In a book of intellectual breadth, James Wertsch not only offers a synthesis and critique of all Vygotsky’s major ideas, but also presents a program for using Vygotskian theory as a guide to contemporary research in the social sciences and humanities. He draws extensively on all Vygotsky’s works, both in Russian and in English, as well as on his own studies in the Soviet Union with colleagues and students of Vygotsky.
Vygotsky’s writings are an enormously rich source of ideas for those who seek an account of the mind as it relates to the social and physical world. Wertsch explores three central themes that run through Vygotsky’s work: his insistence on using genetic, or developmental, analysis; his claim that higher mental functioning in the individual has social origins; and his beliefs about the role of tools and signs in human social and psychological activity Wertsch demonstrates how the notion of semiotic mediation is essential to understanding Vygotsky’s unique contribution to the study of human consciousness.
In the last four chapters Wertsch extends Vygotsky’s claims in light of recent research in linguistics, semiotics, and literary theory. The focus on semiotic phenomena, especially human language, enables him to integrate findings from the wide variety of disciplines with which Vygotsky was concerned Wertsch shows how Vygotsky’s approach provides a principled way to link the various strands of human science that seem more isolated than ever today.
This book falls into three parts: a biographical sketch of Vygotsky, an outline of his principal tenets, and Wertsch’s own attempt to bring them up to date. His scholarship is exemplary: the book is the most detailed account in English of its subject’s life and work. It will be welcomed by cognitive psychologists and students of development.
Clear, subtle, and always focused on the central issues… The book goes beyond Vygotsky’s work and draws on other current research in cognitive studies, cross-cultural psychology, education, and work by linguists, philosophers, and students and colleagues of Vygotsky… It is a significant contribution by Wertsch to have synthesized the theory itself with such clarity, and more so to have brought it up to date with contemporary research on so many fields.
An excellent analysis of Vygotsky’s theory and it will certainly be enjoyed by those interested in the history and theory of psychology. But it also should be of great interest for those involved in the experimental study of language and cognition.
Wertsch accomplishes an impressive task in this book, providing an enriching source on Vygotsky’s ideas as well as constructively criticizing and extending them.
Wertsch presents the reader with what amounts to a sort of intellectual history of an individual of remarkable breadth and insight and, in doing so, has revealed himself to be a first-rate scholar as well.
This lucid account of Vygotsky’s ideas makes clear why he is exerting such a great influence on contemporary psychology and education. Especially valuable is Wertsch’s explanation of the links that existed in Vygotsky’s work between the social and humane sciences in the work of Bakhtin, the Formalists, the Prague School, and many others. Reading the book is a terrific educational experience.
I am full of admiration for this book. Vygotsky is an immensely attractive figure who has real conceptual help to offer those now struggling to integrate the immediacy of social and historical experience with the rigor and system of theory. James Wertsch has intimate experience of the Soviet Union, including teaching stints in the psychology faculty at Moscow State University, and shared research with the Soviet scientists most creatively working out new implications of the Vygotsky legacy. His account of Vygotsky’s thought is as authoritative as can be found in any language, including Russian; but this book is not canonical: it is much more than an accurate account of Vygotsky’s work in the ’20s and ’30s, exciting as that work was and as skillfully as Wertsch has rendered it. At least half of this book is a dialogic encounter between Vygotsky and the most recent work in linguistics, psychology, and cognitive science—a tour de force of synthetic imagination in which Wertsch himself emerges as an important theorist.
Wertsch’s book admirably meets the need of presenting the contemporary significance of Vygotsky’s views… He is skilled in peeling apart complex ideas and clearly expressing their core meanings and implications… A much-needed model of how cognitive scientists today can work creatively within a grand theoretical framework that places the study of the individual within the study of humanity as a whole.
Wertsch’s book is an important piece of scholarship, drawing on the one side from Vygotsky’s theoretical brilliance and on the other from Wertsch’s unusual gifts as a scholar.
- 280 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
From this author
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