The Writing Zone according to Ecological Systems Theory


See Urie Bronfenbrenner, The Ecology of Human Development: Experiments by Nature and Design (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1979).

Ecological Systems Theory (see wikipedia) specifies four types of nested environmental systems, with bi-directional influences within and between the systems.

The four systems:

1. Microsystem: the individual’s immediate environments (family, school, peer group, neighborhood, and childcare environments);
2. Mesosystem: the direct connections between immediate environments (i.e., a child’s home and school);
3. Exosystem: the environments that only indirectly affect the individual (such as parent’s workplace);
4. Macrosystem: the larger cultural context (Eastern vs. Western culture, national economy, political culture, subculture).

Later, a fifth system was added:

5. Chronosystem: the patterning of environmental events and transitions over the course of life.

Cf. Te Whariki version (“ECE” = Early Childhood Education):


One version of the ecology of the writing zone of the academic writer relies on a simplified version of this diagram—with only three systems: the microsystem of the individual, the exosystem of the institutional writing classroom, and the macrosystem of the social/national context.

Students come to the institutional writing classroom aiming to learn what they take to be the rules of that system and easily become trapped in that system, to the exclusion of their self (interior life: personal/cultural history, etc., i.e. experience and expertise) and the “real world” (life outside the institution, i.e. society, national history, etc, i.e. context).

(Obviously, insofar as we take students to be embodied and embedded “cognizers,” and these aspects of their selves to be socioculturally determined, the micro- and exosystem overlap in an inside-outside relationship [like a Klein bottle].)

This entrapment takes the form of paranoid rule-following, most of which is untaught, i.e. received wisdom, and improvised, i.e. learnt by trial and error (unconsciously erratological).

See Freud’s “Psychoanalytic Notes on an Autobiographical Account of a Case of Paranoia (Dementia Paranoides),” i.e. The Schreber Case, trans. Andrew Webber, intro. Colin McCabe (Penguin, 2003). The psychotic Schreber suffers a “world catastrophe,” after which he disavows reality (Umwelt) and invents an alternative reality (Eigenwelt) with its own logic, where symbols become concrete and symptoms are projected as real.

Oddly, students misread the institutional clues about the rules in relatively consistent ways (which might suggest that the institution supplies or conditions these mis-rules, thus providing a mix of information and mis- or disinformation, probably because its existence depends on students assuming the position of ignorance). In other words, there is a definable set of transformations of academic style, much as the elements of Schreber’s delusions seem to mirror (i.e. consistently and inversely)—and their relationships to mimic—conventional ones.

The task of the writing teacher is to enable the student to see, adapt to, and make use of the mesosystems that mediate between their microsystem (Innenwelt) and the exosystem (writing class within the academic institution, i.e. their immediate Umwelt), and between that exosystem and the
social/national context (the “real world,” i.e. their mediate Umwelt; this is a modification of the idea of a mesosystem). To do so is to allow students to see the system as a system: to get distance on it by dint of thinking from the outside in or inside out, thereby turning its vicious circle into a virtuous one (i.e. setting up a positive rather than negative feedback loop).


a Klein bottle, orig. Kleinsche Fläche (Klein surface), misread as Kleinsche Flasche (Klein bottle)

3 thoughts on “The Writing Zone according to Ecological Systems Theory

  1. Hello Mr. Sturm:
    I am a doctoral student and would like to use your image of the Ecological Theory in my dissertation. Do you have an e-mail I can use to send a formal letter of request?

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