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The Genetic Epistemologist

Fall 1995

Vol. XXIII, No. 3 1995

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26th JPS Symposium a Piaget Centennial

(Note: The program for this symposium is available in the Symposium area of the JPS site)

The 26th annual symposium of the Jean Piaget Society will return to its city of origin to celebrate the Centennial of Piaget's birth. The Symposium will be held on June 6-8th, 1996 at the Doubletree Hotel. Barbel Inhelder will be the keynote speaker.

The theme of the Symposium is "Conceptual Development: Piaget's Legacy." Three plenary panels will focus on issues of conceptual development fundamental to Piaget's genetic epistemology. The topics of the panels are:

  1. What is the nature of a cognitive model?
  2. What are the foundations of conceptual development and how do they constrain the directions for development?
  3. What are the sources of change?

The panel discussion will focus on delineating the Piagetian legacy and an interdisciplinary set of speakers will reflect on the ways their own work is consistent with or departs from the Piagetian tradition, and on the implications of their ideas for future theoretical, experimental, and applied work. Panels will be followed by an open informal discussion with the speakers.

Among the planned invited symposia topics are: Applications of Piagetian Theory (chaired by Irv Sigel); The nature of representation; and The History of Piagetian Thought (chaired by Terrance Brown & Jacques Montangero) as well as some collaborative ventures with the Association for Constructivist Teaching.

Queries about the meeting should be directed to:

Peter Pufall
Clark Science Center
Smith College
Northampton, MA 01063
E-mail: PPufall@science.smith.edu

The program organizers are:

Susan Gelman: gelman@umich.edu
Pat Miller: pmiller@webb.psych.edu
Katherine Nelson: kan@cunyvms1.gc.cuny.edu
Ellin Scholnick: ES8@Umail.umd.edu

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25th JPS Symposium a Success

(Note: The full program from this symposium is available in the previous issue of the GE)

The 25th Anniversary Symposium of the Jean Piaget Society was a big success. We had a high level of attendance (as high as in most off-SRCD years) and we received enthusiastic comments about the topic, speakers, and location. We thank Connie Milbrath at UC San Francisco and the graduate students at UC Berkeley for making the local arrangements work smoothly.

Evolutionary theory and development pervaded the talks and discussion. Aside from the intellectual content of the conference there was much to rave about the location. Ginger Island and Bucci's restaurants were big hits; and the view of San Francisco across the Bay from the Berkeley Marina was much appreciated.

The Plenary Speakers at the Symposium were: P. Damerow, "Prehistory;" S. Parker, "Self-knowlege;" M. McKinney, "Biological evolution;" E.S. Savage-Rumbaugh, "Language development;" S. Suomi, "Attachment;" and M. Tomasello, "Social cognition and culture." Invited symposia were organized on the following topics: F. de Waal, "Conflict resolution;" F. Dore, "Object permanence;" A. Russon, "Imitation;" E. Turiel, "Culture and evolution;" A. Whiten, "Theory of mind."

Melanie Killen, Introductory Remarks

The theme for the 25th Symposium of the Jean Piaget Society is, "Piaget, Evolution, and Development." In planning this conference, we chose to focus on three aspects of evolution concerning which there has been ample research on comparative development: Language, cognition, and social knowledge.

The research tradition in these three areas has been extensive. Research on language development has examined the linguistic capacities of non-human primates in order to inform us about the innate and learned aspects of linguistic development. Specifically, theories of human language acquisition have proposed that the ability to process syntactical information is unique to humans and reflects a novelbiological adaptation. As we shall hear at this conference, recent studies have shown that non-human primates have the ability to comprehend novel requests, thus suggesting that comprehension abilities are not limited to humans.

Comparative studies on cognition have focused on categorization, logic, number, imitation, object permanence, and causal concepts in animals, in order to investigate what is unique to human comprehension. These studies, more than in any other domain, have investigated cognitive capacities in a wide range of animals, and are not restricted to non-human primates in the way that other domains are often limited. As we will see, there have been fascinating discoveries regarding cognitive developmental trajectories in a number of species.

Finally, research on social knowledge, which has been fairly recent, has concentrated on several avenues. First, researchers have studied psychological knowledge. Two approaches stand out, one is referred to as "theory of mind," and the other has focussed on self-knowledge. The theory of mind field is concerned with documenting whether animals understand that others have intentions and desires differnt from our own, and how animals use such social knowledge as a means to an end. The research on self-knowledge has examined self-awareness in non-human primates and other species.

Second, researchers have also investiated social strategies that animals use, such as methods of conflict resolution. In the past, predominant characterizations of conflict resolution by non-human primates were that animals used aggressive means to dominate and resolve disputes. More recently, research has shown how animals use reconciliation and negotiation to faciliate social interaction. This work comes closest to examining moral knowledge in non-human primates: how and why do animals use non-aggressive means to resolve disputes? Third, research has looked at cultural knowledge and knowledge about others. This includes cultural learning, including how cultural traditions are passed down from one generation to the next. A fourth approach to studying social knowledge has been studies that examine parent-child attachment patterns, providing insights regarding some of the most basic questions related to human nature and its development.

