Ever since the publication of the first translation of Vygotsky's Thought and Language (reborn as Thinking and Speech 25 years later) there has been an ongoing debate about the relationship between the ideas of Vygotsky and Piaget. In the brief space available, we have no interest in arguing the virtues of one man's ideas over the other. Instead, we will suggest that by and large commentators on the differences between these two thinkers have placed too narrow an emphasis on their ideas about the primacy of individual psychogenesis versus sociogenesis of mind while neglecting what we believe is a cardinal difference between them: their views concerning the importance of culture, in particular, the role of mediation of action through artifacts, on the development of mind.
Standard discussions of the difference between Vygotsky and Piaget place a crucial difference in the proximal locus of cognitive development. According to the canonical story, for Piaget, individual children construct knowledge through their actions on the world: to understand is to invent. By contrast, the Vygotskian claim is said to be that understanding is social in origin.
There are (at least) two difficulties with this story. First of all, in principle, Piaget did not deny the co-equal role of the social world in the construction of knowledge. It is possible to find plenty of places where he says that both individual and social are important.
There are no more such things as societies qua beings than there are isolated individuals. There are only relations .... and the combinations formed by them, always incomplete, cannot be taken as permanent substances (Piaget, 1932, p. 360).
.. there is no longer any need to choose between the primacy of the social or that of the intellect: collective intellect is the social equilibrium resulting from the interplay of the operations that enter into all cooperation (Piaget, 1970, p. 114)
Second, Vygotsky, contrary to another stereotype, insisted on the...