Re: [xmca] Zopeds at the cultural historical level

From: deborah downing-wilson (
Date: Sun Dec 10 2006 - 15:55:25 PST

A question that comes to me occasionally - but never when I'm near someone
to ask-

It seems to me that the "more capable" member of the ZPD, by nature of the
interaction also performs at a level above what they are capable of outside
the ZPD - and yet I've not found mention of this feature of the ZPD in my
readings. Please advise!


On 12/10/06, Mike Cole <> wrote:
> A while back Paul inquired into the issue of zone's of proximal
> development
> at the cultural
> historical level of analysis. I pointed to Yrjo's work in Learning by
> Expanding, but Paul has
> in mind far wider swatches of time.
> In Yrjo's case, in some sense, a generalization of the method of dual
> stimulation implemented
> as cultural practices by a self-conscious group is the mechanism for
> "changing oneself by
> changing one's history" (where self may refer to Huck Finn or the Finnish
> 7
> brothers or a group
> of workers in some Finnish industry). I like the work a lot, but I agree
> with Paul that it does not
> answer to the question of Zopeds at the cultural historical level
> adequately.
> The problem, for me, is that I am unsure that it is appropriate to seek
> any
> such mechanism of
> cultural historical change. A zoped, in my ( ipso facto flawed, mistaken,
> and misguided understanding!)
> is constituted in joint of activity of people with different resources
> (knowledge, experience, courage.......)
> for accomplishing a culturally valued task. In Vygotsky's rendering,
> provided in the context of
> psychological testing and pedagogical practice, the persona involved are a
> more and less capable
> person, sometimes referred to as more and less capable peers.
> The difficulty at the cultural-historical level that bothers me is that it
> is even more difficult than in the
> ontogenetic case to figure out who the more capable person/social group
> might be. For sure versions
> of this idea that invoke some version of the "vanguard of the proletariat"
> and associate notions of
> false consciousness I experienced during the 20th century, did not impress
> me as a useful
> means for the development of humanity.
> I should add that I also believe that uncritical evaluations of who the
> more
> capable person is in the
> ontogentic literature ought to be viewed sceptically, or at least
> bracketed.
> In some cases (luria
> seeking to help Zasetsky recover his blown-away intellectual functions so
> that he can read and write
> and live in his home town) the amazing zopeds Luria created seem
> unproblematic ethically in terms
> of almost anyone's view. In a lot of other cases I am less sure. Yrjo's
> critique of unproblematic
> "vertical developmentalism" in his "breaking away" article highlights the
> dark side of educator's
> good intentions even when they are, in some sense good, never mind the
> cases
> in which psychopaths
> are in charge of the classroom or the clinic.
> But the question at the cultural-historical level remains in several
> versions.
> I am assuming that at the phylogenetic level no one wishes to claim that
> there is any question of
> the kind of teleology involved in issues surrounding the notion of zoped
> within a CHAT perspective,
> but this view is clearly in a tiny minority when viewed within the
> contemporary ideological landscape.
> mike
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Deborah Downing-Wilson
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