RE: [xmca] Genealogy & the Evolution of CHAT

From: Worthen, Helena Harlow <hworthen who-is-at>
Date: Thu Sep 13 2007 - 12:23:24 PDT

Good morning!

I'm going to take up Cathrene's invitation to add some pieces to the
broad portrait of the history of CHAT from my own idiosyncratic

In 1962 I was a freshman at Harvard (then Radcliffe) and wandered into
one of those 200-person lecture courses taught by Jerome Bruner, who
assigned us Vygotsky's Thought and Language to read, translated by
Hanfmann and Vakar, complete with the insert pamphlet containing
Piaget's response. I have that copy on my desk as I write, with my
19-year old's comment, "An excellent book" in bright purple ballpoint
ink on the flyleaf. Vygotsky, explained by Bruner, made sense in a way
unlike anything else I had ever read about speech, language, learning,
creativity and change. I had no idea at the time why it made sense; it
just did.

Bruner told us that in the 1940's and 1950's, both during the war and
afterwards during the heyday of the Cold War, there were conferences
where one might meet Soviet psychologists who would make presentations
based on Pavlov but, over cocktails later, would say, "But the real guy
is Vygotsky, we're just calling it Pavlov because we have to." Bruner
said (and of course, 45 years later this is not going to be an exact
quote),"But no one [in the west] knew who this Vygotsky was."

"No one" can't have been strictly true, because there was quite a bit of
cultural exchange back and forth between the US and the Soviet Union in
the 1920's and early 1930's, including Dewey and a lot of people from
the worlds of theater, film and art.

But I heard that the way the news about Vygotsky "got out" was at least
in part because of Bruner's connection to the Harvard Russian Project
(which apparently is still going on), as described by Raymond A. Bauer,
1916-1977, who was the Field Director in Germany of this project (the
Harvard Project on the Soviet Social System) and then became a Harvard
Business School prof. Some of his books are still available through the
MIT website. In the 1990's, when I was re-entering the world of
education and trying to figure out why Vygotskian theory was so
different, I read Bauer's book, "The New Man in Soviet Psychology,"
which traces the development of Soviet psychology, from a particular
point of view.

The task of the Harvard Russian Project was to collect from Soviet
refugees as much information as possible about what was going on in the
Soviet Union. The papers from this project are on the web:

Here is a quote from a letter on that site that conveys sharply the
urgency of this research. It's addressed to someone who had apparently
gone through the debriefing and wanted some kind of other help:

"Since a clear and accurate conception of Soviet Russian is
indispensable if we are to survive, I feel it a pity that your knowledge
does not get the recognition it deserves. Unfortunately, as you know, we
have no connection with government agencies and our field of action is
limited to talking to Displaced Persons and making the results known to
the American people."

Part of that "clear and accurate conception" was apparently an
understanding of how a Marxist psychology would contribute to the
creation of the New Man, whom I guess we expected we might meet on the
battlefield. In US propaganda films of that period, this "new man" is
represented by robot-like figures marching or working in unison, to
suggest the tyranny of the collective.


Helena Worthen, Clinical Associate Professor
Labor Education Program, Institute of Labor & Industrial Relations
University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
504 E. Armory, Room 227
Champaign, IL 61821
Phone: 217-244-4095

-----Original Message-----
From: []
On Behalf Of Cathrene Connery
Sent: Friday, September 07, 2007 4:21 PM
To:; eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: [xmca] Genealogy & the Evolution of CHAT


What if everyone took a deep breath, typed the stem "In the
beginning...." and wrote in a stream of conscious fashion knowing that
there is a younger generation of scholars, an eager audience, who need
and look up to your guidance? One or two paragraphs would be enough.

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Received on Thu Sep 13 12:26 PDT 2007

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