I enjoyed reading your paper for several reasons. My exposure to the uses
of Vygotskian psychology has been limited to issues of education and perhaps
more generally childhood development, socialization, etc. Your paper had
the effect of broadening that perspective and reminding me (and I imagine
others) that the founders of what has come to be called CHAT were deeply
concerned with the other key problems of psychology.
I also was glad to see you point out that the CHAT perspective originated
"in the comparative, experimental method" and would certainly have liked to
see this elaborated a bit more. I'm not sure if I agree with the conclusion
that CHAT is "well in line with a positivist approach in science" however.
The positivist approach has a lot of presuppositions that are contradictory
to the fundamental proposition of all dialectical materialist thought
concerning the nature of objectivity and truth, a tradition in which
Vygotsky placed himself well before it had become a necessity of survival in
Russia. Nevertheless, what it does point to is the compatibility of
comparative, experimental work within dialectical materialism, something
that is not usually acknowledged or investigated.
This brings me to one of the major questions that emerged for me while
reading your paper: who needs therapy and what are the definitions of the
sane, well-adjusted, healthy personality, etc. Tt can't simply be some
alleged "happiness" of the individual. To me this is a central problem and
one that is not simply restricted to what the psychotherapeutic community
defines the healthy state to be. For example, the prevailing definitions of
healthy sexuality in our society create incredible problems for people who
don't fit them which in turn can lead to a lot of other problems. This is
especially the case when the emergence of the nonconforming sexual
orientation interacts in the growing child with other aspects of
socialization potentially leading to other forms of behavior that are
defined as pathological. These latter forms, as we have seen, have then
been treated as effects of the non-conforming sexual orientation at the
level of therapy.
But the change in these social definitions, and the person's own relation to
their endogenic characteristics, occurs through a complex but clear process
of social mobilization, through what is called a "movement" perhaps, and not
through individual therapy.
Your examples from the work of Vygotsky and Luria on defectology skirt the
issue to some degree in as much as they deal primarily with the consequences
of physical impairments such as blindness, deafness, brain damage, etc. but
the problem reemerges when you say that "Ritalin is thge Braille of the ADHD
child; Lithium is the sign language that allows the manic-depressive to
function in society." These categories: ADHD, manic-depressive, already
interpret certain individual qualities in certain ways, with respect to a
certain framework of values. At other levels of social evolution, the very
qualities that seem to be included in these categories were the basis for
special and often very prestigious roles in the society such as the capacity
to be a shaman. Returning to the example of sexual orientation, it is quite
clear that the native american "berdache" role provided a significant,
fulfilling, and potentially honored participation for people who in our
society are branded as deviant; e.g., caring for orphans.
As always I think of Vygotsky doing just what he said he was: developing the
pscyhological component of dialectical materialism. I can't but wonder if
people who are excessively greedy, people that our society rewards,
wouldn't come to be seen as in great need of psychotherapy in a communist
So that is the crux of my reaction to your paper. How do we fit the
maladjusted personality within the social processes -- which maladjustments
are in fact the seeds of the well adjusted psychology of the emerging
society. Freud, that great champion of adjustment to normalcy, traced
revolutionary aspirations to unresolved Oedipal issues in "Civilization and
it Discontents", and I think that people nowadays who still harbor such
aspirations are often viewed as having unresolved, individual, psychological
problems. Certainly Vygotsky could not have been moving in that direction.
In this sense a CHAT-oriented psychotherapy really seems quite distant from
any positivist psychology since somehow it must allow for encouraging
certain maladjustments since that is the only locus through which the
broader processes of historical change can unfold.
As a final query, I wonder where you situate RD Laing's work with psychotics
in all of this. If there is anyone who springs immediately to mind in
relation to a psychotherapeutic ZPD, it is he.
As Eugene always says, what do you think?
Paul H. Dillon
This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : Thu Jun 01 2000 - 01:01:20 PDT