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Evolution of cultural mediation in development: From symbiotic action to mental processes

1.1 Social, cultural, linguistic and educational mediation
Paper in a Symposium (Symp)
1:30 PM, Tuesday 29 Aug 2017 (30 minutes)
Inspired by Vygotsky’s insights, much progress has been made in research on cultural mediation. However, the key directions suggest that distributed processes (beyond the individual level) are the major and even exclusive realm of human development. With all due importance of going beyond the individual in explaining development, recent studies leave the dualism of external versus internal processes unresolved. We offer a more encompassing account that includes processes traditionally termed mental or internal and integrates these into a non-dualist developmental theory. We consider the early history of cultural mediation to outline how the mind gradually develops from embodied and situated collaborative activity starting in infancy. Expanding the notion of cultural mediation beyond its traditional semiotic interpretation paves the way to understand the development of mind as a continuous process without ontological breaks between initial forms of culturally mediated activity and more elaborated forms traditionally seen as taking place “in the mind.”  We argue that the “magical” power of semiotic mediation brought forth by Vygotsky can be de-mystified if we consider earlier, pre-linguistic forms of mediation, emerging within initially symbiotic and then shared child-adult activity. We suggest that underlying the power of sign mediation is the abbreviated, highly condensed guiding activity of the adult. At the pre-symbolic stages, this guiding activity is performed in its fully-fledged form, as the adult’s actions symbiotically intertwine with the child’s actions in the child-adult collaboration. Later, the adult’s guiding role gradually takes on a more distanced and condensed form of sign mediation. At even later stages, the child herself begins to use this condensed guidance represented in signs (semiotic means) for orienting and controlling her own activity, as described by Vygotsky. From this perspective, sign (semiotic) mediation is preceded by the earlier forms of cultural mediation and contains in a condensed form the results of several earlier transformations of mediation. We briefly outline these transformations with a focus on the development of action meanings. We thus argue that there is a dynamic continuum of different forms of mediation that culminates in the internalized ability of the child to guide and control her own activity. From this also follows that contrary to Vygotsky’s distinction of lower (unmediated) and higher (mediated) mental functions, all psychological processes are culturally mediated from the very beginning of life.
College of Staten Island, The City University of New York, USA
The Graduate Center, City University of New York (CUNY) (New York, NY, United States)
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