The Fluid Classroom: New Media in Education

Increasing numbers of children and young people from around the world are engaging in speedy communication which takes place through interactive, fast and mobile media that enable the distributed production and peer-to-peer circulation of advanced audio-visual designs and bits of information across the most different geographical areas – the prediction being that by 2025 every child and young person in the planet will have daily access to the Internet at a speed of 1 MB per second. In this frame, even before the recent school closures during the Covid-19 outbreak, schooling, teaching and learning have fluidly transcended online and offline spaces. New media and digital technologies have enabled connections between different life spheres, diverse cultural and socio-economic milieus, and different times and places that would have been impossible a few years ago.

My research with colleagues from the Netherlands, Finland and Brazil has explored the possibilities entailed in this new condition for teachers and pupils in formal educational settings as well as in spaces outside the formal education system:

Kontopodis, M. & Kumpulainen, K. (2020). Researching Young Children’s Engagement and Learning in Makerspaces: Insights from Post-Vygotskian and Post-Human Perspectives. In: A. Blum-Ross; K. Kumpulainen, J. Marsh (Eds.). Enhancing Digital Literacy and Creativity: Makerspaces in the Early Years (pp. 11-23). London: Routledge. OPEN ACCESS HERE

Da Cunha Junior F.R., Kontopodis M. & van Oers B. (2020). Online Groups in Educational Settings: An Opportunity for Argumentation. Brazilian Journal of Socio-Historical-Cultural Theory and Activity Research, 2(1), 1-22. Golden Open Access:

Da Cunha Júnior, F.R., van Kruistum C., Kontopodis, M. & van Oers B. (2019). Students on Facebook: From Observers to Collaborative Agents. Mind, Culture & Activity, 26(4), 336-352. Golden Open Access: HERE.

Kontopodis, M. (2019). The Fluid Classroom: Book Narratives, YouTube Videos & Other Metaphorical Devices. Paragrana, 28(2), 101-105. OPEN ACCESS HERE

Further details on digital childhoods & digital youth are also provided here:

Last but not least, this is a brief relevant video from a recent YouTube conference, which I organised at the University of Leeds in 2021, exploring LINKS: Learning in Inclusive Knowledge Societies after COVID19:

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“Those in power don’t listen”: Review of “Youth Participation in Democratic Life: Stories of Hope and Disillusion” by Bart Cammaerts, Michael Bruter, Shakuntala Banaji, Sarah Harrison & Nick Anstead (PalgraveMacMillan)

By Michalis Kontopodis & Myrto Nikolopoulou

Young people around the world have recently been engaging with different modes of political participation, including significant protests & social movements, such as: “XR”, “Black Lives Matter”, “Kill the Bill”, etc. How do we however define “participation” & “politics”? What are the pertinent figures and views by the young people themselves as well as by other relevant stakeholders regarding youth participation in political life? Addressing a significant gap in the relevant literature and research, the 2016 book Youth Participation in Democratic Life: Stories of Hope and Disillusion by Bart Cammaerts, Michael Bruter, Shakuntala Banaji, Sarah Harrison and Nick Anstead can still be read as a highly valuable and timely contribution to mapping the current modes and levels of political participation by young people across a wide range of European countries (Austria, Finland, France, Hungary, Poland, Spain and the UK).

Youth Participation in Democratic Life is written in a very accessible way and describes in detail the theoretical frame, methodology and results of a large-scale research project led by renowned scholars from a variety of relevant disciplines such as media and communication, political science, political psychology and youth studies. It reviews a wide range of data generated through a highly innovative mixed-methodological design (combining documentary analysis, comparative secondary data analysis, large-scale representative survey of pre-voters [16-18 years old] and young voters [18- 30 years old], an experiment in e-voting, stakeholder interviews and focus group discussions).

The book consists of two introductory chapters with relevant theoretical and methodological contributions and five empirical chapters on: elections (chapter 3), European policymaking and representation (chapter 4), volunteering (chapter 5), participation through traditional and new media (chapter 6), non-participation and exclusion (chapter 7). It analyses and assesses the contexts, nature and the diversity of young people’s participation in European democratic life and explores their views regarding the political elites who appear to run the current so-called “representative democratic systems” as well as their attitudes towards volunteering, protesting, taking part in grass root community-based initiatives and employing traditional and new media for purposes of political participation. The authors manage very well to dig into details – for example when discussing quotes by diverse young people or relevant statistical data from the various local and national contexts. At the same time, in the last part of the book, they manage to provide the reader with a very good overview of the general issues that emerged through the data analysis, which in turn leads to a series of concrete and constructive recommendations for improving modes and levels of youth participation across Europe.