In planning this conference, we also added talks which would provide overview regarding the prehistory of cognitive development, and the biological bases of cognitive development. Thus, we aimed to cover central areas of epistemology, as well as the theoretical underpinnings of an evolutionary approach to development. Thank you for coming and we hope that you enjoy the conference.

Jonas Langer, Introductory remarks

The comparative psychology of mental development, to borrow once again Werner's resonant title, has had a long and continuously fruitful history. Antecedents to contemporary comparative approaches to studying the evolution of mental development[just a dot]the theme of this year's symposium[just a dot]are numerous.

As best I can make out, the first systematic and comprehensive application of the comparative method may be traced back about a century to Hobhouse (1901). Hobhouse compared the phylogeny and ontogeny of mental activity, proposing six progressively evolving forms of acting. First, reflexes, followed by trial and error assimilation, practical judgement, conceptual thought, and finally logical analysis. This evolutionary sequence of six mental means characterizes both phylogenesis and human ontogenesis, according to Hobhouse. Hobhouse also argued for certain differences between phylogeny and ontogeny: most especially, that the two most advanced means, conceptual thought and logical analysis, evolve in human ontogenesis only.

A more general comparative formulation was proposed by Vygotsky who attributed "adaptability and historical development" to humans but only adaptability and development"[just a dot]without any social history[just a dot]to other animals. Vygotsky's emphasis on history was anticipated by Baldwin (1915). Baldwin compared the progressive stages of human thought and values that develop in individuals and societies in order to construct a natural history of thought. He argued that the development of the internal organization of thought and values in human ontogeny parallels their historical development in human societies. Thus, Baldwin posited three stages of individual development paralleled by three stages of societal development: the prelogical, logical, and hyperlogical stages. Nevertheless, he maintained that it is individual ontogeny that gives social development "its vital impulse and its progressive 'uplift.'" So Baldwin, unlike Vygotsky, attributed priority to individual human ontogeny over socio-historical development in the evolution of thought and value.

Werner generalized Baldwin's comparative approach into a comprehensive program for taxonomizing lawful psychological change. He proposed that general comparative laws of "mental life as a whole" must be based on findings about particular short-term development in microgenesis, pathological development, societal development, and species evolution, well as general long-term individual development. Werner argued that "wherever there is life there is growth and development, that is, formation in terms of systematic, orderly sequence."

Piaget concurred in this search for general comparative laws of developmental processes (Piaget, 1971; Inhelder, Garcia, & Voneche, 1977) and sructures (Piaget, 1977). Further, Piaget formulated one of the truly novel evolutionary theories of the origins, transformation, and development of mental life. The theory is multifaceted, but three elements are basic: functions[just a dot]accommodating, assimilating, and organizing[just a dot]are invariant and continuous in phylogeny, ontogeny, and history; initial psychological structures are derivatives of biological functions; and psychological as well as biological structures are variant and discontinuous in phylogeny, ontogeny, and history.

Focussing on the comparative phylogeny, ontogeny, and history of mental life[just a dot]especially on the comparative onset and offset ages, velocity, extent, sequencing, and organization of thought, symbol, and value development -- this year's theme[just a dot]the Society's 25th Symposium, seeks further understanding of the evolution of mental development. As it has been throughout its history, the guiding purposes of this comparative research continues to be to determine the possibilities that evolution opens up for the development of mental life; as well as the constraints that evolution imposes on mental ontogeny. The cutting edge of this comparative research, that I am sure we will be hearing about alot during the next three days, is explorations by anthropologists, biologists, and paleontologists, as well as by psychologists, of the evolutionary mechanisms of mental development.

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Lessons in Schooling

Book Review by ESR

Deborah Meier, The Power of Their Ideas (Boston: Beacon Press, 1995)

Here is an inspiring and thought-provoking "summer read." In an engaging style, Deborah Meier tells the story of the Central Park East schools in East Harlem. Beginning in the 1970s, Meier, along with a band of dedicated teachers created first an elementary school and later a high school that are great examples of what public schools can be.

Full of intriguing vignettes that never try to disguise the rocky road to success, and laced with quotes from diaries and newsletters written over the last twenty years, "The Power of Their Ideas" gives readers a real feel for the process of establishing these schools, as well as for the ideas and goals of the teachers and the community.

I suspect most educators and psychologists will agree with Meier's vigorous critiques of many of the simple-minded ideas for "reform" of public education being touted today. She cuts through the cant and obfuscation and gets down to the real questions of who we are going to educate and how.

But Meier's own[just a dot]clearly successful[just a dot]philosophy itself offers a chaIlenge, especially to developmental theorists who have been concerned the understanding the educational process. By and large, we developmentalists have focused exclusively on the individual student and the cognitive processes required for that student to succeed in becoming educated. But it is a fundamental tenet of Meier's approach that this is exactly the wrong place to begin.

