY: Teachers College Press.Google Scholar
  13. Bronfenbrenner, U. (1995). Developmental ecology through space and time: A future perspective. In P. Moen, G. H. Elder, & K. Luscher (Eds.), Examining lives in context: Perspectives on the ecology of human development (pp. 619–647). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Bronfenbrenner, U. (1999). Environments in developmental perspective: Theoretical and operational models. In S. L. Friedman & T. D. Wachs (Eds.), Measuring environment across the life span: Emerging methods and concepts (pp. 3–28). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Bronfenbrenner, U. (2001). The bioecological theory of human development. In N. J. Smelser & P. B. Baltes (Eds.), International encyclopaedia of the social and behavioural sciences (Vol. 10, pp. 6963–6970). New York, NY: Elsevier.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Carter, M., & Curtis, D. (2008). Learning together with young children: A curriculum framework for reflective teachers. St. Paul, MN: Redleaf Press.Google Scholar
  17. Christensen, J. (2010). Proposed enhancement of Bronfenbrenner’s development ecology model. Education Inquiry, 1(2), 101–110.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Christensen, P., & James, A. (Eds.). (2000). Research with children: Perspectives and practices. London, England: Falmer.Google Scholar
  19. Connelly, W. (2013). The ‘new materialism’ and the fragility of things. Millennium: Journal of International Studies, 41(3), 399–412.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Corsaro, W. A. (2005). The sociology of childhood (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  21. Currie, J., & Deschenes, O. (2016). Children and climate change: Introducing the issue. The Future of Children, 26(1), 3–9.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Davis, J., & Elliott, S. (Eds.). (2014). Research in early childhood education for sustainability: International perspectives and provocations. London, England: Routledge.Google Scholar
  23. Department of National Planning and Monitoring (DNPM). (2010). 2010 PAPUA NEW GUINEA – Millennium Development Goals Second National Progress Comprehensive Report for Papua New Guinea. Retrieved from http://www.pg.undp.org/content/dam/papua_new_guinea/docs/MDG/UNDP_PG_MD G%20Comprehensive%20Report%202010.pdf.
  24. Dillon-Wallace, J. (2011). Mothers of young children with special health care needs: Maternal well-being and engagement in work. PhD thesis, Queensland University of Technology.Google Scholar
  25. Dritschilo, W. (2004). Earth days: Ecology comes of age as a science. Lincoln, NE: iUniverse.Google Scholar
  26. Edwards, C., Gandini, L., & Forman, G. (Eds.). (1998). The hundred languages of children (2nd ed.). Greenwich, CN: Ablex.Google Scholar
  27. Ehrlich, P. (1968). The population bomb. New York, NY: Sierra Club/Ballantine Books.Google Scholar
  28. Elliott, S., & Emmett, S. (1991). Snails live in houses too: Environmental education for the early years. Sydney: Martin Educational.Google Scholar
  29. Friere, P. (1999 first published 1972). Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York: Continuum.Google Scholar
  30. Gesell, A. (1950). The first five years of life. London, England: Methuen.Google Scholar
  31. Giroux, H. (1992). Border Crossings: Cultural Workers and the Politics of Education. Routledge, GB.Google Scholar
  32. Habermas, J. (1971). Knowledge and human interests. English version. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.Google Scholar
  33. Hancock, T. (1985). The mandala of health: A model of the human ecosystem. Family and Community Health, 8(3), 1–10.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Haque, E. (2007). Critical pedagogy in English for academic purposes and the possibility for ‘tactics’ of resistance. Pedagogy, Culture and Society, 15(1), 83–106.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Härkönen, U. (2003). Current theories related to early childhood education and preschool as frames of reference for sustainable education. In Proceedings of the 1st international JTET conference “Sustainable development culture education.” 11–14 May, 2003. Daugavpils, Latvia, 38–5.Google Scholar
  36. Hinitz, B. S. F. (2014). Head start: A bridge from past to future. NAEYC Young Children, 69(May Issue), 94–97.Google Scholar
  37. Howes, M. (2017). After 25 years of trying, why aren’t we environmentally sustainable yet? The Conversation. 3 April.Google Scholar
  38. Hutchinson, G. E. (1957). Concluding Remarks. Cold Spring Harbor Symposia on Quantitative Biology, 22, 415–42.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. James, A., Jenks, C., & Prout, J. (1998). Theorising childhood. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.Google Scholar
  40. Janus, M., & Offord, D. (2007). Development and psychometric properties of the early development instrument (EDI): A measure of children’s school readiness. Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science, 39(1), 1–22.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Jones, P. (2009). Rethinking childhood: Attitudes in contemporary society. London, England: Continuum.Google Scholar
  42. Krishan, V. (2010). Early child development: A conceptual model. Early Child development Mapping Project (ECMap), Community University Partnership (CUP), Faculty of Extension, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta. Retrieved from http://www.cup.ualberta.ca/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/ConceptualModelCUPwebsite_10April13.pdf.
