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Sociocultural theory;. Today’s Lecture: The social origin of mental functioning Mediated action The Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) Tuesday 29.08.06 [email protected] The social origin of mental functioning: .

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sociocultural theory
Sociocultural theory;
  • Today’s Lecture:
    • The social origin of mental functioning
    • Mediated action
    • The Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD)

Tuesday 29.08.06

[email protected]

the social origin of mental functioning
The social origin of mental functioning:
  • ”Any function in the child`s cultural development appears twice, or on two planes. First it appears on the social plane, and then on the psychological plane. First it appears between people as an interpsychological category, and then within the child as an intrapsycholgical category. This is equally true with regard to voluntary attention, logical memory, the formation of concepts, and the development of volition (Vygotsky 1981:163)
how to understand and change the relationship between the two planes
How to understand (and change?) the relationship between the two planes?


Sociocultural setting

(Cultural, institutional, historical forces)

internalization example p 56
Internalization: (Example p.56)
  • Child tries to reach an object but cannot
  • Gets frustrated, makes sounds.
  • Adult notices child trying. Adult gets object for child.
  • Child learns “pointing gesture”
  • Nonsocial situation is transformed into social interaction.
  • The process by which the child comes to learn that pointing at the object leads to a desired outcome is a process of internalization.
  • what the child has learned has transformed this external object at which the child was pointing from a nonsocial object into an object that is part of a social context.

James, age 5, comes into the kitchen just as his mother has taken some cakes out of the oven. There is a loud, metallic ”Crack.” (extract from Wells 1999, xi)

James: Who did that?

Mother: I expect it was that tin contracting

James: Which tin?

Mother: The one with your pastery in

James : Why did it make that noise?

Mother: Well, When it was in the oven, it got very

hot and stretched a bit. I’ve just taken it out of the

oven, and it’s cooling down very quickly, you see,

and that noise happens when it gets smaller again

and goes back to its ordinary shape

James: Oh! Was it a different shape in the oven?

Mother: Not very different. Just a little bigger

James: Naughty little tin. You might get smacked – if you do it again

Culture ?

A system of shared beliefs, values, customs, behaviors, and artifacts, conscious and unconscious, transmitted across generations through learning.

mediated action
Mediated action
  • Seeing mental functioning as generated from participation in social interaction, brings up the issue of mediation and mediational means.
  • The connection between the two planes is found in the mediating function of cultural tools.
  • Vygotsky includes a variety of sign-based tools that function as mediational means; systems for counting, mnemonic techniques, algebraic symbol system, work of art, writing, schemes, diagrams, maps.
  • However, language is undoubtedly considered to be the “tool of tools”
mediated action8
Mediated action







Subject and object are seen not only as ”directly” connected but simultaneously

as ”indirectly” connected through a medium constituted of artefacts (Culture).

(Cole 2003:119)

mediated learning
Mediated learning
  • ”Psychological tools”
  • ”Cultural tools”
  • ”Mediational means”
  • ”Cultural artefacts”
    • Language
    • Symbols
    • representations
  • The cultural tools are artefacts created by human culture (s) over time. They are used by individuals and groups for different purposes, and they shape the ways in which we interact with and understand the world (Säljö 2000).
  • Tools are material, symbolic, and semiotic
development of higher and lower elementary human functions
Development of higher and lower (elementary)human functions
  • The development of human mental functions is viewed by as their transition from their original lower mental functions form into their higher mental functions form.
  • The differences between the two are being drawn along four major criteria:
    • origins
    • structure
    • the way of functioning
    • the relation to other mental functions
  • By origins, most lower mental functions are genetically inherited, by structure they are unmediated, by functioning they are involuntary, and with regard to their relation to other mental functions they are isolated individual mental units.
  • In contrast, higher mental function is socially acquired, mediated by social meanings, voluntarily controlled and exists as a link in a broad system of functions rather than as an individual unit.
vygotsky genetic method
Vygotsky – Genetic method

“Genetic” domains:

  • Onto-genesis: Development by an individual
  • Socio-historical: Development of the society
  • Phylo-genesis: Development of the (human) species
  • Micro-genesis: Creation of ideas & concept learning

His social theory involves the interplay between 1. and 2.

genetic domains shape human development
Genetic domains shape Human Development :

I. Phylo- genesis (Evolutionary)

  • Elementary (Lower) functions will develop from this path. These Elementary Functions:
    • Are shared with some non-human species
    • include: perception, memory, attention
    • Are immediate—close to perception of experience and do not involve mediated processes such as representation
    • Arise from direct influence of external stimuli In humans, can be converted to higher mental functions via sociocultural development
genetic domains shape human development15
Genetic domains shape Human Development :

II. Historical (sociocultural)

  • Accumulated knowledge of many individuals over many years interacting with the biological environment (first path) contributes to human development

III. Ontogenetic

  • Development and maturation of the individual (intrapsychological)
cultural tools developmental influences from the second path
Cultural Tools: Developmental Influences from the Second Path
  • Humans use tools to understand and mediate their social and physical environments
  • Tools are socially generated and transmitted within cultures through joint activity
the zone of proximal development zpd
The Zone of Proximal Development(ZPD)
  • ZPD refers to the difference gap between what a child or person can achieve/learn in isolation and what they can achieve/learn in co-operation with more capable peers or in collaboration with a teacher/mentor.
  • In the ZPD, the learner cannot yet function autonomously, but can solve problems with the help of a more capable partner.
  • Once the learner has appropriated the knowledge of how to solve a particular problem, the developmental level of the child grows to encompass that knowledge and the level of potential development moves ahead, and the ZPD shifts.
  • The process of learning involves the novice appropriating both the tools and the knowledge to solve the problem from the master.
  • This appropriation happens in the context of social interaction between the novice and the master.
  • The two children have similar performances on a task completed without assistance.
  • With assistance, their performance improves.
  • The second child improves even more, and therefore has a larger ZPD.
  • All human activity, regardless of context is culturally mediated and is inherently social.
  • School instruction is a very important cultural tool that mediates thinking BUT:
  • the only good kind of instruction is that which marches ahead of development and leads it; it must be aimed not so much at the ripe as at the ripening functions.”
schooling and instructions
Schooling and instructions
  • “it remains necessary to determine the lowest threshold at which instruction in, say, arithmetic may begin, since a certain minimal rightness of function is required. But we must consider the upper threshold as well; instruction must be oriented toward the future, not the past.”
  • “instruction (that is oriented) to the child’s weaknesses rather than his strength (encourages) him to remain at the preschool stage of development.”