Lev Semenovich Vygotsky (vi-GOT-skee) pioneered work in psychology which belatedly influenced the study of art, literature, linguistics, and education as well as psychology. What little is known of his life comes from the accounts of his colleagues. He was born in 1896 in White Russia, the son of a small-town banker. He was educated by private tutors and later in the Jewish Gymnasium, where he developed an interest in Jewish history and culture. He attended medical school in Moscow in deference to his parents’ practical concerns, but he later switched to the study of law, to be nearer humanistic subjects. While pursuing his studies at Moscow University, Vygotsky also attended Shanyavskii People’s University, an unofficial institution established in reaction to government repression at the state universities. Following his graduation from Moscow University, Vygotsky returned to the provinces to teach literature and psychology. He attracted the notice of professional psychologists at a convention in 1924, at which he delivered a brilliantly original paper. His wife, Roza, accompanied him to Moscow in 1924, when he joined the staff of the Institute of Psychology there.
In the ten years following his appointment to the Psychological Institute, Vygotsky was extraordinarily productive. He founded a new institute for the study of children with physical handicaps and learning disabilities. While maintaining a heavy schedule as a researcher and lecturer, he produced a great number of articles and book-length studies. At the time of his death, of tuberculosis, in 1934, much of this work had not yet been published. As a result of the caprices of Stalinism, Vygotsky’s approach to psychology fell out of favor, and it was not until the 1950’s that his work began to appear again in the Soviet Union. Between the 1950’s and the 1980’s, many of his works were published for the first time, along with reissues of previously published material.
Vygotsky reacted against the work of such contemporaries as Ivan Pavlov, who, he believed, placed too much emphasis on reactions as the primary component of human behavior. In the early 1920’s Vygotsky developed his concept of...
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