Feminism & Psychology Case Study


Feminism & Psychology

2015, Vol. 25(3) 305–310

! The Author(s) 2015

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DOI: 10.1177/0959353514562803


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Dispatch from the Ivory Tower: Reflections on the 20th anniversary of Deconstructing Developmental Psychology

Heather L Reel and Aurélie Athan Columbia University, USA


developmental psychology, Erica Burman, mothers, motherhood, academia

While some scholars cling fiercely to the mainstay conceptual models of devel- opmental science, others seek not just revisions to these old models but entirely new orientations. Somewhere on this spectrum, between the extremes of new and old, critical and acritical, Erica Burman has issued a call to the field—an appeal to re-engineer the traditional substructures of developmental psychology. Twenty years later, this call has been only inconsistently heeded and, in the realm of academia, has fallen squarely in the margins. In what follows, speaking from our respective positions as a current graduate student and a professor of psychology, we will consider three kinds of challenges that present themselves in the face of a critical woman-centered post-structural reading of developmental psychology. There is first the challenge that historical and political context produce; second, the challenge of what new directions past knowledge makes possible; and, finally, there is the challenge of questioning the oft regarded ‘‘well-oiled’’ machine that is science within the academy. Considering these challenges will serve to answer the pulsating question at the very heart of this special edition: what has happened in the field since the first publication of Deconstructing Developmental Psychology (DDP)?

As a student of developmental psychology and as a professor of clinical psych- ology at a large American research university, the present authors have yet to

Corresponding author:

Heather L Reel, 525 West 120th St. New York, NY 10027, USA.

Email: hlr2120@columbia.edu



encounter Burman’s work in the classroom. The core curriculum for a develop- mental student at many universities in the U.S. rests firmly on some of the guiding principles of developmental science that Burman seeks to deconstruct, such as limited renderings of attachment theory that consider mothers only in terms of how they meet or neglect the demands of their children. Students have limited opportunities to examine the dynamic space between motherhood and childhood as they are wholly consumed with scholarship that positions mothers simply as arbiters of child development. Students may, at best, encounter DDP as a supplemental text, if educators have little incentive to introduce such material into the university learning space given its novelty.