Classic article: Cole & Wertsch on Piaget and Vygotsky

This is another entry in an occasional series of posts on classic articles of interest to social science researchers and educators. This is cross-posted with my Education Blog.

Besides being giants in (among other fields) education, human development, cognition, and linguistics, Jean Piaget and Lev Vygotsky often are painted as philosophical rivals whose respective theoretical frameworks are forever at odds.

Purely from a dramatic perspective, it would be great if this was the case because these two men are similar and different in ways that make for great theater: born only two months apart, both were geniuses whose intellectual gifts bloomed early, and both went from advanced study in biological science (zoology in Piaget’s case, medicine in Vygotsky’s) to the study of the human mind and human development. Vygotsky came of age in Communist Russia while Piaget was a product of Switzerland, long a haven of Western liberalism and democracy.

Vygotsky died in his early 30’s, his work mostly forgotten outside the USSR until it was ‘rediscovered’ by Finnish and Scandinavian researchers in the 1970’s. Piaget, meanwhile, helped overthrow the behaviorist school that dominated Western psychology for half a century and left a lasting legacy to Western social science, both by his own research and via the hundreds of Ph.D.-level researchers he helped train.

Alas, like many entertaining stories, Piaget and Vygotsky are not necessarily as incompatible as some students of learning and cognitive development are often led to believe. In this article by Michael Cole and James Wertsch (both noted socio-cultural theorists), the authors point out that the real differences between Piagetian and Vygotskyan theories might be rather subtle.

Citation: Cole, M. and Wertsch, J. V. (1996). Beyond the individual-social antimony in discussions of Piaget and Vygotsky. Human Development, 39, 250-256.

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