Kegan explores internal authority
For the past 25 years, developmental psychologist Robert Kegan has been
fascinated with the activity of human being; that is, humans as "meaning
makers," making sense of the world and giving shape to their experiences.
Kegan has gone against conventional wisdom in psychology by saying that
real growth and development after adolescence is possible and that adults
must pass through several stages to succeed in their roles as partners and
Kegan talked about his ideas on adult stages of development during an Oct.
8 lecture sponsored by The Ethics Center in conjunction with the University
Commission on Teaching and the Center for Teaching and Curriculum. Nearly
200 people attended his lecture; approximately 50 graduate students attended
his seminar on Oct. 10, and 60 faculty attended his workshop on teaching
that same day.
Kegan's 1994 book, In Over Our Heads: The Mental Demands of Modern Life,
asserts that a "qualitative transformation of mind is possible after
adolescence and is necessary after adolescence to succeed in modern life."
Kegan spent a good portion of the lecture telling anecdotes to give the
flavor of mental demands on adults. He used examples from parenting, intimacy
issues, work and the diversity curriculum. He also discussed the conflict
that can occur between faculty and students when students are still making
a transition into being a well socialized person and faculty are in a self-authoring
stage, in which they are the authors and writers of their own agenda. In
this stage, making sense comes from an internal authority, and does not
come from the surroundings.
"We ask students to approach their studies from a self-authoring stage,"
said Kegan. "This flies in the face of the traditional world, which
is where our students are, in which the best thing is to be good members
of the tribe." Kegan went on to say, "The unconditional demands
of modern life demand a self-authoring approach," yet he also noted
that two-thirds of the adult population do not construct the world in a
His final point was that people at the forefront of academic disciplines
are required to make a further transformation, one that demands a certain
distance from one's internal ideology.
to the October 14, 1996 contents page