Lev. Mind in Society. 1978. Cole et al., eds. Cambridge, Mass.:
MIT Press, 2006.
Mind in Society is an edited collection of Vygotsky’s papers on the
dialectical entanglement of sign and tool toward more complex psychological
processes. Dialectics figure prominently in Vygotsky’s inductive
methods. In addition to the link between tool and sign (a link accounted
for by "mediated action"), Vygotsky is ultimately interested in the
combinatorial effects of nature (biological tendencies) and sociocultural forces
as they blend together in processes of psychological development in human
beings. He moves beyond unidirectional behaviorist (stim-response) models to
bi-directional models that account for the coordination of developmental
currents in children, usually between the ages of 3-6.
Because speech plays a vital role in higher psychological functions
(eventually oral speech turns inner and eventually recedes as written language
emerges), the distinctions between egocentric speech, inner speech, and social
speech bear on this model of developmental psychology (27). According to
Vygotsky, "children solve practical tasks with the help of their speech, as well
as their eyes and hands." Egocentric speech (this self-talk that supports
practical tasks) is distinct from social speech, in which the child’s
talk-while-acting is interactive with others. Eventually, social speech
turns inward; inner speech becomes the basis for the "child’s practical
intellect" (27). Vygotsky acknowledges–even emphasizes–that this process
advances unevenly, sporadically.
For Vygotsky, signs (internally oriented (55)) and tools (externally oriented
(55)) aid knowledge, becoming increasingly intertwined in higher psychological
processes. Signs are also tool-like in that they affect behavior, but their
internal orientation distinguishes them as a characteristic of human psychology
as distinguished from animals. Mediated activity joins tools and signs (54).
Chapters 1 (19), 4 (52), and 8 (105) are most relevant for discussions of
tools, signs, writing, and internalization.
Mind in Society also includes Vygotsky’s well-known stances on play (c.
7, 92) and the Zone of Proximal Development (84-91).
Key terms: Gestalt psychology (4), developmental (7), egocentric speech (12),
alloy of speech and action (30), visual field (31), mediated remembering
(45), dialectical materialist (60), experimental-developmental method (61),
latent period (68), revolution (73), evolution (73), involution (106), the
functional method of double stimulation (74), auxiliary means (74), zone of
proximal development (84), gesture (107), mnemotechnic stage (115),
Tool use and internatlization relates to mental models (22b)
"In one important respect, however, [behaviorists] agreed with their
introspective antagonists: their basic strategy was to identify the simple
building blocks of human activity (substituting stimulus-response bonds for
sensations) and then to specify the rules by which these elements combined to
produce more complex phenomena" (4). Atomistic tendencies continue to be a
problem in the research. Gestalt, phenomenology, and process’ triumph over
product/isolate are presumably better for studying complexity (in behavior or
"A central tenet of [Vygotskian] method is that all phenomena be
studied as processes in motion and change" (6).
"In this effort [Vygotsky] creatively elaborated on Engels’ concept of human
labor and tool use as the means by which man changes nature, and in so doing,
transforms himself" (7).
"But Vygotsky believed (and ingeniously demonstrated) that the experiment
could serve an important role by making visible processes that are
ordinarily hidden beneath the surface of habitual behavior" (12).
"The students of practical intelligence as well as those who study speech
development often fail to recognize the interweaving of these two functions
[symbol and tool use]" (24).
"Although practical intelligence and sign use can operate
independently of each other in young children, the dialectical unity of
these systems in the human adult is the very essence of complex human
"Once children learn how to use the planning function of their
language effectively, their psychological field changes radically" (28).
Rel. discursively structured activities (Bazerman) and genre systems.
"The possibility of combining elements of the past and present
visual fields (for instance, tool and goal) in one field of attention
leads in turn to a basic reconstruction of another vital function, memory"
(36). This matches with Norman’s discussion in The Design of Everyday Things.
The visual field, for Vygotsky and Norman, is "integral" (Norman mentions
sound for "visibility"; Vygotsky addresses oral speech cues and their lessened
role in higher psychological processes).
Gist: "Within a general process of development, two qualitatively
different lines of development, differing in origin, can be distinguished: the
elementary processes, which are of biological origin, on the one hand, and the
higher psychological functions, of sociocultural origin on the other. The
history of child behavior is born from the interweaving of these two
lines" (46). In some ways, ZPD gets at the difference between the two.
These two lines of development also mean that age-based stages (as suggested by
Piaget) become uneven.
"The very essence of human memory consists in the fact that human beings
actively remember with the help of signs" (51).
"To study something historically means to study it in the process
of change; that is the dialectical method‘s basic demand" (65).
"We believe that child development is a complex dialectical process
characterized by periodicity, unevenness in the development of
different functions, metamorphosis or qualitative transformation
of one form into another, intertwining of external and internal factors,
and adaptive processes which overcome impediments that the child
"Over a decade even the profoundest thinkers never question the assumption;
they never entertained the notion that what children can do with the
assistance of others might be in some sense even more indicative of their
mental development than what they can do alone" (85).