Urie Bronfenbrenner (April 29, 1917–September 25, 2005) was a Russian American psychologist, known for developing his Ecological Systems Theory, and as a co-founder of the Head Start program in the United States for disadvantaged pre-school children.
Background and career
Urie Bronfenbrenner was born to Russian Jews, Dr. Alexander Bronfenbrenner and Eugenie Kamenetski Bronfenbrenner, in Moscow, Russia. When he was 6, the family moved from the USSR to the United States.
Bronfenbrenner attended Cornell University on a scholarship, completing a double major in psychology and music in 1938. After earning an M.A. at Harvard University in developmental psychology, he completed a Ph.D. at the University of Michigan in 1942. Thereafter he entered service in the United States Army as a psychologist. Following a brief stint at the Veterans' Administration following World War II, Bronfenbrenner began teaching. First an Assistant Professor in Psychology at the University of Michigan, he took a professorship at Cornell University in 1948. In the late 1960s to early 1970s, Bronfenbrenner served as a faculty-elected member of Cornell's Board of Trustees. At his death in 2005, Bronfenbrenner was the Jacob Gould Schurman Professor Emeritus of Human Development and of Psychology in the Cornell University College of Human Ecology.
Ecological Systems Theory
Urie Bronfenbrenner is generally regarded as one of the world's leading scholars to focus on the interplay between research and policy on child development. Bronfenbrenner suggests child development research is better informed when institutional policies encourage studies within natural settings and theory finds greater practical application when contextually relevant. This perspective is well defined by Bronfenbrenner, who states, "...basic science needs public policy even more than public policy needs basic science" (Bronfenbrenner, 1979, p. 8, italics in original). It is from this vantage point that Bronfenbrenner conceives his primary contribution, Ecological Systems Theory, in which he delineates four types of nested systems. He calls these the microsystem (such as the family or classroom); the mesosystem (which is two microsystems in interaction); the exosystem (external environments which indirectly influence development, e.g., parental workplace); and the macrosystem (the larger socio-cultural context). He later adds a fifth system, called the Chronosystem (the evolution of the external systems over time). Each system contains roles, norms and rules that can powerfully shape development. This system is strikingly similar to the social networks approach of James Comer who was the first to put forward a model for school reform, the School Development Program, and upon which nearly every school reform model to follow is built or is influenced by. Comer describes how children are nurtured in nested environments as depicted by a series of platforms of increasing size, the lowest and largest of which represents supporting institutional policies. The next level up is the secondary social network of schools, workplaces, and organizations providing access to recreational activities and needed health and social services. The second level from the top is the primary social network which consists of religious centers and clubs, neighbors, friends and relatives, and the immediate family or primary caregivers. At the top and center of this system is innermost environment of the child which ostensibly plays as profound a role in development as anything external to the body. The inner environment of the child is conspicuously missing from Bronfenbrenner's Ecological Systems Theory and perhaps illustrates the point that Bronfenbrenner's work focuses not directly on the child but on how aspects of the much broader macrosystem directly impinge on what Comer calls the primary social network of the child.
- The James McKeen Catell Award from the American Psychological Society
- The American Psychological Association renamed its "Lifetime Contribution to Developmental Psychology in the Service of Science and Society" as "The Bronfenbrenner Award."
- Chair, 1970 White House Conference on Children
- Served as Grand Marshal of the 1987 Crawfish Parade in Kingsland, Georgia.
- 1972. Two Worlds of Childhood. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-671-21238-9
- Two Worlds of Childhood: US and USSR. Penguin (paperback, 1975). ISBN 0-14-081104-4
- 1973. Influencing Human Development. Holt, R & W. ISBN 0-03-089176-0
- 1975. Influences on Human Development. Holt, R & W. ISBN 0-03-089413-1
- 1979. The Ecology of Human Development: Experiments by Nature and Design. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-22457-4
- 1981. On Making Human Beings Human. Sage Publications Inc. ISBN 0-7619-2711-3
- 1996. The State of Americans: This Generation and the Next. New York: Free Press. ISBN 0-684-82336-5. Lony Tunes
- Key Theorists/Theories in Psychology - Urie Bronfenbrenner, "The PSI Cafe, A psychology resource site" at Portland State University (link is 404)
- Cornell News Release on Bronfenbrenner's Death