Vygotskian Writings Теоретическая психология Выготскианские тексты

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The discovery of an alternative?

Now, there is some evidence that world psychology has left behind the phase in which it tried to prove its integrity through the logical imperialism of one or the other hemi-science and has become receptive to alternative attempts aimed at harmonizing the logics of the two half-sciences.

One such attempt is Vygotsky’s cultural-historical theory. “It is neither a wholly natural scientific, biological psychology interested only in the emerging events and their causes, nor is it a wholly cultural, hermeneutic venture concerned exclusively with the interpretation of meanings and with motives of human deeds,” one can read in New Ideas in Psychology,17 in a study that discovered, 55 years after Vygotsky’s death, his new ideas in psychology.

Last year an international Vygotsky society was set up18, and on this occasion, Amsterdam Vrije Universiteit organized a Vygotsky forum whose participants sought an explanation to the fact that (while in his native country Vygotsky fell victim to the past-erasing rage) this scholar is becoming fashionable among the academic scholars of psychology in Western Europe and especially the United States. The extent to which it is so is even embarrassing, inasmuch as, for instance, in just one year four international conferences have highlighted Vygotsky’s work without mentioning each other, and on one of these conferences the participants set up another international Vygotsky society practically simultaneously with the Amsterdam move, two, in this case, being somehow less, than one.

Anyhow, at the Amsterdam forum it was generally admitted that the somewhat latish move of spotting Vygotsky and bringing him into fashion seem to be related to what the J. Shotter’s above cited paper calls our attention to: that Vygotsky’s cultural-historical theory carries the promise of a synthesis between the two psychological hemi-sciences by studying the factors of mental life as signs and tools at the same time.

The logical implications of such a theoretical construction for combining two hemi-psychologies could be summarized as follows:

The tool fits into the natural determination series of psychosomatic interaction between organism and environment. Instead of becoming the object of a direct activity, such a tool gets integrated like a prosthesis in the acting system which directly perceives and manipulates its environment through this tool as if through a transparent medium.19 The activity directed at the object is unambiguously determined by the nature of the system integrating the prosthesis into itself and that of its environment, all independently of the tool.

The sign, by contrast, is the direct object of an activity that is concerned with its interpre­tation. The sign mediates between the parties only depending on how each of those parties interprets it in an interaction referred to the background of their common or different cultures.20

For the Vygotsky theory, mediating factors of this latter kind are tools at the same time, as well as the former type mediating factors are also signs.

Much as the Vygotsky school had implications of a synthesis the logic of natural sciences and that of historical sciences it could not avoid the fate of a psychology of that historical period: that of its “hemispheres” that was liable to the first logic got elaborated with Leontiev’s activity theory21. Leontiev considered the sign as tools, i. e. as completely transparent when it operates as mediating factor. No interpretation is needed, according to his theory, for decoding sign’s meaning since it is objectively given in the activity structure as relation between its ends and means. Though Leontiev made a clear distinction between meaning and personal sense, he did not consider any necessity of interpretation for the latter either, the personal sense being equally taken as objectively given in the structure of activity as a relation between its ends and motives.

On the other hand, however Leontiev applied entirely the logic of natural sciences to the psychology his doctrine is an integral part of a theory whose outlook was formulated by Vygotsky in the following words:

“The mental nature of man represents a totality of social relations transferred inside the person, into his functioning. Higher mental functions (e.g., word function) earlier used to be distributed between people, then became the functioning of the person himself. Earlier, psychologists tried to trace social factors back to individual ones. They studied individual reactions found in laboratories and then tried to find how persons’ reaction changed in a collective setting. Contrary to Piaget we assume that the development proceeds not towards socialization but towards the transformation of social relations in mental functions. Earlier, it used to be supposed that the individual has a function in a finished, semi-finished or embryonic form, and in the community it gets developed, combined, increased, enriched or, just the opposite, inhibited, repressed, etc. Nowadays, we may substantiate the assumption that, as regards higher mental functions, it is just the very reverse. Functions originally merge in the community, in the form of children’s relations, then become persons’ mental functions. In particular, earlier it was held that each child is competent to think, argue, demonstrate, substantiate his assumption; the collision of such thinkings allegedly generates discussion. But matters stand differently. The investigations proved that discussions generate thinking.”22

