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, and 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 o language, a view I believe is first and foremost, liberal.
So, here it goes:
Rethinking Vygotsky: A Critical Reading of Vygotsky's Cultural-Historical Theory and Its Appropriation in Contemporary Scholarship
Submitted by Ruihan Zhang
for the degree of Master of Philosophy at The University of Hong Kong
in August, 2013