RE: Leont'ev-Vygotsky controversy

From: Eugene Matusov (
Date: Fri Feb 13 2004 - 12:17:23 PST

Dear Mike, Peter, and everybody-

I think that Vygotsky meant Word not a word as unit of his analysis.
Something may be lost in translation but in Russian "word" ("slovo" cf.
"worker's word" "women's word") has very broad connotations that, in my
view, Vygotsky used. Biblical Word is very close to Russian term, "In the
beginning there was Word." It is possible to translate Russian "word" as
"discourse" or "utterance" (in Bakhtin's sense) however, the translation
problem is that Vygotsky oscillated meaning in his term "word": depending on
the context of his writing, he meant Word or a word or something
in-between/different. Choosing Word as a unit of his analysis, Vygotsky
moved in a direction to Bakhtin although there was still a conceptual abyss
separating them. Without doubts, Vygotsky was much closer to Bakhtin than
Leont'ev to Bakhtin. Although Vygotsky never discovered the notion of
"voice" and heteroglossia, he was much closer to appreciate of dialogism
than monologic Leont'ev with his Activity Theory. I think that dialogism (=
democracy) and monologism (=totalitarianism) is another perspective on
Vygotsky-Leont'ev controversy.

What do you think?

PS By the way, I wholehearted agree with Mike about multiplicity and
diversity of units of analyses depending on the purpose of investigation.

> -----Original Message-----
> From: Mike Cole []
> Sent: Friday, February 13, 2004 2:16 PM
> To:
> Subject: Re: Leont'ev-Vygotsky controversy
> Defrocked? Where are they giving away the frocks? Anyway, you ask:
> Wertsch, e.g., has said that he has replaced Vygotsky's word meaning as
> unit of analysis for psychological research with goal-directed,
> tool-mediated action in social context. To me, that suggests that he
> believes this to be an advance. BUT WHAT DO YOU THINK??
> wertsch refers to his approach as sociocultural studies and so far as I
> know does not consider Leontiev an advance on LSV, but we can ask him.
> Zinchenko (1985) also talks about mediated action. And he was a student
> of Leontiev who, in post-Soviet times, has become a sort of culturologist-
> psychologist. His work is available in English in the translation journal.
> What do I think? I think there is no such thing as a one right unit of
> analysis for the study of human nature. Vygotsky was seeking a unit for
> the study of language and thought/consciousness. I am interested in a
> unit for understanding the role of culture in human development. What
> do you think Jim W is seeking to understand?
> Shweder et al, in their 1998 Handbook of Child Psychology article offer
> a "custom complex" for understanding culture and development and use it
> almost as synonymous with activity or practice.
> What does each choice gain for you given your interests? Lose? I think
> are the questions I ask myself.
> mike

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