Re: Does no one read [between] Vygotsky's words?

From: Ana (
Date: Thu Apr 15 2004 - 15:53:41 PDT

Peter, Bill

I went and read the article. One thing is that it is definitively writen
in a very negative tone, almost angry and very agressive.
The other thing is that they give a lot of referrences one would have to
check in order to figure out if they have a point they claim to have.
However, in one instance at least, I could see that they don't seem to
understand exactly what they are criticizing. This is the case of the
famous Luria/Vygtsky research on changes introduced by soviet literacy
programs. Here is a quote from their article

Glassman (2001, p. 6) cites Vygotsky and Luria (1930/1993) as
the source for his statements that (a) Vygotsky would agree with
Dewey that society has “a vested interest in the development and
maintenance of these [psychological] tools” and (b) Vygotsky
wanted “to use the educational process to teach new members
of the social community how to ‘use’ important, culturally developed
tools in an effective manner (a top-down/determinate
approach).” In contrast, Vygotsky and Luria (1930/1993) neither
stated nor alluded to such an agenda. The text, which addresses
cognitive development, discusses important landmarks
in the three different paths that account for human behavior—
evolutionary (phylogenetic), historical, and ontogenetic (p. 36).
For example, numeric operations and other early psychological
tools transformed the memory and thinking of primitive peoples.
Also discussed were the authors’ experiments on the development
of children’s cognitive processes and the cognitive development
of mentally retarded, physically impaired, and gifted
Glassman (2001) then states that the cross-cultural research of
Luria and Vygotsky “hypothesized that the introduction of new
tools by a strong social organization (i.e., the Soviet Union)
would lead to the development of a ‘new’ type of citizen” (p. 6).
Instead, the hypothesis the researchers actually tested was that
“the structure of psychological processes changes as a function of
history; consciousness does not have a constant, unchanging
structure” [italics added] (Luria, 1971, p. 160). More specifi-
cally, Luria (1976) clearly stated,
We hypothesized that people with a primarily graphic/functional
reflection of reality would show a different mental process from
people with a system of predominantly abstract, verbal, and logical
approach to reality. (p. 18)
Particularly important is that the study was a golden opportunity
to test the long-standing and widespread debate among
ethnopsychologists, sociologists, and others as to whether categories
of thinking are universal (the Gestalt view) or whether
primitive and advanced technological cultures produced different
levels of intellectual development (see Luria, 1979; van
der Veer & Valsiner, 1991).5 Conducted in the remote parts of
the Soviet Union (villages in Uzbekistan and Kirghizia) that
were undergoing rapid socioeconomic change, the study included
two isolated and illiterate groups and three groups with
varying literacy levels and some exposure to technological
change. The 600 interview protocols (van der Veer & Valsiner,
1991, p. 248) indicated that practical activity and concrete situations
dominated the perception, classification, and reasoning
skills of the nonliterate subjects whereas the others engaged
in categorical, abstract thinking (Luria, 1976, pp. 117–134;
It seems to me that what they criticize is something that is not at all
opposed to what they say "researchers actually tested [...]". And, that
was their hypothesis that:
“the structure of psychological processes changes as a function of
history; consciousness does not have a constant, unchanging
structure” .

Either they don't understand that the Soviet Imposed literacy program is
at the same time a historical, social process" or I don't know what they
want to say.

That is my first impression. No doubt that the article was written in a
hostile tone, and I am surprised that it was published as such in the
educatinal researcher. Good game is a game where we all build upon each
other's thinking and research instead of bashing each other. If they had
very important fine points about the differences between Dewey and
Vygotsky, why not just point that out in a friendly manner??

And of course, I agree with Bill: No one's thinking ought to become a
dogma - Einsten's, Vygotsky's or anyone elses. The point is to keep
moving ahead.


Bill Barowy wrote:

>Wow. Thanks Peter for provoking my interest in this article. I had noted it
>when it arrived, but I'll make sure to read it asap.
>I have to say that i am uncomfortable with the kind of thinking and writing
>that you described. For example, while Vygotsky could be held as the kind of
>genius Einstein was, one does not find folks saying so much they know what
>Einstein "said and believed" to the condescension of others. Quite to the
>contrary, it is expected to go beyond Einstein in our understanding -- he may
>have been a genius, but he was still only a human. And there are now better
>reformulations of Einstein's core ideas than what Einstein developed. We can
>and do still admire Einstein for his contributions.
>But so, is this kind of publication the result of making Vygotsky into such an
>untouchable icon? Are we suffering the slings and arrows of a codeveloping
>hegemonic discourse that attribute legitimacy more to replicating exactly an
>individual's ideas than to the problems and the work? If so, it is such a
>strange and ironic twist for activity theory research.

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