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The Vygotsky Reader
Edited by

Rene van der Veer
Jaan Valsiner
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OrJ-J UK & c../oriJp USA

Copyright © Basil Blackwell Ltd 1994
First published 1994
Blackwell Publishers
108 Cowley Road
Oxford OX4 IJF
238 Main Street
Cambridge , Massachusetts 02 142
All rights reserved. Except for the q uotation of short passages for the purposes of crit icism and
review, no part of th is publ ication may be reproduced , stored in a retrieval system, or
transmitted, in any form or by any means , electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recordi ng or
otherwise, without the pr ior perm ission of the publisher.
Except in the United States of Amer ica, this book is sold subjec t to th e condi tio n that it shall
not , by way of trad e or otherwise, be lent , resold, hired out , or oth erw ise circul ated irhout th e
publisher's prior consent in any form of bind ing or cover oth er than that in which it is
published and without a similar condition includi ng thi s condi tion being imposed on th
subsequent purchaser.

British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data
A OP catalogue record for thi s book is available from the British Library .

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Vygotskil, L. S. (Lev Semenovich), 1896-1934.
[Essays. Selections . English]
The Vygotsky reader I edited by Rene van der Veer and Jaan Valsiner.
p. em .
Translated by Theresa Prout and Rene van der Veer.
Includes bibliographical references and index .
ISBN 0-631-18896-7 (a1k. paper). - ISBN 0-631-18897-5 (pbk.: a1k. paper)
I. Veer, Rene van der , 195 2- . II. Valsiner, Jaan . III . T itl e.
BF109.V95A251 3 1994
150 - dc20
93-3735 3

Typeset in 10 on 12 pt , Garamond 3
by Best-set Typesetter Ltd , Hong Kong
Printed in Great Britain by T.]. Press Ltd, Padstow, Cornwall
This book is printed on acid-free paper









Introduction ro the Russian translation of Freud 's Beyond
thepleasure principle
Lev Vygotsky and Alexander Luria


Principles of social education for deaf and dumb children
in Russia
Lev Vygotsky


The methods of reflexological and psychological investigation
Lev Vygotsky


4 The problem of the cultural behaviour of the child
Alexander Luria


5 The problem of the cultu ral development of the child
Lev Vygotsky


6 Methods for investigating concepts



Leonid Sakharov


Tool and symbol in child development
Lev Vygotsky and Alexander Luria


The socialist alteration of man
Lev Vygotsky


The development of thinking and concept formation in
Lev Vygotsky


Imagination and creativity of the adolescent
Lev Vygotsky


The development of voluntary attention in the child
Aleke} Leont'eu




Thought in schizophrenia
Lev Vygotsky


Fascism in psychoneurology
Lev Vygotsky


The problem of the environment
Lev Vygotsky



The development of academic concepts in school aged children
Lev Vygotsky


Name index


Subject index



Editing an annotated reader of a sample of Vygorsky's writings is a time-consuming
and complicated endeavour and we now well understand why it had not been tr ied
before. The basic problem we had co solve was that Vygotsky virtually never referred
co authors in th e way that has now become common usage in academic circles : by
gi ving the exact source, date of publicat ion, page number, etc. As a consequence, we
spent our time in many libraries reading countl ess potentially relevant books written
by Vygorsky's predecessors and cont emporaries and looking for the passages his
cryptic references might refer to . Each reference successfully located in this way
should be seen against the background of many initial failures. However, the publicati ons we were forced co read were often extremely valuable in their own right and
we have often wondered how far psychology would develop if we scopped all new and
experimental research for several years and instead reflected upon and elaborated the
treasures found in psychological arch ives. aturally, we have not been able co locate
all of Vygotsky 's references. In such cases we have adm itted our defeat in the notes
and we would be grateful co readers for any information that m ight help us fill in
these annoying gaps. The references whi ch we did find and the strictly explanatory
notes which we added should enable the reader co understand Vygotsky's texts in
themselves - as fascinating attempts to deal with the major psychologies and psychological questions of his time which have their relevance even today - and co see the
embeddedness of his thinking in the work of his contemporaries and predecessors in
accordance with the morro of this reader. All information in the text given in square
brackets was supplied by the editors. All translations from the original Russian were
made by Theresa Prout with the exception of chapter 3 which was translated by Rene
van der Veer. All quotes from languages other than Russian were checked against the
original sources. No attempts were made to modernize the texts co fit contemporary
standards. The editors express their gratitude co Ellen Bakker who managed to
unriddle some puzzling references and who compiled the subject index. For a detailed
account of Vygotsky's life and work and an elaborate analysis of his basic ideas the
reader is referred to the companion volume Understanding VygofSky (Van der Veer and
Valsiner, 1991).
Rene van der Veer
Jaan Valsiner
Leiden and Chapel Hill

