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Rendon, M. (1982). The Social Foundations of Language and Thought: Essays in Honor of Jerome S. Brunner, edited by David R. Olson. New York: Norton, 1980.. Am. J. Psychoanal., 42(1):91-92.

(1982). American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 42(1):91-92

Book Reviews

The Social Foundations of Language and Thought: Essays in Honor of Jerome S. Brunner, edited by David R. Olson. New York: Norton, 1980.

Review by:
Mario Rendon, M.D.

As the title indicates, this book is a collection of essays which have the purpose of paying tribute to Jerome S. Brunner, who, as the authors repeatedly indicate throughout the book, has served as a leader and a source of inspiration to many students of the book's subject matter. Brunner has been working at the Center for Cognitive Studies at Harvard, and the authors of this volume have been associated with him either as students or as partners in a variety of research endeavours.

In the introduction, the editor of the book sets the philosophical ground by a brief discussion of Brunner's position vis-à-vis the nature-nurture issue, stressing the importance of the social basis of cognitive and linguistic processes.

The book is divided into three parts, the second of which is dedicated to child language and the third to cultural products. The first part is about cognition and language in their social contexts. As often happens with this kind of publication, it is necessarily uneven, and it is hard to envisage the average psychoanalytic reader relating to some of the articles, not because of quality issues, but because of the superspecialized nature of both subject matter and methodology.

The first article, by Inhelder and Piaget, is, of course, superb and easy to read. It deals with the dialectical nature of cognitive behaviors which are analyzed in terms of polarities which are antithetical, but necessarily interdependent. These are basically procedures (leading all the way to technology) and structures (up to science) which are the answers to “knowing how” and “knowing why,” respectively.

Of particular interest also are the articles about infant interactions with the mother by Brazelton and Tronick, as well as predispositions and motives operative in very young infants pointing toward subjectivity and intersubjectivity. Reading such articles, one is amazed by the radical revolution which is currently taking place in terms of the understanding of infant behavior.

Other articles deal with issues such as adults' comprehension of negation in its different forms, social perception, and its (homeostatic) group functions, sentence construction in children, maintenance of conversation, the development of negation, cultural artifacts, and a variety of other more theoretical issues.

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