RE: ZPD/Chaiklin and Vygotsky/Bakhtin

From: Eugene Matusov (
Date: Sat Jan 17 2004 - 14:27:53 PST

Dear Peter and everybody-

Thanks for your insightful question about Russian-English meaning of
"imitation". I constantly teach my students, preservice teachers to "steal"
ideas and approaches from their cooperating teachers and classmates (I call
it "mindful stealing with acknowledgement"). The reason I'm talking about
"stealing" because it much better communicates Russian use of the term
"imitation". My reading of Vygotsky is that he never meant "mindless copying
for the sake of pleasing the teacher" by his use of the term imitation (you
can find his critique of "mindless copying" in Vygotsky's discussion of
Montessori's teaching very young children to write in Mind and Society

I think that Phil's recent example from Newman and Holzman is good
illustration of how, I think, Vygotsky understood "imitation". For Vygotsky,
role-taking plays are imitations that involve re-thinking adult activities
imitated in the plays. Imitation has always representational and symbolic
function that is pregnant with (critical) reflection. That (along with other
reasons) is why I'm very uncomfortable with such terms as internalization
and appropriation (do not confuse the latter with my term of "mindful
stealing"! :-) Imitation, that Vygotsky was talking about, is always
transformative to what it imitates, in my view.

What do you think?


> -----Original Message-----
> From: Peter Smagorinsky []
> Sent: Wednesday, January 14, 2004 10:44 AM
> To:
> Subject: Re: ZPD/Chaiklin and Vygotsky/Bakhtin
> David, I'm not sure how to cite it, except as an email message. If time
> allows I'll develop it into something else, but haven't yet found the
> I'm wondering if imitation has a slightly different meaning in Russian
> English--Mike, Eugene, others, can you help us with this one?
> I remember resisting my reading of Vygotsky's ideas on imitation initially
> because of my own instantiations of imitation as rigid and mimetic, which
> in our constructivist mindset suggests simple reproduction of form rather
> than reconstruction. At the same time, I think of Benjamin Franklin's
> autobiographical endorsement of imitation in his learning to write:
> At about this time I met with an odd volume of the Spectator. . . . I
> bought it, read it over and over, and was much delighted with it. I
> the writing excellent, and wished, if possible, to imitate it....
> This, he says, is how he learned to write well.
> The problem comes when in school imitation (e.g., imitating models of
> writing) is accompanied by nothing procedural which allows for
> appropriation of something conceptual. Reproduction, rather than
> reconstruction, becomes the goal.
> Peter
> At 09:06 AM 1/14/2004 -0600, you wrote:
> >Peter,
> >Pity the theoretical excerpt was not included in the article. I find the
> >section on imitation very useful, and would like to cite it. Can you
> >suggest to me how APA might want me to do this (or give me whatever
> >elements might need to be included in the citation of this unpublished
> >work)? Also, please share any further insight you might have on the
> >seemingly contradictory proposal that "Imitation, in contrast to the
> >mimetic habituation involved in training, is part of what Vygotsky [1987]
> >calls 'instruction' in which one learns something 'fundamentally new' (p.
> >210). I'm intrigued by Van der Veer and Valsiner (1991) reading of
> >Vygotsky that "'children are capable of intellectual, insightful
> >imitation.' (pp. 344-345)."
> >Thanks.
> >David Kirshner
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >
> > Peter
> > Smagorinsky
> > <smago who-is-at coe.uga.ed To:
> >
> > u> cc: (bcc: David H
> > Kirshner/dkirsh/LSU)
> > Subject: Re:
> > and Vygotsky/Bakhtin
> > 01/14/2004
> > 05:22
> > AM
> >
> > Please respond
> > to
> > xmca
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >At 06:00 PM 1/14/2004 +0700, you wrote: A question based on the article
> >that might be worthwhile pursuing once the discussion of Paul's paper has
> >subsided is based on Mike's observation of the underplaying of the idea
> >imitation. What is the "special" meaning that LSV attaches to the word
> >imitation?
> >
> >For the article I recently attached on learning to teach the
> >
> >theme, we had originally written the attached theoretical section, which
> >the reviewers recommended that we eliminate as irrelevant to the study.
> >I've set it aside for potential use later, but it relates to Vygotsky's
> >beliefs about imitation in relation to his discussion of the zpd and may
> >contribute to a consideration of Phil's question. Peter(See attached
> >The Zone of Proximal Development.doc)(See attached file: The Zone of
> >Proximal Development.doc)
> >

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