Kegan’s Theory of Development

Robert Kegan’s Theory of Human Development Randy G. Litchfield
Methodist Theological School in Ohio

Based on The Evolving Self (Cambridge: Harvard, 1982)


A person is as much an activity as a thing

People construct their realities; they are meaning making creatures

People move through periods of stability and change

People have two great yearnings that exist in life long tension:

To be included

To be independent


Development is evolutionary motion

Focuses on the changes in the way people differentiate between their sense of self and their environment–boundary issues

Development is a life long process of differentiation and integration

Movement to make meanings, resolve discrepancies, preserve and enhance personal integrity

Movement out of “embeddedness”

Development driven by responding to a complex world–encountering and resolving disequilibriums

Each stage of development is a theory of the previous stage

Development includes moving back and forth between inclusion and independence

Corrective to male/female dichotomies of development

We revisit issues but on new levels of complexity




Incorporative Self (Stage 0) Ending around age 2?

Self is: Reflexes (seeing, moving)

Self has: No separable objects to “have”

Child and environment appear to be extensions of one another

Ending of stage with permanence of objects

Impulsive Self (Stage 1) Ending between ages 5 and 7?

Self is: Impulses and perceptions

Self has: Reflexes (seeing, moving)

Reflexes are embedded in what coordinates them–perceptions and impulses

Only understand objects as they are presently perceived

Impulses acted upon because their is not a “self” developed to coordinate and control them–no ambivalence

Imperial Self (Stage 2) ending between 12 and 16?

Self is: Needs, interests, wishes

Self has: Impulses and perceptions

“Imperial” because there is an absence of a shared reality with others

Awareness of a private life–people don’t know what I’m thinking

Emergence of a self-concept, a consistent notion of “me”

I now have something to do with what happens in the world

Can’t imagine the feelings of other’s interior responses (empathy)

Only understand consequences of external behavior

What will happen if someone finds out

Others viewed in terms of meeting my needs, wishes, interests

Interpersonal Self (Stage 3)

Self is: Interpersonal, mutual with other people

Self has: Needs, interests, and wishes

Ability to negotiate my needs leads to mutuality

Enter into empathetic and reciprocal obligations

Person embodies many different voices

The self is the shared reality

Interpersonal but not intimate

“There is no self to share with another; instead the other is required to bring the self into being.”–You are the other needed to complete me

Not good with anger because it puts relationships at risk; instead feel sad, wounded or incomplete

Institutional Self (Stage 4)

Self is: Identity, “psychic administration,” ideology

Self has: Relationships with other people

Institutional as in regulating relationships; the self is an administrator of relations

Self-reflective of one’s roles, norms, and self-concept

Ideological state–Truth depends on a faction/class/group

Defensive when chaos threatens order/structure of the self

In Stage 3 the question is “Do you like me?”

In Stage 4 the question is “Does my government still stand?”

Interindividual Self (Stage 5)

Self is: A weaving of personal systems

Self has: Identity, “psychic administration,” ideology

I am not my work roles, career, duties; I have these but they are not me

Now there is a self who runs the organization

Understanding of the systems and groups that have shaped the person and of which the self is a part

Capable of seeking out information that causes changes in behavior

Capable of constructive negative judgements about oneself

Capable of intimacy because now there is a self one can give to others

Author: nuet

01/24/1935. BS-physics RPI 1956; MS-physics UofChicago 1958; PhD-physics Yale 1965; PhD-Edu Psy Uof MInnesota 1970. Auroral Research Byrd Station, Antarctica 11/1960-02/1962. MINNEMAST curriculum dev 1964-68. Woodstock. faculty Pima Community College, Tucson 1974-1997. Transdisciplinary scientist, philosopher, educator, futurist, activist. PC user since 1982. "Wife". daughter, 2 grandsons. 5 dogs & 7 cats. Lacks mental imagery in all sensory domains.