Lev Vygotsky

Lev Vygotsky
Born Nov. 17, 1896
Orsha, Russian Empire, now in Belarus
Died June 11, 1934 (at age 37)
Moscow, USSR
Nationality Russian

Lev Vygotsky was a famous Soviet Belarusian psychologist who was the founder of the idea of a cultural-historical psychology. During his lifetime, Lev’s theories remained controversial in the Soviet Union. His theories were introduced in the West in the 1930s, but they remained virtually unknown until the 1970s when they came into the foreront and became central part of development of new paradigms in educational and developmental psychology.

Early Life

Lev was born on November 17, 1896, in the Orsha town of Belarus, which was part of the Russian empire at that time. He was born into a non-religious Jewish middle-class family. His father was a banker and during his schooling years, he was raised in the city of Gomel in Belarus. After the schooling, Lev went to Moscow State University in 1913, where he was admitted based on the school’s Jewish quota.

Professional Years

Vygotsky studied law in Moscow and returned to the city of Gomel in 1917 after his graduation. He lived there while the city was under German occupation, until the Bolsheviks captured the city in 1919. Lev became an active member in social transformation under Bolshevik rule and he became one of the prominent representatives of Bolshevik government in Gomel.

Vygotsky married Roza Semkhova in 1924 and the couple went on to have two daughters. Lev attended the Second All-Russian Psychoneurological Congress held in Leningrad, soon after which he got an invitation to become a research fellow at the Moscow psychological institute. He moved to Moscow along with his new wife and began a new career as a staff scientist.

Personal Life and Problems

In 1925, Lev completed his dissertation and also went abroad to London for a conference on education of the deaf. After returning to the Soviet Union, he had a relapse of tuberculosis, which he managed to survive, but it kept him out of work until 1926.

In the 1930s, Vygotsky suffered a deep crisis, both at the personal and professional levels. After going through a period of self-criticism, he made radical revisions of his theory. The works of Gestalt psychology and others was instrumental in bringing this theoretical shift.

From 1932 to 1934, Lev was aiming to establish a psychological theory of consciousness. However his work remained very sketchy and incomplete as he again contracted tuberculosis. Unfortunately, this time he could not survive the disease and he died at the age of 37 in Moscow.

Work and Contributions

Lev VygotskyThe work of Lev Vygotsky has become the foundation of much research and theory in cognitive development. Most of his theories emphasize the fundamental role of social interaction in the development of cognition. His extensive research into cognitive development led his theory to be one of the most important of its kind. He believed that learning is a necessary and universal aspect of the process of developing culturally organized, human psychologically functions.

He argued that language is the main tool that promotes thinking, develops reasoning, and supports cultural activities. He theorized that children develop their behaviors and habits from their cultures and through their interpersonal experiences. He coined this concept as cultural meditation. In essence, Lev recognized that learning always occurs and cannot be separated from a social context.

Lev Vygotsky also conducted extensive research in to play. He theorized that playtime serves as a major educational tool, and children often learn new concepts based upon make-believe play. He also said that play activities also help the child to modulate and control their own behavior.

Zone of Proximal Development

Another popular theory within the field of developmental psychology is the zone of proximal development. Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development is an important concept that elaborates the dimensions of school learning. He believes that learning and development can be improved by applying the other theory. The theory is described as the distance between a student’s ability to perform a task under adult guidance with peer collaboration. He categorized the zone of proximal development into two levels.

Level 1 is referred to as the present zone of development where the child performs his tasks without the help of others. Level 2 is called the “potential zone of development” where the child could potentially be capable of doing things with the help of other people (which we call the more knowledgeable person). He referred to this form of social support as “scaffolding.” Scaffolding practices help the child to realize his new potential abilities and to improve existing ones.

Books and Publications

Some of the famous works by Lev Vygotsky include Educational Psychology, Historical Meaning in the Crises of Psychology, Thinking and Speech, Thought and Language, and many more.