HHS Special Issue: “Vygotsky in His, Our and Future Times”

The April 2015 issue of History of the Human Sciences is dedicated to “Vygotsky in His, Our and Future Times.” Guest edited by Gordana Jovanovic, the special issue includes a set of introductory reflections from Jerome Bruner on “The Uneasy Relation of Culture and Mind.” A further 10 articles explore various aspects of Vygotsky’s life and work, including the role of history in his work, an examination of the ban on his works in Russia, and his time as a theatre critic. Full titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.

Guest editorial: “Vygotsky in his, our and future times,” by Gordana Jovanovic. No abstract provided.

Introductory Reflections: “The uneasy relation of culture and mind,” by Jerome Bruner. No abstract provided.

“Vicissitudes of history in Vygotsky’s cultural-historical theory,” by Gordana Jovanovic. The abstract reads,

The aim of this article is to explore the ways and forms in which history is present, represented and used in Vygotsky’s theorizing. Given the fact that Vygotsky’s theory is usually described as a cultural-historical theory, the issue of history is necessarily implicated in the theory itself. However, there is still a gap between history as implicated in the theory and an explicit theorizing of history – both in Vygotsky’s writings and in Vygotskian scholarship. Therefore it is expected that it would be fruitful to shed light on some possible pathways that can bridge this gap. The prevailing theoretical role of history in Vygotsky’s theory is to serve as a general framework which provides tools for the development of higher psychic functions. Thus, history is recognized as a formative context of psychic life. Further, history appears in Vygotsky’s writings also as a projected better future. All these uses of history presuppose an idea of history as linear progress. But Vygotsky also argues for a stronger epistemological claim – that history is the most powerful explanatory principle. After conceptual and theoretical reflection on history, some limitations of Vygotsky’s historicizing of the history of psychic development will be pointed out and related to general epistemological problems of historicizing. Finally, Vygotsky’s cultural-historical theory, an edifice built up in the 1930s but relying on the rich philosophical and psychological legacy available up to that time, will be positioned against the pluralistic, postmodern and hermeneutic turn in contemporary social and human sciences.

“Mediation: An expansion of the socio-cultural gaze,” by Harry Daniels. The abstract reads,

One of the central pillars of Vygotsky’s contribution to social science is his concept of mediation: the process through which the social and the individual mutually shape each other. His rich, complex and challenging texts focus on a nuanced notion of mediation that was not necessarily visible to those active in the command-and-control climate of the Stalinist era. The article focuses on this notion of the lack of visibility in mediation.

“Should the ‘postulate of directness’ be overcome?,” by Vladimir P. Zinchenko. The abstract reads,

In this article I analyse the correlation between the direct and the mediated in activity, consciousness and personality. Cultural-historical psychology, attitude theory and activity theory were solving the tasks of overcoming the ‘postulate of directness’, which led to the ‘postulate of mediation’. None of these postulates shows in its entirety the path of human psychological development and the work of human consciousness. The direct and the mediated are examined in this article as equally necessary conditions for the development of the human psyche. A lot of attention is paid to the nature of the initial, primary spontaneity of a child as an indispensable condition for mastering culture. The direct is the necessary condition for the development of culture, and the mediated is the mechanism of this development.

“Searching for the microcosm: A glimpse into the roots of Vygotsky’s holism,” by Carlos Cornejo. The abstract reads,

In this article, I examine Vygotsky’s holism by considering his usage of ‘microcosm’ and chronicling the term’s origin and development. This exploration leads first to Spinoza’s monism as the primordial source of Vygotsky’s holism. Then, I present the notion of microcosm in the context of German Romanticism and J. W. Goethe. Humboldt’s Cosmos and Lotze’s Microcosmus are presented as 19th-century exemplars of the holistic tradition. Finally, I examine Vygotsky’s usage of the term ‘microcosm’ and argue that this concept cannot be fully understood outside the long tradition of holism in western philosophy. This understanding helps to explain apparent contradictions in his texts as well as affinities with his contemporaries’ philosophy of life and German holistic approaches.

