A cognitive developmental approach to the structure of mass belief systems regarding international affairs: A framework for basic international education

Eileen Elizabeth Kraus, University of Pennsylvania


This dissertation uses the epistemological theory of Jean Piaget--constructivism--to provide insight into the nature, source, and development of knowledge of international affairs. In so doing, it addresses two recalcitrant problems: (1) identifying the structural patterns underlying the general public's understanding of political affairs, and (2) defining substantive goals for citizenship-level education about international affairs. The dissertation proposes that the major epistemological insights and contentions of Piaget are true of knowledge of international affairs. Knowledge of international affairs is not coterminous with stockpiles of information passively registered from the environment. Rather, it is actively constructed through interaction between subject and object, and therefore structured. Actions and the coordination of actions play key roles in this constructive process. In line with this view of the nature and source of knowledge, the development of knowledge of international affairs is seen as a process that includes qualitative as well as quantitative changes, a process that can be described as discontinuous. In elaborating these general ideas, this dissertation focuses on the structural patternings of preoperational and concrete operational thought. These can provide special insight into patterns underlying citizen representational knowledge of international affairs. Defined structurally rather than by content, rooted in epistemology, and seen as the basis for more advanced knowledge and reasoning, the concrete operational patterns can also significantly inform the search for substantive goals of basic-level international education. For all levels of Piagetian operative functioning, though at a reduced scale for formal operations, examples are given of common understandings of international affairs that are structurally parallel to Piagetian patterns. Examples are also offered of the implications for international education of a Piagetian interpretation of these patterns. Overall, this dissertation argues for the existence and importance of Piagetian operative patterns in the construction of knowledge about international affairs. It does not point out patterns previously unnoticed, but rather places previously noted patterns in a theoretical context which gives them a new relationship to each other and redefines their nature. This suggests promising avenues for educationally facilitating development with regard to them.

Subject Area

Political science|International law|International relations|Curricula|Teaching

Recommended Citation

Kraus, Eileen Elizabeth, "A cognitive developmental approach to the structure of mass belief systems regarding international affairs: A framework for basic international education" (1990). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9026596.