Constructive History: From the Standard Theory of Stages to Piaget's New Theory
Burman, Jeremy Trevelyan
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This project demonstrates how Historians of Psychology can contribute to the future of Psychology from within the Department of Psychology (rather than from departments of History, the History and Philosophy of Science, or Science and Technology Studies). To do this, I focus on the claim that Jean Piagets last works constitute a new theory, while also showing how this labelling was appropriate. This is discussed briefly in the introduction. The first chapter is also quite simple: it follows the turn toward locality, and uses autobiography to show why a psychologist might want to pursue advanced training in history. This approach is then reflected in the second chapter, where Piagets autobiography is used to situate what followed in his own studies. The third chapter reflects this at an again-higher level, comparing an American history of Piagets biography with a Genevan history (but augmented with new archival research). In addition to revealing new details about his life, this also highlights a difference in historiographical sensibilities at work in shaping the discipline. The fourth chapter then shows that this generalizes. It reviews the most famous case of an instance where a series of texts were indigenized during their importation into American Psychology (viz. Titcheners importation of Wundt). To confirm that the same thing occurred with Piaget, I introduce a new technique inspired by the Digital Humanities. In short: I show in quantitative terms acceptable to Psychologists what Historians would be more inclined accept from a study of primary sources. Two examples of this more-traditional kind of history are then presented. In chapter five, I consider a change in Piagets appeals to a formalism associated with Kurt Gdel. In chapter six, I look at how this change informed Piagets return to biology (and his subsequent updating of the Baldwin Effect). And the conclusion re-examines the original claim in light of everything else discussed. The ultimate result, though, is not only a new way to consider Piagets standard theory of stages. I also present a new way to understand his broader view of the development of knowledge. This also in turn informs a new way of doing history, presented in the Appendix.