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Phenomenological Variant Ecological Systems Theory

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Pam Davis

on 9 November 2014

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Transcript of Phenomenological Variant Ecological Systems Theory

You might look at a theory with this kind of title and simply say, "No, thank you!"

BUT, when you break the title down to its sub-parts, suddenly everything begins to make more sense...
Phenomenological
simply deals with an individual's world view or how they understand the world around them. Counselors often deal with phenomenology because it is the starting point of empathy. If we can understand how a person is seeing the world, we can step into their shoes and show that we are truly understanding someone.
Variant
is rather simple as well. We know what a variant is, and in this context, it simply means that the way people see the world, their
phenomenology
, varies from person to person.
Ecological Systems
is a term used to describe the socio-cultural influences individuals face that impact their development. These systems may include schools, communities, churches, families, history, cultural beliefs, etc. Just like someone's world view, ecological systems also vary among individuals.
So, when you put phenomenological variant together with ecological systems theory, you have a theory that deals with the interplay between an individual's view of the world and the impact of the socio, cultural, and historical forces that influence the individual's development.
As a systems framework, PVEST posits various aspects of people’s lives are mitigated by particular beliefs about their lives; thus, what alone may seem to be a pitfall can be counterbalanced by support systems or beliefs.
One way to think about PVEST is that the way people view the world, their beliefs about their particular situation, and the supports they receive from different ecological systems can become a life vest that keeps them afloat when others might sink.
To understand PVEST it is helpful to look at the world through the eyes of its author, Margaret Beale Spencer.


Spencer is the Marshall Field IV Professor of Urban Education in the Department of Comparative Human Development at the University of Chicago.
The youngest of three girls, Spencer was born and raised in Philadelphia to a single mother. Spencer credits the ecological systems in her life for balancing risk factors.
As Spencer began her work as a psychologist focusing on resiliency, she noticed that much of the literature and work of her colleagues focused on deficits--the idea that some individuals were deficient. Thus, they needed be filled up or patched in some way.
ou see, what Spencer noticed as she examined the world is that all humans are vulnerable. We all come into the world requiring certain supports
What get's lost is the idea that a mighty storm may have capsized it, one of its sailors may have made a fatal error, or it may have been involved in a battle or attack. These are all things that are part of the ship's ecological environment that may have contributed to its sinking.
For Spencer, it would be like looking at this sinking ship and believing something must have been inherently flawed in the ship's design.
In the mid 1990s as Spencer was developing PVEST, she viewed the literature, specifically on diverse populations, to be riddled with deficit thinking and absent of a human development perspective.

Building on Bronfenbrenner's Ecological Systems theory, Spencer coupled the notion of identity formation in normal development with the complex interplay of ecological systems. Thus, PVEST places identity formation in context and recognizes the impact of perception as well as individual and group level differences on the development of an individual.
A huge part of understanding PVEST, is Spencer's assertion that all humans are vulnerable. In the case of our metaphor, even a perfectly constructed ship would face problems in a hurricane.
The difference, Spencer argues, is that these vulnerabilities do not occur in isolation, they are part of a complex process of systems. All humans have risk factors, but they also have supports.
How those supports link together to form the best outcome makes the difference in how people become successful.
The good news is that researchers in education, psychology, sociology, and counseling (disciplines that have found PVEST useful) can begin to ask questions about the support systems available to successful individuals that were not available to others. For Spencer, PVEST helps answer the "how" and "why" questions rather than simply the "what."
Possible research question appropriate for a PVEST framework are:
How does parent involvement in school activities impact academic achievement for first-generation American high school students?
How do parents' expectations of future college attendance impact degree completion rates for their children?
How do African American student's beliefs about their academic self-efficacy impact their enrollment in gifted and advanced coursework in high school?
To have a look at a study using PVEST as its framework, consider the following articles:
Cunningham, M., Corprew, C. S., & Becker, J. E. (2009). Associations of future expectations, negative friends, and academic achievement in high-achieving African American adolescents. Urban Education, 44(3), 280-296. doi: 10.1177/0042085908318715

Swanson, D. P., Spencer M. B., Dell'Angelo, T., Harpalani, V., & Spencer, T. R. (2002). Identity processes and the positive youth development of African Americans: An explanatory framework.
New Directions for Youth Development,
(95), 73-99.
For more information on PVEST, see the following references used in this presentation by clicking the PDF below:
Full transcript