Coordinating Operative and Figurative
Knowledge: Piaget, Vygotsky,
Tamer G. Amin
American University of Beirut
Piaget and Vygotsky certainly belong to a class of thinkers with a broad, integrative perspective on developmental issues. There were many other such thinkers in the first half of the 20th century—William Stern, Ernst Cassirer, Karl Buhler, and Jakob von Uexkyll, to name a few. Yet the focus on Piaget and Vygotsky has gained wider popularity for largely historical coincidences of the epistemic market of developmental psychology (about such markets, see Rosa, 1994).
Here we return to the work of Piaget and Vygotsky in a way that reintegrates their ideas. All too often we have observed contemporary researchers claiming that these two developmental thinkers fall on different sides of an individualist-collectivist divide. The construction of this divide is an interesting example of historical myopia in contemporary psychology. It is clear that Vygotsky was not only knowledgeable about Piaget's work (see van der Veer & Valsiner, 1991), but also deeply appreciative of the latter's revolutionary take on human mental development. The differences between Piaget and Vygotsky certainly exist, but these have more to do with their primary foci of interests rather than their belonging to different schools. All too often our reconstructions of psychology's history turn the thinking of particular individual thinkers into representatives of some “school”—usually overlooking the fine-grained details of their actual intellectual efforts.