It is commendable that the book explores views and modes of participation by highly diverse young populations through sampling pre-voters along with young voters from 7 European countries – thereby including “active” as well as “excluded” youth. The book does not cover though refugee youth, which was the case in other publications by the authors (de Block, et al. 2005). It could also be interesting to shed more light on right wing youth by linking the analysis to further work by the authors such as the Mapping extreme right ideology by Bruter & Harrison (2011).

A main argument of the book is that youth may not regularly engage with the standard forms of political participation not because they are apathetic, but rather because the political offer does not match their concerns, ideas, and ideals of democratic politics. Diverse groups of young people feel that “those in power don’t listen” (Cammaerts, et al. 2016: 57). Youth are therefore critical against mainstream politics and traditional media and feel that they must not merely be given a voice, but also possibilities to participate in follow-up processes and to further shape the relevant debates and policy implementation. This empirical finding fits very well with studies of youth in non-European contexts (cf. Kontopodis 2014) as well as with recent theorizing on youth development and socialization (Stetsenko 2016).

Even if the term democratic life is used in the title and widely employed in the book, the authors question therefore legal and formal understandings of democracy. While official discourses fetishize certain and marginalise other forms of participation, the authors extend the term democratic life so that it covers every form of political participation young people may be involved into: from volunteering to NGOs or sharing political views on Facebook to participating in peaceful or violent demonstrations. What is more: according to the analysis, “democratic life” does not refer only to various forms of participation but concerns contents, as well: unemployment combined with the risk of poverty and social exclusion is a significant concern for today’s youth, and a major challenge to what they see as “democratic life”.

This insightful assertion can lead to the expansion of the notion of participation, and also addresses the question, whether all forms and contents of participation are considered as solely positive and desirable per se. When considering, for example, initiatives where young people are involved in far right wing movements, participation can have totally different outcomes to what participation in democratic life entails. Summing up: even if published a few years ago, the wide array of analysis and the close attention to detail render Youth participation in democratic life: Stories of hope and disillusion a valuable and much needed contribution to the research literature in youth studies and the relevant disciplines. We are looking very much forward to discussing the book with our BA and MA students, most of whom are young people and may have participated in recent protests and social movements, such as: “XR”, “Black Lives Matter” and “Kill the Bill”.

NOTE: This blogpost is based on our book review from 2018: Kontopodis M, Nikolopoulou M. 2018. Book Review: B. Cammaerts, M. Bruter, S. Banaji, S. Harrison and N. Anstead (2016). Youth Participation in Democratic Life: Stories of Hope and Disillusion (Palgrave). YOUNG. 26(4), pp. 113-115.


Bruter, M., and Harrison, S. 2011. Mapping extreme right ideology: An empirical geography of the European extreme right. Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan.

Cammaerts, B., Bruter, M., Banaji, S., Harrison, S., and Anstead, N. 2016. Youth participation in democratic life: Stories of hope and disillusion. Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan.

de Block, L., & Buckingham, D., and Banaji, S. 2005. Children in communication about migration (CHICAM): Final project report. London: Center for the Study of Children, Youth & Media, Institute of Education, University of London.

Kontopodis, M. (2014). Neoliberalism, pedagogy and human development: Exploring time, mediation and collectivity in contemporary schools. London and New York: Routledge.

Nolas, S-M., Varvantakis, C. and Aruldoss, V. 2016 “(Im)possible conversations? Activism, childhood and everyday life.” Journal of Social and Political Psychology, 4(1), 252-265.

Stetsenko, A. 2016. The transformative mind: Expanding Vygotsky’s approach to development and education. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press.

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New book: Revisiting Vygotsky for Social Change

Very pleased to announce the publication of the second volume in our Peter Lang book series “(Post-)Critical Global Studies“: Revisiting Vygotsky for Social Change.

