Thirty years ago, Urie Bronfenbrenner (1974) observed that developmental psychology had become the study of “the behavior of children in strange situations with strange adults” (p. 3). In response to this lack of attention to the contexts of development, he proposed “a new theoretical perspective for research in human development” (p. 3) in his now classic book, entitled The Ecology of Human Development (1979). This theoretical perspective went beyond the simplistic acknowledgment that context plays a role in human development. Bronfenbrenner described the environment as a set of nested and interacting structures, which countless introductory psychology students would learn as the microsystem, mesosystem, exosystem, and macrosystem, and thereby provided developmental psychologists with a framework for identifying potential influences on human behavior. In subsequent years, Bronfenbrenner continued to refine his theory. In 1986, he observed that “For some years, I harangued my colleagues for avoiding the study of development in real-life settings. No longer able to complain on that score, I have found a new bête noir. In place of too much research on development ‘out of context,’ we now have a surfeit of studies on ‘context without development’ ” (p. 288). To put development back into the model, Bronfenbrenner began writing about development in context as a process-person-context-time model that ultimately came to be called the bioecological model of development (Bronfenbrenner & Ceci, 1994; Bronfenbrenner & Morris, 1998). In the bioecological model, he posited that
Tom Luster Michigan State University
proximal processes are the activities through which human development occurs-the activities that drive development. Proximal processes are the “progressively more complex reciprocal interaction between an active, evolving biopsychological human organism and the persons, objects, and symbols in its immediate external environment” (Bronfenbrenner & Morris, 1998, p. 996). In this final chapter, we consider parenting practices as potential proximal processes for children’s development. We ask the question: Does parenting affect child outcomes?