Change as a core concept in development and learning

What is actually meant by change in general? The concept of change can be formally defined shortly as follows: “There is change if and only if there is a subject S that persists and retains its identity along from xl to x2, and there is a difference that is exhibited by a property, state or part properly predicated of S, from xl to x2” (Hussey, 2002, p. 105). S means here anything that can change (e.g. moral code, way of thinking, learning), and xl and x2 are distinct locations or suitable dimensions (e.g., time) (Hussey, 2002; Kallio & Marchand, 2012). However, a mere change between two points in time as such does not necessarily mean the emergence of something new. Besides, change is not always for the better (e.g., aging with deteriorating health).

A philosophically important question in relation to change is whether the identity of the changing object remains logically the same in the process or not (Kallio & Marchand, 2012). The concept of change is paradoxical in its nature; it involves a qualitative shift during which the earlier form of a phenomenon stays structurally the same, but simultaneously changes to an extent and thus includes a new element. It is a philosophical issue: we can define the phenomenon either as remaining the same or as being different, either consistent or inconsistent at different points of time, depending on which perception is conceptualised (Kallio & Marchand, 2012; Mortensen, 2016).

Mortensen (2016) points out that Buddhism, for example, denies the permanence of identity over time, and assumes in general that nothing is permanent. Thus, our Western way of looking at identity as a sustained, even if changing property is just one alternative approach to the concept of change, and cross-cultural studies in various fields should study and explicate latent cultural, historical, and philosophical beliefs and other assumptions more closely (Gidley, 2016; Kincheloe, Hayes, Steinberg, & Tobin, 2011; Malott, 2011).

We usually suppose that developmental progress is linear in time, growing from lower to higher levels through constant change, or with certain telos. Linear progress in time is, however, only one possibility to understanding change. In some cultures change is seen as a cyclical, continuous spiral-like process without any specific beginning and end. Linear time can be defined in very simplistic terms as an interval from point A to point В on a timeline: moving from past to present and from present to future (a metaphor “time as an arrow” has often been used). Moreover, time is not dependent on the subject perceiving it. These two conceptions of time may, however, be complementary to each other, so that both linear and cyclical time and processes can be combined in understanding change within some time period, visualising it as a spiral-like change (see Chapter 3). The notion of spirality may originate from the rhythmic patterns of the natural world, like the cycles of day and night or annual seasons due to the Sun’s apparent rotational motion in relation to the Earth. This cyclic-rhythmic perception of time can still be seen in our weekly, monthly, and yearly rhythms (Zerubavel, 1989).

When describing development and learning, important conceptions include the direction of change: change can be both vertical and horizontal. The first refers to an assumption that there is at least a partial hierarchy for the state of affairs. The term hierarchy comes from Pseudo-Dionysius (ca. late 5th to early 6th century'), as “hierarchia”, neologism from Greek “hieros”, “sacred” and “arkhia”, “rule” (Kleineberg, 2017): its roots are thus religious, with reference to “sacred rule” issued by' a god. Historically, the idea of the hierarchical order of reality' (“Great Chain of Being”) is a long-standing one (Lovejoy, 1936). It can be traced back to Plato, Aristotle, and Plotinus and other neo-Platonists. Kleineberg (2017) also argues that similar ideas are included in Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism, Taoism, and Islam, thus implying that this notion could be almost universal in cultures (cf. Wilber, 2001).

Hierarchy is defined as a chain of growing stages or phases where each new phase is linked to and built upon past or existing lower stages. Hierarchical development theories assume that there are developmental phases organised in a certain way, so that they cannot be crossed, and that the change in these chains has only one direction. This line of thinking, i.e., based on vertical developmental phases, always includes a normative, value-based assumption. Instead, in the horizontal change the developmental phases can be consecutive and they can exist without the assumption about an internal hierarchy. However, this does not exclude the possibility for successfully reviewing a previous phase so as to enable new development for the next one (Alexander & Langer, 1990).

One example of how world-view is implicitly' rooted in our thinking of change comes from the history of sciences. Psychological, qualitative changes during the lifespan are not something only modern scholars have been interested in. For example, several classifications of the human lifespan were presented in Tetrabiblos, one of the major books in the Western world before the Scientific Revolution (Ptolemy, trans. 1940). Ptolemy considered four and seven phases of the lifespan, referred to as the “Ages of Man”, each having their own qualitative psychological features. The lifespan was understood as analogical to the four seasons: childhood, adolescence, adulthood, and old age. The seven phases were connected to the ancient cosmological system, as the phases were “governed” by each of the known seven planets according to the microcosm - macrocosm analogy (“as above so below”) (Burrow, 1986; Sears, 1986). The starting point was holism: the lifespan of an individual (microcosm) reflected a broader reality (macrocosm), which were analogically connected in terms of their rhythm. It was a dogma based on equivalence, sympathy and correspondence. According to this dogma, a part reflects the entity: life on Earth was a reflection of a larger unity, the highest environmental system, the cosmos (Burrow, 1986).

The beginning of adulthood can be defined in different ways. For example, it can be considered juridically as a formal shift to majority, i.e., attainment of full legal age (Robinson, 2013). Based on the age defined in years, adulthood can be divided in different ways into several stages, for instance, ranging from 20-year-olds (young adults) to adults, middle-aged, and late-middle-aged people, up to the final stages of old age (Cavanaugh & Blanchard-Fields, 2014). Another, more sociological classification divides the lifespan into the first, second, third, and fourth age (Laslett, 1994; cf. also Settersten, 2003). In this work, the discussion on adulthood is mainly targeted at the stages between early adulthood and the late middle age, or in Laslett’s terms, the second age, but also with some references to the third age as well.

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