Negotiating complexity: A bioecological systems perspective on literacy development

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


Background/Aims: Urie Bronfenbrenner's bioecological systems model is well regarded in the field of child development. Although this model is not commonly used by literacy researchers, I argue that Bronfenbrenner's emphasis on the roles of personal characteristics, proximal processes, contextual systems, and historical time has explanatory power in the area of literacy. Methods: I review this body of literature and describe a visual representation that clarifies the relevant aspects of the theory. Results: Adoption of Bronfenbrenner's model increases the likelihood that literacy development will be understood as occurring at the site of transaction between cognitive processes and social practices. Literacy researchers who have applied this theory differ in the degree to which they have attended to Bronfenbrenner's guidance relative to adequate research practice and, as such, findings from this research range from less to more theoretically sound and useful. Conclusion: As contemporary literacy researchers consider employing Bronfenbrenner's theory to frame their work, it is necessary for them to account for all aspects of his rich and complex model.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)163-187
Number of pages25
JournalHuman Development
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jan 1 2017


  • Bioecological systems theory
  • Development
  • Literacy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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