If you are already familiar with levels of development, either from a Kegan, Laske, Commons, Piaget or even Wilber perspective, this image demonstrates where each maps against the other, and thus where Constructed Development Theory fits into the stages zeitgeist. If you are interested to learn how CDT separates and unites stage development theory, please read on.
If we consider the many adult developmental psychologists and researchers who extol the use of stages to demonstrate their theories, a pattern arises in each theoretical position in that one theory apes another, without deviating from an accepted norm. There is an element of isomorphism in the image above, which shows this alignment. We can see the convention for naming and categorising stages of adult development has remained the same over decades.
However, this does not immediately give rise to the process of growth, the actions of development and the constituent parts of that process. What Constructed Development Theory is interested in is the transition between these stages, an individual’s awareness of this growth, and the process of growth in one’s thinking that propels cognition vertically. CDT is interested in the transition between stages that other theorists have only ever described.
Without this concept of stages though, we would not have the useful heuristics for mapping the developmental path of children and adults on a continuum. To paraphrase Voltaire (1768), if stages did not exist, it would be necessary to invent them. A variety of researchers have tackled the question of what creates development in a number of ways: social context has been a major contributor, with its signs, tools and practises influencing development. The nativist approach attributes development to the growth of our innate abilities, seen specifically in language development. Previous thinking aligned a person’s genetic constitution and actual experiences as the driver for development. However, genetic constitution is an inadequate factor when it is not clearly defined. A more recent attempt by Plomin (2018) sheds some new light on this; however this is not considered when discussing the Awareness Quotient and CDT.
Piaget (1970) observed that the tautological implications of one’s mapping of the world reinforces our future mapping of the world, as we assume our maps must be correct, which is philosophically not the case. This tacit false understanding of one’s world limits our potential to really be aware of our construction of ourselves in the moment, as we assume we are correct in our construction.
Moving this research beyond adolescence, Wilber demonstrated a similar stage sequence for adults, where the stages of consciousness are comparable to world views, and meaning-making systems that are simultaneously cognitive, affective and functional. There are many claims by certain psychologists on what it is to be at a certain stage of development, from a person’s ability to recognise and remedy emotional experience, to determining a person’s profound life purpose, and how this affects behaviour in context. These claims are much less profound when one reads the literature and understands the ‘how’ of this understanding is not explained in detail by the psychologists in question.
There is a long history of the difficulty of demonstrating empirically the existence of developmental stages. Traditional stage theory has been criticised for failing to demonstrate that stages exist as more than random descriptions of observations of sequential changes in human behaviour. Fischer, Hand, and Russell (1984), along with Case (1985) and Schneider, Niklas and Schmiedeler (2014), have demonstrated the problems of mistaking developmental sequences of behaviour with traditional concepts of stage development in the search for empirical evidence. Sequential acquisition of behaviour can obviously be demonstrated empirically, even though it is still effectively only a snapshot. However, Campbell and Richie (1983) and Destrebecqz & Cleeremans (2001) have suggested that an empirical demonstration of a stage would involve a qualitative difference between one stage and the next. This has proven more elusive.
Commons' notion of ‘stage’ was based on the hierarchical complexity of tasks and then on the performance on those tasks by the actor. His General Model of Hierarchical Complexity used the hierarchical complexity of tasks as the basis for his definition of stage, and is described as: Roughly, hierarchical complexity refers to the number of non-repeating recursions that the coordinating actions must perform on a set of primary elements. Actions at a higher order of hierarchical complexity:
- are defined in terms of the actions at the next lower order of hierarchical complexity;
- organize and transform the lower order actions;
- produce organizations of lower order actions that are new and not arbitrary and cannot be accomplished by those lower order actions alone.
However, the decision-making process in the moment is missed by Commons, who admit that: “If one measures less often, one sees jumps in performance or gaps between subject performance measured at one time. If one measures more often, one may see what appears more like continuous acquisition”. It could thus be argued that this perspective is not about how often one measures, but the actual process of stage transition that is taking place, which appears to have an element of task familiarity: the more one undertakes a task, the better one gets at it. In other words, there is an argument for no stage transition, or hierarchy of stages, and it is instead a continual holarchy of growth. With that in mind, the hierarchy of the stages is defined by a variety of psychologists, from Piaget to Vygotsky, Torbert to Cook-Greuter, Kegan to Laske, and as such, there is not one unified explanation despite them appearing to measure very similar theoretical outputs.
it could be argued that the act of labeling development a ‘stage’ movement has influenced the field to such an extent that developmental psychologists have been caught in a philosophical, ontological and tautological trap: we get what we look for. Further, potentially what is missing is a unified theory that underscores the intention in the moment that leads to awareness and choice in a context-specific response. The true subject of developmental research is change. What has been omitted so far is the unconscious intention behind the change.
According to Kuhn: the ‘dynamic assessment’ that goes back to Vygotsky, provides an informative picture of how an individual functions. According to Kuhn & Phelps, in their microgenetic studies, individuals have a range of strategies that they employ over time, and the most common developmental change is where new, more effective strategies gain ground and older strategies are used less often. What seems to be important for growth is strategy selection, rather than simply measuring performance in any experiences. This potentially translates to a change in intention but is not defined as such by those mentioned. They go on to say that a more difficult challenge in the process of development is not the acquisition of new strategies but the letting go of old ones.
This is contrary to how development was previously thought. What is not discussed is the intention behind the transition and how it drives the new strategies. A new strategy would not arise out of old behaviours without a fundamental shift in an individual’s awareness of the need to change, and their intention in the moment. If we consider the cognitive development of humans not as stages, but as a continuous and contiguous developmental ‘onion’, with each ‘layer’ interacting with its neighbour in the fashion of a holarchy rather than a hierarchy, then growth becomes much easier to understand and we remove the need for stage transition as an explanation for human development completely. Also, from an intention perspective, it becomes much simpler to explain.
This opens the door to the idea of backward transition, whereby an individual moves from a higher level skill (not necessarily a cognitive capacity) to a lower level skill in order to construct the higher-level skill more effectively. This allows the individual to be more flexible in devising solutions to more complex tasks. Livesay described this phenomenon as ‘fallback’ which he attributed to leaders as part of their growth to post-conventional development. Like Fischer and Granott, he also saw this as a positive step as it often indicated an opportunity for accelerated growth once having fallen backwards.
What comes next is not a stage-based developmental model, but a holarchical perspective that incrementally increases one's awareness of self until vertical development is achieved through greater Intention, Awareness, Choice and Response. This is best defined as a "Development Onion".