This book edited by Adolfo Tanzi Neto, Fernanda Liberali & Manolis Dafermos, brings together researchers from across different countries and disciplines, who are currently employing Vygotsky’s theory in order to understand and deal with new social challenges arising in our globalized and yet, deeply divided world. The chapters of this book shed light onto the foundational principles of Vygotsky’s theory while adding critical and social perspectives as a way of expanding Vygotsky’s legacy to global contemporary issues. Through a series of case studies from across so-called “Global North” and “Global South” settings, this books explores crises and dramatic life events; critical reflection, imagination and social change; social dynamics and human development; ethical-political issues, as well as activism and political engagement. The book has been published as a paperback, so that it can be easily purchased without being too expensive.

Further details are provided here:

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Cultural-historical Activity Theory Travels to Greece

How have socio-cultural, cultural-historical and activity approaches to education and psychology traveled to Greece over the last three decades? It has been a pleasure for me to collaborate with M. Dafermos and A. Chronaki and explore how these approaches have been introduced in the Greek context while identifying key dimensions of this process, such as: diverse interpretation of original works, key actors in academic teaching and research and linkages with educational policy and activism beyond the university spaces.

Greece with its specific history of military dictatorship, constitutional change, varied struggles for democracy within the university, European integration, and current crisis and neoliberal reforms is seen as a sample case; taking this case as a point of departure, we develop a meta-theoretical frame on how to evaluate the various ways in which socio-cultural-historical and activity approaches to education and psychology have traveled across social, cultural, historical, institutional, political, regional, and also, increasingly globalized contexts of education.

GOLDEN OPEN ACCESS: Dafermos, M., Chronaki, A., Kontopodis, M. (2020) Cultural-historical Activity Theory Travels to Greece: Actors, Contexts and Politics of Reception and Interpretation. Cultural-Historical Psychology. 2020. Vol. 16(2), 31-44.

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Now published as paperback: Global Youth in Digital Trajectories

“This is a fascinating and thought provoking volume on youth engagement with digital technology and one that is genuinely transnational and transdisciplinary in flavour. Studies of gaming, video production and social media show how new technologies are woven into the lives of young people, supporting their developing sense of agency and civic engagement. An important contribution to the field.”

Guy Merchant, Professor of Literacy in Education, Sheffield Hallam University, UK

9781138236035Edited by Michalis Kontopodis, Christos Varvantakis and Christoph Wulf, the volume titled “Global Youth in Digital Trajectories” has just been published as a paperback with Routledge.

Global Youth in Digital Trajectories explores the most recent developments regarding youth and media in a global perspective. Representing an innovative contribution to virtual research methods, this book presents research carried out in areas as diverse as Greece, the Netherlands, Germany, Brazil, Russia, and India. The volume examines which new anthropological, and cultural-historical conditions and changes arise in connection with the widespread presence of digital media in the lives of the networked teens. Indeed, it is highlighted that the differentiation between an offline world and an online world is inapplicable to the lives of most young people.


Table of Contents

Introduction: Exploring Global Youth in Digital Trajectories

Michalis Kontopodis, Christos Varvantakis & Christoph Wulf

Chapter 1: Digital Identity Building: A Dialogue with Berlin Technology & Computer Science Students – Nika Daryan & Christoph Wulf

Chapter 2: Young People, Facebook and Pedagogy: Recognizing Contemporary Forms of Multimodal Text Making – Jeff Bezemer & Gunther Kress

Chapter 3: Playing Sports with Nintendo Wii in Berlin: Technography, Interactivity & Imagination – Nino Ferrin & Michalis Kontopodis

Chapter 4: Digital Filmmaking as a Means for the Development of Reflection: A Case Study of a Disabled University Student in Moscow – Olga Rubtsova & Natalya Ulanova

Chapter 5: Youth Tubing the Greek Crisis: A Cultural-Historical Perspective– Manolis Dafermos, Sofia Triliva and Christos Varvantakis

Chapter 6: Dove YouTube Campaign “The Pressure on Young Girls & Women to Fit an Artificial Body Ideal”: A Sequential Analysis – Alexios Brailas, Giorgos Alexias & Konstantinos Koskinas

Chapter 7: Youth, Facebook and Mediated Protest in India: A Cross-Media Exploration – Supriya Chotani

Chapter 8: Enhancing Multimedia Use in State Secondary Schools in São Paulo: Α Critical Collaborative Perspective – Fernanda Liberali, Maria Cecília

Magalhães, Maria Cristina Meaney, Camila Santiago, Maurício Canuto, Feliciana Amaral, Bruna Cababe & Jessica Santos

Instead of an Epilogue: Iconophagy: Impact and Impulses for Global Youth & Education – Norval Baitello jun.

