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Faculteit Soc. V/et.
Bibliotheek
Wassenaarseweg 52
2333 AK Leiden

UNDERSTANDING VYGOTSKY:
A QUEST FOR SYNTHESIS

I

UNDERSTANDING
VYGOTSKY:
A QUEST FOR SYNTHESIS

René van der Veer and Jaan Valsiner

BLACKWELL
I V'"J UK & CamhnJl, USA

Copyright © René van der Veer and Jaan Valsiner 1991
The right of René van der Veer and Jaan Valsmer to be identified as authors of
this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and
Patents Act 1988.
First published 1991
Basil Blackwell, Inc.
Three Cambridge Center
Cambridge, Massachusetts 02142
USA
Basil Blackwell Ltd
108 Cowley Road
Oxford OX4 1JF
UK
All rights reserved. Except for the quotation of short passages for the purposes
of criticism and review, no part may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval
system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical,
photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the
publisher.
Except in the United States of America, this book is sold subject to the
condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired
out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher's prior consent in any form
of binding or cover other than that m which it is published and without a
similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent
purchaser.
Library of Congress Cataloging m Publication Data
Veer, René van der, 1952Understanding Vygotsky: A Quest for synthesis / René van der Veer
and Jaan Valsiner
p.
cm.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 0-631-16528-2
1. Vygotski , L. S. (Lev Semenovich), 1896-1934.
2. Psychologists - Soviet Union. I. Valsiner, Jaan. II. Title.
BF109.V95V44 1991
150'.92--dc20
90-19342
CIP
A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library
Typeset in 10 on 12 pt Sabon
by Acorn Bookwork, Salisbury, Wiltshire
Printed in Great Britain by T.J. Press Ltd, Padstow, Cornwall
This book is printed on acid-free paper

Contents

Illustrations

vu

Préface

viii

Introduction
1 Lev Vygotsky
:TP Literature and Art

1
4
19

PART I The First Years in Moscow 1924-1928
3
$)
5
6
7
^

Introduction
Pedagogical Psychology
Defectology
The Role of Psychoanalysis
Konstantin Kornilov and His Reactology
Crisis in Psychology
Vygotsky and Gestalt Psychology

48
60
78
112
141
155

PART II The Cultural-Historical Theory 1928-1932
Introduction
(J; Cultural-Historical Theory
ip The Expeditions to Central Asia
11 The Universe of Words:
Vygotsky's View on Concept-formation

183
187
242
256

PART m Moscow, Kharkov, and Leningrad 1932-1934
Introduction
12 Vygotsky the Paedologist

287
293

vi CONTENTS
13
14
15
16

Education and Development
Emotions: In Search of a New Approach
A Final Word
Criticisms

328
349
360
373

Epilogue

390

References

401

Index of Names

441

Index of Subjects

449

Illustrations

1
2
3
4
5

Vygotsky's student card at Moscow University. At the rime he
studied law and still spelled his name with "d".
7
Vygotsky, his daughter Gita, and his wife Rosa Smekhova during
a filmed psychological experiment.
54
In the spring of 1929 Vygotsky lectured for several months in
Tashkent.
244
A portrait of Lev Vygotsky.
291
Lev Vygotsky.
391

Preface

In writing this book we have reached a milestone in the development of our
understanding of how scientific ideas migrate between countries by way of
the intellectual pursuits of individual persons embedded in their cultural
contexts. The understanding of the major ideas of Lev Vygotsky that
emerges from the pages of this book is the result of years of effort to make
sense of the complex, fascinating and, at times, capricious creativity of that
Russian/Jewish literary scholar (turned psychologist). For one of us, (René
van der Veer), understanding Vygotsky has been a long-term project which
has delved deeply into the intricacies of the Russian language and literature
to produce an understanding of Vygotsky's contributions (Van der Veer,
Cultuur en Cognitie, Groningen: Wolters-Noordhoff, 1985). For the other
author, (Jaan Valsiner), work on this book has helped to review some
aspects of his intellectual and social backgrounds which (since 1980) he has
been developing. The Introduction and Epilogue, and chapters 2, 6, 8 and
12 were written by Valsiner; the remainder of the book is by Van der Veer.
But the final product is more than the sum of our individual efforts. Our
personal differences in focus and style have worked well in complementing
each other: while one of us has been nearly over whelmed by microscopic
details, the other's instinctive urge for generalizations has kept the project in
focus; and when one of us has impatiently rushed to make far-reaching
general statements about the state of affairs in psychology, the other has
taken him (or her - a tribute to APA-style equality!) back to the details. This
combination of personal perspectives has helped us to write a treatise on the
life and work of Vygotsky which (we hope) will reveal the intricacies of the
history of his ideas without the need for the reader of this book to take a
"Vygotskian perspective" while trying to make sense of our (sometimes very
detailed) analyses. In any science, it is usually the ardent followers of some
interesting theoretical system who render such a system a dogmatic ortho-

PREFACE ix
doxy. As a result the freshness of the original ideas may disappear as the
unquestioned orthodoxy is accepted. Our aim in this book is to restore the
freshness of Vygotsky's ideas by way of revealing the ways in which his
thinking borrowed concepts from his predecessors and contemporaries, to
analyze these ideas, and to suggest new solutions to the problems he raises.
In order to preserve this aim (one might call it an attempt at an archaeology
of ideas) we have deliberately decided to avoid overviewing the myriad of
interpretations of Vygotsky's work in the past few decades. That task is a
different challenge worthy of a separate volume.
The work on this book was made possible only by generous assistance
from a number of people who helped us to obtain different original material
about Vygotsky, and copies of his original publications. First and foremost,
the trust and friendship of Gita LVovna Vygodskaja is to be acknowledged
with deep gratitude. She (and her relatives) received Van der Veer most
kindly, gave him access to the family archives, and answered many of our
questions. In addition, she gave permission to use part of Vygotsky's
correspondence annotated by A. A. Puzyrej. Andrej Puzyrej himself- one of
the greatest authorities on Vygotsky's work — was extremely helpful in
making a number of rare publications and unpublished materials available
and by sharing his insights with us. Elena Aleksandrovna Luria, too,
received Van der Veer in a most friendly fashion and allowed him to work
with the family archives. Also 1. M. Arievich, A. G. Asmolov, G. Blanck, V.
V. Davydov, N. Elrod, T. M. Lifanova, L. Mecacci, L. A. Radzikhovsky, A.
Stetsenko, P. Tulviste, Ju. A. Vasil'eva, and F. Vidal helped out in the
tedious process of locating rare materials, and Nadia Zilper of the University
of North Carolina Library was helpful in building up a good collection of
Russian/Soviet psychology texts in the US. S. Jaeger provided us with several
of Luria's leners to W. Köhler and S. F. Dobkin and P. Ja. Gal'perin gave
their personal views of Vygotsky in conversations with Van der Veer.
G. Blanck and G. L. Vygodskaja provided us with the photographs of
Vygotsky shown in this book. In compiling the list of references we made
ample use of T. M. Lifanova's valuable list of Vygotsky's writings published
in the Soviet edition of his collected works. Kurt Kreppner brought our
attention to the remarkable similarities between the ideas of Vygotsky and
some key notions of William Stern. The full extent of that connection
remains to be analyzed and is beyond the scope of this book. Madlena
Maksimova gave helpful comments on an earlier draft of the book.
We also want to express our gratitude to NWO (Nederlandse Stichting
voor Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek) for their financial support, which allowed
Van der Veer to spend three months in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, in
1986 and which made it possible for Valsiner to visit the University of
Leiden in the summer of 1988. However, we have both sustained a


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