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postgraduate thesis: Rethinking Vygotsky : a critical reading of Vygotsky's cultural-historical theory and its appropriation in contemporary scholarship

TitleRethinking Vygotsky : a critical reading of Vygotsky's cultural-historical theory and its appropriation in contemporary scholarship
Authors
Advisors
Advisor(s):Pable, AM
Issue Date2013
PublisherThe University of Hong Kong (Pokfulam, Hong Kong)
Citation
Zhang, R. [張芮菡]. (2013). Rethinking Vygotsky : a critical reading of Vygotsky's cultural-historical theory and its appropriation in contemporary scholarship. (Thesis). University of Hong Kong, Pokfulam, Hong Kong SAR. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.5353/th_b5194765
AbstractThis thesis was originally inspired by the surge of intellectual interests, starting from the late 1980s and early 1990s in western academia, in the former Soviet psychologist Lev S. Vygotsky’s cultural-historical theory (CHT) of psychology. Vygotsky’s approach to the development of the psychological functions of man places much emphasis on the transformative roles played by social and cultural tools such as language, and thus distinguishes itself from other popular methodologies, such as behaviorism and Chomskyan generative grammar, which study human thinking and its relationships with language by cutting off the connections between the inner mental world and the external physical world. Therefore, Vygotsky’s theory is widely believed to be an alternative to both the behaviorist and the mentalist approach to the problem of the mind and that of language. A group of linguists working within the field of second language acquisition even claimed that Vygotsky’s theory provides the solution that can finally settle the long-standing social-cognitive debate in the study of language teaching and learning. However, despite Vygotsky’s scientific innovations (which I discussed with details in Chapter I), my study of Vygotsky’s cultural-historical theory has led me to doubt some the almost unanimous consensus on the theoretical contributions that Vygotsky is believed to have made to contemporary scholarship, especially with regard to language studies. My research shows that Vygotsky’s theorization of the development of the human mind as a process of increasing abstraction, and language as a system of abstract meanings independent of concrete human experiences is fundamentally problematic. This is because such theorization not only reifies language into an inhuman system of fixed codes that denies the creativity and agency of individuals engaged in communicative activities, but also takes away both the linguistic rights and responsibilities of the individuals. Furthermore, Vygotsky’s psychology, especially his linguistic view, is deeply rooted in a blind belief in naive realism and rationalism that preach for a shared reality, an objectively shared knowledge of language and of the world in general, as well as a form of rationality that favors intellect over illiteracy, scientific knowledge over everyday experiences, logic over common sense, etc. In the end, it is not just our history of mental development and our knowledge of the world that have been classified and ranked according to their degree of sophistication, but also us as human beings. By bringing these fundamental problems in Vygotsky’s theory to light, I initiated a critical reading and re-thinking of not just Vygotsky’s psychology, but also its appropriations in contemporary sciences, such as linguistics, communication studies, and educational studies (with various degrees of attention on each area of study). This thesis could be regarded as the beginning of a new perspective to the studies of human communication and psychology by adopting a different view of language, a view I believe is first and foremost, liberal.
DegreeMaster of Philosophy
Dept/ProgramEnglish
Persistent Identifierhttp://hdl.handle.net/10722/197513

 

DC FieldValueLanguage
dc.contributor.advisorPable, AM-
dc.contributor.authorZhang, Ruihan-
dc.contributor.author張芮菡-
dc.date.accessioned2014-05-27T23:16:40Z-
dc.date.available2014-05-27T23:16:40Z-
dc.date.issued2013-
dc.identifier.citationZhang, R. [張芮菡]. (2013). Rethinking Vygotsky : a critical reading of Vygotsky's cultural-historical theory and its appropriation in contemporary scholarship. (Thesis). University of Hong Kong, Pokfulam, Hong Kong SAR. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.5353/th_b5194765-
dc.identifier.urihttp://hdl.handle.net/10722/197513-
dc.description.abstractThis thesis was originally inspired by the surge of intellectual interests, starting from the late 1980s and early 1990s in western academia, in the former Soviet psychologist Lev S. Vygotsky’s cultural-historical theory (CHT) of psychology. Vygotsky’s approach to the development of the psychological functions of man places much emphasis on the transformative roles played by social and cultural tools such as language, and thus distinguishes itself from other popular methodologies, such as behaviorism and Chomskyan generative grammar, which study human thinking and its relationships with language by cutting off the connections between the inner mental world and the external physical world. Therefore, Vygotsky’s theory is widely believed to be an alternative to both the behaviorist and the mentalist approach to the problem of the mind and that of language. A group of linguists working within the field of second language acquisition even claimed that Vygotsky’s theory provides the solution that can finally settle the long-standing social-cognitive debate in the study of language teaching and learning. However, despite Vygotsky’s scientific innovations (which I discussed with details in Chapter I), my study of Vygotsky’s cultural-historical theory has led me to doubt some the almost unanimous consensus on the theoretical contributions that Vygotsky is believed to have made to contemporary scholarship, especially with regard to language studies. My research shows that Vygotsky’s theorization of the development of the human mind as a process of increasing abstraction, and language as a system of abstract meanings independent of concrete human experiences is fundamentally problematic. This is because such theorization not only reifies language into an inhuman system of fixed codes that denies the creativity and agency of individuals engaged in communicative activities, but also takes away both the linguistic rights and responsibilities of the individuals. Furthermore, Vygotsky’s psychology, especially his linguistic view, is deeply rooted in a blind belief in naive realism and rationalism that preach for a shared reality, an objectively shared knowledge of language and of the world in general, as well as a form of rationality that favors intellect over illiteracy, scientific knowledge over everyday experiences, logic over common sense, etc. In the end, it is not just our history of mental development and our knowledge of the world that have been classified and ranked according to their degree of sophistication, but also us as human beings. By bringing these fundamental problems in Vygotsky’s theory to light, I initiated a critical reading and re-thinking of not just Vygotsky’s psychology, but also its appropriations in contemporary sciences, such as linguistics, communication studies, and educational studies (with various degrees of attention on each area of study). This thesis could be regarded as the beginning of a new perspective to the studies of human communication and psychology by adopting a different view of language, a view I believe is first and foremost, liberal.-
dc.languageeng-
dc.publisherThe University of Hong Kong (Pokfulam, Hong Kong)-
dc.relation.ispartofHKU Theses Online (HKUTO)-
dc.rightsCreative Commons: Attribution 3.0 Hong Kong License-
dc.rightsThe author retains all proprietary rights, (such as patent rights) and the right to use in future works.-
dc.titleRethinking Vygotsky : a critical reading of Vygotsky's cultural-historical theory and its appropriation in contemporary scholarship-
dc.typePG_Thesis-
dc.identifier.hkulb5194765-
dc.description.thesisnameMaster of Philosophy-
dc.description.thesislevelMaster-
dc.description.thesisdisciplineEnglish-
dc.description.naturepublished_or_final_version-
dc.identifier.doi10.5353/th_b5194765-

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