September 10, 2012
“You said performance is an untapped human resource, but Japanese people are reclusive…how can we work with that?”
Can we redesign public schools to be ZPDs?”
“If little children aren’t aware they’re performing and adults are, what’s the role of consciousness?”
Is it possible today to keep revolution revolutionary?”
“Can emotions really be used to build something with?”
“I want to be a more practical-critical person and bring tool-and-result into my school.”
“Is there anything between tool and result?”
These are a few of the questions Japanese psychologists and educators posed to me during my ten-day workshop and lecture tour last week. The groups I worked with and spoke to—in Tokyo, Kyoto and Yokohama—were wonderfully responsive and passionate about learning new things, and impressive in their own pursuits of creating relevant and transformative psychology. It was uniquely rewarding, challenging and developmental for me!
The origin of my journey dates back more than 25 years. Unbeknownst to me, I’ve had a Japanese following for that long—dating back to the groundbreaking work I was part of at Michael Cole’s Laboratory of Comparative Human Cognition. It turns out that Ecological Niche-picking: The Ecological Invalidity as an Axiom of Experimental Cognitive Psychology, a monograph that Cole, Ray McDermott and I wrote in 1979, found its way to Japan and was translated and studied by a group of Vygotskian and socio-cultural psychologists. Some of them followed the varied directions this work took, including mine and the social therapeutic, performatory approach Fred Newman and I developed. Among them was Professor Yuji Moro of the Institute of Psychology at the University of Tsukuba. Moro invited me to Japan to lead this year’s Japanese Society of Developmental Psychology International Summer Workshop.
For three days, forty professors, graduate students and school teachers and I worked and played together and created development. I was asked to organize the presentations around the chapters in my book, Vygotsky at Work and Play. While I did so, there were no lectures but a continuous back and forth of conversation and performance exercise—an immersion in the challenge and fun of creating a developmental learning environment in which thoughts and emotions cannot be held separate from each other.
I made other more formal presentations on social therapeutics, performance, learning and development, and the Vygotskian and Marxian elements of the methodology. At the Japanese Association of Qualitative Research conference in Yokohama, I also had the privilege of commenting on presentations of research into “Wildfire Activities” (a term the researchers borrowed from Yrjö Engeström), such as a Japanese anti-nuclear demonstration. The studies presented at this conference were among the most interesting I’ve heard in a very long time.
Among the social issues I learned about was the increase in hikikomoro (extreme social withdrawal) among the young in Japan and other forms of resistance to participating in the traditional ways things are supposed to be—but are less and less so in the current economy. My impression is that the psychologists there are not only concerned to study what’s happening, but very much want to intervene and work with ordinary people to create new ways to be.
Oh, and the food was fabulous!