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Urie Bronfenbrenner (1917-)

Urie Bronfenbrenner was born in 1917 in Moscow. At the age of six he arrived in the United States with his family. His father, a physician and neuropathologist, worked at a state institution in New York. He can recall his father's concern with the overreliance on a single IQ testing to place children in institutions for the mentally retarded. Russian immigrant psychologists also visited his home and discussed outstanding psychologists, such as Kurt Lewin and Lev Vygotsky. In 1934 he won a scholarship to Cornell University where he majored in psychology. From Cornell, he went on to receive his master's degree in developmental psychology from Harvard University, and in 1942 he received his doctorate from the University of Michigan. Immediately after his graduation from Michigan, he entered the U.S. Army, serving as a psychologist from 1942 to 1946. After teaching briefly at Michigan for two years, he moved to Cornell University in 1948. His father, confined to a sanatorium for tuberculosis, continued to influence Bronfenbrenner's thinking in psychology through letter writing.

Bronfenbrenner's highly productive contributions to developmental psychology contain several connected themes. He worked to develop theory and research methods that looked at patterns of development across time. He also became interested in social and political policies and practices affecting children and families. In addition, he has always sought to communicate his ideas about development to the widest possible audience.

His lifelong interest as a psychologist in the interactions between the developing child and the environment have led him to develop his social ecology of human development. Here, he considers the development to take place within nested systems. He calls these the microsystem (such as the family or classroom), the mesosytem (which is two microsystems in interaction), the exosystem (which is a system influencing development, such as a parental workplace), and the macrosystem (the larger cultural context). Each system contains roles, norms, and rules that can powerfully shape development.

In addition to being a founder of Head Start, Bronfenbrenner has won numerous awards, honors, and honorary degrees for his many significant contributions to developmental psychology. In 1996 the American Psychological Association awarded him the Lifetime Contribution to Developmental Psychology in the Service of Science and Society Award. Bronfenbrenner holds the position of Jacob Gould Shurman Emeritus Professor of Human Development and Family Studies of Psychology at Cornell University.


Publications by Bronfenbrenner

The Ecology of Human Development: Experiments by Nature and Design. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1979.

"Ecology of the Family as a Context for Human Development." Developmental Psychology 22 (1986):723-742.

Bronfenbrenner, Urie, Peter McCelland, Elaine Wethington, Phyllis Moen, and Stephen J. Ceci. The State of Americans: This Generation and the Next. New York: Free Press, 1996.

Thomas J. Russo

Additional topics

Social Issues ReferenceChild Development Reference - Vol 2