The Russian State Social University
Report on Psychology.
“Vygotsky’s psychological views”
Made by the second-year
student of faculty of
Checked by Khajrullin
TOC \o “1-3” \h \z \u HYPERLINK \l “_Toc125009879” Preface
PAGEREF _Toc125009879 \h 3
HYPERLINK \l “_Toc125009880” A Biographical Sketch PAGEREF
_Toc125009880 \h 5
HYPERLINK \l “_Toc125009881” Vygotsky’s Theoretical Approach
PAGEREF _Toc125009881 \h 9
HYPERLINK \l “_Toc125009882” Conclusion PAGEREF _Toc125009882 \h
HYPERLINK \l “_Toc125009883” Bibliographic List PAGEREF
_Toc125009883 \h 13
Like the humanities and other social sciences, psychology is supposed to
tell us something about what it means to be human.
However, many critics, including such eminent members of the discipline
as J.S. Bruner (1976), have questioned whether academic psychology has
succeeded in this endeavor. One of the major stumbling, blocks that has
diverted psychology from this goal is that psychologists have too often
isolated and studied phenomena in such a way that they cannot
communicate with one another, let alone with members of other
disciplines. They have tended to lose sign of the fact that their
untimate goal is to contribute to some integrated, holistic picture of
This intellectual isolation is nowhere more evident than in the division
that separates studies of individual psychology from studies of the
sociocultural environment in which individuals live. In psychology we
tend to view culture of society as a variable to be incorporated into
models of individual functioning. This represents a kind of reductionism
which assumes that sociocultural phenomena can ultimately be explained
on the basis of psychological processes. Conversely, sociologists and
social problems because the derive straightforwardly from social
phenomena. This view may not involve the kind of reductionism found in
the work of psychologists, but it is no less naive. Many aspects of
psychological functioning cannot be explained by assuming that they
derive solely and simply from the sociocultural milieu.
This disciplinary isolation is not attributable simply to a lack of
cooperation among various scholars. Rather, those interested in social
phenomena and those interested in psychological phenomena have defined
their objects of inquiry in such different ways that they have almost
guaranteed the impossibility of mutual understanding. For decades this
problem has been of concern to those seeking to construct a unified
social science. Critical theorists such as T. Adorno and J. Habermas
(1979) have struggled with it since the 19405. According to Adorno, “the
separation of sociology and psychology is both correct and false” (1967,
p. 78). It is correct because it recognizes different levels of
phenomena that exist in reality; that is, it helps us avoid the pitfalls
of reductionism. It is false, however, because it too readily
“encourages the specialists to relinquish the attempt to know the
Keeping sight of this totality while examining particular levels of
phenomena in social science is as elusive a goal today as earlier in the
twentieth century. Indeed the more progress we make in studying
particular phenomena, the more distant this goal seems to become. My
purpose here is to explicate and extend a theoretical approach that
tried to avoid this pitfall—the approach of the Soviet psychologist and
semiotician Lev Semenovich Vygotsky (1896-1934).
Vygotsky, of course, did not make his proposals in order to deal with
today’s disciplinary fragmentation, but many of his ideas are relevant
to the quandaries we face. To harness these ideas, they must first be
interpreted in light of the milieu in which they were developed. Hence I
shall explicate the cultural and historical setting in which Vygotsky
worked and then extend his ideas in light of theoretical — advances made
during the half-century since his death.
Vygotsky is usually considered to be a developmental or educational
psychologist. Much of what I shall have to say, however, is based on the
assumption that it is incorrect to categorize him too readily as a
psychologist, at least in today’s restricted sense. It is precisely
because he was not only a psychologist that he was able to approach this
discipline with a fresh eye and make it part of a more unified social
science. In fact the Soviet philosopher and psychologist G. P.
Shchedrovitskii has argued that one of the main reasons for Vygotsky’s
success in reformulating psychology in the USSR is that he was not
trained as a professional psychologist.
Under normal circumstances an outsider is not given the opportunity to
reformulate a discipline such as psychology in a major country.
Vygotsky, however, did not live in normal circumstances: he entered
adulthood just as his country was experiencing one of the greatest
social upheavals of the twentieth century—the Russian Revolution of
1917. This event provided two decades or so of what is perhaps the most
exciting intellectual and cultural setting of our time. It was largely
because of this setting that Vygotsky was able to develop his ingenious
ideas and that these ideas could have a significant impact.
