Contexts for Learning: Sociocultural Dynamics in Children's Development

By Ellice A. Forman; Norris Minick et al. | Go to book overview

12
Generation and Transmission of Shared Knowledge in the Culture of Collaborative Learning: The Fifth Dimension, Its Play-World, and Its Institutional Contexts

AGELIKI NICOLOPOULOU and MICHAEL COLE

One of the most central and distinctive principles of the Vygotskian perspective is that the formation of mind is essentially and inescapably a sociocultural process; consequently, it can be grasped only by situating individual development in its sociocultural context. However, as various scholars have recently pointed out -- including the editors of this volume, as well as Wertsch ( 1985), Goodnow ( 1990), and Nicolopoulou ( 1991, 1993) -- a great deal of the research that has associated itself with the ideas of Vygotsky has focused only on certain limited aspects of the social embeddedness of thought and intellectual development. In particular, with a few exceptions -- among which we include some of our own earlier work ( Newman, Griffin, & Cole, 1989; Nicolopoulou, 1989; Scribner & Cole, 1981) -- it has tended to conceive of the "social" or interpsychological context of development exclusively in terms of face-to-face interaction in dyadic pairs (or, rarely, in small groups).

This exclusive focus on face-to-face interaction, however, involves a truncated and inadequate conception of the sociocultural dimension of Vygotsky's theory. While the investigation of dyadic interaction accords with the primary object of analysis in most of Vygotsky's own empirical research, it taps only one element of his larger project -- and, taken in isolation, does not do justice to the potential value of his theoretical perspective considered as a whole. Vygotskian research needs to move beyond this narrow focus, to address more systematically the larger institutional and cultural contexts within which face-to-face interactions occur and that structure their nature and impact. However, it is worth emphasizing that many of the key resources for doing so can be drawn from the unexplored (or underdeveloped) possibilities within the Vygotskian perspective itself.

The research presented in this chapter represents one such attempt to utilize a more comprehensive conception of the social embeddedness of thought and individual development. Furthermore, it proposes one method by which the creation and transmission of knowledge can effectively be

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