EDEV_505 Week 2_5

Thanks for bringing Kegan and Lahey’s (2009) book to my attention. I’ve found Kegan’s The Evolving Self (1982) highly influential in shaping my understanding of self so thank you for giving me the opportunity to look at his later work. The title—Immunity to change—speaks to notion that individual change is difficult, and chapter nine describes a technique for prompting change. This technique requires the help of at least three others (in a business context): your boss, your peer and someone to whom you are the boss. There is a relationship between this technique and the reflective practices espoused by Brockbank and McGill (2007) and Loughran (2002) who assert that effective reflection requires the aid of someone other than the self.

However, there is something puzzling in Kegan and Lahey’s work. Chapter nine draws upon their earlier book How the way we talk can change the way we work (Kegan & Lahey, 2001). This other work is dedicated to and influenced by William Perry, who produced seminal research into epistemological development (Perry, 1970). Epistemological development, as argued by Perry, is a stage theory: so too are the Piagetian and Kohlbergian bases for Kegan’s (1982) constructive developmental theory. So far, this makes sense as all of the theories add cooperative perspectives from stage theories to the wider issue of individual moral development. Where the puzzle appears is when the role, if any, the environment is considered. Weber’s (1993) study of the link between Kohlberg’s stage theory and Rokeach’s personal value orientations in business administrators. He shows that many managers attained Kohlberg stage 3 (of 5) as a terminal personal value (p. 451).  Managers are aware of and hold in esteem higher developmental stages (Weber, 1993), yet this knowledge is not sufficient to allow progress to those higher stages. In other words, the environment does not play an agentive role in the development of higher stages. If this is empirically true, what effect will the environment—your boss, your peers, your workers—effect be on moral development? There are three possible states. The first is that the environment has no effect and that all moral development happens within the individual. The second is that the environment mediates the stages but not fully, and the third is that all moral development is a result of the environment. The puzzle is that Kegan’s theory rejects the role of the environment (i.e. the first possibility) but his technique (with Lahey) assumes at least the second possibility and maybe even the third.

In this week’s discussion of where values originate, the assumption has been that the environment—defined as one’s culture, family, educational history and so on—is the main influence on values. However, I wonder if the knowledge gained from stage theories repudiates that. Furthermore, the fascinating discussion started by Jamila about the role of biology also helps to question the dominance of the environment in shaping values. To that discussion, I’d like to add the caution that DNA is not a blueprint but rather the relationship between genes and behaviour is multi-faceted and complex (Fuentes, 2012).


Brockbank, A., & McGill, I. (2007). Facilitating reflective learning in higher education (2nd ed.). Buckingham, PA: SRHE and Open University Press.

Fuentes, A. (2012, August 8). DNA Is Not a Blueprint: How Genes Really Work. The Huffington Post. Retrieved on April 20 2016 from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/agustin-fuentes/dna-is-not-a-blueprint-ho_b_1578336.html.

Kegan, R. (1982). The evolving self: Problem and process in human development. Cambridge, MA, USA: Harvard University Press.

Kegan, R., & Lahey, L. L. (2001). How the way we talk can change the way we work: Seven languages for transformation (Wiley Eboo.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Kegan, R., & Lahey, L. L. (2009). Immunity to change: How to overcome it and unlock the potential in yourself and your organization (Ebook.). Boston: Harvard Business Press. doi:10.1017/CBO9781107415324.004

Loughran, J. J. (2002). Effective Reflective Practice: In Search of Meaning in Learning about Teaching. Journal of Teacher Education, 53(1), 33–43. doi:10.1177/0022487102053001004

Perry, W. G. (1970). Forms of Intellectual and Ethical Development in the College Years: A Scheme. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston.

Weber, J. (1993). Exploring the relationship between personal values and moral reasoning. Human Relations,46(4), 435–463. doi:0803973233


About theCaledonian

Scot living in north Japan teaching at a private university.
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