Perhaps this post will fulfill the promise of my previous post (Discomfort with Distinction).
Robert Kegan is a student of development. He studies Adult Higher Learning, and psychological growth, in conjunction with the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Kegan is among the world’s most eminent developmentalists, and his ideas are useful in furthering the dialogue I had begun in my last post regarding what I perceive is a large scale discomfort with development in our society, and in particular, within myself and my peers in the university. This discomfort, or unease, is manifest in our difficulty with making judgements about the value of certain activities or experiences in our lives. Ultimately, I am discussing our discomfort or difficulty with Self-Determination. Why are we so unsure of ourselves, and why do many of us get “stuck”- unable to take our own development seriously and to actualize the life changes we desire? These are some of the “Problems of Identity” I will investigate, with reference to Kegan’s developmental theory, and some of my own thoughts about language, self-actualization, and the role of the artist in society.
Kegan’s theory is developmental, that is to say, it posits that in the process of psychological growth, the individual moves through developmental stages. These stages, often conceptualized in more fluid terms such as “waves” and “streams”, are of increasing complexity. Each developmental stage is a worldview, a way of making meaning of, and in the world, characterized by a complex amalgamation of values. Thereby, each stage in a developmental sequence transcends and includes the previous stage. Stages are best thought of as Holons, a term coined by Arthur Koestler to describe wholes that are simultaneously part of other wholes.
As such, healthy psychological development is Holarchical - each emergent stage is a product of the contributions and differentiations of previous stages. For you visually oriented folks out there, this is an image of holarchical organization:
Visual depiction of Holarchy, courtesy of emeraldinsight.com
You may be familiar with the concept of holarchic psychological development in Abraham Maslow’s Pyramid of Needs, or in Jean Piaget’s theory of cognitive development. In both these holarchical models, each stage or structure emerges from the complexities of the previous stage/structure, by offering a solution to those complexities and by adding something new. Thus, as you develop, your needs become more complex, but you also are able to accomplish increasingly complicated tasks. For example, eventually- in case your not already there (most of us are still on the way), you might be able to form deeper friendships that result from your carefully, often precariously, developing ability to actualize your unique identity, or share your particular interests in a more nuanced and appropriate way.
Having considered a broad span of individuals, over a long stretch of time, Kegan posits that development is a dialectical process. His stage theory involves the interaction of the psychological self as Subject, and the self as Object. Now, the subjective self cannot be seen and however an individual conceptualizes his/her self, be it as “doctor”. “lawyer”, “mother”, or “child”, these self-perceptions or social fronts (Goffman), are facets of the objective self. Kegan’s theory posits five major developmental stages, where during the process of development or transformation, the subject of one stage becomes the object of the subject of the next major stage (Wilber). Thus, psychological development is, in part, a dialectical interaction between the subjective Self, and objective constructions or perspectives of that Self. The following is a diagram representing Kegan’s five stages, or “orders of mind”:
It is important to note, as Peter W. Pruyn remarks on his blog, that “these developmental stages are not about higher intelligence or IQ, nor are higher orders intrinsically “better”. What they represent are five levels of qualitatively more complex ways of thinking”. Naturally, we must be weary of generalizations, and any time a theory is normative, we ought to check and see if that theory is verifiably true, and wether or not it is privileging the interests of a select minority group or marginalizing people. Thus far, Kegan’s theory has stood the test of time and provides useful insights on the psychological growth of individuals. As I aim to demonstrate, it’s applications have profound consequences on the way we understand art, the artist, interpretation and the role of narrative in psychological life.
An understanding of healthy psychological development, as contrasted by unhealthy psychological development, will be useful in articulating my reflections on value-phobia in the classroom and in society. Kegan posits that in the process of transformation, which researchers estimate takes approximately five years, the self of one stage becomes the object of the next, more complex stage. Thus, what was “I” becomes “me” or “mine”. For example, I might feel really angry with you, but I recognize that is because you are offering a perspective that challenges my assumptions about the world, thereby I am aware of myself as a psychological construct, and am flexible enough not to react violently. Further, I can recognize that you are operating with your own self-construct, that this is not solely what you are, and that this construct is the product of your environment, your history and your conscious decisions. This is a good example of 4th order reasoning, and with each emergent stage comes a new found independence. There is always however, the possibility of increasingly complex pathologies, or left over baggage from previous stages, for development does not occur uniformly in all areas of the individual’s psyche. Pathological development is when a facet of the self becomes “it” or other, as opposed to “me” or “mine”. Thus. in this case the individual is not able to engage or dialogue with that “object” within his or her consciousness, and can remain fixated on that “object” or a particular view of the world. Ken Wilber employs a useful analogy to discuss development and psychopathology: Ladder, Climber, View. Kegan’s stages can be thought of as a developmental ladder, as the individual develops, each stage or rung in the ladder provides a different view or way of making meaning in the world, a different set of values, a different perspective/construction of the self. At every rung in the ladder, however, the psychological climber can lose a limb, or be damaged, and thereby, a dissociated part of the self remains fixated at a lower rung, or worldview, while the rest of the self continues to ascend the developmental ladder. A key Freudian insight is that dissociated parts of the self surreptitiously guide and shape the individual’s conscious behavior. Dissociated psychic material is often referred to as one’s “shadow”, and two common signs of shadow material are complete infatuation with a psychological object, or utter repulsion from that object. Therefore, we are often attracted or repelled by that which he have repressed. Moreover, one way to conceptualize psychological growth is in the individual’s capacity to recognize, dialogue with, and ultimately re-integrate the “shadow”, or in Kegan’s terms, to make what was subject (unconscious), object (conscious).
The individual constructs psychological identities and self-perceptions by using language. Identity is a linguistic phenomena. The self as “object”, to use Kegan’s terms, exists by virtue of narrative. Think of all the stories you are constantly telling yourself to maintain your particular self-image- “this is who I am”. Admittedly, a portion of one’s self-construction is imaginal, or symbolic. This, however, can also be considered under the auspices of “narrative”, as a complicated symbolic or imaginal dialogue with oneself. It is my contention that in the process of development, or transformation, the individual is increasingly capable of authoring his/her narrative. Thereby, self-construction, initially at least, is a largely latent phenomenon, perhaps even purely instinctual. If all goes well, the individual gradually shifts to a psychological center of gravity where mythic “others” provide most of the narratorial content of one’s self-construction: parents, siblings, and friends, religions or ideologies. Eventually, the individual may be capable of individuation to the extent that his/her identity is, to a greater or lesser degree, self-derived. Of course, this self-actualization still occurs within the context of larger dialogues and narratives- self-actualization is still a linguistically and economically mediated phenomena. Ideally, however, one is increasingly able to choose what stories construct one’s identity, and increasingly able to craft more interesting and inclusive self-determinations. Thereby, narrative is a complex process of self-direction, and self-performance involves a series of increasingly difficult editorial decisions.
Having established this preliminary understanding of human psychological development, we can now examine the ways in which art: literature, painting, film and music, can facilitate the process of transformation.
Art, as I define it, is the practice of giving meaning to the world. Indeed, the imaginal culmination of the developmental process we have examined thus far appears to be the figure of the shaman/artist who journeys into otherness to become a symbol.
Well, that’s all for now. In my next blog post I aim to build on the understanding of developmental psychology I have articulated thus far and examine the concept of “language as invocation” as well as demonstrate how a symbol can be understood as a concrescence of experience. Finally, I aim to complete my sociological observation of value-phobia in the classroom by investigating the psychological demands of the act of interpretation.