Wednesday, 23 July 2014


Fresh thinking

Through combination of ideological and linguistic misunderstandings, some hapless some an offence to any scholarly process, L. S. Vygotskii has had a very poor run in the Western world. That has not of course had anything to do with the man himself or with his work and its implications, most of which have remained largely unknown.

This has not stopped the appearance of uncountable books, and articles, conference presentations, lectures, dissertations and theses, students' assignments – jobs, careers, hierarchies of esteem, jollies, talk, talk talk...

A whole new accepted wisdom has been created, an academic orthodoxy, a vast 'literature', bolstered by the intellectual might of academic publishing, representing philosophies and social purposes of covert class interest, and often stated in words that few if any might understand. A lot of money has flowed.

For 'Vygotsky' the good times have certainly rolled. Across the Western world they have rolled over the achievements of the short life of the man whom I still think of as Vygotskii (I find this spelling a useful though not always watertight distinction to make with 'Vygotsky with a y', a commodity that is largely a creation of American academe). The Vygotskian boom in the West has achieved such force, size and momentum as to seem unstoppable, a self-evident truth that seems set to run for ever, like for example psycho-analysis, neuro-babble or biogenic understandings of human thinking.

Almost all based upon mistranslation, misunderstanding, even outright misrepresentation, certainly fulfilling many needs...

Fresh thinking

In the 21st century there slowly emerges a parallel tendency, at least in the English language where most of the damage has been done, attempting to by-pass the 'Vygotskian' dross, and re-examine the matter if not from first principles at least from fresh ones. Here for example are the concluding words from an extensive review of just one point in Vygotskii's story, the 'ban' on his his work and ideas in the Soviet Union that followed soon after his death, written by Jennifer Fraser and Anton Yasnitsky–
...within our collective memory of Lev Vygotsky, there has been a growing historiographical trend whereby many central tenets of his personal and professional narrative have been increasingly challenged by twenty-first century educators, psychologists, and historians of psychology. This explosion of critical literature endeavors to correct both the distortions and mischaracterizations of Vygotsky’s ideas present within both the English translations of his writings, and the biographical accounts authored by many of his self-proclaimed 'Western followers'. Determined to debunk the many inconsistencies, contradictions, and fundamental flaws within the 'Vygotskian literature' that have been perpetuated by North American scholars such as Michael Cole, James Wertsch, and their associates, this new generation of scholars has started to criticize the many inaccurate 'versions of Vygotsky' that have been in currency throughout the late twentieth century. These individuals have all undertaken the complex task of deconstructing the popular image of Vygotsky and have effectively undermined the historical persona that has been embedded into the disciplines of history, psychology, pedagogy and education studies. By questioning previous interpretations of the ‘Vygotsky ban' and by providing readers with an accurate and coherent account of the events that took place within the years of 1934-1956, this study can be seen as augmenting this growing body of critical literature that advocates for a ‘revisionist reading’ of both Vygotsky’s life and developmental theory.
Back on track?

Will this fresh tendency succeed in getting Vygotskii up and running smoothly on track in the Western world? And if so, is the track headed towards the widespread enthusiasm of the boom years. Probably not, as it hard to imagine a foreseeable future in the West with a powerful need for such ideas and practices. Good luck to the revisionists in their struggle anyway.

And good luck too to fresh thinking and revisionists in Conductive Education.


Fraser, J., Yasnitsky, A, (n.d.) Deconstructing Vygotsky’s victimization narrative: a re-examination of the 'Stalinist suppression' of Vygotskian theory, unpublished manuscript

A previous item on this theme

Sutton, A. (2013) The wheels of God: so exceeding slow, Conductive World, 13 June

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