April 7, 2009
I’ve been making a series of presentations in recent months around New York City and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed speaking with diverse audiences of undergraduates, graduate students, faculty and staffs at universities, conferences and human service organizations. The topics of my talks have varied—”Play is the Thing,” “Learning in Groups,” “Language Learning as Vygotskian Performance”—and the conversations have taken many different directions. But they are all relate to certain concepts of Vygotsky’s that have intrigued and inspired me for a long, long time. I try to capture these concepts with quotes from Vygotsky’s writings. What do you think? Do they resonate with you? Intrigue? Inspire?
“The search for method becomes one of the most important problems of the entire enterprise of understanding the uniquely human forms of psychological activity. In this case, the method is simultaneously prerequisite and product, the tool and the result of the study.” (Mind in Society, 1978, p. 65)
“In play a child always behaves beyond his average age, above his daily behavior; in play it is as though he were a head taller than himself.” (Mind in Society, 1978, p. 102).
“The development of a corresponding concept is not completed but only beginning at the moment a new word is learned. The new word is not the culmination but the beginning of the development of a concept. Here, as everywhere, the development of the meaningful aspect of speech turns out to be the basic and decisive process in the development of the child’s thinking and speech.” (Thinking and Speech, 1987, p. 241)
“The relationship of thought to word is not a thing but a process, a movement from thought to word and from word to thought … Thought is not expressed but completed in the word. We can, therefore, speak of the establishment (i.e., the unity of being and nonbeing) of thought in the word … The structure of speech is not simply the mirror image of the structure of thought. It cannot, therefore, be placed on thought like clothes off a rack. Speech does not merely serve as the expression of developed thought. Thought is restructured as it is transformed into speech. It is not expressed but completed in the word.” (Thinking and Speech, 1987, p. 250-1)
I am compelled to comment on this last quote, because it is so provocative and evocative! Here’s what my colleague Fred Newman and I think about its implications: If speaking is the completing of thinking, if the process is continuously creative in socio-cultural space (that is, if mind is in society), then it follows that the “completer” does not have to be the one who is doing the thinking. Others can complete for us. In doing so, they are no more saying what we are thinking than we are saying what we are thinking when we complete ourselves. This implication is key to our understanding of emotional growth in social therapeutics.