Personality in Vygotsky’s cultural-historical theory

Jovanovic G.

The aim of this paper is to reflect on the concept of personality in Vygotsky’s culturalhistorical theory. The reasons for drawing attention to Vygotsky’s concept of personality are given, on the one side, in an indeed specific status of that concept in Vygotsky’s theory and on, the other side, in understanding that any psychology of human beings needs to conceptually reach the level of personality as the highest and most integrated form of human functioning. While Vygotsky extensively dealt with many psychological topics, it is striking that among Vygotsky’s writings there is no separate study devoted to the core psychological concept of personality (see, for example: Holland D. & Lachiotte W., 2007; Veer R. & Valsiner J., 1991; Wertsch J. (ed), 1985; Yaroshevsky, 1989). Given the foundational approach Vygotsky assumed when developing his psychological theory this omission is surprising. The easiest way to explain it is based on some basic biographical facts (Vygotsky’s illness, and his early death). However, my aim is to show that the lack of a developed theory of personality in Vygotsky’s psychology is theoretically founded. Vygotsky’s cultural-historical theory of human psychic development provided insights into development of higher psychic functions of thinking, speech, emotions, will (Vygotsky, L.S. 1925/1986; 1931/1997b; 1934/1982). As these functions are understood by Vygotsky as internalized and symbolically mediated social relations, and as they must be integrated into a holistic structure of personality, it is clear that personality as well must be understood as social in its genesis and its functions. I would argue that these two aspects, social origin and semiotic mediation of psyche, which Vygotsky elaborated at the level of particular psychic functions, would remain indispensable for a theory of personality if he had completely developed it. In that regard his theory of personality would be better founded than the majority of Western individualistically conceptualized theories of personality – starting from G. Allport’s (1961) to Eysenck’s (1952), Hall’s and Lindzey’s (1970) and the contemporary “big five” or “big six” (John O. P. et al, 2008) Another theoretical advantage of Vygotsky’s theory lies in the introduction of semiotic processes, which provide tools for development of self-interpreting capabilities of personality as an essential feature of human beings (Taylor Ch., 1985). This is usually not included into classical psychological theories of personality. Additionally, Vygotsky was not interested in just describing the existent forms, but in changing them and – developing a new man. He published in 1930 an article “The socialist alteration of man” (Vygotsky L.S., 1930/ 1994), where he stated as one of the sources of that alteration the change in types of social relations – instead of actions “directed against the people” “to work for their sake”. When diagnosing a deep crisis of psychology in late 1920s Vygotsky claimed „We cannot master the truth about personality and personality itself so long as mankind has not mastered the truth about society and society itself” (Vygotsky L.S. 1927/1997a). In conclusion, I would argue that the lack of a developed theory of personality in Vygotsky’s culturalhistorical psychological theory is of theoretical relevance. Even though it might be explained by some simple biographical facts, I would claim that the absence of a fully developed theory of personality stands for Vygotsky’s expressed belief that society developmentally precedes personality, or in other words – personality belongs to social human kinds. Therefore, the development of personality and its proper theory requires prior social changes. Such an understanding of personality has beyond its theoretical significance also many important practical consequences.


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    Jovanovic G. Personality in Vygotsky’s cultural-historical theory // Ананьевские чтения – 2018: Психология личности: традиции и современность: материалы Междунар. науч. конф. Санкт-Петербург, 23-26 октября 2018 г. / Под общ. редакцией Н.В. Гришиной, С.Н. Костроминой. Отв. ред. И.Р. Муртазина, М.О. Аванесян – СПб.: Айсинг, 2018. – 496 с. – С. 10-11. – 0,09 п.л.


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