Learn more about Lev Vygotsky
Lev Semenovich Vygotsky (Лев Семенович Выготский) (November 17 (November 5 Old Style), 1896 – June 11, 1934) was a Soviet developmental psychologist and the founder of the Cultural-historical psychology.
He was born in 1896 in Orsha, Belarus (then Russian empire) and grew up in Homel (southern Belarus) in a prosperous Jewish family. Vygotsky attended Moscow University, majoring in law, and, at the same time, studied history and literature at the Shanivsky University. He graduated in 1918 and returned to Homel where he worked as a school teacher and studied. In 1924 he moved to Moscow, working on a diverse set of projects. He died of tuberculosis in 1934, leaving a wealth of work that is still being explored.
A revolutionary psychologist, Vygotsky was also a highly prolific author: the collection of his major works contains 6 volumes written over roughly 10 years. Vygotsky's interests in the fields of developmental psychology, child development, and education were extremely diverse. His innovative work in psychology includes several key concepts such as
- psychological tools, mediation, and internalization
- the zone of proximal development
and covers such diverse topics as the origin and the psychology of art, development of higher mental functions, philosophy of science and methodology of psychological research, the relation between learning and human development, concept formation, interrelation between language and thought development, play as a psychological phenomenon, the study of learning disabilities and abnormal human development (aka defectology), etc.
 Cultural mediation and internalization
Vygotsky was closely investigating the role of culture and interpersonal communication and facilitated problem solving in human development. Vygotsky observed how higher mental functions developed through social interactions with significant people in a child's life, particularly parents, but also other adults. Through these interactions, a child came to learn the habits of mind of her/his culture, namely speech patterns, written language, and other symbolic knowledge that affected a child's construction of her/his knowledge. The specific knowledge gained by a child through these interactions also represented the shared knowledge of a culture. This process is known as internalization.
 Psychology of play
Lesser known is his research on play, or child's game as a psychological phenomenon and its role in the child's development. Play is a moment where social rules were put into practice - if a child played with a stick, using it to represent a horse, said "horse" would behave accordingly (that is it would behave like a horse). These types of rules always guided a child's play. Vygotsky even once described two sisters at dinner "playing" at being sisters at dinner. Vygotsky believed that play contained all developmental levels in a condensed form. Therefore, to Vygotsky, play was akin to imagination where a child extends her/himself to the next level of his/her normal behavior, thereby creating a zone of proximal development for her/himself. In essence, Vygotsky believed "play is the source of development." Psychology of game was later developed by Vygotsky's student Daniil El'konin.
 Thought and language
Perhaps the most important Vygotsky's contribution concerns the inter-relationship of language development and thought. This concept, explored in Vygotsky's book Thought and Language, establishes the explicit and profound connection between speech (both silent inner speech and oral language), and the development of mental concepts and cognitive awareness (metacognition). It should be noted that Vygotsky described inner speech as being qualitatively different than normal (external) speech. Although Vygotsky believed inner speech to develop from external speech via a gradual process of internalization, with younger children only really able to "think out loud", he claimed that in its mature form it would be unintelligible to anyone except the thinker and would not resemble spoken language as we know it (in particular, being greatly compressed). Hence, thought itself develops socially.
 Influence and development of Vygotsky's ideas
 In the Soviet Union, Russia, and East Europe
In the Soviet Union, the work of the group of Vygotsky's students known as the Kharkov School of Psychology was vital for preserving the scientific legacy of Lev Vygotsky and identifying new avenues of its subsequent development. The members of the group laid foundation for the Vygotskian psychology systematic development in such diverse fields as the psychology of memory (P. Zinchenko), perception, sensation and movement (Zaporozhets, Asnin, A. N. Leont'ev), personality (L. Bozhovich, Asnin, A. N. Leont'ev), will and volition (Zaporozhets, A. N. Leont'ev, P. Zinchenko, L. Bozhovich, Asnin), psychology of play (G. D. Lukov, D. El'konin) and psychology of learning (P. Zinchenko, L. Bozhovich, D. El'konin), as well as the theory of step-by-step formation of mental actions (Gal'perin), general psychological activity theory (A. N. Leont'ev) and psychology of action (Zaporozhets).
 In the West
In the West, most attention was aimed at the continuing work of Vygotsky's Western contemporary Jean Piaget. Vygotsky's work appeared virtually unknown until its "rediscovery" in the 1960s, when the interpretative translation of Thought and language (1934) was published in English (in 1962; revised edition in 1986, translated by A. Kozulin and, as Thinking and speech, in 1987, translated by N. Minick). In the end of the 1970s, truly ground-breaking publication was the major compilation of Vygotsky's works that saw the light in 1978 under the header of Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes.
Vygotsky's views are reported to have influenced development of a wide range of psychological and educational theories such as activity theory, distributed cognition, cognitive apprenticeship, second language acquisition theory, etc. Strong influences of Vygotskian thought can be found in the work of a number of scholars such as Jerome Bruner, Michael Cole, James V. Wertsch, Sylvia Scribner, Vera John-Steiner, Ann L. Brown, Courtney Cazden, Gordon Wells, René van der Veer, Jaan Valsiner, Pentti Hakkarainen, Seth Chaiklin, Alex Kozulin, Nikolai Veresov, Anna Stetsenko, Kieran Egan, Fred Newman and Lois Holzman, to mention but a few.
 Secondary literature
- An introduction to Vygotsky, ed. by Harry Daniels, 2nd edition, London [etc.] : Routledge, 2005
Major monographs about Vygotsky's Work
- Wertsch, J. V. (1985). Vygotsky and the Social Formation of Mind, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass., and London.
- Kozulin, A. (1990). Vygotsky's Psychology: A Biography of Ideas. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
- Van der Veer, R., & Valsiner, J. (1991). Understanding Vygotsky. A quest for synthesis. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.
- Newman, F. & Holzman, L. (1993). Lev Vygotsky: Revolutionary scientist. London: Routledge.
- Van der Veer, R., & Valsiner, J. (Eds.) (1994). The Vygotsky Reader. Oxford: Blackwell.
- Vygodskaya, G. L., & Lifanova, T. M. (1996/1999). Lev Semenovich Vygotsky, Journal of Russian and East European Psychology, Part 1, 37 (2), 3-90; Part 2, 37 (3), 3-90; Part 3, 37 (4), 3-93, Part 4, 37 (5), 3-99.
- Veresov, N. N. (1999). Undiscovered Vygotsky: Etudes on the pre-history of cultural-historical psychology. New York: Peter Lang.
 See also
 Vygotsky's texts online
- Lev Vygotsky archive @ marxists.org: all major works (in English)
- Психология искусства (1922)
- Сознание как проблема психологии поведения (1924/5)
- Исторический смысл психологического кризиса (1927)
- Проблема культурного развития ребенка (1928)
- Орудие и знак в развитии ребенка (1930)
- История развития высших психических функций (1931)
- Лекции по психологии (1. Восприятие; 2. Память; 3. Мышление; 4. Эмоции; 5. Воображение; 6. Проблема воли) (1932)
- Проблема развития и распада высших психических функций (1934)
- Мышление и речь (idem, idem, idem) (1934)
- Конкретная психология человека
 External links
- Vygotsky Resources Archive of resource links.
- The Vygotsky Project Summaries of, and links to, Vygotsky articles.
- Vygotsky Centennial Project Collected articles exploring Vygotsky's work.
- The Mozart of Psychology Vygotsky article with extensive references.
- Dorothy "Dot" Robbins Vygotsky memorial site with many papers and resources.
- East Side Institute Vygotsky-inspired research and training center in NYC.
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