'One must look at science in a very mechanical and unhiscorical manner
not co understand the role of continuity and tradition at all, even during
a revolution.'

Lev Vygorsky, lstoricbesei] smyslpsikh%gicheJkogo krizisa

Reading Vygotsky: from
fascination to construction

Reading Vygotsky is a fascinat ing enterprise. With the present reader, the availability of his works in English begins to resemble a representative sample . It can be said
that over the last decade the international scholarly world has largely conquered the
bastion of access to the work of that lonely socialite poet of European psychology (see
Van der Veer and Valsiner, 1991).
Vygotsky was an integrative thinker whose personal style matched his int erests.
In order to think through complicated issues, he needed to talk . And he could talk
well - a literacy scholar turned psycholog ist could captivate his listeners. That vigour
of the oral speech style can be seen in his writings, many of which had Vygorsky 's oral
pre enrations (stenographed) as their origin. One can encounter long philosophical
speculations which turn suddenly into recitations of poetry, or an allusion to a literacy
symbol. Vygocsky was not afraid of being emotional in his scientific argument, as
science, after all, is a form of art.
It is perhaps exactly Vygotsky 's personal speech style which has maintained
his popularity within an otherwise empiricist international psychology. In contrast
with the rule-following rationality (bordering upon unimaginativeness) of most
modern psychology , it may be Vygotsky 's flowery escapades into literature, his
sharp and often arrogant looking criticism of his contemporaries, and his ability to
synthesize knowledge from different sources, which keep us fascinated with his
Yet it is better not to lose track of other reasons in contemporary psychology that
may have made Vygotsky into a popular figure. The socio-political discourse of the
international social sciences during the last decades may have been right for his
sanctification in the science of child and educational psychology. In other words, can
we partly explain the interest in Vygotsky on topics that were often almost directly
borrowed from his contemporary psychologists?



Social construction of importance: a means of communication
It is interesting to apply Vygotsky's own idea of semiotic mediation to the process of
construction of his status as a 'classic' of developmental psychology. In the course of
communication about scientists in and around science, different kinds of narrative
strategies are purposefully put into practice (Valsiner, 1994). A given discipline of a
certain historical period gains from creating hero myths around its scientists for their
own work, as well as for the public image of the discipline. Beyond that, other social
institutions (which have no connections with actual interests of any science - here
considered as a social institution) may elect to create myths about scientists for
consumption of the mass communication system (for example, Albert Einstein in
Missner, 1985).
Vygotsky's fate in the realm of socially constructed importance was as ambiguous
as all of his life. Entering into the enthusiastic social construction effort of 'new
psychology' in the Soviet Union in the early 1920s, he soon became dissatisfied with
the dominance of highly vocal 'Marxist psychologists ' who tried to solve complex
psychological problems by endless referencing of Marx, Engels or Plekhanov (who
was later dropped to be replaced by Lenin, Stalin and other similar great philosophers). As we described in our analysis of Vygotsky's entrance into psychology (Van
der Veer and Valsiner, 1991, cbs 6 and 7), his standing was from the very beginning
that of a somewhat distant yet devoted and very intelligent outsider. He went along
with Kornilov's 'Marxist reactology' (even attempting some - unsuccessful- empirical research!) as long as it satisfied his intellectual quest. Of course, Vygorsky's
satiation with Marxist psychology in its public and naively fascinating version was
soon reached, and he located for himself work in the areas of defectology and
paedology, domains where he could develop his version of innovative psychology (he
was no less emphatic in understanding the value of his own quest than were his
Marxist contemporaries of their declarative innovations).
However, in both defecrology and paedology, Vygotsky remained somewhat
distant from the core of activities in 'Soviet science'. True, he was well known,
respected (especially as his speeches captivated large audiences) and active in the
organization of research and its application - yet he would never be considered as
important as his more socio-polirically active colleagues. His small research group
(see Van der Veer and Valsiner, 1991) was a truly functioning collective - yet it
consisted mostly of devoted students and a few co-workers. In contrast, one is
reminded of the administrative activities of Konstantin Kornilov in his role as the
director of the Institute of Experimental Psychology in Moscow to lead the 'construction of Marxist psychology'. And, of course, the most extraordinary contrast to
Vygotsky's social standing was the never tiring energy of Vladimir Bekhrerev, who
since 1907 to his death in 1927 was establishing (and re-establishing) different kinds
of research institute in St Petersburg (and later Leningrad), continuing through wars
and revolutions with immense organizational power (and the social importance that



