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Tenzer, A. (1990). Vygotsky and Piaget. Contemp. Psychoanal., 26:46-52.

(1990). Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 26:46-52

Vygotsky and Piaget

Anita Tenzer, Ph.D.

VYGOTSKY ATTEMPTED TO FORMULATE psychology along Marxist lines. His views, grounded in Marxist dialectical materialism, led him to believe that changes in society produce changes in human nature. These changes are effected by means of tools including, in particular, the tool of language. His goal was to construct a framework in which social, institutional, interpsychological and intrapsychological levels of analysis can be linked but not reduced to one another.

For Vygotsky, social relations underlie all higher psychological functions and mental processes can only be understood if we understand the tools and signs that mediate them. The individual emerges from his social surround by means of semiotic processes that are part of both social and individual functioning. There is a transition from a social influence that is external to the individual to a social influence that comes from within.

Mental functions such as memory, attention, perception and thinking are changed from an elementary form determined by stimulation from the environment to a higher form that is self-generated. These higher mental functions are determined by social influences that have been internalized and are subject to voluntary control mediated by language.

For Vygotsky, all higher mental functions have their genesis in social exchange. They are external and experienced in connection with others before becoming internalized. Experience is organized, made sense of, through language, first language that is social, then language that consists of talking to oneself about actual or planned activity, and lastly inner speech and thought.

Vygotsky made much of the differences between himself and Piaget. This had to do in part with some misconceptions concerning Piaget that have remained uncorrected. I am more struck by their similarities. Had they had the opportunity to communicate directly with each other, I think Piaget and Vygotsky would


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Contemporary Psychoanalysis, Vol. 26, No. 1 (1990)

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