Sociocultural theory and the dialectical-materialist approach to L2 development: Introduction to the special issue

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Sociocultural Theory (SCT), as formulated in the writings of Russian psychologist L. S. Vygotsky (1987), was first introduced to the L2 field 30 years ago (Frawley and Lantolf, 1985) as a powerful lens for interpreting processes of L2 development and their relation to particular activities, practices, and interactions (see also Lantolf and Appel, 1994). Beginning with Lantolf and Thorne (2006), L2 SCT researchers have drawn upon principles from the theory to inform educational practices to actively promote learner L2 abilities. Lantolf and Poehner (2014) further elaborated this work in their analysis of the foundational role of dialectics in Vygotsky's thinking. These authors determined that Vygotsky's commitment to understanding the relational unity of seemingly disparate and contradictory processes provided the basis for his elaboration of a scientific psychology as well as for his practical work with teachers and learners. For SCT, dialectics functions at the level of a meta-theory, providing a coherent logic for domains of inquiry including natural as well as social and humanistic sciences. It is argued that to appreciate the differences among theoretical approaches currently pursued by SLA researchers and to evaluate their commensurability requires taking account of the meta-theory, or philosophy of science, in which they are rooted. Post-positivism and interpretivism are identified as philosophical positions that underlie and have influenced much SLA research. Both are examined with particular attention to assumptions they make regarding ontology, epistemology, causality, and teleology. Following identification of key differences between these two philosophies, discussion turns to dialectical materialism and to the ways in which this perspective poses new challenges to fundamental assumptions in both post-positivism and interpretivism. Finally, the four papers included in this special issue are examined as representative of the implications of dialectical materialism for L2 research and practice.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)133-152
Number of pages20
JournalLanguage and Sociocultural Theory
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Cultural Studies
  • Linguistics and Language


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