Psychology today is undergoing a transformation. It is becoming an international science, which aspires to uncover
The legacy of Vygotsky and his colleagues (most importantly, A.R. Luria and A.N. Leont’ev) is also illuminating in another, more specific respect. It can shed light on the mechanisms of knowledge transfer from one cultural context to another—a process central to the transmission and globalization of knowledge. The Soviets created a new psychology out of old resources. They heavily relied on the work of Western psychologists, which they integrated and revised to meet the unique needs of the new Soviet society. Their ideas, in turn, were later translated to new cultural contexts by their students in the West. Vygotsky hypothesized that local cultural conditions determine
I focus on Vygotsky’s reading of Jean Piaget, one of the most stimulating peers Vygotsky discovered in the West. In Section 26.2, I examine how Vygotsky understood Piaget’s concepts of
In Section 26.3, I discuss Vygotsky’s
26.2 What Happens to Ideas When They Travel
Despite their eagerness for
The Soviet psychologists were highly critical in their approach to Western sources. They read Western psychology as a story of limitations, side by side with successes.5 They tested and falsified certain claims6 and tried to incorporate the achievements of Western psychologists in their own theory and
Piaget 1959 defined
Below I will specify four ways in which Vygotsky responded to Piaget’s ideas. They constitute four basic options that a scientist has when
26.2.1 Acceptance and Incorporation
Vygotsky accepted some ideas of Piaget and incorporated them into his own theory. For example, Vygotsky accepted Piaget’s conclusion that the child’s
26.2.2 Grounded Rejection
Vygotsky’s cultural situation led him to reject some of Piaget’s ideas about egocentrism.
He claimed that Piaget’s interpretation of the child’s peculiar way of
Piaget believed that logic originated in interpersonal communication—in argument, as minds adapt to each other. From Vygotsky’s perspective, Piaget’s hypothesis ignored the importance of the practical activity that gives rise to argument and imbues it with content Vygotsky 2005a, 65, 68–69.
Piaget considered syncretism a vestige of the child’s egocentrism. For Vygotsky, it was a tool for organizing and comprehending the world—a source of hypotheses concerning unfamiliar objects against which the child is able to evaluate new experiences.13
Vygotsky did not merely criticize Piaget; he also adapted Piagetian ideas, which took on a different significance in Vygotsky’s cultural matrix.
Vygotsky conducted a series of
Criticizing Piaget allowed Vygotsky to emphasize an important perspective on development. According to Vygotsky, Piaget wrongly considered
Vygotsky misunderstood the importance of Piaget’s concept of
Vygotsky misunderstood the meaning of “the social” in Piaget. By “the social” Piaget meant “intellectual cooperation” between individuals, which depended on the ability to communicate one’s thoughts and to understand the thoughts of others.21 Vygotsky found this dimension of social life “uninteresting” Piaget 2000, 248. Vygotsky understood “the social” as the cultural and stressed the role of symbols, tools and activities in
Vygotsky emphasized the role of language in
Vygotsky offers a rich account of concepts and an impoverished account of
Why does Vygotsky miss these important ideas of Piaget? Vygotsky underemphasized everything that had to do with interpersonal understanding, reasoning and dissent—issues that Piaget regarded as central. He failed to recognize social cooperation as a problem because he was immersed in a collectivist culture that took cooperation for granted. For Vygotsky the central problem was the acquisition of culture—a problem that arose from the exigency of spreading cultural tools
In his response in 1962 to Vygotsky’s criticisms, Piaget identified some points of disagreement, but failed to acknowledge the complementary strengths of Vygotsky’s approach and Vygotsky’s reasons for pursuing it Piaget 2000. Thus, the two psychologists had blind spots when reading each other. However, their creative misunderstandings can hardly be considered a defect, or a failure of scientific thinking. Their reading each other proved to be highly productive, for it allowed them to refine their concepts and methods and, in the case of Vygotsky, to develop new ones. Neither Vygotsky nor Piaget was fully persuaded by each other’s choices, but each continued to build knowledge within his own framework.