A Biographical Sketch
Vygotsky’s biography can be divided into two basic periods: the first,
from his birth in 1896 until 1924, the year in which he made his initial
appearance as a major intellectual figure in the USSR; the second, from
1924 until his death from tuberculosis in 1934.
Vygotsky was born on November 17, 1896, in Orsha, a town not far from
Minsk in Belorussia. Vygotsky changed his name from Vygodsky in the
early 1920s because he believed that it derived from the name Vygotovo,
where his family had its origins. Other members of his family, such as
his daughters retained the “d” in the spelling of their name.
The picture that emerges from information about Vygotsky’s early years
is one of a happy, intellectually stimulating life — in spite of the
fact that, like other members of his family, he was excluded from
several avenues of opportunity because he was Jewish.
Instead of attending public schools, Vygotsky studied with a private
tutor for several years and then finished his secondary education in a
Jewish gymnasium. He profited enormously from his early years of study
with his tutor, Solomon Ashpiz. Ashpiz’s pedagogical technique was
apparently grounded in a form of ingenious Socratic dialogue, which left
his students, especially one as gifted as Lev Semenovich, with
well-developed, inquisitive minds.
By the age of fifteen Vygotsky had become known as the “little
professor”, because he often led student discussions on intellectual
matters. For example, he examined the historical context of thought by
arranging debates and mock trials in which his peers played the role of
figures such as Aristotle and Napoleon. These debates were a
manifestation of one of Vygotsky’s main interests during that period of
his life — philosophy.
While still a child in Gomel, Lev Semenovich also began to show fervent
interest in the theater and in literature.
Vygotsky graduated from his gymnasium in 1913 with a gold medal. Though
widely recognized as an outstanding student, he had great difficulty
entering the university of his choice — largely because he was Jewish.
During this period there was a quota on the number of Jews who could
enter Moscow and Saint Petersburg universities: no more than 3 percent
of the student bodies could be Jewish. As Levitin points out, this meant
that all the Jewish gold medalists and about half the silver medalists
would be admitted. Since Lev Semenovich had every reason to expect a
gold medal, his matriculation to the university of his choice seemed
Midway through Vygotsky’s deputy examinations, however, the tsarist
minister of education decreed a change in procedures by which Jews would
be chosen for Moscow and Saint Petersburg universities. The 3 percent
quota was maintained, but Jewish applicants were now to be selected by
casting lots, a change apparently designed to dilute the quality of
Jewish students at the best universities. But then the incredible
happened: late in August, the Vygodskys received a cable from their
friends in Moscow telling them that Lev had been enrolled at the
University by the draw.
In 1914, while in Moscow as a student, Vygotsky also began attending the
Shanyavskii People’s University, an unofficial school that sprang up in
1911 after a minister of education had expelled most of the students and
more than a hundred of the faculty from Moscow University in a crackdown
on an antitsarist movement.
Vygotsky graduated from Moscow University in 1917 with a degree in law.
Although he received no official degree from Shanyavskii University, he
profited greatly from his studies in psychology, philosophy, and
literature. He returned to Gomel after his graduation to teach
literature and psychology.
Very little information is available about the impact of the 1917
Revolution on Lev Semenovich. Lev Semenovich continued living in Gomel’s
relatively peaceful setting for seven years after his return in 1917.
With his cousin David Vygodsky he taught literature at a school in
Gomel. He also conducted classes on aesthetics and the history of art in
a conservatory and gave many lectures on literature and science.
Furthermore, he organized a psychology laboratory at the Gomel Teacher’s
College, where he delivered a series of lectures that provided the
groundwork for his 1926 volume, Pedagogical Psychology.
In 1920 Vygotsky was in poor health. The disease that was eventually to
kill him, tuberculosis, had begun to take its toll. It was already a
serious enough threat to Vygotsky’s life in 1920 that he spent a brief
period in a sanatorium and asked one of his former professors from
Shanyavskii University to publish his collected manuscripts in the event
of his death. He recovered from this bout of tuberculosis, however, and
continued his projects in Gomel. In 1924 he married Roza Smekhova. They
had two daughters.
