Who was Lev Vygotsky?
Theorists such as Lev Vygotsky and Jean Piaget developed
ideas that focussed primarily on the cognitive development of the individual. Vygotsky
and Piaget were to heavily influence later theories in particular, Information
Processing and Constructivism.
Lev Vygotsky’s theory can be succinctly summed up in his own words as he believed that:
“Every function in the child’s cultural development appears twice: first, between people (interpsychological) and then inside the child (intrapsychological). This applies equally to voluntary attention, to logical memory, and to the formation of ideas. All the higher functions originate as actual relationships between individuals” (Vygotsky, 1978:57).
Vygotsky’s approach is essentially sociocultural in that he believed individuals evolve by accommodating and responding to the culture that surrounds them, in this way children learn from elders in particular parents and family members. Vygotsky's theories underscore the basic role of social interaction in the development of cognition (Vygotsky, 1978), Vygotsky felt that the community plays a significant aspect in what he described as "making meaning." Piaget conversely suggested that a child’s development anticipated learning but Vygotsky inverted the process and argued, "learning is a necessary and universal aspect of the process of developing culturally organized, specifically human psychological function" (1978: 90). Therefore according to Vygotsky social learning anticipates development.
Writing in post-revolutionary Russia, Vygotsky was essentially a Marxist and this is reflected in his theory of human development. As a Marxist, Vygotsky believed strongly in the concepts of collective co-operation. Vygotsky suggested that an individual’s development evolved directly from the culture they were born in, an idea essentially distilled from the Marxist theory of history and the concept of dialectical materialism, Vygotsky suggested “To study something historically means to study it in the process of change; that is the dialectical method's basic demand. To encompass in research the process of a given thing's development in all its phases and changes—from birth to death—fundamentally means to discover its nature, its essence, for it is only in movement that a body shows what it is. Thus the historical study of behaviour is not an auxiliary aspect of theoretical study, but rather forms its very base”. (1978:64–65). A parent’s behaviour therefore can be seen as distilling thousands of years of culture in the way the child is reared, a similar approach is echoed by Bowlby.
Vygotsky´s theory concentrates primarily on how thought and
reasoning evolve. Vygotsky
suggested that these skills evolve as a result of social interactions with other
individuals, especially parents and to a lesser extent peers. Vygotsky
suggested that a child’s parents reify the surrounding culture.
Vygotsky (1978) maintains that the parent/pedagogue teaches behaviours and provides verbal guidance for the child, Vygotsky defines this as a co-operative or collaborative dialogue. The child therefore seeks to comprehend the data that the parent/pedagogue provides, processing the information in order to qualify their own behaviour. Vygotsky suggested “Learning awakens a variety of internal developmental processes that are able to operate only when the child is interacting with people in his environment and with his peers […] learning is not development; however, properly organized learning results in mental development and sets in motion a variety of developmental processes that would be impossible apart from learning. Thus learning is a necessary and universal aspect of the process of developing culturally organized, specifically human, psychological functions.” (1978: 90)
Vygotsky suggested that human development is intrinsically linked its sociocultural dimension. Vygotsky maintains “The child begins to practice with respect to himself the same forms of behaviour that others formerly practiced with respect to him […] Hence, we may say that we become ourselves through others and that this rule applies not only to the personality as a whole, but also to the history of every individual function” (1966:39-43).
If we consider that Vygotsky’s theory is essentially concerned with psychological development within a cultural and a cognitive matrix, Vygotsky can be considered amongst the founders of cultural psychology as his approach is essentially sociocultural.