Re: [xmca] LSV`s developmental idea

From: Mike Cole (
Date: Fri Sep 08 2006 - 10:50:54 PDT

Hi Katarina--

There are many issues raised in your note and the literature it reviews that
be discussed.... all it take is people discussing!!

I have read a lot of, but not all of, the work you cite. At present a
colleague and
I are writing a paper on the role of context in Vygotsky's thinking. In this
the issue of synchronic variability that accompanies diachronic change seems
me to be of essential importance.

In general, it appears that synchronic variation, what is popularly and
often confusingly
referred to as contextual variation or variation across activities, appears
to me to
be under theorized and under studied in the Russian tradtion, just as
changes in the interfunctional relations of psychological process and
relations of
developing person to social situation of development are underplayed in
American approaches.

The term, social situation of development, is itself diffrently understood.
You reinforced
my interpretation of Russian use of the term as applying across all life
experiences for children of a given age (keeping in mind the complexity of
the term, age, in this discussion). Vygotksy is careful in several places to
emphasize that the social situaiton is not to be understood as external to
the child as an influence working on her. But heterogeneity on a given day
of a child's life in the social situaiton of development appears as little
likely as to say that the leading activity changes dynamically across
settings/activities/contexts. I believe this issue is in need of
clarifications that are empirically grounded.

I will be away from email for a week but perhaps others can join the
discussion or ignore it as not of sufficient current interest.


