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date: 05 April 2020

Summary and Keywords

Influential theorists of pre-adult phases of the development of the individual person (infancy, childhood, and adolescence) have articulated myriad versions of stage theories, varying in specificity, rigidity, and many other parameters. Some stage theories are concerned with capacities defined somewhat narrowly and operationally defined by behavior. Elsewhere on the spectrum, some of the most influential stage theories have purported to indicate capacities or modes of considerable generality, by positing deep, structural changes either in intellectual capacity or in terms of some other aspect of human functioning treated as fundamental to the affective and the rational life. Jean Piaget’s stage theory of intellectual (cognitive) development is the paradigm of a theory of structural changes in the capacity for logical thought. Bluntly put, Piaget’s theory takes for granted the key characteristics of the thinking of the emotionally balanced, rational adult and attempts to define the necessary steps by which that state is to be attained from the time one starts life as a baby. Sigmund Freud’s theory of psychosexual stages, especially as articulated by Karl Abraham, is the paradigm of a stage theory in which significant aspects of adult functioning are redefined, rather than taken for granted. The steps intervening from babyhood, as thereafter articulated, thereby take on an innovative character. In both cases the substantial internal consistency of the stage model, notwithstanding numerous empirical shortcomings, has generated a kind of validity. But even such qualified praise cannot now be offered to Stanley Hall’s stage theory of individual development, which seems with hindsight little more than a derivative popularization of the recapitulationary evolutionism of the latter part of the 19th century. From an historical perspective, Hall’s, Freud’s, and Piaget’s stage theories of development are all artefacts, products of the sociocultural and scientific environments of their times.

Keywords: G. Stanley Hall, Sigmund Freud, Jean Piaget, evolutionism, recapitulation, developmental stage

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