Sociocultural theory is a emerging theory in psychology that looks at the important contributions that society makes to individual development. This theory stresses the interaction between developing people and the culture in which they live.
An Introduction to Sociocultural Theory
Sociocultural theory grew from the work of seminal psychologist Lev Vygotsky, who believed that parents, caregivers, peers and the culture at large were responsible for the development of higher order functions.
According to Vygotsky, "Every function in the child's cultural development appears twice: first, on the social level, and later, on the individual level; first, between people (interpsychological) and then inside the child (intrapsychological). This applies equally to voluntary attention, to logical memory, and to the formation of concepts. All the higher functions originate as actual relationships between individuals."
Vygotsky was a contemporary of other great thinkers such as Freud, Skinner, and Piaget, but his early death at age 38 and suppression of his work in Stalinist Russia left him in relative obscurity until fairly recently. As his work became more widely published, his ideas have grown increasingly influential in areas including child development, cognitive psychology and education.
Sociocultural theory focuses not only how adults and peers influence individual learning, but also on how cultural beliefs and attitudes impact how instruction and learning take place.
The Zone of Proximal Development
An important concept in sociocultural theory is known as the zone of proximal development. According to Vygotsky, the zone of proximal development "is the distance between the actual development level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers." Essentially, it includes all of the knowledge and skills that a person cannot yet understand or perform on their own yet, but is capable of learning with guidance.
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Vygotsky, L.S. (1978). Mind in Society. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Vygotsky, L. (1986). Thought and language. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.