Discussing new pathways on Vygotsky´s legacy: sense, perezhivanie and subjectivity
Paper in a Symposium (Symp)
9:30 AM, vendredi 1 sept. 2017 (27 minutes)
Convention Center - 205 B
Vygotsky may be the only author in the history of psychology whose work has been broadly discussed worldwide before many of his writings were actually published in their original language. This fact has been responsible for one-sided interpretations of his legacy that remain until today. It is curious that being at the center of a psychology which identified itself as cultural–historical, Vygotsky frequently has been discussed without considering the different historical moments of his works, in such a way that his concepts have been presented as having a definitive meaning throughout his work. This situation has been changing over the last 15 years when new interpretations have been developed. As a result of this process, new concepts began to be stressed, and new historical interpretations have appeared. In this paper, I will discuss how some of Vygotsky's later concepts, such as perezhivanie, sense and social situation of development –largely overlooked in Soviet and Western psychology – allow us to advance forward on a topic that has remained in shadow within the Soviet psychological tradition: subjectivity. These later concepts, taken together, lead us to question some of the basic principles on which the “objective status” of a Marxist psychology was defined in the Soviet period, such as social determinism, a realistic–mechanical understanding of knowledge and mental development, and the primary character of “reality” in relation to consciousness, the latter taken in Soviet times as the “Fundamental problem of Philosophy”. The concepts of sense and perezhivanie do not allow us to conceive of internalization as a process through which psychological functions emerge and are defined. Rather, the two concepts bring back the subject as a central dimension in defining the impact of external influences and of relationships with others on psychical processes and psychological development. In the definition of sense and perezhivanie, Vygotsky appealed to personality in what seemed to be an attempt to integrate the two concepts into a psychological system, despite his failure to clearly define what personality meant. However, he was never able to make explicit his novel conception of a new psychological system capable of integrating the above-mentioned concepts during the last period of his working life. These concepts, taken together with his criticism of the definition of thinking as “divorced from the full vitality of life, from the motives, interests and inclinations of the thinking individual” (Vygotsky, 1987a, p. 50), have important theoretical consequences, but have received little attention within so-called cultural-historical psychology. In this paper, I intend to discuss three aspects of this emerging line in Vygotsky’s psychological thinking that were either absent or insufficiently developed in Soviet psychology and which allow us to reinterpret Vygotsky´s legacy by advancing a new definition of subjectivity: (1) The relevance of symbolic processes to the definition of culture as inseparable from a new understanding of the human mind as a subjective system. (2) As a new qualitative dimension of the human psyche, subjectivity is characterized by its creative, generative and non-deterministic character. Subjectivity is defined by the unity of symbolic processes and emotions that characterize human experiences as such, whether social or individual. (3) Individual subjective functioning is subjectively configured, with motivation as intrinsic to all psychological processes and subjective functions. From this point of view, speech is understood as the productive activity of a subject, with new theoretical and methodological value and implications for the study of subjectivity.