Vygotsky in soviet and postsoviet contexts

Йованович Г., Сербия, Белград, Университет в Белграде.

The aim of this paper is to contextualize Vygotsky’s psychology, theoretically and historically, firstly, wihin the context of its original development in the Soviet Union and then within Western contexts of its reception. I’ll start by claiming that Vygotsky’s psychology, in its assumptions, dialectical logic and explicated Vygotsky’s beliefs and commitments to work toward „a new Marxist psychology“, was a psychological development of Marxist anthropology and philosophy.

Moreover, given the crisis of world psychology in 1920s, characterized by splitting the subjectmatter of psychology, i.e. psyche into the subjective world of consciousness and objective world of behavior and with regard to methodology, as a failure to scientifically investigate human higher mental functions, Vygotsky ([1927]/1982/1997) argued that the solution to the crisis has to be in building a Marxist psychology.Thus, Vygotsky’s psychological theory was congruent with the official Marxist ideology of the Soviet Union. Against that background it is surprising that, according to the dominant narrative, reproduced for many decades, Vygotsky was banned in the Soviet Union for about two decades after his death in 1934. The marker of the end of the alleged ban was republication of his book Мышление и речь (Thought and Speech) in 1956 (Bruner, 1962).

It is only recently that this ban-narrative started to be questioned (Fraser &Yasnitsky, 2015). The first English translation of Vygotsky entitled Thought and Language appeared in 1962 and was a peculiar edition - it was not just heavily abridged, but also adapted - it„simplified and clarified Vygotsky’s involved style“ (Hanfmann & Vakar, 1962). Thus, the reception of Vygotsky in Western context started already with the translation itself, before the publication of his work. It is assumed that the translation was adapted for the sake of American or broadly Western scientific audience, as if it had power to intervene in author’s work even before having an opportunity to read it. The second English edition of Vygotsky appeared in 1978 – it was again a selected collection from different original sources, „not a literal translation, but an edited translation“. This second English edition was also meant to question an American image of Vygotsky as „a sort of early neobiheaviorist of cognitive development’. However, it should be noted that the Cold war vocabulary intervened in translation of a title of Vygotsky’s writing Sotsialisticheskaja peredelka cheloveka [Socialist transformation of man], which was rendered as The communist reconstruction of man. The collection, based on translations made available by Luria (the edition does not name the translator(s)) was entitled Mind in Society.

I would argue that the title the editors (Cole, John-Steiner, Scribner and Souberman) choose is symptomatic of their Western epistemic culture, characterized by individualistic assumptions which are then, at the best, softened by including afterwards a context in which individual mental functions operate. Maybe this was again done for the sake of making Vygotsky understandable to the Western academic audience. However, as a matter of fact, the most important and radical claim Vygotsky made was that society is in mind. This inversion is part of a more general feature of the reception of Vygotsky in Western academia, its celebration of individual aspects and a neglect of socio- cultural and historical factors, as pointed out, for example by Daniels (1996) or Sève (2018).

I dealt extensively with the problem of history in Vygotsky’s cultural-historical theory in a special issue of History of the Human Sciences (Jovanović, 2015). In conclusion, for the sake of historical and epistemic credibility, I will argue against the inherited narratives, on the one hand, of repression of Vygotsky in the Soviet Union or his sincere opposition to Marxism , and on the other hand, of a free and comprehensive reception of his theory in the West.


Publication Date: 


Type of work: 

Publication Name: 

Country of publication: 



    Для цитирования: 

    Йованович Г. Vygotsky in soviet and postsoviet contexts // Ананьевские чтения – 2019: Психология обществу, государству, политике: материалы Междунар. науч. конф. Санкт-Петербург, 22-25 октября 2019 г. / Под общ. редакцией А.В. Шаболтас, О.С. Дейнека. Отв. ред. И.А. Самуйлова. – СПб.: Скифия-Принт, 2019. – 404 с. – С. 6. – 0,1 п.л.


    Add new comment

    Image CAPTCHA
    Enter the characters shown in the image.