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Vygotsky’s ‘planning function of speech’ and the communicational co-ordination of joint-activity

1.1 Social, cultural, linguistic and educational mediation
Paper in a Symposium (Symp)
2:30 PM, Tuesday 29 Aug 2017 (30 minutes)
Vygotsky’s writings on the ‘planning function of speech’ represent a bold and exciting attempt to bring together the two aspects of linguistic communication which were fundamental to Vygotsky’s psychological project at different phases: the causal or ‘commanding’ role of the spoken utterance, on the one hand, and verbal meaning as abstract generalization, on the other. His treatment of the dynamically developing functions of spoken language in the execution and planning of practical action sparkles with novel insights into the complexity of purposeful action and the integration of past and future moments into the present field of activity which verbal planning affords. At the same time, however, the treatment is vulnerable to criticism at a number of key points. The paper argues that the roots of this conception of verbal planning were deeply spread in assumptions about the communicative and cognitive functions of language that were taken from the mechanistic reflexological theories of Pavlov and others. In particular, the assumption that the prior formulation of a verbal plan was necessary to goal-directed action reflected the reflexological conviction that human actions were behavioural reactions which followed (causally) from artificially created symbolic ‘stimuli’. The same basic assumption led Vygotsky to interpret ‘egocentric’ (‘private’) speech as a cognitive mechanism for self-regulated action and to miss the socio-interactional and communicative value of private speech as revealed by Erving Goffman. From the standpoint of much more recent developments in linguistic and semiotic thinking, including integrationism and ‘coordination’ theory, the paper seeks to present a different understanding of communication and its role within purposeful and transformative social action which foregrounds the capacities of acting subjects to co-operatively and creatively integrate their activities (including planning activity) within joint practice. 
Sheffield Hallam University
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