Vygotsky & Bernstein in the Light of Jewish Tradition

Vygotsky & Bernstein in the Light of Jewish Tradition

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Antonella Castelnuovo & Bella S. Kotik-Friedgut
Preface by Clotilde Pontecorvo

Series: Judaism and Jewish Life
ISBN: 9781936235582 (hardcover)
Pages: 310 pp.
Publication Date: February 2015

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Vygotsky & Bernstein in the Light of Jewish Tradition examines the role that Jewish cultural tradition played in the work of the Russian psychologist Lev S. Vygotsky and the British sociologist Basil Bernstein by highlighting aspects of their respective lives and theories revealing significant influences of Jewish thoughts and beliefs. The authors demonstrate that theories and human life are dialectically interconnected: what research can reveal about a man can also provide a better understanding of the very nature of his theory. This book is a valuable resource for psychologists, sociologists and students interested in the sociocultural formation of mind.


Antonella Castelnuovo (PhD, London University) has been teaching Intercultural Communication at Siena University; at present she is teaching Linguistic and Cultural Mediation at University La Sapienza, Rome. She had been Visiting Professor at Hebrew University of Jerusalem and at University of Massachusetts-Amherst. Publications include L'Identita' Multicolore (1994), Ebrei e Protestanti nella storia d’Italia (1996), Minoranze religiose e cultura europea (1999), Giochi di ruolo e formazione interculturale (2007), A Sociocultural Study of Intercultural Discourse. Empirical Research on Italian Adolescent Pupils (forthcoming). 

Bella S. Kotik-Friedgut (PhD, Moscow State University) is a professor of Psychology at D. Yellin Academic College of Education in Jerusalem. Her scholarly interests are focused on various aspects of bilingualism and psychological support in new (foreign and second) language learning and teaching. This has developed into a culture sensitive research dealing with Ethiopian adults, illiterate in their native Amharic. Prof. Kotik-Friedgut initiated and served as scientific editor of the translation from Russian into Hebrew of Vygotsky’s seminal work Language and Thought. Among her recent publications: "A Man of His Country and His Time: Jewish Influences on the Personality and Outlook of Lev Vygotsky," History of Psychology 11(1): 15-39 (with Theodore Friedgut, 2008), "Cultural-historical Theory and Cultural Neuropsychology Today," Handbook of Cultural-Historical Theory (2014), How to Study Language to Learn It (2014, in Russian). 


Antonella Castelnuovo and Bella Kotik-Friedgut have provided us with a highly-original and thought-provoking analysis of two of the most prominent theorists of the twentieth century in the social sciences: Basil Bernstein (analyzed by Castelnuovo) and Lev Vygotsky (analyzed by Kotik-Friedgut).
     Vygotsky, the psychologist, stressed the cultural-historical nature of human development, focusing on language and thinking. Bernstein, the sociologist, developed his socially-based theory of codes aiming to reveal the role of language in the transmission of cultural norms and values.
     Castelnuovo and Kotik-Friedgut explore the influence of Judaism on the work of Bernstein and Vygotsky, and here uncover a strong thread linking their work despite the differences in their backgrounds. The influence of their roots manifests itself through the general themes of their work, as well as in the expression and conceptualization of particular aspects of their theories. The reader will find this book interesting, vivid, and provocative, while gaining a better understanding of the positions taken by these two great thinkers.
— Elite Olshtain, Professor Emerita, School of Education, Hebrew University of Jerusalem
It has already become a tradition to look for the roots of Lev Vygotsky’s theory in the writings of Marx, Engels, Spinoza, and Hegel, and for the roots of Basil Bernstein’s theory in the writings of Durkheim, Sapir, Whorf, Mead, and Strauss. What is basically ignored in these accounts, however, are the cultural and family environments in which Vygotsky and Bernstein were raised and developed. This omission is especially ironic in light of the fact that Vygotsky and Bernstein themselves stressed the importance of family, culture, and social practices as the major determining factors in the formation of an individual’s thinking and worldview. This book is the first serious and successful attempt to deal with this omission by retracing how the experience of Vygotsky and Bernstein as Jews in diaspora influenced their theoretical discourse.
     This study demonstrates that the roots of Vygotsky’s cultural-historical approach, as well as Bernstein’s theory of socio-linguistic codes as shaping social consciousness, can be traced to many Jewish religious and cultural traditions and beliefs, including the Torah’s basic humanistic principles; the importance of transmitting cultural knowledge and values from one generation to the next, and of the role of mediators in such a transmission; the medium of language as the origin of consciousness; and the role of socio-collective and historical events in shaping individual needs. Also of great interest to the reader will be the authors’ investigation into how Vygotsky’s and Bernstein’s experiences as oppressed Jewish minorities in an alien environment contributed to the development of their independence of mind, and to their understanding of the need for social justice and education in order to create the conditions for social transformation.
— Yuri Karpov, Professor of Psychology and Education and Associate Dean at the Graduate School of Education of Touro College New York
In this volume, which includes a range of psychological and sociological perspectives, Vygotsky’s and Bernstein’s Jewish background is shown to influence the broad cognitive, emotional, and ethical approaches of both scholars to education and learning development. Language is emphasized as the main semiotic tool that grants mankind the divine power to generate human experience and history. These essays will be of great interest for any scholar of education, addressing both students and specialists from a multidisciplinary perspective.
— M. Serena Veggetti, Professor of Psychology, Sapienza University of Rome