“The place for synthesis: Vygotsky’s analysis of affective generalization,” by Jaan Valsiner. The abstract reads,

Vygotsky was a brilliant literary scholar whose role in psychology borrows substantially from his interests in and fascination with literature and theatre. The central question for Vygotsky’s theory was aesthetic synthesis – the emergence of generalized feelings in human life-experiences. The critical empirical example for the emergence of affective synthesis for Vygotsky was the short story by Ivan Bunin, ‘Legkoe dykhanie’. My task in this article is to analyse Vygotsky’s way of conceptualizing dialectical synthesis as a general psychological process. I demonstrate that Vygotsky succeeded in locating the empirical phenomena where such syntheses can be observed, and proceeded halfway towards creating a general model of affective synthesis. Yet he failed to complete the task due to the limitations of the analogical transfer of the notion of short circuit into the psychological realm. The problem of synthesis remains unsolved up to the present day. Possible ways of solving it require formalization of the notion of double negation that has been used in dialectical philosophies, but has not been encoded into psychology’s research methodologies.

“Vygotsky, the theater critic: 1922–3,” by René van der Veer. The abstract reads,

This article offers a preliminary analysis of Vygotsky’s theatrical reviews from his Gomel period against the background of Russian theatrical history. For several years Vygotsky published theater reviews of performances by local and travelling companies in the local newspaper. His writings show him to have been a very knowledgeable and demanding theater critic who knew both the Russian-language and the Yiddish theater perfectly well. Some parallels with his later psychological works are suggested.

“‘Neither class, nor party’: Paradoxes and transformations of the Russian and Soviet scientific intelligentsia,” by Kirill Maslov. The abstract reads,

The Russian intelligentsia emerged and existed in diversity due to specific political and social conditions within Russian society. The intelligentsia was (and is) more than just a class or group of educated people. The present article is an attempt to give a retrospective interpretation of the Russian intelligentsia and its transformation into the Soviet one in the 1920s, when Vygotsky also was an engaged actor in different programmes. At that time the political was as sharp and critical as the scientific, and science became an arena of radical political clashes and struggle. The contradictory historical atmosphere and the sincere wish of a new Soviet state to create a new society made it possible for young scholars to assume their positions in science very rapidly.

“Deconstructing Vygotsky’s victimization narrative: A re-examination of the ‘Stalinist suppression’ of Vygotskian theory,” by Jennifer Fraser and Anton Yasnitsky. The abstract reads,

Although many facets of Lev Vygotsky’s life have drawn considerable attention from historians of science, perhaps the most popular feature of his personal narrative was that his work was actively chastised by the Stalinist government. Almost all contemporary references to Vygotsky’s personal history emphasize that from 1936 to 1956, it was forbidden to either discuss or disseminate any of Vygotsky’s works within the Soviet Union. Although this ‘Vygotsky ban’ is both widely acknowledged and frequently cited by a variety of scholars, the exact nature of this alleged Communist party censure has received far less historical attention. Through focusing on the logistics of Soviet ‘bans,’ this article attempts to shed light on this historical mystery and augment the growing body of revisionist literature that serves to deconstruct the mythologized persona of Lev Vygotsky.

“Lev Vygotsky as seen by someone who acted as a go-between between eastern and western Europe,” by Alexandre Métraux. The abstract reads,

It is one thing to deal with any aspect of Lev Vygotsky’s work from a purely scholarly standpoint. It is something quite different to deal with Vygotsky’s work from both an academic standpoint and also that of someone who is involved in East–West editorial and commercial projects. This article sheds light upon what it meant to work on Vygotsky’s theories for someone who was formally affiliated to West European academia and who also became involved more or less at the same time in various East–West publishing projects related to Vygotsky and his circle.

“Vygotsky’s reception in the West: The Italian case between Marxism and communism,” by Luciano Mecacci. The abstract reads,

The diffusion of Vygotsky’s work in Italy was analysed by first considering the issues related to the translation of his texts since the 1970s, particularly with regard to the project promoted by the publishing house of the Italian Communist Party and supervised by the author of this article. Second, the reception of cultural-historical theory was discussed in the context of Italian psychology and medicine in the 1970s and 1980s. After an early acceptance of Pavlovian theory by a few Italian psychologists linked to the Communist Party, the need was felt to overcome physiological reductionism in relation to the new social and psychological problems connected with the development of Italian society. Finally, a brief reference was made to Italian neo-Vygotskyan trends in various areas of contemporary psychological research.

About Jacy Young

Jacy Young is a professor at Quest University Canada. A critical feminist psychologist and historian of psychology, she is committed to critical pedagogy and public engagement with feminist psychology and the history of the discipline.