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Posted by on Oct 17, 2012

Vygotsky’s theoretical construct as city: Life is a constant feeling of effervescence

I am knee-deep in the normal rounds of doctoral reading that someone with any remote connection to the liberal arts, education, or even just doctoral school is bound to read. They are like the tattoos of the doctoral student (or artefacts, perhaps), these reading lists. They include the normal Vygostky, Lave and Wenger, Engestrom and the theories and practices associated with them, Cultural-historical activity theory, Communities of Practice, Situated Learning, etc. It is rare, however, when I stumble across a quote in academic literature that I find immensely

  • readable
  • enjoyable
  • apt to the point of being profound

This was one of those quotes. Vygotsky, in one of the clumsiest simplifications of all time, advanced a new idea in human development, that learning is is intensely social, that cultures and societies have endless artefacts and tools laden through them that humans interact with and learn from and that interact on humans as well. One of the examples used often is that a “for the young child, to think means to recall; but for the adolescent, to recall means to think.” The experience of doing irrevocably changes us. We are acted on and act upon. A two-way street. Either way, heady stuff. But the following quote used a nice metaphor and painted just the right tone for, what I feel, is an extraordinarily optimistic theoretical approach. We co-create our worlds and our worlds help construct us.

Vygotsky’s cultural-historical theory (like any great theory) resembles a city. A city with broad new avenues and ancient, narrow backstreets known only to longtime residents, with noisy, crowded plazas and quiet, deserted squares, with large, modern edifices and decrepit little buildings. The individual areas of that city may not be situated on a single level: while some rise above the ground, others are submerged below it and cannot be seen at all. In essence, it is as though there were a second city that has intimate and complex associations with the ground-level city but completely invisible to many. And the sun rises above it all and the stars come out over it at night. Sometimes dust storms and hurricanes rage, or the rain beats down long and hard and ‘the sky is overcast.’ Life is a constant feeling of effervescence. Holidays and the humdrum follow one another. The city changes, grows, and is rebuilt. Whole neighborhoods are demolished. The center is sometimes over here, sometimes over there. And so it goes. (Puzyrei, 2007, pp. 85–6)

Image taken from Robert Koehler’s Travel & Photography Blog. This is the neighborhood in Seoul where I worked for about 5 years. I thought the dimensions, activity, and varying levels of the shot corresponded well to the quote on Vygotsky.

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