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Constructing the Child in Psychology: the Child-as-Primitive in Hall and Piaget

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image of Journal of Phenomenological Psychology

This analysis focuses on a particular sedimented construction of the child found in child development theory. In traditional developmental theory the child is conceptualized as being qualitatively different from the adult; the child is conceived as "other" and as an incomplete version of the adult. The historical roots of this construction of meaning are explored through examination of two influential contributors in the child development field, G. S. Hall and Jean Piaget. The source of Hall's conception of the "child-as-primitive" in evolutionary theory is demonstrated, and the consequences of his romanticized view of the "primitive" child are examined. Piaget's stage approach to cognitive development is similarly analyzed, with an emphasis on the way in which his method of inquiry reflects the fundamental assumption of the child's incompleteness, and the on the use of the "child-as-primitive" image in his theory. Anthropological and philosophical contributions in this area are reviewed, and ethical consequences of the "primitive" notion are explored. Implications for phenomenological approaches to child development research and theory are offered, with emphasis on Merleau-Ponty's contributions in this area.


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