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Vygotsky on Human Nature and Human Development James V. Wertsch Department of Anthropology Washington University in St. Louis St. Louis, MO, USA.

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Presentation on theme: "Vygotsky on Human Nature and Human Development James V. Wertsch Department of Anthropology Washington University in St. Louis St. Louis, MO, USA."— Presentation transcript:

1 Vygotsky on Human Nature and Human Development James V. Wertsch Department of Anthropology Washington University in St. Louis St. Louis, MO, USA

2 “Sociocultural Approach” to Mind Sociocultural Approach Sociocultural Approach –Human mental functioning is shaped by:  Cultural context  Historical context  Institutional context –“Sociocultural”: cultural is not reduced to historical context and difference Mental functioning of investigators and practitioners also socioculturally situated Mental functioning of investigators and practitioners also socioculturally situated

3 Sociocultural Approach to Mind Sociocultural situatedness of one American mind in Moscow Sociocultural situatedness of one American mind in Moscow –Mid 1970s in the Cold War –Interested in Soviet psychology and linguistics –He thought he was open to new approaches –Background in Piaget, Chomsky, Vygotsky, George Herbert Mead –Product of American individualism –Wrong “mental habits” for understanding

4 Vygotsky and Mead Similar claims about social origins of human mind Similar claims about social origins of human mind Even similar philosophical roots: e.g., Hegel Even similar philosophical roots: e.g., Hegel But completely different reception and impact in Russia and U.S. But completely different reception and impact in Russia and U.S. –Vygotsky made sense in Russia and had impact –Mead left little influence in U.S.

5 Vygotsky and Mead

6 Vygotsky Vygotsky – –1934: Myshlenie i Rech’ –A founder of socio- historical approach to mind Mead Mead – –1932: Mind, Self, and Society –A founder of Pragmatism along with William James and John Dewey

7 Mead on Social Origins of Consciousness “We are rather forced to conclude that consciousness is an emergent from [socially responsive behavior]; that so far from being a precondition of the social act, the social act is the precondition of it.” “We are rather forced to conclude that consciousness is an emergent from [socially responsive behavior]; that so far from being a precondition of the social act, the social act is the precondition of it.”

8 Vygotsky on Social Origins of Consciousness “The social dimension of consciousness is primary in time and in fact. The individual dimension of consciousness is derivative and secondary.” “The social dimension of consciousness is primary in time and in fact. The individual dimension of consciousness is derivative and secondary.”

9 Social Origins Argument Consistent with critique of “atomism” in philosophy and social theory Consistent with critique of “atomism” in philosophy and social theory Contradicts: Contradicts: –“Methodological individualism” (i.e., explanation of social phenomena must start with individual) –American cultural individualism

10 Sociocultural Approach of Vygotsky Not a theory in strict sense Not a theory in strict sense Shares much with ideas of other thinkers of his time Shares much with ideas of other thinkers of his time Includes unique contributions Includes unique contributions Three basic themes Three basic themes

11 Theme 1: Genetic (developmental) method Parallels with: Parallels with: –Sigmund Freud –Jean Piaget –Wolfgang Köhler –Heinz Werner –Kurt Lewin

12 1. Genetic (developmental) Method Seeks explanation in origins and developmental transformation Seeks explanation in origins and developmental transformation More than contemporary developmental psychology More than contemporary developmental psychology –“Genetic domains” with different laws  Phylogenesis  Sociocultural history  Ontogenesis  Microgenesis

13 2. Social Origins of Higher Mental Functions in Individual Reflects genetic method Reflects genetic method “General genetic law of cultural development” “General genetic law of cultural development” –All higher mental functions appear twice, on two planes, first on the “intermental” plane, between people, and then on the “intramental” plane, within the individual  Applies to thinking, memory, attention, etc.

14 2. Social Origins of Higher Mental Functions in Individual Parallels with other thinkers (e.g., Mead), but more radical claim in Vygotsky Parallels with other thinkers (e.g., Mead), but more radical claim in Vygotsky –Not just social origins, but “quasi-social nature” of mental functioning on intramental plane Border between social and individual is “porous” Border between social and individual is “porous” Same mental function appears on intermental and intramental plane Same mental function appears on intermental and intramental plane

15 2. Social Origins of Higher Mental Functions in Individual First sense in which “mind extends beyond the skin” First sense in which “mind extends beyond the skin” Can be “socially distributed” Can be “socially distributed” –Productive to examine how dyads, groups use discourse to think, remember Adult-child dyad as agent in remembering Adult-child dyad as agent in remembering Other- to self-regulation Other- to self-regulation –Different intermental functioning => different intramental outcomes

16 3. Mediation of Mental Functioning Most important and unique contributions of Vygotsky in this realm Most important and unique contributions of Vygotsky in this realm Started his career in philology, literary studies Started his career in philology, literary studies Especially interested in language as a cultural tool/mediational means Especially interested in language as a cultural tool/mediational means

17 3. Mediation of Mental Functioning “Mediated action” as unit of analysis “Mediated action” as unit of analysis Active-agent-using-cultural-tool Active-agent-using-cultural-tool –Cultural tool does some of our thinking, remembering for us –“Remembering” title of a book by using internet as cultural tool –Intelligence = Mastery of socioculturally valued tools

18 3. Mediation of Mental Functioning Using a cultural tool before we understand it Using a cultural tool before we understand it –“Performance before competence” –Illustrated by Vygotsky/Leont’ev on “forbidden colors task” –Inititial use/misuse of a sign form in intermental functioning => Mastery on intermental plane through over estimation

19 3. Mediation of Mental Functioning Based on Vygotsky’s clear understanding of distinction between sign form and sign meaning Based on Vygotsky’s clear understanding of distinction between sign form and sign meaning In intermental functioning can use a sign form or vehicle without full understanding of meaning In intermental functioning can use a sign form or vehicle without full understanding of meaning Not the case that we must understand a sign on the intramental plane before using it on intermental Not the case that we must understand a sign on the intramental plane before using it on intermental

20 3. Mediation of Mental Functioning Mediation as key to understanding: Mediation as key to understanding: –Developmental stages and transformation –Link between intermental and intramental functioning –“Importing” of social life into intramental functioning

21 An American in Moscow American habits of thought: American habits of thought: –Methodological individualism –Neat distinction between individual and social processes –Mental processes (memory, cognition) exist in individual mind unless marked otherwise Hard to resist “grooves/ruts of thinking” when encountering Vygotsky’s genius Hard to resist “grooves/ruts of thinking” when encountering Vygotsky’s genius


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