A blog about problems in the field of psychology and attempts to fix them.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Eco Psych Textbook Project Update 11/2011

Two years ago, I attended the Ecological Psychology meeting in the city of Normal, Illinois. It was hosted by Jeff Wagman, who does solid empirical research as well as solid theoretical work, including two fun papers with David Miller focusing on the similarities between Ecological Psychology and Developmental Psychobiology (see also, the mission statement of this blog). Anyway, at that meeting Bill Mace, long time editor of the journal Ecological Psychology, gave a talk titled "Ecological Psychology Today." His intent was to imagine what one might put in a chapter for the Annual Review of Psychology or a book length reference for the current state of the field. He had some good ideas about the broad topics that would need to be covered (more on that if I can find my notes, or if he will share his slides), but the two main messages I saw in the talk were:
1. The field has grown tremendously since the last big treatments of the field (Gibson, 1979 and Claudia and Carello 1981), and no one is quite sure what the best format for such a treatment would be today.
2. Even if we can determine the format, it is quite possible that no one is qualified to write such a treatment by themselves (the field has simply grown to large). 
That night, I started working on a project. Why not have the whole field write a textbook?

The idea was to set up a private Wiki, where members of the Eco Psych community could jointly put together a textbook. People could place things they had already written, notes from class, scraps lying around their hard drive, etc., and others could edit and use what worked and fix what didn't. For the less tech savvy, or more time constrained, I could have hard copy material typed up, or upload things they emailed me. This would make constructing the book a lot easier, because surely much of the text needed has already been written, it just needs to be assembled and streamlined. I envisioned it as a three year process. Year one, the information dump. Year two, the construction of any needed material. Year three, editing it into a book with a single voice and minimal redundancy.

With encouragement from people who saw early drafts of the website, I proposed the textbook project formally at this year's International Conference on Perception and Action (ICPA) in Brazil. The discussion was side tracked several times, and there were arguments about what the best format for the textbook should be, but overall the reception was very positive. Even the few people who openly claimed that I was going on a fool's quest, agreed that it was a Noble Quest. There were several warnings given about what had derailed similar attempts in the past, and many of those same issues are appearing now.

The three big lessons I have learned:
1. Many people are willing to complain about, and fix what other people write, but they don't want to write the first pass, or go through the trouble of finding the material they have already written.
2. The biggest conflicts will be over the beginning of the book: What is the right order in which to present the ideas? Do we introduce the philosophical fight up front?  What is the essential core of the field that must be explained before more specialized topics can be introduced?
3. More people are interested in working on the specialized later chapter  than are interested in fighting through the initial chapters.
So, where does the project stand?

I have several people, or groups of people, who have offered to write specialized material. Though I have not communicated in a few months, I believe that those are still in progress. Meanwhile, next semester I will have a slightly lighter teaching load than usual, and I will try to pump out the four to five foundational chapters. By taking charge of the initial chapters I can delay many arguments and headaches until we have something concrete to argue about, and I can allow other people to do what they seemed most interested in doing. When those chapters are finished, I will place them up on the web. Meanwhile, a very good team of people is waiting to tear whatever I write to shreds and help me rebuild.

My hope is that we can still be on the three year plan. Psychology Press, which has a history of working with the Eco Psych community, has expressed much interest in the project. Many people in Brazil seemed very interested, but skeptical. If, by mid-summer, I can have a draft of the core chapters and a handful of drafts for specialized chapter, I think that others will jump on board and momentum will build quickly.

That's the plan at least, and I'll be working on my part diligently starting in three weeks. Any updates from the chapter teams would be welcome. Suggestions and additional volunteers always welcome as well.


Wagman, J. B. & Miller, D. B. (2003). Nested reciprocities: The organism-environment system in perception-action and development. Developmental Psychobiology, 42, 317-334. (for a PDF copy of this paper, click here)

Wagman, J. B., & Miller, D. B. (2003). The womb and the skin as false boundaries in perception-action and development: A response. Developmental Psychobiology, 42, 362-367.

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