Cultural-historical theories of child development

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Previous chapters in this book have examined theories of child development in relation to thinking and cognition, social and emotional development, language development, and play.This chapter goes beyond these areas of development, and seeks to examine child development from a holistic perspective. To achieve this, it draws upon cultural-historical theory to conceptualise child development.This chapter specifically foregrounds the cultural rather than the biological nature of children’s development. Cultural does not mean ethnicity or race, but rather the higher forms of cultured development that are passed on from one generation to the next, such as values, ethics,morals, concepts, and specific ways of thinking about and doing things valued in a particular community (see Chapters 4 and 10). In this conceptualisation, biology is not discounted, but rather the perspective put forward is that the child is shaped by, and shapes, the social and material world in which it exists. The child has agency in his/her own development. Child development is not biologically determined, or framed as an unfolding of a natural developmental trajectory (ages and stages), as has been shown in other theories of child development (such as that proposed by Piaget). Rather, child development is framed as a cultural process determined by the society in which the child lives and the child’s active engagement in that society.The chapter begins by illustrating what is meant by these two entangled lines of development –biological and cultural, followed by a discussion of the central concepts of a cultural-historical theory of child development. A model of child development is then presented that draws upon these concepts,illustrating through concrete examples how a cultural-historical theory of child development works in practice.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAn introduction to early childhood studies
EditorsSacha Powell, Kate Smith
Place of PublicationLondon
PublisherSAGE Publications Ltd
Number of pages12
ISBN (Print)9781473974821
Publication statusPublished - 2017

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