26.3 Soviet Psychology as International Psychology
26.3.1 Soviet Cross-Cultural Psychology
Vygotsky, Luria and Leont’ev worked at a time when Soviet scholars showed great interest in comparative studies of the populations of the USSR. In the 1920s such studies were conducted extensively by pedologists and psychotechnicians—researchers who performed anthropometric and psychometric studies of children, and assessed individuals’ fitness for professions, respectively. Pedologists and psychotechnicians conducted extensive studies of different groups of the Soviet population, across class and ethnic boundaries, including for the first time the “national minorities”—such as the peoples of Central Asia, Siberia, the Caucasus; Tatars; Bashkirs; and Jews. These disciplines employed standardized, international metrics (such as Pignet index measurements; the tests of Binet-Burt, Binet-Termin, Binet-Simon, Rossolimo, Levitov-Tolchinsky; questionnaires investigating children’s interests and ideals, and tests on moral conflicts Kurek 2004, 25–26). The generalizations made on the basis of these data turned out to be politically disturbing. Slavic peasants and workers showed considerably lower IQ and other measures of psychological development than the Slavic urban educated classes. The Turkic populations of Central Asia scored even lower.26 The resulting data were in stark conflict with the official
The work of the pedologists and psychotechnicians was an important foil for Vygotsky and his students. Vygotsky claimed that standardized testing, no matter how much adjusted and improved, could not serve as an adequate approach to the study of ethnic minorities. What was needed instead, he argued, was to explore the problem of cultural development through broad
Vygotsky and Luria claimed that Rossolimo and Binet’s intelligence tests measured at best the knowledge the child had already acquired at school, but that they failed to measure the child’s intelligence as a capacity Vygotsky and Luria 1930, 220, 226–231. For
26.3.2 Vygotsky’s Focus on the Psychology of the Cosmopolitan Individual
Second, Soviet psychologists were interested in creating a psychology and a pedagogy that would facilitate the production of “the new man”—the ideal Soviet citizen, whose outlook was cosmopolitan rather than national. This orientation is especially pronounced in Vygotsky’s Pedagogical Psychology (1926). Vygotsky stressed that contemporary developments in economics, science and technology were happening on a world scale and could only be understood on a world scale Vygotsky 2005b, 248. Therefore, to excel in any of these domains one had to comprehend global tendencies (this argument is a fortiori relevant today) Vygotsky 2005b, 259. Vygotsky, Luria and Leont’ev were living examples of this ethic. They attempted to create a new
26.3.3 The Soviets’ Attempt to Create a Comprehensive General Psychology to Replace the Multiplicity of Schools and Paradigms
Third, Soviet psychologists attempted to create a single scientific psychology. According to Vygotsky, psychology in the 1920s was torn between two irreconcilable tendencies: (1) Materialist, causal, or explanatory psychology, which employed inductive and “objective analytical” methods (e.g., reflexology and behaviorism), and (2) idealist, descriptive, or teleological psychology, which employed introspection (e.g., Husserl’s phenomenology and Wundt’s introspectionism) Vygotsky 2006a. Vygotsky envisioned a unified discipline—not as an amalgam of all schools, but as a qualitatively new paradigm that would stress the
As the core of
26.3.4 Why Cultural-Historical Psychology Did Not Succeed
Some reasons for this failure were external. Vygotsky died in 1934, having scarcely tapped his intellectual and organizational talents. Whereas
Some reasons for this failure were internal. If external circumstances had been more favorable, was
Similarly, Leont’ev devoted himself largely to theory building. In his later years, he confessed that he regretted not having created a fuller empirical basis for his theory Leont ' ev et.al. 2005. Luria was the only member of the troika who made himself into a systematic empirical investigator. He called the early methods of
The Soviet psychologists, in giving short shrift to experimental documentation and
26.4 Recontextualization of Soviet Psychology and the Growth of a New International Psychology
26.4.1 Recontextualization of Soviet Psychology
The enthusiastic reception of Soviet psychologists in the West cannot be attributed merely to the publication of their work in
Vygotsky greatly influenced (largely through Thought and Language and the experimental elaboration of some of his ideas by Luria38) Western psycholinguistics,39
Luria has exerted an extensive influence on neurologists and aphasiologists all over the world.44 He played a fundamental role in the rise of
In developing his theory and methods, Luria demonstrated his commitment to combining “classical” and “romantic science”—a distinction first introduced by Max Verworn. Classical science is reductivist, analytical and logical; it aims at constructing abstract models of phenomena and discovering universally applicable laws. In contrast, romantic science resists “splitting living reality in its elementary components” and aims to capture the real, systemic complexity of “life’s concrete events” Cole et.al. 2006, 174–175. Without denying the advantages of “classical” reductivism, Luria insisted on the importance of clinical observation, description and analysis of individual case studies, in the tradition of
