Sociocultural theory and second language development

James Lantolf, Steven L. Thorne, Matthew E. Poehner

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

173 Scopus citations


The intellectual roots of sociocultural theories of human development extend back to 18th and 19th century German philosophy (particularly Hegel and Spinoza), the sociological and economic writings of Marx and Engels (specifically Theses on Feuerbach and The German Ideology), and most directly to the research of Vygotsky and his colleagues Luria and Leont’ev (see Valsiner & van der Veer, 2000). Despite the fact that Vygotsky suffered an untimely death in 1934 at only 38 years of age, he had a tremendously productive career that was profoundly influenced by the fact that he came of age during the Russian Revolution. In his work, Vygotsky attempted to formulate “a psychology grounded in Marxism” (Wertsch, 1995, p. 7) that emphasized locating individual development within material, social, and historical conditions. Wertsch (1985, p. 199) has suggested that Vygotsky’s developmental research was inspired by three essential principles of Marxist theory: the idea (a) that human consciousness is fundamentally social, rather than merely biological, in origin, (b) that human activity is mediated by material artifacts (e.g., computers, the layout of built environments) and psychological and symbolic tools/signs (e.g., language, literacy, numeracy, concepts), and (c) that units of analysis for understanding human activity and development should be holistic in nature.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationTheories in Second Language Acquisition
Subtitle of host publicationAn Introduction
PublisherTaylor and Francis
Number of pages20
ISBN (Electronic)9781135928537
ISBN (Print)9780415824200
StatePublished - Jan 1 2014

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Social Sciences
  • General Arts and Humanities


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