Current Project

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.
Share : Share on TwitterShare on LinkedinShare on GooglePlusShare on PinterestShare on Facebook

About Author

My name is Michael Sean Gallagher. I am a Lecturer in Digital Education at the Centre for Research in Digital Education at the University of Edinburgh. I am Co-Founder and Director of Panoply Digital, a consultancy dedicated to ICT and mobile for development (M4D); we have worked with USAID, GSMA, UN Habitat, Cambridge University and more on education and development projects. I was a researcher on the Near Futures Teaching project, a project that explores how teaching at The University of Edinburgh unfold over the coming decades, as technology, social trends, patterns of mobility, new methods and new media continue to shift what it means to be at university. Previously, I was the Research Associate on the NERC, ESRC, and AHRC Global Challenges Research Fund sponsored GCRF Research for Emergency Aftershock Forecasting (REAR) project. I was an Assistant Professor at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies (한국외국어대학교) in Seoul, Korea. I have also completed a doctorate at University College London (formerly the independent Institute of Education, University of London) on mobile learning in the humanities in Korea.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.