Vygotsky: Between Socio-Cultural Relativismand Historical Materialism. From a Psychologicalto a Pedagogical Perspective



In this paper I draw a distinction between two strands of argument that have evolved in the wake of Vygotsky’s early 20th century writing. I examine key methodological differences between sociocultural relativism and historical materialism. I then consider the pedagogical implications of these differences. My concern is that the all too common western predeliction for a post modern account yields a deeply conservative approach to pedagogy. In this form pedagogy may loose its power as a tool of social transformation and may curtail the possibilities for individual transformation. I close with a quote which neatly captures this concern: “Methodology is not a "toolbox" of different methods from which the researcher selects some on the basis of personal or social preferences! Instead, it is an integrated structure of the epistemological process (Branco & Valsiner, 1997) that can equally and easily reveal and obscure the empirical reality in the knowledge construction process of social scientists”.

General Information

Keywords: Vygotsky, Davydov, relativism, materialism, pedagogy

Journal rubric: Jointneess and Creativity

Article type: scientific article

DOI: https://doi.org/10.17759/chp.2018140303

For citation: Daniels H. Vygotsky: Between Socio-Cultural Relativismand Historical Materialism. From a Psychologicalto a Pedagogical Perspective. Kul'turno-istoricheskaya psikhologiya = Cultural-Historical Psychology, 2018. Vol. 14, no. 3, pp. 36–42. DOI: 10.17759/chp.2018140303.

A Part of Article

It is possible to point to differences in epistemological and ontological assumptions which serve to create significant divides in the post-Vygotskian field. Their existence is not always made clear and yet they carry with them such important implications for research and the development of theory.