Leont’ev’s activity theory—a framework for understanding how subjects achieve their goals (e.g., in the workplace) through the mediation of tools and artifacts—was taken up by researchers interested in the study of contemporary work practices, such as practices of production (e.g., in industry and in research institutions), as well as in organizational learning and communication, knowledge transmission, innovation, network collaboration, product evolution, motivation and decision making in the workplace.48 Leont’ev’s theory was adapted to Western working conditions (e.g., the concepts of “community” and “rules” were introduced). It has recently acquired significance in the fields of human-computer interaction, information systems and software design.49
A number of Western psychologists played a key role in bringing Soviet psychology into the mainstream. Foremost is Michael Cole, who studied with Luria in Moscow in the 1960s. Cole facilitated the spread of the ideas of the Soviets by editing the translation journal Soviet Psychology and several important books,50 including Vygotsky’s Mind in Society Vygotsky 1978. He now edits
Certain Western psychologists not only facilitated the spread of the ideas of the Soviets, but also developed these ideas as part of their own research programs. For example, Cole took the Soviet
What is common to all of these researchers is that they do not slavishly rehearse the ideas of the Soviets, but make critical and selective use of them, recontextualizing these ideas when necessary. In other words, just as the Soviet psychologists entered into critical dialogue with the authors they read, modern psychologists engage critically with the Soviets.52 Vygotsky believed that one can only truly understand the work of others (i.e. analyze the methodological principles of psychological writings) if one reads this work in the context of one’s own ongoing research Vygotsky 2006a. Vygotsky himself, as well as his students, should be read this way. Psychological science proceeds by
26.4.2 International Psychology: Its Origins and Present Status
Since Wundt founded the first psychological
In different countries psychology had different roots and was influenced by different local traditions Pawlik and d ' Ydewalle 1996. Whereas psychological research in the US and Germany derived from the Wundtian
Even in the early period psychologists felt the need for international congresses. The first was held in 1889 in Paris, and subsequent congresses were held every three to four years (with an interruption between 1937 and 1948).
In the second part of the twentieth century, the move toward globalization took on increasing momentum. Two new trends were the rise of
Specialized: the International Neuropsychological Society (1967), the International Society for the Study of Behavioral Development (1969), the Jean Piaget Society (1970),
These organizations serve to provide fora for the exchange of knowledge, to improve conditions for research, to raise the prestige of psychology upon which funding ultimately depends, and to establish standards of training and practice. Important journals devoted to
General: International Journal of Psychology (1965), International Journal of Applied Psychology (1951), The International Journal of Psychotherapy (1996), World Psychology (1995–1997), Transcultural Psychiatry (1956)
Regional: European Journal of Social Psychology (1971), European Psychologist (1996), European Review of Applied Psychology, Scandinavian Journal of Psychology (1960), Journal of Russian and East European Psychology (1962)
Specialized: International Journal of Psycholinguistics (1993), The International Journal of Clinical Psychology (2001), International Journal of Disability, Community and Rehabilitation (2002), International Journal of Eating Disorders, International Journal of Testing (2001), International Journal for the Psychology of Religion (1991), The International Journal of Aging and Human Development (1984), International Journal of Cross Cultural Management (2001).
In addition, reviews and special issues on
In the past few decades, the trend toward globalization in psychology has gained considerable momentum. Today psychological research not only welcomes international collaboration but depends on it. Since the 1990s there has been increasing awareness in the psychological community that psychology is changing: Globalization is changing the quality of psychological research. Psychologists have explicitly discussed the increasing
Today we have the following picture. On the one hand, North America and Western Europe, in particular the US, continue to play a leading role in the production of
Definitions and Ideals
There is a growing understanding that if psychology is to become a rigorous human science, it has to be international. If it is not international—if it is not shared by all humans—it remains merely a Western science, which can only understand certain aspects of the human situation. Psychology has to avoid the charge of being, to borrow an expression from Heidegger, “the American interpretation of Americanism” Heidegger 1977, 153.
