Psychologists

Lev Vigotsky

Biography of Lev Vigotsky

Lev Vigotsky Biography

In the bosom of a Jewish family near Vitebsk, Lev Vygotsky was born, the second of eight children. He was born on November 17, 1896, in present-day Belarus and died on June 11, 1934, in Moscow. Considered the precursor of historical-cultural psychology; amateur theater and Shakespeare was characterized by being very analytical. He also decided to rewrite his surname Vygotsky, instead of Vygodski (“benefit” in Russian).

His family wanted him to study medicine at the university, but shortly after registering he passed into law at the Moscow State University. After one year, he enrolled in the faculty of philosophy and letters of the popular university while studying law he continued to research on philosophy. These universities were very open in cultural aspects, since they accepted women and people of any religion, for this reason, they were not recognized by the Tsarist educational authorities.

When finishing the university, he wanted to dedicate himself to the education, central subject in his intellectual life. At first, he worked as a professor of psychology in Gomel and then moved to Moscow where he had students who would be his collaborators and followers, A. R. Luria and A. N. Leontiev. But around that time the October Revolution started, where discrimination against Jews was abolished and Lev Vygotsky began to be linked to politics. That is why he became an intellectual and cultural celebrity. He managed to teach Russian grammar and literature, psychology and logic, aesthetics and history, directed the theater section of a newspaper and founded a literary magazine. All this in different schools and institutes. He read Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Baruch Spinoza, Friedrich Hegel and Sigmund Freud.

“Experience teaches us that thought does not express itself in words, but rather realizes itself through words.” Lev Vygotsky

Unfortunately, in the midst of his busy life and research, he contracted tuberculosis in 1919 and was sent to a sanatorium, since at the time they thought it was necessary to isolate him from any kind of physical contact. However, he managed to overcome the disease (although his life would be very short) and started a laboratory in psychology to study children with learning delays of all ages. In this experiment, he was able to gather the information that would appear in the book Pedagogical Psychology, published in 1926. Lev Vygotsky married a little earlier with Rosa Nóievna Sméjova, with whom he had two daughters: Guita Lvovna Výgodskaya and Ásya Lvovna Výgodskaya.

He worked along with great psychologists who would later be recognized and who somehow permeated their influence. They tried to reformulate psychological theories from the social context to use pedagogical strategies that would help with language, not only to normal children but also to children who were considered “abnormal” at the time (left-handed, mentally retarded or some kind of cognitive defect).

In 1926, he relapsed gravely for his tuberculosis while finishing his thesis on the psychology of art. Although he managed to recover his health, he declined a bit in spirit and stopped publishing, although he continued with his research in psychology and education. That is why he began to read other writers and researchers in that field such as Jean Piaget, Wolfgang Köhler, and William Stern.

Already widely recognized for his work, in 1929 he was invited to train pedagogues at the University of Central Asia, and in 1930 he led a seminar with film director Sergei Eisenstein and linguist Nikolai Marr. Likewise, detractors of his research began to appear, and his own group was divided by the directions and intentions of his research.

Lev Vygotsky undertook a great project to answer the criticisms of his work and thus took out the book Thought and Speech. But soon after, he would fall ill and dictate the last chapters from his bed. He was buried in 1934 in the Novodevichy cemetery.

Vygotsky is recognized for trying to unite the social and the science, thus he thought that the “historical” dimension was the very center of psychology, and therefore culture was a very important factor since he considered mental processes as of a social nature. He also investigated language as a constructor of the mind and its progress in the child, passing through states that he defined as emotional, concrete objects and abstraction.

“The most admirable thing is that the consciousness of language and social experience arise contemporaneously and in an absolutely parallel way.” Lev Vygotsky

He also gave great value to the social and cultural context of learning and by beginning to use language. Therefore, it is considered one of the most outstanding theorists of the psychology of development (of learning) and founder of historical-cultural psychology. It is also said that he was a precursor in neuropsychology because at the end of his life he tried to combine his knowledge in medicine with his vast knowledge in psychology and literature.

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