Urie Bronfenbrenner

Jonathan Tudge

in Childhood Studies

ISBN: 9780199791231
Published online April 2013 | | DOI:
Urie Bronfenbrenner

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Urie Bronfenbrenner (b. 1917–d. 2005) was born in Russia but moved to the United States at age six. In an autobiographical chapter (Bronfenbrenner 1995, in Writing on Bronfenbrenner), subtitled “Reflections of a Participant Observer,” he wrote about those aspects of his personal and intellectual development most relevant to his subsequent career. Among the crucial elements he mentioned were the following: his parents’ respect for “great [Russian] psychologists”; his father’s worry about the labeling as “morons” (a self-fulfilling prophecy) of those sent to the state mental institution where he worked; the early appreciation for organism–environment interdependence gained from long walks with his father (“a field naturalist at heart”: Bronfenbrenner 1995, p. 602); the “two worlds” at Cornell, divided between the strictly experimental psychology of Edward Titchener and Gestaltist views of configurations, patterns, and what Bronfenbrenner later termed “experiments of nature”; the influence of Walter Dearborn (with whom he studied at Harvard), with his view that to understand something one has to change it, and of Kurt Lewin (whose work he read while a doctoral student at the University of Michigan), who stressed the importance of understanding “the particular processes through which the observed phenomenon was brought about” (p. 606); and finally, in 1949, joining the faculty at Cornell, with a joint position in Psychology and Home Economics. As he wrote, “I had already decided that my main scientific interest was in the forces and conditions shaping human development in the actual settings in which human beings lived their lives” (p. 610). Bronfenbrenner was passionately interested in making a difference in the lives of struggling families and children (Concern with Children). Relatively early in his career he was one of the prime movers in the creation of Head Start, and many of his papers are devoted to the plight of the young. His broad vision for how societies could make a difference was put in sharper focus by his understanding of arrangements in other countries—primarily in the former Soviet Union. Bronfenbrenner was equally concerned with the difficulties faced by many families, with public policies treating families as deficient rather than understanding the relation between their problems and the broader social context within which they were situated (Concern with Families). He is probably best known in the academic community for his theoretical work (Development of the Bioecological Theory of Human Development). His Ecology of Human Development (Bronfenbrenner 1979, under The Ecology of Human Development) continues to be cited widely, but, despite the evolution of the theory, Bronfenbrenner continues to be viewed as a theorist simply interested in contextual influences on development (Writing on Bronfenbrenner).

Article.  12596 words. 

Subjects: Development Studies

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