The spread of psychology across the globe has brought about a re-evaluation of how
The ideal of
[…] methodological difficulties of culture-informed developmental research reflect to an important extent the absence of more precise and testable theories. Probably the most promising perspectives are those that will combine biological and cultural-contextual underpinnings of behavior. Keller et.al. 2002
cross-cultural studies can make an important contribution to the testing of such theories, providing data to help differentiate between species-wide processes and contextually bound variations in developmental patterns. Poortinga 2005, 112
Obstacles Toward the
Internationalization of Psychology
On the way to internationalization, psychology faces some serious obstacles. Concepts in the natural sciences tend to be uniform, well-defined, and hence easily exportable to different cultural contexts. One major source for this uniformity is the uniformity of the natural world. Physical phenomena are essentially the same for an American, a Japanese and a Kenyan. By contrast, psychology as a human science deals with a subject—the human—that is considerably determined by cultural variation. A psychologist in Japan is likely to observe psychological phenomena that differ markedly from those that an American psychologist might observe. Hence
Intercultural psychology depends on the
The Necessity of Really Global Psychology and Promising Signs
Psychology is by definition a science concerned with the study of human, not American or European, behavior and cognition. It is then inherently universal rather than parochial. If a psychology is only applicable to certain cultures, then it has failed in its aims. As other processes of globalization take place, and as a truly
There are promising signs that global psychology is, however slowly, emerging. As George Mandler writes:
One of the most salient aspects of [recent] advances is that they are occurring not just in the United States but also in Europe, Latin America, Japan, China and other countries with active psychological communities. It appears that psychology is developing a catholic consensus, an international paradigm that did not exist prior to the mid-twentieth century. Mandler 2007, 245
Moreover, we observe an increase in the number of papers co-authored by researchers from different parts of the world—irrefutable evidence of global cooperation. Electronic media serve as enabling technologies for international collaboration, and both their utilization and the possibilities they offer are only likely to increase. An authority on
In the foreseeable future, along with the globalization process and increase in international exchanges there will be more convergence in the structure and content of the study of behavior and consciousness, and more commonalities than differences may exist in international psychology. Jing 2000, 581
Although globalization is creating new human problems—such as the rapid growth of immigrant groups who are poorly assimilated into their new society; conflicts, armed or otherwise, that arise from inequalities in the distribution of wealth; and an increasing uncertainty throughout the life course Hofäcker et.al. 2006—
Cross-cultural psychology will be shown to have succeeded when it disappears. For, when the whole field of psychology becomes truly international and genuinely intercultural—in other words, when it becomes truly a science of human behavior—cross-cultural psychology will have achieved its aims and become redundant. Segall et.al. 1998
International Psychology Owes to the Work of the Soviet Psychologists
Although the program of the Soviet psychologists failed as such, it served as a precursor to the international psychology that is emerging today, and contemporary psychology has incorporated, and sometimes transformed, concepts and ideas of the Soviets. The Soviet psychologists played an important role in recognizing the contribution of social and material factors to psychological functioning.71 In particular, they drew attention to the development of higher mental functions, which are especially influenced by social and material factors.72 Vygotsky’s ideas about the role of language and social context for learning have been integrated in the new “explanation-based” paradigm of
Vygotsky had a vision of psychology as a unitary scientific enterprise that would explain cultural variation Vygotsky 2006a. This vision was premature, and Vygotsky mistakenly believed that psychology needed a theoretical paradigm that would be developed top-down.73 Contrary to Vygotsky’s vision, international psychology is emerging piecemeal from research along many different lines. But psychology is becoming increasingly integrated as Vygotsky imagined it would Vygotsky 2006a. It seems today that the international psychology Vygotsky envisioned is gradually taking shape.
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See Leont ' ev 2000; Vygotsky 2006a; Cole et.al. 2006. According to Vygotsky, one such fundamental limitation consisted in the inability of Western psychologists to conceptualize the connection between the individual and the social; thus he claims that “they have not known social psychology in the West” Vygotsky 2006a.
For example, Luria 1976 demonstrated that the “universal” laws of perception described by Gestalt psychologists (e.g., concerning the perception of geometrical figures) did not apply to Uzbek peasants who led a traditional lifestyle. Given that in the 1920s and 1930s Gestalt theory aspired to become the leading paradigm in psychology, Luria’s findings proved that a global paradigm could not succeed unless it was able to explain cultural variation in behavior and cognition.
Based on Piaget’s four early studies Luria 1976, the only ones available to Vygotsky in his lifetime.
Vygotsky considered Piaget an idealist on the following grounds: Piaget refused to commit to ontological realism and take a strong (i.e. materialist) conception of causality; he declared “sociological” and “biological” modes of description as alternatives; and he considered the logic of the scientist as an alternative to the logic of a child Vygotsky 2005a, 58–61, 64–68. Vygotsky claimed that as a consequence of his weak concept of causality, Piaget failed to explain how development happens. For Piaget, the egocentric thinking of a child is replaced by logical thinking; the child “weaves on two looms,” in Claparède’s expression Vygotsky 2005a. Yet Piaget did not explain how the integration occurs, i.e. how logical thinking arises on the basis of the egocentric substrate.
“Reason-giving initially arises in an argument between children and only then is transferred inside the child; […] thinking is born in argument” Vygotsky 2006b, 351, 357.
In Thought and Language Vygotsky did not describe in detail the empirical, experimental observations that drove his criticism of Piaget’s work. We owe an account of Vygotsky’s reasoning from empirical data to Levina 2001, a young member of his experimental team. Vygotsky also tacitly relied on his experience of interacting with Soviet children as part of his extensive pedagogical and clinical work, as well as on the observations of his own children Vygotskaya and Lifanova 1996; Yaroshevsky 2007.
