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Re: [xmca] The theoretical reason of the "ban" on Vygotsky

[The lengthy passage below is quoted from pg 17-19 of _Vygotsky Today: On the Verge of Non-Classical Psychology_, by Alexander Asmolov, 1998, Nova Science Publishers. I am just now reading this book and am struck by its insights and eloquence. Asmolov’s reflections on some of the excellent questions Ulvil poses about the 1930’s seem like a good way to kick off that discussion. He explains his reasoning for concluding that "The program of cultural-historical psychology clearly diverged then with the program of building a totalitarian socialism." Btw, AA includes an excerpt from a private letter by Vygotsky that some might find interesting. - Steve]

[From Vygotsky Today, 1998, by A Asmolov:]

For D.B. Elkonin, L.S. Vygotsky's transition from an interpretation of social environment as "factor" to the understanding of the "social as the "*source*" of personality development symbolizes the beginning of the *nonclassical psychology of consciousness*.

And it is the strength of L.S. Vygotsky's cultural-historical psychology rather than its weakness that this theory is often perceived as closer by spirit to art than to psychology based on classical rational thinking.

The secret of L.S. Vygotsky's contemporaneity in the history of science was nearly found by S. Toulmin, A. Puzyrei, A. Kozulin who, while speaking about "the phenomenon of Vygotsky" as a riddle of twentieth century, come very close to the solution in their characteristics of L.S. Vygotsky. S. Freud taught that metaphors have hidden meaning. These authors compared Vygotsky with Mozart, and his fate with the fates of literary characters by M.Cervantes, T. Mann, H. Hesse and B. Pasternak, thus presenting a key to the understanding of the "phenomenon of Vygotsky" and his special path in science. Vygotsky always, even when his texts were clothed in behavioristic or reflexological scientific terminology, maintained the profound position of Master, genuine artist concerned with the construction of cultural concrete human psychology. Cultural-historical psychology thus became a product of a new culture of understanding the human being, generated in the creative workshops of L.S. Vygotsky and his companions. In terms of the poetic typology of Osip Mandelshtam, so much appreciated by Vygotsky himself, one can say that Vygotsky was the "meaning-seeker" rather than "rational formalist".

It is true, that the ideas of Vygotsky's school have been later put, as some philosophers note, into anabiosis for years. But this was so not at all because these ideas dealt with the spheres of logic, philosophy or culturology, and psychologists had not understood their significance. The cause of the delay of the development ofcultural- historical theory, its slowing down and dividing into many outflows from the main channel, that sometimes seem not connected to each other, lays in the social history of society rather than in science itself.

In order to understand the social biography of cultural-historical psychology, it is necessary first of all to place the mosaic of cultures through human history at two poles - the pole of *usefulness* and the pole of *dignity*. *In the culture of usefulness* the idea that the universe is like a huge clock started by a wise watchmaker prevails. Everything is measured, predictable and subordinated to the order of social activities given once and forever. In fiction such a rational social world was precisely depicted in the utopias "We" by E. Zamyatin and "1984" by G. Orwell. But, as was sung in a Soviet song "we're born to make a tale come true". Utopias of E. Zamyatin and G. Orwell have come true, become embodied in the impersonal culture of usefulness. Any concrete human psychology to be sure, humanistic cultural-historical psychology was alien to the essence of this culture. By the fact of their existence they threatened the foundations of this culture and thereby were dangerous and excessive for it.

The culture of usefulness is "equipped" with the sort of ideological filters which sensitively determine which "human image" has a right to exist in mentality and society, be a subject of scientific research. The image of "marionette person", "behavioral robot", even if it was not realized by researchers, was mostly justified by works in the field of conditional reflexes, reflexology and reactology. It was just this image of "reflexological robot" that was finally demanded by the command-administrative system of totalitarian socialism.

In the 1930's a shadow of the totalitarian socialist culture of usefulness slowly but consistently crawled into genetics, the philosophy of the noosphere and pedagogy. Alongside with genetics and philosophy preaching the "principle of solidarity", even human science was ostracized.

Vygotsky's school of cultural-historical psychology had been rapidly forming in those years as practical developmental psychology, the basis of pedology - science of child development and education. But the command-administrative system built in 1930s did not need psychological research for the development of individuality, assessment of individual abilities in children. It was a time when in the atmosphere of total unification barrack-like pedagogy began to affirm. The program of cultural-historical psychology clearly diverged then with the program of building a totalitarian socialism.

The culture of usefulness claimed to have the exclusive right to decide where a person should go, where to be, what to think about. A sharp contrast to the imperatives of culture of usefulness were the letters written by L.S. Vygotsky in 1930 and 1931: "Every person must know where he/she is. You and me - we also know it and must stand firmly. Therefore the result: you, rather than someone else, should write about the reaction of choice, this chapter about the developing human freedom from external constraints of things and their will ... ". " ...It is impossible to live without conceiving life spiritually. Without philosophy (own, personal, living) there may be nihilism, cynicism, suicide, but not life. But everybody has one's own philosophy. It is necessary to grow it in oneself, because it supports life in us .... What can shake a person seeking truth? How much inner light, heat, support is in this seeking and striving! And the most important is the life itself - sky, sun, love, people, suffering. This is real, not just words. This is genuine. This is interwoven in life. Crises are not temporary states, but a path of inner life. When we pass from systems to fates fates.... birth and death of systems, we will see this ourselves". ("It is impossible to live not conceiving life spiritually": L.S. Vygotsky's letters to his disciples and colleagues. Published by A Puzyrei, Znanie - Sila, 1990, N 7, p. 93-94). To comment on these lines, their amazing irrelevance and absurdity in 1930's, would be like retelling poetry in prose. This is enough to feel the drama of both L.S. Vygotsky's fate and the fate of a whole program of cultural-historical psychology.

*The culture of usefulness does not need people and sciences oriented to personal fate, to that what underlies each person - capacity to change, variability, unpredictability. Such sciences, be it Vygotsky’s cultural-historical psychology, Vernadsky’s noosphere or Vavilov’s genetics, are dangerous for the totalitarian system, because they assert the right for unpredictability, variability in the society.* By that, they call into question the basic model of a transparent world which can be handled by an all-seeing watchmaker according to a plan.
<end of quote>

[All the above is from pg 17-19 of _Vygotsky Today: On the Verge of Non-Classical Psychology_, by Alexander Asmolov, 1998, Nova Science Publishers.]

On Feb 17, 2009, at 1:41 AM, ulvi icil wrote:


I would like to ask any reference book or article about the*
theoretical*reasons of why Vygotsky was not recognized in Soviet Union
starting from 30s
until 60s (it seems that, according to Mike (Cole) , his students were still
in a situation of dissidence even around 1990s.

I know that there may be many absurd political reasons about the ban on
Vygotsky and his colleagues.

But rather than the political ones, I would like to know the theoretical
reasons: What the Soviet power did not like in Vygotsky's theory and
approach? Did such a reason exist which belonged not to politics but to
science of psychology itself?

I know that Vygotsky rejected to qualify psychology "Marxist" easily ,
without truly obtaining a scientific, Marxist science of psychology (He emphasized that psychology can only be Marxist in "Historical Crisis").

May be authorities did not like his approach in this regard. Also, in that period, authorities did not like people look also to the West in various areas, including the art and they preferred people create science, art etc
which belong only to Soviet Union...etc

So, is there any hint about there any big theoretical difference beween
what Soviet authorities preferred and what Vygotsky followed?

Is there any memoirs from Luria, Leontiev about this?


Ulvi Icil
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