Skip to main content
Social Sci LibreTexts

8.7: What is the point of these two “meta-models”?

  • Page ID
  • At the risk of piling “meta-s” upon “meta-s,” we add one more layer of “meta-models.” We are convinced (consistent with many other developmentalists) that the most important distinction to be made among meta-theories is not based on their relative emphasis on nature versus nurture, but instead on their views about whether the universe (including people and their contexts) are made up of dis-sociable parts or of synchronized wholes. These meta-models are pictured graphically in Figure 8.7. On the left side are meta-theories, like Maturational and Mechanistic, that are dualistic or reductionistic; on the right side are meta-theories, like Organismic and Contextual, that are interactionistic and relational.

    In their chapter, Reese and Overton (1970) refer to the two sides of this assumption as
    “elementarism versus holism” or assumptions about whether (1) a part can be considered a meaningful unit in itself so that it can be removed (disassociated) from the whole and understood by examining only the material identity of the part; or (2) a part derives its meaning from the whole and so part processes can only be understood in the context of whole. In meta-theories that assume elementarism, it is considered reasonable to isolate and focus on individual parts, and to consider as similar two parts that look the same, whereas in meta-theories that assume holism, parts must always be considered in the context of their functioning in the whole, and so two parts, even if they appear to be similar, should not be considered the same if they function as parts of different wholes.

    The “parts” that can be considered, shown on the left side of the figure, include “nature versus nurture” and all its variations, as well as “person versus context” and “body versus mind.” As can be seen on the right, relational meta-models reject the very idea that these are dualisms, arguing for the use of “and” instead of “versus,” because development is always nature and nurture, person and context, and body and mind. However, these meta-models go further, positing that the lines implied by “and” should be recognized as artificial, as dotted lines—permeable boundaries--at best, in that minds are always embodied, humans are essential parts of their ecologies, and, through their own actions, people are continuously (and some would argue catastrophically) changing their nature and their nurture, even going so far as to change their local micro-climates through the effects of their body temperatures and by breathing in and out.

    We find that this feature of meta-models, namely, the assumption of non-duality or holism, is the most difficult one for students to grasp, so we will provide a few examples here and then revisit the issue repeatedly in subsequent chapters as we discuss meta-theories that take this issue as their centerpiece (e.g., developmental systems, dialectic-transactional, and relational meta-theories). The central point of “non-dualism” is that the two “parts” that we try to separate and that we then rejoin with “versus” or “and,” actually require each other to exist. They are mutually constitutive. A simple example is that of “inside” versus “outside.” The very existence of “inside” depends on the existence of “outside.” If there were no “outside,” nothing could be inside—the idea of a boundary requires the existence of two territories, without both territories, the boundary and the distinction between the territories would not make sense. So it is with, for example, the mind and the body. The mind cannot exist without the body, and the body, without the mind, is a qualitatively different kind of body, it is a cadaver.

    “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.”

    --John Muir, My First Summer in the Sierra