Vygotsky 1978, 86 defined this zone as “the distance between the actual developmental level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance or collaboration with more capable peers.” See also Levina 2001, 81.
Experiments demonstrate that children who are asked to vocally plan their actions reach beyond the situation in two ways: (a) they physically look around, and (b) they think about a possible course of action by reverting to past experience Levina 2001, 88. Thus language creates psychological time: it sets the present against the past, and it stores present impressions for the future Tomasello 1999; Levina 2001, 88.
Piaget rightly accused Vygotsky of “excessive bio-social optimism” Piaget 2000, 243. There is political irony in Vygotsky’s ignoring the importance of cognitive egocentrism. The failure of socialism in Eastern Europe can be attributed to the fact that communist theorists took social cooperation too much for granted, overestimating the natural human desire for brotherhood. Vygotsky himself greatly suffered from intellectual misunderstanding in the Soviet psychological community, especially in the 1930s Vygotskaya and Lifanova 1996.
Piaget’s early results have been repeatedly replicated, extended, and many of his conclusions confirmed. For example, in the 1980s Soviet psychologists conducted Piagetian studies of Moscow children in order to test whether their logic and conception of the world differed from those of Piaget’s subjects in the 1920s Obukhova 1981. Soviet researchers concluded that, despite some differences in the content of thought, Muscovite children exhibited the same general cognitive tendencies (realism, animism, artificialism, syncretism and so forth) and often gave the same answers as Piaget’s children Obukhova 1981, 98–99.
Modern psychologists have tried to find ways to reconcile the Piagetian and Vygotskian approaches Wozniak 1996. One possibility of the synthesis is suggested by Wittgenstein. Like Vygotsky, Wittgenstein maintained that language performs multiple functions, or uses. Like Piaget, he questioned how language can be used for thought in a social scenario. Wittgenstein’s concept of “language games” explains this process: People construct language within a shared activity, i.e. the meaning of linguistic units emerges in the context of mutually understood practical actions. This view combines Piaget’s focus on intellectual operations as they originate in social actions with Vygotsky’s (Marxist) focus on language as inscribed in practical activity, cf. Malinowski 1923; Piaget 1951, Piaget 2001, 138–140;
They were not alone. In the early twentieth century, many European researchers were developing accounts of cross-cultural variation, often in the context of discussing the relationship between ontogeny and phylogeny, see Veer and van der 1991, 190.
According to A. Stilerman (1928), cited in Kurek 2004, 41, only 16.8% of Uzbek children qualified as normal in intellectual development, 63.3% as slightly retarded and 19.8% as severely retarded; they were 2–5 times less developed intellectually than Russian children.
By this term Vygotsky meant an integrated study of the child, including fields that were in practice separated, such as developmental psychology, pedagogy and pediatrics.
Most of these experimental data have never been published, and, given the complexity of the archival situation and possible attrition of materials, it is not even clear which remain extant. Some have been published in the work of Vygotsky’s students, see, for example, Shif 1935; Leont ' ev 1983; Levina 2001.
For example, in the studies of egocentric speech, prompted by Piaget, Vygotsky combined experiment, clinical observation and pedagogical intervention (the technique is described in Levina 2001).
It is useful to remember in this context that Vygotsky himself was a great polemical reader, who passionately mined psychological literature for data and insights relevant to his own work, cf. Vygotskaya and Lifanova 1996.
A selection of only the most important and influential organizations is given.
Cf. Jing 2000, 582. It is remarkable that the first international association of psychologists was the International Association of Applied Psychology. It was established in 1920 by Claparède and was initially called the International Association of Psychotechnics.
As Michael Cole observes, although there have been significant recent advances in cultural psychology, much work remains to be done for its integration into a general paradigm Cole 1995, 187.
The Soviet psychologists derived this idea from Marx, but they were the first to show how one might demonstrate that human development depends on social and material factors.
Today an interesting attempt to unify psychology top-down is made by evolutionary psychologists, who rely substantially on cross-cultural research, see, for example, Schmitt 2004; Tooby and Cosmides 2005. The viability of the evolutionary paradigm is now being hotly debated in the psychological community. Time will show how tenable the new paradigm is, but most participants of the debate agree that the only productive way for psychology to develop is through the integrated study of mind and behavior across different fields and disciplines, such as cognitive psychology, neuropsychology, social psychology, differential psychology, ethology and anthropology, see, for example, Panksepp and Panksepp 2000.