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Vygotsky, Spinoza, and Cultural Psychology of Education

This is the final thing I have done in psychology—and I will die at the summit like Moses, having glimpsed the prom[ised] land but without setting foot on it. Farewell, dear creations. (Vygotsky, in Zavershneva 2010a: 58)

Since the 1960s, when Vygotsky’s work first became known to western scholars through the publication of an abridged and problematic translation of Myslenie i rec’ [Thinking and Speech] (Vygotskij 1934), there have been tremendous efforts to take up what can be found in the published writings of a person sometimes referred to as “the Mozart of psychology.” The uptake and its influence on scholarship are undeniable, which may be gauged from the fact that by the winter of 2016 there are more than 62,000 Google Scholar citations of Mind in Society (Vygotsky 1978) alone. This uptake has not only been huge, but has grown exponentially over the years (Fig. 1.1). Some scholars familiar with Vygotsky’s texts in their original language, however, suggest that much of what has been written does not reflect the theory that Vygotsky was working towards; instead the literature presents distortions of his ideas for the (ideological) purposes of students and interpreters alike (Mikhailov 2001). Misrepresentations and misunderstanding can be found in textbooks on educational psychology, where Vygotskian concepts are often presented as part of classical psychological frameworks and paradigms that Vygotsky himself strongly rejected and attempted to overcome. The issue becomes further complicated by the fact that Vygotsky never finished many of the plans he had made for his own theory, which was in vibrant and constant development. In support of the latter, there is the relatively recent discovery of Vygotsky’s own notes in the family archives, where he is highly critical of his own previous work and speaks of the need to develop a new psychology. This new psychology—as he had described a little earlier drawing on Spinoza—would have so little in common with the old one as the star constellation Canis has with a barking dog in the street (Vygotsky 1997).

Unfortunately, Vygotsky was not able to get very far with this revision. We begin this chapter with what are believed to be the last words Vygotsky wrote in his notebooks prior to entering the hospital where he died four weeks later. The quoted text

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2017

W.-M. Roth, A. Jornet, Understanding Educational Psychology, Cultural

Psychology of Education 3, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-39868-6_1

Number of citations for Mind in Society (Vygotsky 1978), Thought and Language (Vygotsky 1986), and Origins of Intelligence (Piaget 1952)

Fig. 1.1 Number of citations for Mind in Society (Vygotsky 1978), Thought and Language (Vygotsky 1986), and Origins of Intelligence (Piaget 1952)

is indicative of how Vygotsky himself situated his life’s work—as the journey to a land that he only was able to glimpse without ever being able to set a foot onto it. Even though he had begun a radical revision of his own theories, as can be found in his notes, life did not allow him to actually make much headway in the reformulation of his theory. What might Vygotsky have glimpsed? Where was he headed? What new horizons may such a heading open for us?

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