In retrospect all this work seems to have been preparation for an event
in 1924 that was to change Vygotsky’s life irrevocably. This turning
point, which separates the two major periods of Vygotsky’s biography,
was his appearance on January 6, 1924, at the Second All-Russian
Psychoneurological Congress in Leningrad. There he made a presentation,
“Methods of Reflexological and Psychological Investigations.”
Vygotsky’s brilliant, performance so impressed the director of the
Psychological Institute in Moscow, K. N. Kornilov, that he immediately
invited this “Mozart of psychology” to join himself and others in
restructuring the institution. Lev Semenovich accepted and later that
year left Gomel to begin his new career.
In 1925 Lev Semenovich completed his dissertation, “The Psychology of
Art.” During the fall of that year he received permission to have a
public defense, but a renewed and serious bout of tuberculosis made that
impossible. Recognizing this fact, the qualifying commission excused him
from a public defense, and he was passed.
The years between 1924 and 1934 were extremely busy and productive for
Vygotsky. Soon after his arrival in Moscow, Aleksandr Romanovich Luria
(1902-1977) and Aleksei Nikolaevich Leont’ev (1904-1979) joined him as
students and colleagues. Together these three became known as the
“troika” of the Vygotskian School. Several other students and followers
eventually joined the school, but it was Luria and Leont’ev who were
destined to be the major developers of Vygotsky’s ideas after his death.
The excitement that Vygotsky generated among his students and colleagues
is perhaps impossible to appreciate in today’s setting.
In 1925 he produced the written version of his 1924 presentation at the
Second All-Russian Psychoneurology Congress; between November of 1925
and the spring of 1926, while in the hospital with another attack of
tuberculosis, he wrote a major philosophical critique of the theoretical
foundations of psychology, “The Historical Significance of the Crisis in
Between 1931 and 1934 Vygotsky produced manuscripts for reviews,
articles, and books at an ever accelerating pace. He edited and wrote a
long introduction for the 1932 Russian translation of Piaget’s volume Le
langage et la pensee chez l’enfant (1923). His introduction was later to
serve as the second chapter of his posthumous volume Thinking and Speech
(1934). During Vygotsky’s last few years of life, he lectured and wrote
at an almost frenetic pace.
Throughout this period Vygotsky’s bouts of tuberculosis became
increasingly frequent and severe. His protracted, terrifying spells of
coughing led to exhaustion for several days, but instead of resting, he
tried to reach as many of his goals as possible. In the spring of 1934
his health grew much worse. His doctors insisted that he enter the
hospital, but he refused because of work he needed to complete by the
end of the school year. One May 9 he had a very severe attack at work
and was brought home. At the end of May his bleeding began again, and on
June 2 he was hospitalized in Serebryanii Bor Sanatorium. Shortly after
midnight on June 11 he died. He was buried in Novodevechii Cemetery in
In all, Vygotsky produced approximately 180 works.
Vygotsky’s Theoretical Approach
The three themes that form the core of Vygotsky’s theoretical framework
are (1) a reliance on a genetic or developmental method; (2) the claim
that higher mental processes in the individual have their origin in
social processes; and (3) the claim that mental processes can be
understood only if we understand the tools and signs that mediate them.
Each of these themes can be fully understood only by taking into account
its interrelationships with the others.
Vygotsky originated the cultural and historical concept in psychology
which has received further development in psychological theories of the
activity worked out by A. N. Leont’ev, A. R. Luria, P. Ya. Gal’perin, D.
B. El’konin and others. The main idea of Vygotsky’s creative work is
thesis about the socio-historical nature of human mentality, human
consciousness as opposed to naturalism with its various forms.
Following the idea of the socio-historical nature of mentality, Vygotsky
interpreted the social environment not as “factor”, but as “source” of
person’s development. In child’s development, he said, there are two
bound lines. The first is natural maturing. The second consists in
mastering the culture, ways of behaviour and thinking. Systems of signs,
symbols (for example, language, script, notation, etc.) are auxiliary
methods of organization of the behaviour and thinking which the mankind
has created during the historical development.
Vygotsky introduced thesis about higher mental processes (thinking in
concepts, reasonable speech, logic memory, voluntary attention, etc.) as
specifically human form of mentality.
