Item Details

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

Issue: Vol 3 No. 2 (2016) Sociocultural theory and the dialectical-materialist approach to L2 development

Journal: Language and Sociocultural Theory

Subject Areas: Writing and Composition Linguistics

DOI: 10.1558/lst.v3i2.32869


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.

Author: Matthew E. Poehner

View Original Web Page

References :

Aljaafreh, A. (1992). Negative feedback in second language learning and the zone of proximal development. Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation. University of Delaware, Newark, DE.

Aljaafreh, A. and Lantolf, J. P. (1994). Negative feedback as regulation and Second Language learning in the Zone of Proximal Development. The Modern Language Journal 78: 465–483. https:/

Atkinson, D. (2011). Alternative Approaches to Second Language Acquisition. London: Routledge.

Barkhuizen, G. (2013). Narrative Research in Applied Linguistics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Berlin, I. (2000). Three Critics of the Enlightenment: Vico, Hamann, Herder. London: Pimlico.

Block, D. (1996). Not so fast: Some thoughts on theory culling, relativism, accepted findings, and the heart and soul of SLA. Applied Linguistics 17: 63–83. https:/

Block, D. (2014). Social Class in Applied Linguistics. New York: Routledge.

Carr, W. and Kemmis, S. (1986). Becoming Critical: Education, Knowledge and Action Research. Philadelphia, PA: The Falmer Press.

Chaiklin, S. (2003). The zone of proximal development in Vygotsky’s analysis of learning and instruction. In A. Kozulin, B. Gindis, V. S. Ageyev, and S. M. Miller (Eds), Vygotsky’s Educational Theory in Cultural Context, 39–64. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. https:/

Corder, H. P. (1967/1981). The significance of learners’ errors. Reprinted in S. P. Corder, Error Analysis and Interlanguage, 5–13. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Danziger, K. (1997). Naming the Mind: How Psychology Found its Language. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Delanty, G. and Strydom, P. (Eds) (2003). Philosophies of Social Science. The Classic and Contemporary Readings. Philadelphia, PA: Open University Press.

Dulay, H. and Burt, M. (1972). Goofing, an indicator of children’s second language strategies. Language Learning 22: 234–252. https:/

Ellis, R. (1990). A response to Gregg. Applied Linguistics 11: 384–391. https:/

Erlam, R., Ellis, R., and Batstone, R. (2013). Oral corrective feedback on L2 writing: Two approaches compared. System 41: 557–628. https:/

Frawley, W. and Lantolf, J. P. (1985). Second language discourse: A Vygotskyan perspective. Applied Linguistics 6 (1): 19–44. https:/

Gregg, K. R. (1993). Taking explanation seriously; or, let a couple of flowers bloom. Applied Linguistics 14: 276–294. https:/

Holzman, L. (2009). Vygotsky at Work and Play. New York: Routledge.

Kramsch, C. and Whiteside, A. (2008). Language ecology in multilingual setting. Towards a theory of symbolic competence. Applied Linguistics 29: 645–671. https:/

Krashen, S. D. (1985). The Input Hypothesis: Issues and implications. Harlow: Longman.

Lantolf, J. P. (to appear). Materialist dialectics in Vygotsky’s methodological framework: Implications for applied linguistics research. In C. Ratner and D. N. Henrique Silva (Eds), Vygotsky, Marx, and Psychology: Marxist Concepts in Vygotskyan Research. New York: Routledge.

Lantolf, J. P. and Appel, G. (Eds) (1994). Vygotskyan Approaches to Second Language Research. Norwood, NJ: Ablex.

Lantolf, J. P. and Poehner, M. E. (2014). Sociocultural Theory and the Pedagogical Imperative in L2 Education. Vygotskian Praxis and the Research/practice Divide. London: Routledge.

Lantolf, J. P. and Thorne, S. L. (2006). Sociocultural Theory and the Genesis of Second Language Development. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Long, M. H. (1993). Assessment strategies for second language acquisition theories. Applied Linguistics 14: 225–249. https:/

Long, M. H. and Doughty, C. J. (2003). SLA and cognitive science. In C. J. Doughty and M. H. Long (Eds), Handbook of Second Language Acquisition, 866–870. Malden, MA: Blackwell. https:/

Marx, K. (1978). Theses on Feuerbach. In R. C. Tucker (Ed.), The Marx-Engels Reader 2nd ed., 143–145. New York: W. W. Norton.

Newman, F. and Holzman, L. (1993). Lev Vygotsky: Revolutionary Scientist. New York: Routledge.

Novack, G. (1971). An Introduction to the Logic of Marxism. Atlanta, GA: Pathfinder Press.

Ollman, B. (2003). Dance of the Dialectic: Steps in Marx’s Method. Urbana-Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Press.

Phillips, D. C. and Burbules, N. C. (2000). Postpositivism and Educational Research. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

Poehner, M. E. and Infante, P. (2015). Mediated Development: Inter-psychological activity for L2 education. Language and Sociocultural Theory 2: 161–183. https:/

Skinner, B. F. (1953). Science and Human Behavior. New York: Free Press.

Talmy, S. (2012). Second language socialization. In S. M. Gass and A. Mackey (Eds), Routledge Encyclopedia of Second Language Acquisition, 571–575. New York: Routledge.

Toomela, A. (2014). Methodology of cultural-historical psychology. In A. Yasnitsky, R. van der Veer and M. Ferrari (Eds), The Cambridge Handbook of Cultural Historical Psychology, 101–125. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. https:/

Wells, G. (1999). Dialogic Inquiry. Towards a Sociocultural Practice and Theory of Education. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. https:/

van Manen, M. (1997). Researching Lived Experience. Human Science for an Action Sensitive Pedagogy. New York: State University of New York Press.

VanPatten, B. (2015). Input processing in adult SLA. In B. VanPatten and J. Williams (Eds), Theories in Second Language Acquisition. An Introduction, 113–134. New York: Routledge.

VanPatten, B. and Williams, J. (Eds). (2015). Theories in Second Language Acquisition. An Introduction. New York: Routledge.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in Society. The Development of Higher Psychological Processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1987). The Collected Works of L. S. Vygotsky. Volume 1: Problems of General Psychology, Including the Volume Thinking and Speech (R. W. Rieber and A. S. Carton (Eds)). New York: Plenum.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1994). The problem of the environment. In R. van der Veer and J. Valsiner (Eds), The Vygotsky Reader, 338–354. Oxford: Blackwell.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1997). The historical meaning of the crisis in psychology: A methodological investigation. In R. W. Rieber and J. Wollock (Eds), The Collected Works of L. S. Vygotsky. Volume 3. Problems of the Theory and History of Psychology, 233–244. New York: Plenum.