came and went with it). Even the hypermarxist Aeon Zalkind was actively involved
in the organization of psychoneurology onto 'new rails' - without much substance,
yet ith revolut ionary fervour.
In contrast to these activists, Vygorsky 's importance was decidedly content-bound
and limited to those areas of his activit ies that were dear to his personal goals. Thus ,
he as always interested in improving the practical conditions for children 's education - in the case of normal ity or pathology. Of course, his activities were hampered
by recurrent episodes of tuberculosis (and corresponding uncertainties of cure and
death), and after 1930 ( ee Van der Veer and Valsiner, 199 1, ch. 16) by the uncertainties about the ideological purges against 'cosmopolitan ism' (of which indeed he was
a good example and without any ways to hide his int ernational connections ).
All in all, Vygotsky 's social importance in Soviet psychology during his lifetime
was largely limited - he was known , but was not really playing a 'leadership' role. He
was both Marxist (honouring some of Marx's and Engels ' productive ideas) and nonMarxist (citing formalist poets and not bothering to take his contemporary Marxists
seriously); he was part of the conrructi on of 'new society' but at the same time did not
embrace the proletarian revolutionary ferment .
After his death and until his name became mentionable again in the context of the
Soviet Union (in 1956), Vygotsky 's importance vanished (along with his main
promoters A. Luria and V. Kolbanovsky , who hid from the mainstreams of Soviet
psychology). Its reappearance w linked completely with transformations in Soviet
society after 1956 and the active promotion of Vygotsky 's name and ideas both in the
Soviet Union and internationally.
It is here that a special tribute should be paid to the role of Alexander Luria in
maintaining and propagating Vygotsky 's ideas. In his interactive cosmopolitan way,
he had made Vygotsky internationally known already at the end of the 1920s. When
international connectedness for Soviet psychologists became available again after
1956 (although it was never encouraged) , Luria resumed this role. In fact, it is thanks
to his efforts that one of the original translations published for the first time in the
present reader has become available (Tool and Symbol') . In the early 1970s Luria,
with Michael Cole's help , tried to get this published internationally, but without
success. It is thanks to Mich I Cole's collaboration with our present project that the
work is now published in the form overseen by Luria.
However, the international community of psychologists had its own socio-polit ical reasons for paying attention to Vygotsky. Extra-psychological factors - the Cold
War and Soviet technological surprises (e.g. the 'sputnik effect', or N ikira
Khrushchev's innovative use of a shoe as a diplomatic tool) - had channelled Western
attention toward the mysterious Soviet 'giant' which made threatening noises and
primacy claims in everything from the steam engine to the first manned space Bight,
and to the establishment of a free society where everybody was blissfully happy in
their personal ways. The old truth of propaganda - of telling big lies as often as
possible - had definitely worked in favour of the Soviet system. Even if the Western
audience was sceptical about many of the Soviet claims, the latter's self-assured nature

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