  43. Latour, B. (2004). The politics of nature: How to bring the sciences into democracy. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  44. Lerner, R. M. (2005). Foreword. In U. Bronfenbrenner (Ed.), Making human beings human: Bioecological perspectives on human development (pp. ix–xxvi). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  45. Liu, J., Dietz, T., Carpenter, S. R., Folke, C., Alberti, M., Redman, C. L., et al. (2007). Coupled human and natural systems. Ambio, 36(8), 639–649.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Lovelock, J. (1979). Gaia: A new look at life on Earth. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  47. Luke, T. (2003). Critical theory and the environment. In Counterpoints, Vol. 168, Critical theory and the human condition: Founders and Praxis (pp. 238–250).Google Scholar
  48. Mackey, G. (2014). Valuing agency in young children: Teachers rising to the challenge of sustainability in the Aotearoa New Zealand early childhood context. In J. Davis & S. Elliott (Eds.), Research in early childhood education for sustainability: International perspectives and provocations. London, England: Routledge.Google Scholar
  49. Maturana, R., & Varela, F. (1987). The Tree of Knowledge. Shambhala, Boston.Google Scholar
  50. McCrea, N., & Littledyke, R. (2015). Young children sampling sustainable learning as healthier me. In N. Taylor, F. Quinn, & C. Eames (Eds.), Education for sustainability in primary schools: Teaching for the future (pp. 45–63). Rotterdam, The Netherlands: Sense.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. McKenzie, M., & Bieler, A. (2016). Critical education and sociomaterial practice: Narration, place and the social. Bern, Switzerland: Peter Lang Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. McLaren, P. (1989). Life in Schools: An Introduction to Critical Pedagogy in the Foundations of Education. Routledge: New York.Google Scholar
  53. McLaren, P. (2015). Pedagogy of insurrection: From resurrection to revolution. New York, NY: Peter Lang.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Moss, P., & Petrie, P. (2002). From children’s services to children’s spaces: Public policy, children and childhood. London, England: Routledge. Retrieved from https://www.acf.hhs.gov/ohs.Google Scholar
