CDF: A Social Science Framework for Understanding Human Agency

In a presentation to the Center of Applied Dialectics of December 2021, made available in this blog, I share my recent thoughts about CDF, the Constructive Developmental Framework, as an integral component of social ontology, established by R. Bhaskar and M. Archer since 1975. Rather than following conventional notions of “developmental theory” as a stand-alone psychological discipline, given that CDF is a synthesis of developmental theories bringing together the social-emotional, cognitive, and psychological profiles of social actors, I consider adult-developmental studies as part of social science at large, and thus working under the mandate of throwing light on societal change. With this move, the way in which people advance toward maturity over the lifespan becomes a central issue in understanding how society reproduces or transforms itself, given that maturity is a central aspect of what in social ontology is referred to as Human Agency.

I show, in particular, that it is cogent to see research using CDF tools as the endeavor to formulate mini-theories of human agency, and is therefore also a way of explicating Stratum 4 of Bhaskar’s Social Cube on which Social and Cultural Agents as Embodied Personalities are addressed as a dimension irreducible both to social interactions between people (Stratum 2) and enduring social structures (Stratum 3). With this move, I open social science discourse to engaging with the dialectics (linkages) of all strata of the Social Cube under the mandate to avoid, in one’s research, any kind of conflation, whether downward (Durkheim), upward (Weber), or central (Frankfurt School; Habermas). While what Archer’s “dual analysis” amounts to when addressing issues of adult maturity is just beginning to be debated, a first step toward understanding people’s internal conversations and reasons for action is therewith taken.

In conceptualizing CDF as a social science framework in the broad sense, I accomplish the following:

  • end the isolation of contemporary Kohlberg-School ‘developmental theory’ from the social sciences
  • open research in adult development to the thought-form dialectic pioneered by M. Basseches and O. Laske
  • open a pathway to understanding human agency beyond the steril abstraction of ‘reflexivity’ holding sway in Second Wave Critical Realism
  • pioneer a path of empirical research into people’s internal conversations and reasons for action.

Final Version No. 4 of Otto Laske’s CAD Lecture 12-21

Author: Otto Laske

I am the founder and director of IDM, the Interdevelopmental Institute. My background is in philosophy, psychology, consulting, and coaching based on developmental theory to which I have mightily contributed myself. See the blogs at