Beyond the Individual Social Antimony in Discussions of Piaget and Vygotsky
Michael Cole, University of California, San Diego James V. Wertsch, Washington University, St. Louis Ever since the publication of the first translation of Vygotsky's Thought and Language (reborn as Thinking and Speech 25 years later) there has been an ongoing debate about the relationship between the ideas of Vygotsky and Piaget. In the brief space available, we have no interest in arguing the virtues of one man's ideas over the other. Instead, we will suggest that by and large commentators on the differences between these two thinkers have placed too narrow an emphasis on their ideas about the primacy of ...view middle of the document...
Second, Vygotsky, contrary to another stereotype, insisted on the centrality of the active construction of knowledge. This insistence is reflected in 1
passages such as the following, which, ironically, Vygotsky wrote as part of a review and critique of Piaget's account of egocentric speech:
Activity and practice: these are the new concepts that have allowed us to consider the function of egocentric speech from a new perspective, to consider it in its completeness ... But we have seen that where the child's egocentric speech is linked to his practical activity, where it is linked to his thinking, things really do operate on his mind and influence it. By the word things, we mean reality. However, what we have in mind is not reality as it is passively reflected in perception or abstractly cognized. We mean reality as it is encountered in practice (1987, pp. 7879). Vygotsky's strong assumptions about the active individual are reflected in his focus on practices such as speaking and thinking and are the focus of an extended treatment in Zinchenko (1985). One reaction to the realization of this complementarity of active individual and active environment is to make coconstructionism the basis of theorizing: there is both an active child and an active environment (Valsiner, 1993; Wozniak, 1993). We certainly subscribe to that. However, what gets left out of such discussions, and the element we want to emphasize, is the essential presence of a third factor in the process of co- construction: the accumulated products of prior generations, culture, the medium within which the two active parties to development interact.
The Primacy of Cultural Mediation
Cultural-historical psychology as formulated by scholars representing many national traditions begins from the assumption that there is an intimate connection between the special environment that human beings inhabit and the fundamental, distinguishing, qualities of human psychological processes. The special quality of the human environment is that it is suffused with the achievements of prior generations in reified (and to this extent materialized) form. This notion can be traced back to at least Hegel and Marx (1845/1947) and is found in the writings of cultural-historical psychologists from many national traditions (Dewey, 1938; Durkheim, 1912; Leontiev, 1932; Luria, 1928; Stern, 1916/1990); Vygotsky, 1929). For example, John Dewey wrote that:
... we live from birth to death in a world of persons and things which is in large measure what it is because of what has been done and transmitted from previous human activities. When this fact is ignored, experience is treated as if it were something which goes on exclusively inside an individual's body and mind. It ought not to be necessary to say that
experience does not occur in a vacuum. There are sources outside an individual which give rise to experience (Dewey, 1938/1963, p. 39).
In their early writing on this subject, the...