Misused and Misunderstood?ThePPCT model is particularly prone to misrepresentation and lack of appropriateevaluations in the literature, given that it is a contextualist theory that istoo often treated as though it fits within a mechanist paradigm (Tudge et al.2009). Overton (Overton, 1984; Overton & Reese, 1973) has argued thatcontextualism, lacking the idea of a developmental end point, is not anappropriate paradigm for developmental science, and that in its “strictcontextualist” form, it should be linked with mechanism or linked withorganicism -“relational organicism-contextualism,” (e.g.
, Overton, 2013;Overton & Ennis, 2006). Overton has thus treated the PPCT model as thoughtit is a mechanistic model, although providing no direct evidence supporting hisplacement. In addition, hat Overton (2013) termed the “five defining features”of the development process are (non-linearity , order and sequence, direction, relativepermanence and relative irreversibility, and epigenesist and emergence) (p.53,originalemphasis)are not included in Bronfenbrenner’s theories and he consigned it to themechanist camp. As Tudge et al. (2009) and Rosa and Tudge (2013) made clear, particularlywith the introduction of proximal processes into the PPCT model, there is no reasonto view the theory as one of independent effects (as required by mechanisttheories). Furthermore, Overton (2013, 2015) Misuse of Bronfenbrenner’s PPCTModelIn2009, Tudge, Mokrova, Hatfield and Karnik evaluated the extent to whichscholars were using the theory correctly and concluded that very few of thepapers published beyond the year 2000 represented the most up- to date versionsof the theory (PPCT) correctly.
These findings were substantiated by theirfollow up study which revealed that out of 25 studies published between 2001and 2008, who stated that their research was based on Bronfenbrenner’s theory,only four were based on the most recent form of the theory, and most describedthe theory simply as one of contextual influences on development, completelyignoring the centrepiece of the theory in its final incarnation: proximalprocesses. It must be noted that the purpose of employing a theory as thefoundation for one’s research should be not only to determine the variables onwhich to focus and the methods to employ but also to provide some criticalevaluation of that theory. However, neither refutation nor corroboration ispossible either when the theory is misrepresented or when there ismethodological error in the design.
In this instance, theories may often “fadeaway as people lose interest” (Meehl, 1978, p. 806). Attheir core, ecological models of development are, by nature, exceedinglycomplex.
They consist of a large number of diverse components, nonlinearinteractions, as well as scale multiplicity and heterogeneity (Wu & David,2002). Moreover, conducting research that is derivative of the contextualistmetatheory requires methodological approaches that incorporate change-sensitiveresearch designs, measurements and data analysis methods. This, as well as theacknowledgment that individuals actively participate in the production of theirown ontogenetic development is an essential feature (Overton, 2015). Inrelation to the PPCT model, appropriate use requires a focus on proximalprocesses, a means to show that’s these proximal processes are simultaneouslysynergistically influenced by both person characteristics (minimum of twolevels, eg high and low levels of motivation) and by the context (a minimum oftwo relevant contexts). Unfortunately, Bronfenbrenner wrote no methodologicalscript for how to translate his bioecological model into research nor did heconduct any original research himself. Rather he drew on external sources, forexample Drillen (1964) in order to illustrate how the PPCT model could beadopted and implemented.
Few would argue that satisfying this extensivespecification devoid of methodological guidance is an arduous task. The goal ofBronfenbrenner’s bioecological model is to try to understand the joint,synergistic effects of several relevant influencing factors. However, due tothe models impracticalities, as well as its idealistic nature, authors haveoversimplified this framework implying that the complexity inherent in the PPCTmodel is too often reduced to methods that while simpler to apply, are simplyinappropriate. In other words, any research that reduces Bronfenbrenner’stheory to the independent effect of context on development is misguided.