In Voices of the Mind, James Wertsch outlines an approach to mental functioning that stresses its inherent cultural, historical, and institutional context. A critical aspect of this approach is the cultural tools or “mediational means” that shape both social and individual processes. In considering how these mediational means—in particular, language—emerge in social history and the role they play in organizing the settings in which human beings are socialized, Wertsch achieves fresh insights into essential areas of human mental functioning that are typically unexplored or misunderstood.
Although Wertsch’s discussion draws on the work of a variety of scholars in the social sciences and the humanities, the writings of two Soviet theorists, L. S. Vygotsky (1896–1934) and Mikhail Bakhtin (1895–1975), are of particular significance. Voices of the Mind breaks new ground in reviewing and integrating some of their major theoretical ideas and in demonstrating how these ideas can be extended to address a series of contemporary issues in psychology and related fields.
A case in point is Wertsch’s analysis of “voice,” which exemplifies the collaborative nature of his effort. Although some have viewed abstract linguistic entities, such as isolated words and sentences, as the mechanism shaping human thought, Wertsch turns to Bakhtin, who demonstrated the need to analyze speech in terms of how it “appropriates” the voices of others in concrete sociocultural settings. These appropriated voices may be those of specific speakers, such as one’s parents, or they may take the form of “social languages” characteristic of a category of speakers, such as an ethnic or national community. Speaking and thinking thus involve the inherent process of “ventriloquating” through the voices of other socioculturally situated speakers. Voices of the Mind attempts to build upon this theoretical foundation, persuasively arguing for the essential bond between cognition and culture.
Voices of the Mind is a concise, creative integration of several major theories concerning the fundamentally social nature of human thought. It has special appeal to readers interested in theories of learning and the relationship between culture and cognition as it is played out in the course of everyday life.
Wertsch has a lucid understanding of Vygotsky’s and Bakhtin’s ideas, and his transitions from one concept to another are smooth, clearly presented, and supported with examples… Voices has many insights to offer that are not often encountered in the literature on rhetoric and composition. Moreover, Wertsch holds true to the sociocultural approach’s holistic nature, grounding his research on theory and his theory on research.
Wertsch…has again written a major contribution to psychological, social, and educational sciences… In his previous books, he has been an interpreter. In this new book he has begun to assemble his own theory into a single volume. The range of literature cited and used is impressive, and the scholarship enviable… It will be a key volume in the emergent debates of the 1990s in several disciplines.
The book’s goal, to my mind beautifully achieved, is to delineate a ‘sociocultural approach to mind’… Wertsch begins by defining a unit of analysis that sees the human being not as passive receptor and not as individual isolate but rather as generator of a certain type of action—what [he] calls ‘communicative’ action or ‘individuals acting with mediational means.’
This is a magisterial exercise in social theory, with immediate implications for practical action in a number of disciplines that cut across the spectrum of the social and human sciences, from psychology and anthropology to history and literary criticism. Concentrating on behavior, on action, as his unit of analysis, Wertsch engages everyday problems of great immediacy and urgency, while sacrificing nothing to theoretical elegance or conceptual rigor.
Wertsch develops Vygotsky’s ideas about a semiotic approach to culture in a direction that was central for Vygotsky but has received comparatively little attention from his followers. The most inspiring result of Wertsch’s effort is that the idea of the ‘multivoicedness’ of human mind, corresponding to the multivoicedness of both culture and communication, is introduced into psychology. Wertsch has created a theoretical and methodological framework which is of genuine help to those studying ways in which culture shapes mind.
- 182 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
From this author
Sorry, there was an error adding the item to your shopping bag.
Sorry, your session has expired. Please refresh your browser's tab.