Lev Semenovich Vygotskii

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Vygotskii, Lev Semenovich

 

Born Nov. 5 (17), 1896, in Orsha; died June 11, 1934, in Moscow. Soviet psychologist. Developed the cultural-historical theory in psychology.

Vygotskii was born into the family of an office worker. He graduated from the juridical department of Moscow University in 1917 and, at the same time, from the department of history and philosophy of the Shaniavskii University. In 1924, Vygotskii began his work at the Moscow State Institute of Experimental Psychology and after that at the Institute for the Study of the Physically and Mentally Handicapped, which he himself had founded. Subsequently he taught courses at a number of institutions of higher learning in Moscow, Leningrad, and Kharkov. He was also a professor at the Institute of Psychology in Moscow. Vygotskii’s development as a scientist coincided with the period when Soviet psychology was being reconstructed on the basis of Marxist methodology, a process in which he took an active part. In searching for methods by which the complex forms of psychic activity and personality behavior could be studied objectively, Vygotskii subjected to critical analysis a number of the philosophical concepts and the majority of the psychological concepts of his time. He set forth his ideas in The Meaning of the Psychological Crisis (manuscript 1926), demonstrating that attempts to explain human behavior by reducing higher forms of behavior to lower elements were fruitless. In his book A History of the Development of the Higher Psychic Functions (written 1930-31, published 1960), Vygotskii presented a well-developed cultural-historical theory of the psyche’s development. According to Vygotskii, it is necessary to distinguish between two levels of behavior—the natural, resulting from the animal world’s biological evolution, and the cultural, resulting from society’s historical development. Both levels are merged in the psyche’s development. The essence of cultural behavior lies in its use of such intermediaries as tools and symbols. Tools, moreover, are directed “outward,” toward transforming reality, whereas symbols are directed “inward,” first toward transforming other people and then toward regulating one’s own behavior. During the final years of his life Vygotskii devoted himself primarily to studying the structure of consciousness, which he discussed in Thought and Speech (1934). In his research on speech thought, Vygotskii provided a new solution to the problem of localizing the higher psychic functions as the structural units of the brain’s activity. While studying the growth and decay of the higher psychic functions, using child psychology, psychiatry, and the study of the physically and mentally handicapped, Vygotskii arrived at the conclusion that the structure of consciousness is a dynamic meaning system of combined affective, voluntary, and intellectual processes.

Vygotskii’s cultural-historical theory engendered the most important school in Soviet psychology, which produced A. M. Leont’ev, A. R. Luriia, P. la. Gal’perin, A. V. Zaporozhets, P. I. Zinchenko, D. B. El’konin, and others.

WORKS

Etiudy po istorii povedeniia. Moscow-Leningrad, 1930. (With A. R. Luriia.)
Izbr. psikhologicheskie issledovaniia. Moscow, 1956.
Razvitie vysshikh psikhicheskikh funktsii. Moscow, 1960.
Psikhologiia iskusstva. Moscow, 1965. Second edition. Moscow, 1968.

REFERENCES

Leont’ev, A. N., and A. R. Luriia. “Psikhologicheskie vozzreniia L. S. Vygotskogo.” In L. S. Vygotskii, Izbr. psikhologicheskie issledovaniia. Moscow, 1956.
Luriia, A. R. “Teoriia razvitiia vysshykh psikhicheskikh funktsii v sovetskoi psikhologii.” Voprosy filosofii, 1966, no. 7.
Leont’ev, A. A. Psikholingvistika. Leningrad, 1967.
Brushlinskii, A. V. Kul’turno-istoricheskaia teoriia myshleniia. Moscow, 1968.

I. N. SEMENOV