Adult Development Meets Social Sciences—Reviewing the State of the Art

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Neo-Piagetian theories of adult development (AD) have been received and used by social and political scientists in various ways during the last few decades. However, despite their potential to provide insights into previously neglected dimensions of social and political change, structuralist cognitive developmental approaches have, for various reasons, still not been systematically “discovered” by many of the established social science disciplines. This paper gives a tentative overview of some contributions that approaches informed by structuralist developmental perspectives have made to various fields within the social sciences in the past few decades. It looks at, first, how important AD frameworks have been used in political science in a broad sense, that is, including history and sociology. Our particular focus is on what kinds of methodologies have been used, and what they are suited for. On this basis, second, we discuss some of the methodological challenges that are connected to AD uses in the social sciences. Finally, we investigate to what extent developmental approaches can make accessible novel dimensions of knowledge and understanding of social and political change.

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