Academic journal article Psychology in Russia

Vygotsky under Debate: Two Points of View on School Learning

Academic journal article Psychology in Russia

Vygotsky under Debate: Two Points of View on School Learning

Article excerpt

Two interpretations of Vygotsky's Work

The first interpretation of L. S. Vygotsky's work can be found in Wertsch (1985), Cole (1985), Rogoff (1991), and Bruner (1983) and has been developed in Anglo-Saxon countries; it gives priority to a social analysis of Vygotsky's writings. The thesis of the complementarity between Jean Piaget's and Vygotsky's works is often adopted (Rogoff, 1991). If Piaget established as a theoretical basis that the cumulative and progressive construction of the mental structures of knowledge takes place as a result of the lone child's interaction with objects, Vygotsky, with his concept of the zone of proximal development (ZPD), depicted the integration of others in the child's knowledge construction; he also created a theory of the teacher's activity, which stimulates the child's development and supports the child in knowledge conquests, thereby accelerating future or budding conquests (Bruner, 1983).

The work that permits these researchers to set up such an interpretation is Mind in Society (Vygotsky, 1978). This book compiles extracts of texts written by Vygotsky at different times and enables a combined reading of his works that presents what can be considered an original and innovative theory. The presentation testifies to the coherent unity of the Russian psychologist's research work. However, Vygotsky emerges from this text as a social interactionist, and the reader is led to reflect on the possible effects of the interaction between a mother and her child on the child's learning.

A citation can be used to support this perspective. It is taken from Chapter 5 of The History of the Development of the Higher Mental Functions (Vygotsky, 1931/1997), which Vygotsky reproduced in a late text (Vygotsky 1934/2012, p. 241) and of which only some parts were taken to constitute Chapter 6 of Mind in Society:

Every higher mental function was external because it was social before it became an internal, strictly mental function; it was formerly a social relation of two people. The means of acting on oneself is initially a means of acting on others or a means of the action of others on the individual. (Vygotsky, 1931/1997, p. 105)

Out of this citation have come the understanding and articulation of the higher mental functions as having a social origin. Therefore those reading the citation could find it necessary to investigate which social conditions allow and favor the intellectual or cognitive development of the child. Without adding any more information, Vygotsky's argument can be legitimately interpreted as an invitation and an encouragement to continue a research program that he would certainly have de- signed and that he couldn't carry out because of his premature death. Many Anglo- Saxon researchers have intended to continue this research program by developing a sociocultural approach to the psychological development of children (for example, Wertsch, del Rio, & Alvarez, 1995).

Nevertheless, this interpretation is founded on only one notion (the zone of proximal development) and one book (Mind in Society). It can be discussed, even debated, on the basis of an analysis of The Collected Works of L. S. Vygotsky, whose six volumes appeared in English between 1987 and 1999 (and between 1982 and 1984 in Russian). In this collection, we have the full texts of Vygotsky's works, in which we can see the diversity of his topics and the unfinished character of his works. On the basis of reading these texts, another (second) interpretation has emerged.

Pursuing this line of investigation, we can define several stages of the evolution of Vygotsky's thinking about the development of higher mental functions (Minick, 1987). Based on significant reappraisal, three different phases have been proposed (Chaiguerova, Zinchenko, & Yvon, 2012). The first phase is centered on the instrument. A paper about this premise was published in 1928 in the Russian journal Pedagogy, then translated and published in English the year after (Vygotsky, 1929/1994), and recently translated into French (Vygotsky, 1928/2012). …

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