Child’s mastering the connection between sign and value, use of speech
by application of instruments marks occurrence of new psychological
functions, systems underlying higher mental processes which distinguish
person’s behaviour from animal’s one.
Vygotsky made his most important and unique contribution with the
concept of mediation. The notion of mediation (oposredovanie) became
increasingly important and well formulated in Vygotsky’s theory of human
mental functioning. Mediation of the development of human mentality by
means of “psychological instruments” is also characterized that
operation of the sign use, standing in the beginning of development of
each of higher mental processes, primordially has the form of external
activity, i.e. turns from interpsychic in intrapsychic.
This transformation passes some stages. Initial one is connected with
the other person (adult) with the help of the certain means operates
behaviour of the child, directing realization of his any “natural”,
involuntary function. At the second stage the child himself becomes the
subject and, using given psychological instrument, directs behaviour of
another (believing him as object). At the following stage the child
starts to apply to himself (as to object) those ways of management of
behaviour which others applied to him, and he – to the others. Thus,
Vygotsky wrote, each mental function appears on the stage twice – at
first as collective, social activity, and then as an inner way of
child’s thinking. Between these two “appearances” is located the process
of interiorization, the function “taking roots” inside.
Back process of interiorization is also possible – process of
exteriorization – removal outside the results of cerebration which are
carried out all over again as an intention in the internal plan.
Transition from interpsychic to intrapsychic functions occurs in
cooperation with other children and in child’s dialogue with the adult.
Vygotsky emphasized the important role of relations between the child’s
person and the social environment surrounding him at each age step.
These relations vary from age to age and make “completely original,
specific to the given age, exclusive and unique relation between the
child and the reality surrounding him, first of all social one. We shall
name this relation a social situation of development at the given age ».
From researches of child’s mental development appeared a new approach to
studying the relation between development and training.
Higher mental processes have as the source cooperation and training. The
conclusion about the leading part of training in mental development has
been made. It means that training goes ahead of development. The area
accessible to the child in cooperation has received the name of a zone
of the nearest development; area self-administered is an area of actual
development. “The zone of the nearest development has more direct value
for changes of intellectual development and success of training, than an
actual level of their development ».
Vygotsky thought, these researches should be put in the basis of student
teaching: “the pedagogic should be guided not on yesterday, but
tomorrow’s day of children’s development”, – wrote L. S. Vygotsky.
In Vygotsky’s views the person has social character. It does not cover
all attributes of individuality, but puts an equal-sign between child’s
person and his cultural development. The person “is not congenital, but
appears as the result of cultural development”. Developing, person
masters own behaviour. However, the necessary precondition of this
process is person’s education, because development of this or that
function is always derived from person’s development as a whole and
caused by it”.
In person’s development passes a number of changes having the stage
nature. Owing to destruction of one social situation of development and
occurrence another, more or less stable developments are replaced by the
critical periods in person’s life during which there is a rough forming
of new psychological formation. Crises are characterized by unity of
negative (destructive) and positive (constructive) parties and play a
role of steps on a way of further child’s development.
Arisen during this or that period new formations qualitatively change
person’s psychological functioning. For example, occurrence of
teenager’s reflection completely reconstructs his mental activity. New
formation is the third level of self-organizing: “Alongside with primary
level of an individual mentality (inclinations, heredity) and secondary
level of his education (environment, acquired characteristics) here
(during puberty) act tertiary conditions (reflection, self- mounting)”.
Tertiary functions make a basis of consciousness. Finally, they too
represent the psychological relations that transferred in the person,
earlier it was relations between people. However, connection between the
socio-cultural environment and consciousness is more difficult and
consists not only in influence of environment on rates of consciousness
development, but also in conditionality of the type of consciousness,
character of his development.
Vygotsky managed to tie various strands of inquiry together into a
unique approach that does not separate individuals from the sockA
cultural setting in which they function. This integrative approach to
social, semiotic, and psychological phenomena has substantial relevance
today, a half century after his death.
Fred Newman, Lois Holzman. Lev Vygotsky: Revolutionary Scientist. – New
York, USA: Psychology, 1993 – 192 p.
James V. Wer?????????????????????????????????›???????????????????
Ждан А. Н. История психологии: от античности к современности: Учебник
для студентов психологических факультетов университетов. Изд. третье,
исправленное. – М.: Педагогическое общество России, 2003 – 512с.
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