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Home arrow Psychology arrow Understanding Educational Psychology: A Late Vygotskian, Spinozist Approach
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III Implications

In the course of the first two parts of this book, we develop a set of foundational concepts that are often discussed in terms of dichotomies in constructivist and sociocultural literature, including the dichotomies of nature and culture (nurture) or thinking and speaking. Drawing on materials collected in a variety of settings, we articulate how an approach that takes seriously the primacy of the social overcomes such dichotomies, offering research avenues yet to be explored in educational psychology. Unlike other textbooks on educational psychology generally and other textbooks in which topics of interest to educational psychology are treated from cultural perspectives, we locate our theoretical work in practical case studies in which core topics are examined as they play out in real praxis taking place across a diversity of (educational, work) settings, and including people anywhere along the trajectory from childhood to adult life.

Near the end of his life, Vygotsky turned towards Spinoza for inspiration to develop a monist psychological theory that was to overcome what he had identified as the foundation of the historical sense of the crisis in psychology (Vygotsky 1997a): the split of the field into scientific psychology grounded in physiology and interpretive psychology grounded in and concerned with the idealistic and mental aspects of life (Vygotsky 1997b). The Spinozist turn is radical, as Vygotsky realized for himself in his personal notes, implying nothing short of an overhaul of his own work that he had conducted until about 18 months prior to his death. Here we offer a way of taking Vygotsky’s final statements and ideas as a starting point to develop a monist theory to serve as a basis for the cultural psychology of education. The turn Vygotsky was making is not just a minor adjustment to what he had done but constitutes a paradigm shift. For any scientific paradigm shift, four criteria have to be met to facilitate the required conceptual change: dissatisfaction with existing theory, intelligibility and plausibility of the new theory, and fruitfulness in terms of generating new questions and areas of research. Throughout this book, we present evidence that going conceptualizations and theoretical approaches lead to contradictions, which should lead to raising doubt in the reader’s mind (dissatisfaction). We offer ways of rethinking phenomena of interest to educational psychologists in the context of concrete data, supporting both intelligibility and plausibility of the new conceptions offered. In this final section, we include two chapters to assist readers in seeing that the paradigmatic shift is fruitful as well. Both chapters offer implications for research, measurement and educational practice, but they do so from two different angles. Whereas Chap. 12 presents an extended and integrative case study and draws implications from micro-genetic accounts of actual {teaching | learning} practices, Chap. 13 takes a phylogenetic perspective that delves into the historical origins of schooling and into the kind of education that a Spinozist approach allows imagining and working out.

In the chapters of the first two parts of this book, we focus on specific issues that historically have been topics of educational psychology. We begin this third part of the book with a summary of the position on the thinking body that has emerged throughout those chapters. However, rather than doing the summary in some abstracting and abstract form, we provide an example of how a more holistic study of learning might be conducted so that it takes into account the thinking-body as a whole. We do not merely restate what has been said but extend our analyses to the role and function of the body and affect, two dimensions of knowing and learning that have not been developed at any depth in the preceding parts. Using exemplifying fragments from a tenth-grade physics course, we articulate a monist, one- substance approach. The premise for the study is that body-mind and individual-social dualisms can be found throughout the educational literature even in those studies that claim allegiance to the sociocultural and cultural-historical approaches designed to overcome dualism. Even in the earlier works of Vygotsky, the founder of the cultural-historical psychology, there are aspects—e.g. mediation-consistent with dualism. In his late works, however, Vygotsky began to develop, based on the works of Spinoza, a monist approach to knowing and learning in which body and mind, individual and collective, intellect, praxis, and affect all are manifestations of one substance. This approach solves three perennial problems that plague present-day research: (a) the separation of body and mind that is accompanied by the reduction of affective and bodily practical dimensions of life to the intellectual (mentalism); (b) the conflation of thinking and speaking; and (c) the separation of individual and collective subjectivity. Here we present a study designed to articulate the approach that takes its starting point from the late works of Vygotsky and twentieth century philosophical elaborations of the Spinozist approach, drawing implications for educational research and assessment as these become relevant to the analyses presented.

Chapter 13 (a) revisits most of the fundamental topics and empirical findings reported throughout the book and (b) places them in the context of current discussions on educational practice and assessment. In the analyses presented throughout Parts I and II, we examine aspects relevant to educational practice as they unfold in school or school-related situations. We approach the educational contexts from a broader perspective, which allows us not only to re-situate many of the issues discussed throughout the book in the context of educational practice and assessment; this also to perform a genetic and critical analysis of the place of schooling in society and of society in schooling. We begin our analysis by defining a notion of (learning) context that allows us position the Spinozist perspective among other competing approaches. This notion of context does not involve a contrast between two different things (substances) but constitutes a generative process that re/produces persons and objects/facts. With this background, we examine schooling as a societal product and reproduction that objectifies a dualist epistemology, in which issues of inequality emerge both as objective and subjective phenomena. Vygotsky’s non-dualist Spinozist approach offers an alternative epistemology for educational practice, one in which the focus on individual achievement and hegemonic reproduction are substituted with the values of freedom and activism.

References

Vygotsky, L. S. (1997a). The collected works of L. S. Vygotsky vol. 3: Problems of the theory and history of psychology (R. W. Rieber & J. Wollock, Eds.). New York: Plenum.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1997b). The collected works of L. S. Vygotsky, vol. 4: The history of the development of higher mental functions. New York: Springer.

 
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