Social-Relational Wisdom: Developmental Diversity in Children’s Written Narratives About Social Conflict
Ellie Buteau |
The Graduate Center, City University of New York
Research has focused on perspective-coordination as a central mechanism and achievement of social development. Theorists have raised questions about whether and how cultural, social, and personal experiences affect such a process. Children from historically discriminated backgrounds, for example, have reasons to be especially knowledgeable about the perspectives of others, but whether and how such knowledge complicates normative developmental patterns requires further inquiry. This paper describes “narrative social wisdom,” extending cognitive-developmental notions of perspective-coordination with a discourse analysis of 224 autobiographical and fictional narratives about social conflict by 56 children identifying as African American (15), Latino (16), and White (25) in 3rd and 5th grades in urban schools. Analyses illustrate social wisdom in children’s context-sensitive representations of conflicts, in particular, via dramatic within- and across-group differences in representations of conflict resolution processes. Notable contrasts include the greater complexity of conflict strategies in autobiographical narratives by African American children compared to relatively elaborated conflict strategies in fictional narratives by White children. These and other results illustrate how children juggle resources from sociocultural histories with requirements of mainstream institutions. Conflict representations in fictional narratives were, moreover, consistent with cognitive developmental theory, but, as predicted, autobiographical narratives captured diversities that alter developmental patterns. We discuss the relevance of these results for theory and practice around social relational development and skills.