Designing for Development: Across the Scales of Time

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This essay traces the history of an activity designed to promote the intellectual and social development of elementary-age schoolchildren during the afterschool hours. Following in the footsteps of Urie Bronfenbrenner, I highlight his argument that just as all human development occurs in contexts of varying levels of inclusiveness and mutual interchange, human development occurs at intersecting scales of time that themselves vary in character and duration. The task of exploring Bronfenbrenner’s idea confronts scholars interested in person-context coconstitutive processes with a difficult methodological requirement; they must study simultaneously the history of persons (at the microgenetic and ontogenetic time scales) as well the history of “the contexts of development” in which the persons participate. A project implementing such a study focused on the life course of the system of activity is described, followed by a discussion of the lessons to be learned from a temporally extensive study of persons developing in contexts that are themselves changing.

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