On 5/14/06, Katarina Rodina <> wrote:
> Hi Mike,
> Thanks for your answer. I have written some comments to your answer and
> sent this with some references to lhrossen who-is-at
> It is interesting to note that there are different views on Vygotsky in
> Russia and in the West. On this forum, there has been interesting
> discussions about zoped, mostly from an activity perspective (as you have
> pointed out LA in a Elkonin - and Leontiev-perspective). As Seth Chaiklin
> (2003: 58) stressed about the need for more investigation and discussion
> of contemporary interpretations of developmental ideas of LSV, as for
> example "[…] problems with many contemporary interpretations of the zone
> of proximal development" and "[…] methodological basis on which these
> ideas were developed". Unfortunately, many works of so-called Russian
> neo-vygotskians (cf. Yuri Karpov 2005) and contemporary Russian
> vygotskians are not well known outside Russia (e.g. the development of the
> Vygotsky–Elkonin–Davydov-idea of a contemporary Russian theoretical
> psychology and education). These works are, so far, largely not available
> in the English speaking world.
> As already known, there exist different interpretations of the
> developmental idea of LSV: the cultural-historical approach and the
> activity based approach
> Elena Kravtsova (1996) stressed the principal difference between
> cultural-historical and activity approach as a different view on the logic
> of development. The term «Leading Activity» (LA) was introduced in Soviet
> psychology by Vygotsky in the early 1930s, in his analysis of child play.
> Vygotsky stressed that play is an "leading- but not central activity".
> Vygotsky didn't investigate the term "LA", as it isn't a key concept in
> his works (Kravtsova 1996:76). Chaiklin (2003:47) suggests that "The
> notion of "leading activity" is a way to identify the particular relations
> in the social situation of development that are likely to contribute to
> the development of the functions that lead to the structural
> reorganization of a child's psychological function. (This general idea has
> been subsequently connected to the theory of activity and developed in
> more detail, e.g., El`konin, 1999)".
> According to Artur Petrovsky (1983), Vygotsky's term "social situation of
> development" (SSD) was practically replaced by the term "leading activity"
> (LA) (by Leontiev), in order to explain the dynamic changes in
> developmental processes (Petrovsky & Petrovsky 1983). (Some Russian
> researchers, though, think that Petrovsky was mistaken). The original view
> on SSD and LA as synonyms was introduced by Vassilij Davydov (1986) in his
> concept of "developmental learning-teaching" (Chaiklin & Heddegard 2005).
> According to Davydov, it is not necessary to distinguish between SSD and
> LA:
> "The social situation of development is above all the child's relation to
> social reality. This relation is realized through human activity. It is
> therefore justified to use the term 'leading activity' synonymously to the
> term 'social situation development" (Davydov 1986:240).
> Thus a student of V. Davydov, Vladimir Kudriavtsev (in personal
> correspondence, 2006), suggests that the term "cultural-activity theory"
> is not plausible, as there is no principal difference between SSD and LA.
> In Russia, according to Kudriavtsev (2006), Daniil Elkonin, Alexander
> Zaporozhetz, and Vassilij Davydov have been working within a "holistic"
> approach to SSD and LA. It's important to understand that Vygotsky
> stressed the original, internal dynamics of SSD, the rules of which remain
> undiscovered. Thus, there was a need for a new term, the new concept of
> Leading Activity, as suggested by Leontiev.
> Vygotsky defined the social situation of development as a "… completely
> original, exclusive, single, and unique relation, specific to the given
> age, between the child and reality, mainly the social reality that
> surrounds him. We call this relation the social situation of development
> at the given age" (Vygotsky 1932/1998:198). Development, according to
> Vygotsky, is "a single process of self-development"(Vygotsky 1998: 189).
> The social situation of development is, according to Vygotsky, not a
> child's non-personal relation to social reality, but a cognitive field
> characterized by inter-transformational, inter- and intra-subjective lines
> of power (Vygotsky 1929). Vygotsky stressed that "Growing into culture"
> (in Sasha Surmava's translation) first and foremost should be understood
> as "growing" in self ("vrastanie v samogo sebja"), in his subjective world
> and its problems, soluble only through cultural means (Kudrjavtsev &
> Urazalieva 2001).
> Some Russian scholars suggest that one should exchange the term Leading
> activity with the term "meaning-formation-activity", as the latter term
> express the formation not only as individual mening in ontogeny, but also
> in genesis of basic meaning, through which children in every stage of
> development of age related new formations, for the first time opens new
> life perspectives on the human cultural world (Kravtsova 1996, Kudrjavtsev
> & Urazalieva 2001).
> As Chaiklin (2003: 48) points out: "The social situation of development
> provides a way to characterize the interaction between historically
> constructed forms of practice and the child`s interests and actions (
> which reflect the current age period of the child). Rather than being a
> passive recipient of an objective environment, the child is selective
> about what is perceived and interesting"
> I'd suggest a more thorough discussion of the following points:
> Is it possible to see the logical interpretation of the idea of
> development LSV as a social-constructionist (not a social-constructivist)
> approach to development as an alternative to behaviorist and
> constructivist developmental approaches? Is it legitimate to say that
> Vygotsky as a "pre-postmodernist" (Newman & Holzman 1997: 25) in
> psychology pioneered a sociocultural approach to understanding of learning
> and development in ontogeny?
> Katja R.
> On Fri, May 12, 2006 00:40, Mike Cole wrote:
> > Hi Katrina-- Very timely question.
> > If you go to you will
> > find several papers that address your
> > question. I am not sure when you joined xmca, but we have been trying to
> > collect materials about different conceptions of
> > zopeds. These include an article by Seth Chaiklin critical of
> non-Russian
> > appropriations of LSV's ideas and some papers that
> > someone things might be relevant to clarifying uses of the
> concept. Seth
> > specifically talks about leading activity and social situation
> > of development.
> >
> > One difficulty in this discussion is that LSV's writings about SSD in
> > English are very sparse and his writing that includes the idea of
> leading
> > activity was published much later than the work that made him well
> known.
> > The appropriate refences in English are in the Chaiklin article.
> > The concept of leading activity is better known in the US through the
> work
> > of Elkonin and Leontiev. Shortly you will find an article by Griffin
> > and Cole posted on that XMCA site that deals with leading activities and
> > the
> > concept of a zoped.
> >
> > Perhaps you know of more materials that members of xmca should be
> reading.
> > If so, please send them to and they
> > will be posted for discussion.
> >
> > mike
> >
> > PS-- My colleagues at UCLA have a seminar at this moment discussing
> > exactly
> > these issues. Hopefully they will respond. I will probably be
> > more or less silent for a couple of weeks because I will be out of the
> > country and probably disconnected from email.
> >
> > On 5/11/06, Katarina Rodina <> wrote:
> >>
> >> Dear Mike and everybody else,
> >>
> >> It is well known that at the core of the developmental idea of LSV and
> >> his
> >> cultural-historical approach lies the concept of social situation of
> >> development" (SSD), leading activity" (LA: was more used in the USSR
> >> after Vygotsky) and age-related psychological novel formations" as well
> >> as
> >> the ZPD. I miss some discussions and analysis in western research
> >> discourse about this central vygotskian idea (the only exception is
> >> ZPD),
> >> e.g. the sociocultural approach to learning and development. Do you
> know
> >> any articles that analyse Vygotsky`s SSD or LA ( cultural-historical
> >> understanding of development in ontogeny)?
> >>
> >> What's the principal difference between SSD" and LA" in ontogeny?
> >>
> >> Thanks in advance,
> >>
> >> Best greetings from Norway
> >> Katarina A.Rodina
> >>
> >>
> >> --
> >> Katarina A. Rodina
> >> MSc inSpeech-Language Pathology,
> >> PhD-Research Fellow,
> >> Department of Special Needs Education
> >> University of Oslo
> >> P.O.Box 1140 Blindern
> >> NO-0318 OSLO,Norway
> >> Phone: +47 22 85 81 38
> >> Fax: +47 22 85 80 21
> >> E-mail:
> >>
> >> _______________________________________________
> >> xmca mailing list
> >>
> >>
> >>
> > _______________________________________________
> > xmca mailing list
> >
> >
> >
> --
> Katarina A. Rodina
> MSc inSpeech-Language Pathology,
> PhD-Research Fellow,
> Department of Special Needs Education
> University of Oslo
> P.O.Box 1140 Blindern
> NO-0318 OSLO,Norway
> Phone: +47 22 85 81 38
> Fax: +47 22 85 80 21
> E-mail:
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