Activity in Vygotsky’s theory treats its object as is explained also in psychology by the logic of natural sciences, but the subject of the activity is formed by a social game whose rules cannot be understood unless another logic, that of historical sciences is adopted by this science.23

The international Vygotsky boom seems to be motivated by psychology’s “unconscious desire” to recover his unity without being compelled to sacrifice for it either the insights developed by psychology as a natural science, or those whose development was that long obstructed by such a science.


[1] Physical Control of the mind: Toward a psycho-civilized society (Harper & Row, Publishers, New York, Evanston and London, 1969).

[2] XXIe Congress International de Psychology – XXIst International Congress of Psychology: Acts/Proceedings. Prises Universitaire de France. Paris, 1978.

[3] Dilthey, W.: Gesammelte Schriften. VII. p. 278.

[4] Gadamer, H.-G.: Wahrheit und Methode. J. C. B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck) Tübingen, 1975.

[5] Sluzki, C. E. and Ransom, D. C. (eds.), 1976: DOUBLE BIND: The foundation of the communicational approach to the family (Grune & Stratton. New York, London, San Francisco).

[6] Winkin, Y. (ed.): La nouvelle communication (Seuil, Paris, 1981).

[7] Watzlawick, P., Beavin, J. H. and Jackson, D. D.: Pragmatics of human communication: A study of interactional pattern, pathologies and paradoxes (W. W. Norton, New York, 1967).

[8] Rosenthal, R.: Experimenter effects in behavioural research. Appleton-Century-Crofts, New York, 1966. (Enlarged edition: Irvington Publisher, Inc., New York, 1976

[9] Rosenthal, R. and Rosnow R. L. (eds.): Artifact in behavioural research. Academic Press, New York, 1969.

[10] Rosenthal, R. and Jacobson, L.: Pygmalion in the classroom. Holt, Rihenhart and Winston, New York, 1968.

[11] Aronson, E. and Linder, D.: Gain and loss of esteem as determinants of interpersonal attractiveness. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. 1965. 156-172.

[12] Garai, L., Erős, F., Járó, K. Köcski, M. and Veres, S.: Towards a Social Psychology of Personality: Development and Current Perspectives of a School of Social Psychology in Hungary. Social Science Information. 1979/1. pp. 137-166.

[13] Lukacs, G.: Zur Ontologie des gesellschaftlichen Seins. Die Arbeit. Luchterhand, Neuwied Darmstadt, 1973.

[14] Marx, K.: Economic and philosophical manuscripts of 1944. In: Fromm, E., Marx’ concept of man. F. Ungar, New York, 1963.

[15] Marx, K.: Grundrisse der Kritik der politischen öconomie (English translation: London, 1973)

[16] Rubinstein. S.: Principles and ways of mental development [In Russian]. Moscow: Publishing House of Soviet Academy of Sciences, 1959.

[17] G[arai], L.: Marxian Personality Psychology. In: Harré-Lamb (eds.), The Encyclopedic Dictionary of Psychology, Basil Blackwell Publisher. 364-366.

[18] Eros, F.: Personality Dynamics and Social Existence, by L. Garai. European Journal of Social Psychology. 4/3. [1974]. 369-379.

[19] Shotter, J.: Vygotsky’s psychology: Joint activity in a developmental zone. New Ideas in Psychology. Vol. 7 (1989), No.2.

[20] Leontiew, Alexei: Problems of mental development. Joint Publications Research Service, Washington, 1969.

[21] Garai, L.: A psychosocial essay on identity [in Hungarian]. T-Twins Editor. Budapest, 1993. 231 pp.

[22] Garai, L. and Kocski, M.: On the mental status of activity and social relation: To the question of continuity between the theories of Vygotsky and Leontiev [in Russian]. Psikhologitchesky Zhurnal, 11:5. (1990) 17-26.

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