4.1 Genetic epistemology
Jean Piaget (1896–1980) was not primarily interested in child development, but in the nature of knowledge and how it could be seen as a form of adaptation to the environment. He described his work as genetic epistemology – the study of the origins and development of knowledge.
He argued that individuals develop progressively more elaborate and sophisticated mental representations of the environment, based on their own actions on the environment and the consequences of these. Thus he saw cognitive development as progressive and constructive, with the child becoming increasingly competent at acting in more complex ways on the environment as a result of building up mental representations of how the world works. Mental representation are an internalised, personal understanding of some aspect of the external world.
Piaget theorised that there is an inherent logic to the development of human knowledge that means that it is constructed by all children in the same order. This sequence was seen as emerging from the nature of human knowledge and the child's own actions. Although he saw the basic building blocks and the processes of development as universal, he saw development itself as being the child's own construction.