Inicio > Psicología marxista > “Cultural-Historical Theory” and “Cultural-Historical School”: From Myth (Back) to Reality”: P. Keiler

“Cultural-Historical Theory” and “Cultural-Historical School”: From Myth (Back) to Reality”: P. Keiler

The word is a philosophy of the fact; it can be its mythology and its scientific theory“.
Lev S. Vygotsky


Contrary to the common opinion, the label “cultural-historical theory [kul‟turno-istoricheskaia teoriia]” is no authentic designation for the conceptions elaborated by L.S. Vygotsky together with A.R. Luria, A.N. Leontiev, and a number of collaborators more between 1927/28 and 1931/32. Likewise, the denomination “cultural-historical school [kul‟turno-istoricheskaia shkola]” does not reflect the genuine self-concept of the respective researchers. Rather, both designations originally were introduced in the mid-30s by critics with defamatory aims and have been later accepted in consequence of a defense-mechanism, which by psychoanalysts is called “identification with the aggressor.” In the aftermath of the “thaw”-period, when the once “beaten” turned out to be the “victorious” ones, those labels became generally accepted (though in several respects quite problematic) shibboleths.

The author

Keiler, Peter, Ph. D. habil., Dipl.-Psych., apl. Professor at the Department of Psychology, Free University of Berlin. Research interests: over three decades of research on the history of psychology and the reconstruction of materialist traditions in psychology. Books and papers (including online publications) in several fields of psychology (general psychology, history of psychology, philosophical-methodological fundamentals of psychology, general developmental psychology).


a) General remarks

Being one of the co-founders of Critical Psychology, which took its rise in the context of the radical student movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s in the Federal Republic of Germany and West-Berlin, the author of the present paper has been engaged in the study of the commonly so called “cultural-historical” approach in Soviet psychology since the mid 1970s. In the beginning he was, like all of West-German psychologists with a Marxist (non Maoist) orientation at that time, deeply impressed by the German version of A.N. Leontiev‟s book Problems of the development of the psyche [Problemy razvitiia psikhiki], which in a licensed version and with a detailed foreword by Klaus Holzkamp and Volker Schurig was published in 1973 in the FRG (the original version being available in the GDR already since 1964)1. For about a decade, this book, appearing in several editions, was celebrated as a testimonial of “cultural-historical theory” in its hitherto best elaborated version (cf. Holzkamp & Schurig 1973, Keiler 1976, 1981), determining not only the public‟s attitude towards L.S. Vygotsky but also the common use of the terminology conveyed by the book, which at that time was uncritically accepted as reliable and compulsory. In 1979, the present author, animated by the lecture of the German version of E.A. Budilova‟s Philosophical problems in Soviet Psychology [Filosofskie problemy v sovetskoi psikhologii], started to engage himself in the controversy between Leontiev and S.L. Rubinshtein, an enterprise that successively led him to a detachment from Leontiev‟s views, encouraging him to a more detailed study of the “cultural-historical” approach as such, especially in its historical connections, with a concentration on the materialist traditions in the history of psychology in the last two centuries.

Taking advance of the possibility to realize independent (not granted, not censored) research work on his own account, the author in the mid 1980s came to some surprising insights: for instance, that Leontiev not only in his orientation to the paradigm of “activity” [deiatel‟nost‟, “Tätigkeit”] but also in the elaboration of his famous concept of “objectivisation-appropriation” [opredmechivanie-prisvoenie, “Vergegenständlichung-Aneignung”], had beyond doubt been influenced by Rubinshtein and his Marx-interpretation (inspired by the German tradition of theories about the “objective spirit”). This insight shed a new light not only on Rubinshtein‟s later attacks on Leontiev but also on the relation of both of them to L.S. Vygotsky, especially on Leontiev‟s role as the keeper of the “holy grail” and “perfectioner” of Vygotsky‟s approach. On the other hand, in the late 1980s and early 1990s the author became more and more fascinated by Vygotsky‟s affinity to the psychological aspects of the work of the German philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach, which has left so many marks in Vygotsky‟s own writings, though not always recognizable as such at first glance.

The most important findings of this critical-historical research were published in a series of papers and two books, gaining the author the image of a „myth buster“ (cf. Keiler 1988a, 1988b, 1991, 1996, 1997/31999, 2002, 2005, 2008, 2010a, 2010b). However, the respective research work would not have been possible without the remarkable change in the conditions of access to pertinent source material – a change, that began to show its face already in the 1980s: There was introduced new material, free accessible to the public, first only in Russian: 6 volumes Sobranie sochenenii [Collected works] of Vygotsky (1982-1984), and 2 volumes Izbrannye psikhologicheskie proizvedeniia [Selected psychological works] of Leontiev (1983); then also in German: 2 volumes of Ausgewählte Schriften [Selected works] of Vygotsky (cf. Wygotski 1985, 1987); and since the end of the 1980s also in English: 6 volumes of Vygotsky‟s Collected works (1987-1999), Vygotsky and Luria‟s Studies in the history of behavior (cf. Luria & Vygotsky 1992), a Vygotsky Reader (1994), Vygotsky‟s Pedagogical psychology (1997), and, last not least, a compilation of Vygotsky-critiques from the 1930s, edited by R. van der Veer (2000) – new material, that opened up broader perspectives of a qualified critical examination of “legends” and reception traditions, finding support in the analysis of the re-published (and in some cases first published) early work of Leontiev (cf. Leont‟ev 2001, 2003, 2006).

This perspective has assumed a new quality with establishing the project of publishing the “Complete Collected Works of Lev Semenovich Vygotsky” in 15 volumes (cf. ISCAR NEWS 2008, Vol. 6, No.2, pp. 7 ff.) in order to replace the 6 volumes of Sobranie sochinenii, which, as well as the Collected works, since a couple of years have become the subject of severe criticism (cf. for instance van der Veer 1997a; van der Veer & Yasnitsky, 2011). In more or less close relation to this project, during the last six years there has been done a lot of archival and “textological” work, trying to restore what might be called the “authentic” legacy of Vygotsky (cf. Zavershneva 2009, 2010a, 2010b, 2010c; Zavershneva & Osipov 2010; Yasnitsky 2010; Kellog 2011; Kellog & Yasnitsky 2011; Mecacci & Yasnitsky 2011; Yasnitsky 2011a, 2011b) – a pretentious enterprise in the context of which Vygotsky‟s aphorism about “the word” being “the philosophy of the fact” is gaining programmatic significance: how authentic, respectively “honest,” is the commonly used terminology, what is the reality behind (or: covered by) the established shibboleths?

Artículo Completo

* Based on an evening lecture on occasion of the 7th workshop “Tätigkeitstheorie und kulturhistorische Schule [Activity theory and cultural-historical school],” 9th of July 2010. – German versions of the present paper under and

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