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Martin Packer


I am a developmental psychologist who works within the theoretical framework of cultural psychology, conducting research with an interpretive logic of inquiry.
Hot off the press! Introduction to my new book on Qualitative Research. Tell me what you think!   

Let's unpack this a little....

As a developmental psychologist I am interested in how people learn and change. In the big picture, this is the question of how a newborn baby becomes an adult. But it also involves smaller pictures, questions about the ways people are transformed moment-to-moment in their everyday interactions.

The theoretical framework of cultural psychology emphasizes that our existence in the world together with other people is always mediated by cultural artifacts--signs, texts, and tools--and that human relationships and interactions are always located within social contexts, whose change over time is what we call history.

So my research focuses on the development of children and young adults, and the links between this and the construction, reproduction and transformation of society. I typically study interactions among children, and between children and adults, in real-world settings, often using video- or audio-taping to permit a microanalysis of the exchanges.

Every scientific paradigm brings with it presumptions about the appropriate research methods to use, and the broader logic wherein inquiry is conducted. Interpretive research involves a logic of inquiry that emphasizes the interpretation of texts and text-analogs, including human conduct. It calls for the study of people's interaction in context, and a critical sensitivity to power and ideology. Technically, it is a hermeneutic phenomenology. It provides what I call an ontological analysis.

I have a broad interest in the philosophical underpinnings of social scientific research. I believe it is crucial that we examine not only the epistemological assumptions (concerning the character and origins of knowledge) but also the ontological assumptions (concerning the kinds of entities presumed to exist) that underly every interpretation of what counts as 'science,' and consider the historical character of these assumptions.

My research operates at the creative intersection of these three areas of interest. My teaching is also guided by them.

In brief, my view is this. Cultural psychology provides a theoretical framework within which we can begin to explore the ontological aspects of human development and learning, not just their epistemological aspects. To do this requires an appropriate method of inquiry and analysis: interpretive research offers a way to study the ontological work that occurs in human interaction, within cultural practices and social institutions. The ontological analysis that interpretive inquiry makes possible can help us better understand how, for example, schools change the kind of person a child is. Such analysis must include an element of critique, in the twin senses of uncovering the conditions for the possibility of change, and exposing inequity and coercion.



Explore further...
Developmental Psychology
Cultural Psychology
Interpretive Research

Visiting positions:

Spring 2008: University of the Andes, in Bogotá, Colombia

Spring 2007: University of the Americas Puebla, Cholula, Mexico

Spring & Fall 2003 Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana, Ciudad de México

I'm one of three founding editors of the journal, published by Taylor & Francis:

Qualitative Research in Psychology


If you'd like to learn more about my work you may find the following in your library:

Packer, M. J. (2011). The Science of Qualitative Research. Cambridge University Press






Packer M. J. & Tappan, M. B. (Eds.). (2001). Cultural and critical perspectives on developmental psychology:  Implications for research, theory and practice.  SUNY Press, 2001.

Editors' Introduction....

My chapter...


Packer, M. J. (2000).  Changing classes: School reform and the new economy.  Cambridge University Press.  (Published in the series 'Learning in Doing.')

Read a sample chapter at
Cambridge University Press

"Changing Classes is a must read. Packer gives a highly sensitive, compelling, interesting, and creative account of what happens to individuals, schools, and community life as a result of powerful economic and political forces." Contemporary Psychology

"Changing Classes is humane, straightforward, and accessible. It is also important, but perhaps not mainly for the reasons that one might infer from its title... It should also be read by those concerned with developing new genres of educational research representation that are simultaneously accessible to a range of readers and more respectful of the research subjects." Mind, Culture, and Activity

"The book is a timely resource for policymakers and researchers, and a challenge for reformers who think in abstractions and not through the lens of a single community struggling to do well for its children." Review of Policy Research

"Changing Classes offers a valuable, detailed description and analysis of educational reform in a Michigan (USA) school district. Packer's special contribution, in my view, is that unlike a good deal of writing about educational reform, he is able to work across and back and forth within multiple points on the educational field of action." Journal of Curriculum Studies

Packer, M. J. (Guest Editor, Annual Edition 2000). Special Issue: Hermeneutic Research on Psychotherapy. Methods: A Journal For Human Science.

My introduction to the issue...

reprinted by The Society for Laingian Studies



Packer, M. J., & Tappan, M. B. (Eds.) (1991). Narrative and Storytelling: Implications for Understanding Moral Development.New Directions for Child Development, #54

My chapter...





Packer, M. J., & Addison, R. B. (Eds.). (1989). Entering the circle: Hermeneutic investigation in psychology. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Editors' Overview and Introduction...

My chapter...

Evaluating an Interpretive Account...




Packer, M. J. (1985). The structure of moral action: A hermeneutic study of moral conflict. Contributions to Human Development,whole number 13. Basel: Karger.








These recent publications may be of interest:


The Problem of Transfer, and the Sociocultural Critique of Schooling. (2001). The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 10 (4), 493-514.

    Packer & Goicoechea. (2000). Sociocultural and Constructivist Theories of Learning: Ontology, not just Epistemology. Educational Psychologist

    "The work of Packer and Goicoechea (2000) has reintroduced ontology as a meaningful topic in research on learning and development..." (Sicilia, M.-Á. & Lytras, M.D. 2005. ‘On the representation of change according to different ontologies of learning’, Int. J. Learning and Change, 1 (1), pp.66–79.

    "To sort out the differences that currently divide us, we must find ways to be more articulate about our starting premises. In so doing, we can aspire to bring new clarity to our discussions concerning the foundations that shape our field. Articles such as the one offered by Packer and Goicoechia are invaluable for stimulating precisely this kind of conversation." (Koschmann, address to the annual meeting of the Learning Society)

Packer & Brooks. (1999).School as a Site for the Production of Persons Journal of Constructivist Psychology, 12, 133-149. Español

An almost-complete set of publications (PDF format) ...


And here are some recently presented papers:

The Ontology of Learning. Paper presented at the American Educational Research Association annual meetings, Montreal, 1999, in session 15.57, Schooling as Becoming a Self: Bakhtinian Perspectives.

Comments on Interpretive Research. Paper presented at the American Educational Research Association annual meetings, Montreal, 1999, in  session 17.26, Islands of Truth and Wisdom: How Many Epistemologies Do We Need?

School and the 'production of persons' in a community in transition. Paper presented at the American Educational Research Association annual meetings, San Francisco, 1995.

'Local ontology' - cultural work in the classroom. Paper presented at the American Educational Research Association annual meetings, San Francisco, 1995.

The logic of interpretive inquiry. Paper for the session 'Toward a cultural psychology of development - Methodological matters,' presented at the Society for Research in Child Development biennial meeting, Indianapolis, 1995.

Methodological worldviews as influential in the study of morality: The cases of hermeneutics and objectivism. Presented at the annual meetings of the Association for Moral Education, Tallahassee, November, 1993.

Meaning and value in the cultural work of children's play. Paper presented at the annual symposium of the Jean Piaget Society, Philadelphia, June 1993.



Quick links to some course materials:

PSIC3962 Psicología del Desarrollo


PS12301 Psicología de la Infancia

PS48501 Topicos Contemporaneos en Psicología: Lev Vygotsky

Psych 225 - Developmental Psychology 1 syllabus, notes, overheads, links, etc...

Psych 624 - Experimental & Statistical Research Methods syllabus, links, materials

Psych 598 - Language Acquisition syllabus, links, handouts

Psych 611 - Advanced Research syllabus

Psych 513 - Introduction to Qualitative Research syllabus

Psych 683 - Theories of Development syllabus