Meier insists that education begins with the community, and with non-cognitive processes. Her Procedure is to carve out small "schools" (often purely housed within larger school buildings[just a dot]the legacy of our society's penchant for warehouse school buildings). These smaller entities can be run with an emphasis on respect and democratic process. Meier is adamant that in modern American society, with its diversity and strong centrifugal forces pulling on children (and especially on high school kids), it is only by basing schooling on respect for the dignity of persons that one can even begin to educate a community. Almost nothing in current educational theory would predict that changes in size and attitude would have the fundamental impact on children's education that Meier demonstrates they do.

I personally see in all this a vindication of the Dewey of "Democracy and Education." But we still have a long way to go to understand the details of making education a communal project, and many a difficult battle will have to be fought. Let us hope we can succeed as well, and with as good humor and respect for her opponents, as Deborah Meier.

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Three Conferences Celebrating the
Centennial of the births of Piaget and Vygotsky

Jean Piaget

(1896 - 1980)

Lev Vygotsky

(1896 - 1934)

Note: Click here for more detailed information about these (and other) centenary conferences.

The Growing Mind

Geneva, Switzerland, September 14-18, 1996

A conference on "The Growing Mind: Multidisciplinary Approaches" will be one of the major events taking place in Geneva to celebrate Piaget's centenary. This conference will evaluate the various approaches pioneered by Piaget in the study of development and cognition, providing an opportunity to reflect upon the fruitfulness of Piaget's contribution.

The conference will open with an introduction by Barbel Inhelder.

Invited Lectures

A lecture by Jerome Bruner on Culture and Cognition will be sponsored jointly between this conference and one devoted to discussing Piaget and Vygotsky.


The conference will emphasize discussion, and each symposium will be followed by a one-hour round-table introduced by a discussant.

Finally, in conjunction with the Piaget & Vygotsky Conference, we will sponsor two Joint Symposia:

For more information:

A. de Ribaupierre
Universite de Geneve
Faculte de Psychologie et des Sciences de l'Education
Route de Drize, 9
CH-1227 Carouge, Switzerland
Email: derib@uni2a.unige.ch

UK Piaget-Vygotsky Centenary Conference

Brighton, England, April 11-12, 1996

The aims of this Centenary Conference are twofold. First, to mark the original contributions made by Piaget and Vygotsky and their enduring influence; second, to contribute to the evaluation of perspectives in developmental psychology and education over the decade leading into the next century.

Invited Papers

These are organized around five themes:

Keynote Address

Prof. Deanna Kuhn
(Columbia University)

Submitted Papers

Submitted papers will contribute an integral element and occupy a central place in the Piaget-Vygotsky Conference. All submitted papers will be presented in poster format with specifically arranged discussion sections. Papers may be empirical or theoretical. Submitted papers may overlap the themes of the Invited Papers or deal with any issue compatible with the Centenary Conference aims. Contact any member of the Planning Group for further information.

Procedure: Send 4 copies of both an Abstract and an Outline by 17 995 to Dr Leslie Smith (address below). The Abstract should be 250 words, including paper title, name(s), affiliation and address. The Outlines shouId be 1000 words, including paper title only. Decisions will be rendered by 31 January, 1996.

This conference is independent, but linked to the British Psychological Society Annual Conference, and has been planned with the support of the Developmental Psychology Section, the Education Section, and the Standing Conference Committee of The British Psychological Society.

For more information

Dr Leslie Smith
Dept of Educational Research
Lancaster University
Lancaster LA1 4YL, UK
Email: L.Smith@lancaster.ac.uk

Dr Julie Dockrell
Dept of Child Development
Institute of Education
London WC1H 0AA, UK
Email: J.Dockrell@ioe.ac.uk

Dr Peter Tomlinson
School of Education
University of Leeds, Leeds LS2 9JT, UK
Email: P.D.Tomlinson@education.leeds.ac.uk

2nd Conference for Socio-Cultural Research: Vygotsky & Piaget

Geneva, Switzerland, September 11-15, 1996

Sponsored by the Society for Socio-Cultural Research, this conference celebrates the Centenary of the birth of these two most influential developmentalists of the Twentieth Century.

For more information:

B. Schneuwly
Faculte de Psychologie et des Sciences de l'Education
9, route de Drize
Tel.: (+ 41.22) 705.98.39
Fax: (+ 41.22) 300.14.82
Email: schneuwl@fapse.unige.ch

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Greetings from the New Editor

Hello! I look forward to making the GE as lively and fun as all the people in JPS. That means you can help by sending interesting material to share with us. I would like to start a Queries column, which I hope will stimulate discussion. Any other suggestions for regular or irregular features would be welcome. Keep those cards and letters coming! [just a dot] ESR.

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Archives Jean Piaget Award to Terrance Brown

At the annual symposium of the Jean Piaget Society in Berkeley, Jacques Voneche, Director of Archives Jean Piaget in Geneva, presented the Premier Prix Archives Jean Piaget, the first prize ever awarded by the Archives, to Terrance Brown, out-going President of JPS. The citation read: "For the whole of his translations and his personal oeuvre fostering the diffusion of Piagetian thought throughout the world." Particularly appropriate to Terry's personality and passsions, the prize included a picture of Piaget at his mountain retreat opening a bottle of wine.

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© 1995-1998 The Jean Piaget Society

Send comments to: webmaster@piaget.org

Last Update: 15 April 1999