Is Random Error Useful for Developmental Psychology?

Seth Surgan


Within psychology, quantitative methods have been pushed as the mark of objectivity and the scientific pursuit of general knowledge. However, all forms of data are representations of phenomena and are prototypically cultural products. That is, they are meaningful signs through which humans understand, manage, and transform the immediate here-and-now situation (i.e., phenomena) for particular purposes (e.g., knowledge construction). Data, like all representations, are laden with implicit assumptions given by the perspective from which the act of representation is undertaken. It is crucial that data, analysis, and theory are consistent with one another. This is especially true in the case of developmental science, which holds very specific assumptions. Developmental assumptions make variability the center of phenomena, yet the statistical focus on error and randomness eliminate that concern. Utilizing the notion of random error entails an assumption as to the inherent stability of its referent while development is a dynamic process leading to the emergence of novelty. Institutionalized reliance on any one sanctioned set of methods or forms of data ignores the issue of the adequacy of the data in representing the underlying phenomena. The possibility of constructing general knowledge while maintaining the full variability inherent in developmental phenomena is discussed.
URN: urn:nbn:de:0114-fqs0103190


data; development; knowledge construction; random error; variability

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Copyright (c) 2001 Seth Surgan

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