  1. Bakhtin M.M. Speech Genres and Other Late Essays. Trans. Vern W. McGee. Ed. Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist. University of Texas Press Slavic Series 8. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1986.
  2. Branco A.U., Valsiner J. Changing methodologies: A co-constructivist study of goal orientations in social interactions. Psychology and Developing Societies, 1997, 9 (1), pp. 35—64.
  3. Brown A.L., Campione J.C. Psychological theory and the design of innovative learning environments: on procedures, principles, and systems. In Schauble L. (eds.), Innovations in Learning: New Environments for Education. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum, 1996, pp. 289—325.
  4. Chaiklin S. The Zone of Proximal Development’ in Vygotsky’s analysis of Learning and Instruction. In Kozulin A. (eds.), Vygotsky’s Educational Theory in Cultural Context. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003.
  5. Davydov V. The Influence of L.S. Vygotsky on Education Theory, Research and Practice. Educational Researcher, 1995, 24, pp. 12—21.
  6. Davydov V.V. Problems of Developmental Teaching: the Experience of Theoretical and Experimental Psychological Research. Soviet Education xx, 1988, 8: 3-87, 9: 3-56, 10:2-42.
  7. Davydov V.V. Types of generalization in instruction: Logical and psychological problems in the structuring of school curricula (Soviet studies in mathematics education. Vol. 2; J. Kilpatrick, Ed.; J. Teller, Trans.). Reston, VA: National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. (Original work published 1972), 1990.
  8. Diriwächter R. ,Valsiner J. Qualitative Developmental Research Methods in Their Historical and Epistemological Contexts. Forum: Qualitative Social research, 2006. Vol. 7, no. 1. Art. 8.
  9. Dyson A., Robson E. School, family, community: Mapping school inclusion in the UK. Leicester: Youth Work Press, 1999.
  10. Gee J.P. Social linguistics and literacies: Ideology in Discourses. Second Edition. London: Taylor & Francis, 1996.
  11. Greeno J.G. The situativity of knowing, learning, and research. American Psychologist, 1998, 53, pp. 5—17.
  12. Griffin P., Cole M. Current activity for the future: The Zo-ped. In Rogoff B. (eds.), Children’s learning in the zone of proximal development: New directions for child development. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1984, pp. 45—63.
  13. Gutiérrez K., Baquedano-Lopez P., Tejeda C. Rethinking diversity: Hybridity and hybrid language practices in the third space. Mind, Culture, & Activity: An International Journal,1999, 6 (4), pp. 286—303.
  14. Hedegaard M. Situated Learning And Cognition: Theoretical Learning And Cognition. Mind, Culture, And Activity, 1998, 5(2), pp. 114—126.
  15. Hedegaard M. The zone of proximal development as basis for instruction. In L.C. Moll (Ed.), Vygotsky and education: Instructional implications and applications of sociohistorical psychology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990, pp. 349—371.
  16. Hicks D. Self and other in Bakhtin’s early philosophical essays: Prelude to a theory of prose consciousness. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the AERA, Montreal, Canada, 1999.
  17. Hughes M., Pollard A. Home-school knowledge exchange in context. Educational Review, 2006, 58:4, 385— 395.
  18. Hughes M. et al. Exchanging knowledge between home and school to enhance children’s learning in literacy and numeracy. In: Castelli S. (eds.), School, family, and community partnership in a world of differences and changes. Gdansk: Ernape, 2003.
  19. Matusov E. ‘When Solo Activity Is Not Privileged: Participation and Internalization Models of Development’. Human Development, 1998, 41, pp. 326—349
  20. Karpove Y.V. Vygotsky’s Doctrine of Scientific Concepts. In Kozulin A. (eds.), Vygotsky’s Educational Theory in Cultural Context. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003.
  21. Lee C.D. Culture, Literacy, and Learning: Blooming in the Midst of the Whirlwind. New York: Teachers College Press, 2007.
  22. Linehan C., McCarthy J. Reviewing the “Community of Practice” Metaphor: An Analysis of Control Relations in a Primary School Classroom. Mind, Culture, And Activity, 2001, 8(2), pp. 129—147
  23. Matusov E. Applying Bakhtin Scholarship On Discourse In Education: A Critical Review Essay Educational Theory, 2007, 57 (2), pp. 215—237.
  24. Mintrop H. Fostering constructivist communities of learners in the amalgamated multi-discipline of social studies. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 2004, 36 (2), pp. 141—158.
  25. Moll L.C., Whitmore K.F. Vygotsky in classroom practice: Moving from individual transmission to social transaction. In Forman E. A. (eds.), Contexts for learning . New York: Oxford University Press, 1993, pp. 19—42.
  26. Moll L., Tapia J., Whitmore K. Living knowledge: The social distribution of cultural resources for thinking. In Salomon G. (ed.), Distributed Cognitions. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993.
  27. Moll L.C. ‘Introduction’. In Moll L.C. (ed.), Vygotsky and Education. Instructional Implications and Applications of Sociohistorical Psychology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990.
  28. Moll L., Greenberg J. Creating zones of possibilities: Combining social contexts for instruction. In Moll L. (ed.), Vygotsky and education. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990, pp. 319—348.
  29. Petrovsky A. Psychology in the Soviet Union: A Historical Outline. Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1990.
  30. Rogoff B., Matusov E., White C. Models of teaching and learning: Participation in a community of learners. In Olson D. (eds.), The handbook of education and human development: New models of learning, teaching, and schooling. Cambridge, England: Blackwell, 1996, pp. 388—415.
  31. Rowlands S. ‘Turning Vygotsky on his head: Vygotsky’s ‘scientifically based method’ and the socioculturalist’s ‘social other’. Science and Education , 2000, 9, pp. 537—575.
  32. Sawyer K. Unresolved Tensions in Sociocultural Theory: Analogies with Contemporary Sociological Debates. Culture & Psychology, 2002. Vol. 8(3), pp. 283—305.
  33. Sherin M.G., Mendez E.P., Louis D.A. A discipline apart: the challenge of ‘Fostering a Community of Learners’ in a mathematics classroom. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 2004, 36 (2), pp. 207—232.
  34. Shulman L.S., Sherin M.G. ‘Fostering communities of teachers as learners: disciplinary perspectives’. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 2004, 36:2, pp. 135—140.
  35. Vygotsky L.S. Mind in society: the development of higher psychological processes. Cole M. (eds.). Harvard University Press, 1978.
  36. Vygotsky L.S. The collected works of L.S. Vygotsky: Problems of general psychology. (Vol. 1). New York: Plenum Press. (Original work 1933—1934), 1987.
  37. Whitcomb Dilemmas of design and predicaments of practice: adapting the ‘Fostering a Community of Learners’ model in secondary school English language arts classrooms. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 2004, 36, (2), pp. 183—206.
  38. Yaroshevsky M. Lev Vygotsky, Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1989.
  39. Yaroshevsky M. A History of Psychology Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1990.

Information About the Authors

Harry Daniels, PhD, Professor, Fellow of Green Templeton College, Department of Education, Oxford, Great Britain, e-mail: harry.daniels@education.ox.ac.uk



Total: 3245
Previous month: 9
Current month: 4


Total: 1750
Previous month: 2
Current month: 1