Gredler and Shields, "Does no one read Vygotsky's words? Commentary on Glassman."

From: Peter Smagorinsky (
Date: Thu Apr 15 2004 - 06:12:27 PDT

There's an article in the new Educational Researcher from AERA, Gredler and
Shields, "Does no one read Vygotsky's words? Commentary on Glassman." The
paper is a critique of an article that Michael Glassman (who used to be
active on the xlchc/xmca discussion) published in ER in 2001. The authors
find five types of problems with Glassman's account of Vygotsky, which they
argue follows from a lack of careful reading and understanding of
Vygotsky's work: general problems, psychological tools and cross cultural
study, the role of the zpd, Vygotsky's view of conceptual thinking, and the
gulf between the thinking of Dewey and Vygotsky. The critique is available

What I find a bit surprising about the critique is the absolute certainty
with which the authors argue their points. I'm accustomed to the xmca
stance of half-baked thinking, which agrees more with a discussion than a
publication (though both are now "published" in that they're archived on
the web). I've tried to work from a Vygotskian perspective since the early
1990s and still find that when my work goes out to review, reviewers
contest how I apply the framework. I'm comfortable with that and would say
that's one reason I send my work out to review, to engage with other people
about how I interpret the theorists and data that I study. It's a way to
sharpen my thinking about what I'm trying to do, especially given the
complexity of the theory I'm drawing on.

But Gredler and Shields seem to know much more clearly than the rest of us
what Vygotsky did and did not say. They appear to have read much more than
I have; they reference all of the collected works of Vygotsky, which mostly
remain unread on my bookshelf as I try to find time to read them with the
care that they deserve. Based on this reading, and their reading primarily
of Valsiner and van der Veer (at least, that's what their references
suggest), they know what Vygotsky said and believed. They even critique
Glassman for relying on Mind in Society, which they feel is an earnest yet
flawed translation of what Vygotsky said (see footnote #6); this is the
only reference to Mike Cole in the paper. They make this judgment, it
appears, without having read the texts in Russian.

The authors have previously published a similar critique of Prawat's AERJ
article on Dewey and Vygotsky, and reference several conference papers in
which they critique "myths and misperceptions," pseudo-theory," and the
like in research that draws on Vygotsky.

I bring this article to people's attention because it may well help to
sharpen our understanding of key points in a Vygotskian approach. At the
same time, I'm a bit amazed by their chutzpah in arguing with such
certainty, particularly in that they appear to rely entirely on
translations of Vygotsky's work. They know what did and didn't happen in
the 1920s between Dewey and Vygotsky. One reason that I admire Mike Cole
is that he's clear on what he knows and understands, and humble enough to
admit what he doesn't yet understand and look to others for help in
developing his ideas. I think that his stance has set the tone for xmca; it
sure has for me. That stance is absent from Gredler and Shields in their
tone and I'd say in their condescending choice of phrasing to describe
others' efforts to reach greater understanding.


This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : Sat May 01 2004 - 01:00:07 PDT