On Friday evening, April 29, 2016 I hosted a conversation with life-span developmental and cultural psychologist Joe Glick, Professor Emeritus at The Graduate Center of the City University of New York. The event was part of the East Side Institute’s ongoing series, “Making a Conceptual Revolution,” at which I interview pioneers whose life’s work has contributed to shifting paradigms in understanding human life.
Joe certainly fits the bill—he began bringing a socio-cultural perspective to human development nearly 40 years ago and has continued to pursue and promote a non-essentializing, non-individuated psychology of development, and a non-hierarchical anthropology of culture. Joe’s writings on the life and work of Lev Vygotsky are especially insightful and invaluable, as he locates Vygotsky’s reception in the US and other countries in their socio-political-economic historical contexts.
We had a far-ranging and fascinating conversation. The audience was riveted as Joe placed the 1960s ascension of Piaget (rather than Vygotsky) in the Cold War and “race for space” precipitated by the launch of Sputnik in 1957. Piaget was a better fit for a defense oriented psychology—instilling logical, scientific thinking was thought to be the way for the US to catch up in the technological-scientific competition with the Soviet Union. When Vygotsky came on the scene in the late 1970s, his work was narrowly interpreted cognitively (rather than culturally) to fill in the Piagetian “gaps.”
Joe also told us about Heinz Werner, the Austrian-born psychologist who was his mentor at Clark University. To Joe, Werner was a critical developmental theorist whose work should be studied; his approach to development—as a process, not an achievement—challenged the orthodoxy fifty years ago and, unfortunately, remains forgotten to this day.
In addition to his scholarly work, Joe also consulted on political campaigns in the US and internationally. His stories of conducting focus groups and organizing events in Chile and Greece were both insightful and delightful.
From a memorable evening spent sharing my friend and colleague Joe Glick with other friends and colleagues, I leave you with some of Joe’s “words to ponder”—
“Vygotsky is presented as a learning theorist with a Russian accent. We have to rescue the revolutionary Vygotsky.”
“The ZPD (Zone of Proximal Development) is something people create. There’s no directionality in the ZPD. The totality is a space of possibility.”