Bronfenbrenner’s Exosystem and Macrosystem
Beyond the Microsystems and the Mesosystems, Bronfenbrenner’s model expands to include those environmental contexts that are less direct and less concrete in the child’s life…but still have a powerful influence on the child’s socialization. We will continue to consider Sam, our child in the center of the drawing, as we examine the concepts of the Exosystems and the Macrosystem.
The Exosystem (represented by the green circles in the drawing)
There are some settings or events that influence the child’s socialization even though the child has no direct role in them. We call these ecological contexts the Exosystem. The Exosystem has an INDIRECT effect on the child, because the influence from the Exosystem usually impacts the child as it “trickles” down through other people in the child’s life. New laws, government reform, environmental regulation, social unrest, financial upheaval, business and industry are a few examples of contexts that can dramatically effect a child’s life and experiences even though the child may know nothing about them. Remember, even though the effect of the Exosystem is INDIRECT it can still be quite profound. Like the Micro and Meso systems, the Exosystem effect on a child can be short term…like a temporary change in work hours for a parent, or long term, …like growing up during the depression.
Many Exosystems influence Sam’s life. For instance, Dad has just gotten a great new client at work. This means that Dad will get a bonus this year and there will be less stress on the family because of more financial security. However, it also means that several of Sam’s weekends with Dad will get interrupted for work and Sam will spend a little less time with Dad over the summer. The Exosystem of Dad’s work has a big impact on Sam through its effect on family finances and visitation schedules. A new factory was just built in Sam’s town. This will bring new jobs and a boom to the local economy. Mom’s property values will increase. However, when the wind blows, some of the fumes from the factory blow right through Dad’s neighborhood and they seem to be affecting his allergies. Luckily, Mom’s work provides her with an HMO so Sam can get medical attention for the allergies. But the HMO requires a visit with the primary care physician before getting a recommendation for an allergist. Sam’s allergies will last about 3 weeks longer before he can get some medication because of this insurance process. The Exosystem of local industry and Mom’s benefits package at work and the health care industry all have an INDIRECT impact on Sam. Sam’s childcare provider charges very reasonable rates, which eases the financial stress on Sam’s parents. However, because of her low rates, she can only pay her assistant minimum wage. Sam’s favorite assistant at childcare is leaving next week because she needs a higher paying job. The Exosystem of the local economic structure influences Sam through his personal relationships and the stress or support on those responsible for socializing him.
The Macrosystem (represented by the large black circle in the drawing)
The Macrosystem is the most abstract and complex of Bronfenbrenner’s four systems…and to be honest with you, I don’t really like the way the textbook explains it. The textbook is accurate…but I think it is narrow in its scope. So I hope this explanation helps you recognize how complex the Macrosystem really is. Your text describes the Macrosystem as the “developing person’s society and subculture with particular reference to the belief systems, lifestyles and options, and patterns of social interchange.” I would describe the Macrosystem as a personal set of values and beliefs that forms within the child based on that child’s unique set of personal experiences AND that serves as a filter or lens through which that child interprets future experiences. I will try to explain it more simply….
The way I envision the Macrosystem is a giant spiral staircase. Imagine a child starting at the bottom of this giant spiral staircase…and the child’s life experience will be represented by the trip up the staircase. With each step the child encounters societal expectations, beliefs and values. He grows up in a particular culture with a form of government. This influences his values and beliefs. Parents of a particular religion raise him. This influences his values and beliefs. He is raised within a family of a particular socio-economic status, which refers to a complex combination of educational status and income. Socioeconomic status influences the child’s beliefs and values. Clearly, with each step up the spiral staircase the child experiences…through the Exosystems, Mesosystems, and Microsystems in his life…events, relationships, and activities that influence the way he thinks and feels.
However, there is another process going on at the same time. As the child goes around one curve on the spiral staircase he is impacted by a belief or value in his environment. As he then rounds the next curve on the spiral he is now viewing the new experience THROUGH his beliefs and values that have thus far been formed. So the experiences he has had in the past continue to affect him by the way that they cause him to understand, interpret, or experience new and future events. Thus the spiral staircase…on which each experience along the way is building up and contributing to those later in life. Let’s consider the idea of this lens or filter some more…
Have you ever watched a political debate with your Dad? Two candidates are on the TV screen before you. You are both seeing and hearing the exact same thing! However, when the candidate you support states his opinion you cheer and clap your hands. You are thrilled that finally someone with some common sense is stepping up to help our country. While you celebrate the moment, your father throws back his head and gets up to leave the room, muttering, “What a load of hogwash!” How is it possible that you both heard and saw the exact same thing and yet INTERPRETTED it so differently?
It is your Macrosystems filtering what you saw and heard that lead to your different interpretations. Your father grew up during a particular era, which influenced his beliefs. He holds a set of religious and political ideologies, which influence his beliefs. He comes from a particular cultural or ethnic background, which influence his beliefs. And it is through this very complicated spiral of life events and ideologies that he comes to the television today to view the debate. You, on the other hand, grew up in an entirely different era, with your own set of religious and political ideologies (which were no doubt influenced by your father!), and your own cultural and ethnic background (also influenced by your father), and your own unique spiral of life events and ideologies that lead you to the television today. These two different sets of experiences and ideologies influence such things as your expectations for the role of government in society, your willingness to believe politicians, your work ethic, your beliefs about individual responsibility, your beliefs about the role of education in society, and your beliefs about family and work issues, to name just a few. Now it is easier to imagine why you and your father could have wildly different reactions to the exact same speech. You each have a set of life experiences and beliefs that act like a kaleidoscope…altering the appearance of what is on the other side, so that you and your father may see and hear the exact same debate but how it appears to each of you is completely different.
There are many factors that influence a child’s developing Macrosystem. They influence both WHAT experiences a child will have and HOW the child will interpret those experiences. Most of these are described and discussed in your text, others I have added. A child’s Macrosystem is defined by the child’s GENDER, the ERA in which the child grows up, the RELIGION that the child is exposed to, the POLITICAL IDEOLOGY surrounding the child, the SOCIO-ECONOMIC STATUS of the family (which refers to a combination of the Educational level of the parents and the income of the family), and the child’s CULTURE…which may include issues of race, ethnicity, and heritage.
Think through your own life experiences and consider the major values that you were exposed to through the different influences on your Macrosystem. For instance, here are some ideas from my own life: Growing up in the CULTURE of the United States has given me a strong exposure to the value of INDEPENDENCE. Our society respects and strives for personal freedom and independence and demands (at least some of the time) PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY too. I was raised by two parents who each went to college and graduate school, and then each taught college. Clearly, the SOCIO-ECONOMIC STATUS of my family instilled in me a profound respect for EDUCATION and I value education highly…in fact, I’ve made a career of it. I have grown up FEMALE in our society and during an ERA in which women had many opportunities and were becoming more equal. Perhaps this combination of event instilled in me a sense of POSSIBILITY and OPTIMISM so that I value OPPORTUNITY and am willing to take RISKS. Others might say, and I wouldn’t argue much, that since I experienced my teens and twenties during the 1980’s, an ERA of great WEALTH and PROSPERITY, that I learned to value INSTANT GRATIFICATION and MATERIAL WEALTH highly. And, compared to my mother who experienced her teens and twenties during the 1950’s, I’d have to agree that I do.
REMEMBER, the value of Bronfenbrenner’s theory is to provide some structure for conceptualizing the many, many influences on a child’s socialization. Some of those influences have a direct effect on the child (through the Micro and Mesosystems) and some of those influences have an indirect effect on the child as they trickle down through the individuals and relationships in the child’s immediate environments.