Bronfenbrenner and I: A Graphical Disagreement
Bronfenbrenner’s bio-ecological system theory (Bronfenbrenner, 2005) suggests that four nested ecological systems interact with each other around the individual. The developing person, located in the middle of this system, already has some established characteristics such as sex, age, abilities, health, and temperament. The microsystem is the first immediate environment that interacts with the individual, such as family, peers, house of worship, as direct influencers. Children would include their school, adults their workplace. Bronfenbrenner believes the microsystem has an immediate and direct influence on the individual.
The mesosystem is the second layer that influences the microsystem. Two elements of the microsystem must interact to become a part of the mesosystem. This could be how families interact with their church or parents with school principals about their child. The exosystem (Krebs, 2009) comes next as another layer that influences the individual.
Unlike the mesosystem, the exosystem might not directly interact with individuals, but its existence indirectly influences how the individuals live, express themselves, and interact with others. They exist in the environment, whether or not individuals can benefit from them. The exosystem could integrate legal services, mass media, and job loss.
Surrounding all systems, the macrosystem encompasses the larger social and cultural context. In this system, cultural context does not only include Indian or American culture or Christian or Muslim culture. Still, it adds sub-cultures such as minority groups, demographic identities, political climate, etc. Adults are influenced differently based on what deity they worship from where they live, such as Mormons living in Salt Lake City (Mason, 2017) versus Christian residing in Qatar (Fahy, 2018).
Finally, Bronfenbrenner added time context to include how events affect individuals’ life based on when they occur. The chronosystem includes sociohistorical conditions and time that matter in the individual’s life. Not only a forty-year-old person would react differently now than she was twenty, by a forty-year-old person makes a decision, reacts, and interacts differently today than a person of the same age fifty years ago.
While I finally thought that I found a theory that would make the most sense, I used my life experience to see how this would fit into Bronfenbrenner’s systems. As a 10-year-old child in good health (the individual), I had a limited number of family members since my mother and I were single children, and my father had only one sister who had one daughter (Microsystem). I only went to church for weddings and funerals. As for my neighborhood, I missed the opportunity to play with other kids since I lived in a big city that was unsafe for children to play on the street due to traffic. Finally, I was going to school at three blocks from my house, which was convenient for my parents when they needed to attend parent-teacher interviews and meetings (Mesosystem).
My father worked as a cook in a local factory on the verge of bankruptcy. The fear of losing his job was on my dad’s mind, which affected his relationship with my mother, impacting me (Exosystem). In parallel, our house built in 1912 needed significant repair. When my grandmother, who was living with us, died, my mother insisted on renovating the house entirely, so we could benefit from the ground floor my grandmother used. My parents took more loans they could handle, which added more stress on the family.
Living in France in the eighties meant that people would never share their financial distress with anyone. The fewer strangers knew about us, the better. My grandmother, a member of the French resistance, always told stories about treason from people she used to call friends, who would denounce anyone so they could benefit from the Maréchal Pétin government that surrended to the Nazis. Anyone could hurt you, so you need to keep your mouth shut. Until this day, French people tend to whisper when they talk to each other in public places (Macrosystem).
If Bronfenbrenner’s theory worked when using my life as a ten-year-old child, how would this translate to a fifty-two-year-old self (Chronosystem)? Like any other man who passed fifty, I sometimes feel like an old used car that requires more maintenance as time goes by. My health is not as good as in my twenties, and the hospital staff described my hospital visits as "normal for my age." This has influenced my mesosystem regarding my relationship with the health system and my workplace since I had to take some time off. Inevitably, my family has shrunk since one generation has been wiped out after the loss of both my grandparents.
As for the exosystem and macrosystem, they have changed multiple times throughout my adult life. I spent more than three years as an expatriate working in Qatar, Egypt, Ghana, Gabon, and Madagascar. Later, at the age of forty-one, I moved to the United States on a student visa and enrolled at a State College with a GED. Working in Africa as an expatriate meant that I was exposed to a variety of exosystems. My salary increased threefold. I had a live-in staff and lived in a gated community with other expatriates from all over the globe. As a gay man, the legal systems went from “don’t ask, don’t tell” in some countries such as Madagascar, Ghana, and Gabon, to highly dangerous in Egypt (Pratt, 2007) and Qatar. As for the macrosystem, the attitudes and ideologies of the culture had a major impact on who I was and how others perceived me. For instance, I realized that coming out as gay in Egypt was not as bad as being an atheist. Now that I have lived in the United States for almost twelve years, my culture has somehow diluted over time. If my American friends and coworkers often point out how much French I am, in France they consider me Americanized.
Thinking about Bronfenbrenner’s chronosystem, I can relate to the sociohistorical conditions of gay men in various countries over time. I came out in 1987 by choice in the middle of the AIDS crisis in Paris. Seventeen-year-old Parisian gay men coming out today do not encounter the same level of discrimination I felt. Five days after I married my husband on June 21st, 2013, the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was struck down by the supreme court (Skelton & Kemp, 2013). Our marriage license that was legal only in New York suddenly led me to obtain my green card and allow me to work instead of relying on my savings and my husband’s income.
While I understand and approve of Bronfenbrenner’s bio-ecological system model, I resent its graphic. My point of view leads me to think there is no greater distance from the macrosystem to the individual. The influence can be immediate depending on the context so as the chronosystem. The recent events such as COVID and the war in Ukraine made Nicole, my classmate, and I view these as major disruptors that could affect every system and reflect on how we could show this in a graphic. I started to think about the individual as a core of a planet and other systems as other planets, each planet having its own moons. Such as what the moon does to tides on earth, I thought about the influence of Bronfenbrenner’s systems on us. My imaginary solar system started to make sense. There will be planets (systems) and their moons revolving around a single planet (the individual). I needed to add a disruptor. Pandemic and wars became the uncontrollable comet that would disrupt orbital systems. Dramatic external events would disrupt every single system and influence who we are. Finally, my thoughts of revising Bronfenbrenner’s theory made sense. It was time to create a new graphic (Appendix – Figures 1 through 4).
Bronfenbrenner, U. (2005). Ecological systems theory (1992). In U. Bronfenbrenner
(Ed.), Making human beings human: Bioecological perspectives on human development (pp. 106–173). Sage Publications Ltd.
Skelton, C., & Kemp, D. S. (2013, June 26). United States v. Windsor, 570 U.S. 744 (2013).
Justia Law. Retrieved from https://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/570/744/
Fahy, J. (2018) The international politics of tolerance in the Persian Gulf. Religion, State and
Society 46:4, pages 311-327.
Krebs, R. J. (2009). Bronfenbrenner's bioecological theory of human development and the
process of development of sports talent. International journal of sport psychology, 40(1), 108.
Mason, P.Q. (2017). What Is Mormonism?: A Student’s Introduction (1st ed.). Routledge.
PRATT, N. (2007). The Queen Boat case in Egypt: Sexuality, national security and state
sovereignty. Review of International Studies, 33(1), 129-144. doi:10.1017/S0260210507007346