  55. Office of HeadStart. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.acf.hhs.gov/ohs/about.
  56. Olshansky, J., et al. (2005). A potential decline in life expectancy in the United States in the 21st century. The New England Journal of Medicine, 352(11), 1138–1145.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Oppenheimer, M., & Anttila-Hughes, J. K. (2016). The science of climate change. The Future of Children, 26(1), 11–30.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Page, J., & Tayler, C. (2016). Learning and teaching in the early years. Port Melbourne, VIC: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  59. Penn, H. (2005). Understanding early childhood development: Issues and controversies. Glasgow, UK: Bell & Bain Ltd.Google Scholar
  60. Piaget, J., & Inhelder, B. (1962). The psychology of the child. New York, NY: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  61. Rittel, H., & Webber, M. (1973). Dilemmas in a general theory of planning. Policy Series, 4, 155–169.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Rodgers, B. (2009). An ecological approach to understanding the stigma associated with receiving mental health services: The role of social proximity. PhD thesis. Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, VA.Google Scholar
  63. Rogoff, B. (2003). The cultural nature of human development. Oxford, MI: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  64. Rooney, T. (2016). Weather worlding: Learning with the elements in early childhood. Environmental Education Research.  https://doi.org/10.1080/13504622.2016.1217398
  65. Sims, M., & Hutchins, T. (2012). Program planning for infants and toddlers (2nd ed.). Mt Victoria, NSW: Pademelon Press.Google Scholar
  66. Stanger, N. (2011). Moving “eco” back into socio-ecological models: A proposal to reorient ecological literacy into human development models and school systems. Human Ecology Review, 18(2), 167–173.Google Scholar
  67. Steffen, W., Crutzen, P. J., & McNeill, J. R. (2007). The Anthropocene: Are humans now overwhelming the great forces of nature? AMBIO, 36(8), 614–621.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Stevenson, R. B. (2007). Schooling and environmental education: Contradictions in purpose and practice. Environmental Education Research, 13(2), 139–153.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Taylor, A. (2013). Reconfiguring the natures of childhood. London, England: Routledge.Google Scholar
  70. Taylor, C. A. (2016). Edu-crafting a cacophanous ecology: Posthuman research practices for education. In C. A. Taylor & C. Hughes (Eds.), Posthuman research practices in education (pp. 5–24). London, England: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
  71. Taylor, C. A., & Hughes, C. (Eds.). (2016). Posthuman research practices in education. London, England: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
  72. Thelen, E., & Smith, L. B. (1994). A dynamic systems approach to the development of cognition and action. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  73. Tudge, J., Mokrova, I., Hatfield, B., & Karnik, R. (2009). Uses and Abuses of Bronfenbrenner’s Bioecological Theory of Human Development. Journal of Family Theory and Review, 1(4), 198–210.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. UNCED. (1992). Promoting education and awareness and public training, Agenda 21. United Nations conference on environment and development. Conches, Brazil: UNCED.Google Scholar
  75. UNESCO. (2010). Four dimensions of sustainable development. Retrieved from www.unesco.org/education/tlsf/mods/theme_a/popups/mod04t01s03.html.
  76. UNICEF. (1989). United Nations convention on the rights of the child. Retrieved from http://www2.ohchr.org/english/law/crc.htm.
  77. Von Bertalanffy, L. (1972). The history and status of general systems theory. The Academy of Management Journal, 15(4), 407–426. Retrieved from http://systemotechnica.ucoz.com/_fr/1/Bertalanffy_L.V.pdf.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Vygotsky, L. (1978). The role of play in development (pp. 92–104). In Mind in society. (M. Cole, Trans.). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  79. Wagner, J. (1993). Ignorance in Educational Research Or, How Can You Not Know That? Educational Researcher, 22(5), 15–23.Google Scholar
  80. Weckowicz, T. E. (2000). Ludwig von Bertalanffy (1901–1972): A Pioneer of general systems theory. Retrieved from http://www.richardjung.cz/bert1.pdf.
  81. Weldemariam, K. (2017). Challenging and expanding the notion of sustainability within early childhood education: Perspectives from post-humanism and/or new materialism. In O. Franck & C. Osbeck (Eds.), Ethical literacies and education for sustainable development: Young people, subjectivity and democratic participation (pp. 105–126). Gothenburg, Sweden: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  82. World Commission on Environment & Development (WCED). (1987). The Brundtland report: Our common future. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  83. WWF. (2016). Living plant report. Retrieved from http://awsssets.panda.org/downloads/lpr_living_planet_report_2016.pdf.
  84. Young, G. L. (1974). Human ecology as an interdisciplinary concept: A critical inquiry. In A. MacFadyen (Ed.), Advances in ecological research (Vol. 8, pp. 1–105). London, England: Academic.Google Scholar
  85. Zivin, J., & Shrader, J. (2016). The Future of Children. 26(1), Children and Climate Change (SPRING), pp. 31–50.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

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

Personalised recommendations