Action and Self-Development

Theory and Research Through the LifeSpan

Jochen Brandtstadter,

Action and Self-Development: Theory and Research Through the LifeSpan

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This volume presents the reader with a stimulating rich tapestry of essays exploring the nature of action and intentionality, and discussing their role in human development. As the contributions make clear, action is an integrative concept that forms the bridge between our psychological, biological, and sociocultural worlds. Action is also integrative in the sense of entailing motivational, emotional, and cognitive systems, and this integration too is well represented in the chapters. Action is defined, and distinguished from behavior, according to its intentional quality. Thus, a constantly recurring theme in the volume involves the dialectic of action-intentionality, and specifically the questions of how and when these concepts are to be distinguished. For action theorists, action—as distinguished from behavior—constitutes the fundamental mechanism of human development. This commitment is detailed in several essays that explore the life-span implications of action. This timely volume will be must reading for all who want to learn about, or stay current with, contemporary action theoretical approaches to human development. – Willis F. Overton, Temple University The present volume advances the view that we cannot go far in understanding development over the life span without paying heed to self-reflective processes. In a reciprocal way, self-reflection links developmental change in the ways in which the person constructs his or her own development over the life span. Development, action, and intentionality exist, then, in an intimate relationship: As development forms the social and historical settings within which intentional activity is embedded, thus become indispensable categories for developmental theory and research. Due to their potential to integrate culture, history, and personality, action-theoretical concepts have made strong inroads in many areas of social and behavioral research. Within the field of developmental psychology, researchers have come to recognize that developmental patterns, and their variation across historical and social contexts, cannot easily be reduced to invariant laws. Instead, they reflect the agency of both the culture and the person. Issues of intentional self-development gain particular importance within the developmental settings of modernity. Under conditions of cultural acceleration, globalization, and pluralization of life forms, normative "scripts" and timetables of development have become blurred, and people are increasingly forced to take a planful, self-monitoring, and optimizing stance toward their own behavior and development. As will become evident throughout this ground-breaking book, an action perspective on development covers a broad spectrum of theoretical approaches. Concepts such as "personal goals," "personal projects," "life themes," "meaning," "life planning," "compensation," or "intentional self-development" have become the nuclei of innovative research programs. The chapters collected in this volume, by scholars on the forefront of action theory and research, provide an indication of the promise that these notions hold for life-span developmental psychology, motivation research, and research on aging.
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