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Developmental Psychology: History, Critique & Future Perspectives by M.K. & S. Rani (University of Leeds)

The Modern Origins of Developmental Psychology

Numerous ancient religious and philosophical texts refer to children, upbringing and education. The term psychological development, however, has not been used in its contemporary meaning until the early modernity. Psychological development implies a normative understanding of time as leading to predefined outcomes that apply to everybody in quite a universal way. The scientific subdiscipline that studies psychological development – developmental psychology – emerged in parallel to the establishment of the modern education system and its modern origins have been closely linked to evolution theory. Developmental psychology became the discipline that generated the required knowledge on child development, so that mass schooling could effectively be organised according to children’s needs and abilities. This change happened in the early days of industrialisation, when rural populations left the countryside and moved to newly established urban areas as to work in factories. Learning-by doing i.e. acquiring skills related to farming and agriculture gave then its place to mass education i.e. to learning in the classroom how to read, write and calculate.

Beginning with England, the Elementary Education Act commonly known as Forster’s Education Act, set the framework for schooling of all children between the ages of 5 and 12 in England and Wales in 1870. It established local education authorities with defined powers while authorising public money for schools and teachers. Seven years later in 1877, the English biologist, Charles Darwin, best known for his contributions to evolution theory, published the first modern developmental psychological publication: “A Biographical Sketch of an Infant” (Mind, 2, 285-294). In England in the Middle Ages, development was the act of unfolding or unwrapping the linen strips in which a baby was enveloped for their arms and legs to grow straight, according to the popular beliefs of that time.

Psychological development, in modern times, signified the inner unfolding of natural forces and predispositions until certain outcomes have been achieved. The emerging scientific discipline of psychology defined these outcomes as well as provided formalised knowledge on how to best support and streamline development in modern, mass educational settings for these outcomes to be achieved. A variety of subareas of developmental psychology have been established focusing on infancy, childhood, adolescence; atypical development; parenting; peer interaction; teaching and learning, language, cognitive, emotional and moral development, respectively.

Even if the day to day work of taking care of, nurturing and teaching children has often been left to women, so-called big white men had the power and rigor to establish developmental psychology as a scientific subdiscipline. What exactly typical or healthy psychological development should be, has not been much questioned or debated upon; certain forms of being and becoming have been taken for granted thereby reflecting Northern-European cultural values and social norms. Dividing children in typically and atypically developing aimed to optimize positive development as well as to prevent or minimize problematic outcomes. At the same time, this normative knowledge promoted European and masculine tropes of development as universal and rendered all other forms of being and becoming as underdeveloped, pathological and abnormal.

Critical developmental psychological approaches have questioned the normative understanding of development as progress that applies to everybody and leads to predefined outcomes in quite a universal way. In the 1980s, critical psychologist Klaus Holzkamp (1927-1995) criticized classic developmental psychological approaches for colonising childhood, as developmental psychology does not envisage childhood in its own right, but as an intermediate stage leading to adulthood. In the 1990s, feminist developmental psychologist Erica Burman (1960-) in her seminar publication Deconstructing Developmental Psychology, interrogated the relations of power, the assumptions on gender, family life and parenting as well as the practices surrounding the psychology of child development and provided a critical evaluation of the role and contribution of developmental psychology within social practice.

Nature vs. Nurture

While most modern developmental psychological thinking shared the focus on ideal developmental outcomes as universally valid, there has been much disagreement on the primacy and the interplay of nature and nurture in determining human psychology. To mention only a few prominent figures: Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), Ivan Pavlov (1849-1936) and Jean Piaget (1896-1980) have founded opponent schools of thought in this frame.

Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) envisaged the unconscious forces underlying psychosexual development as prevalent. He conceptualised human development as the outcome of innate drives of aggression and libido processed through five stages. The oral stage, from birth to year one, is when the infant’s greatest satisfaction derives from the stimulation of the mouth and lips. Freud believed that inappropriate oral stimulation could lead to oral fixation in later life. Oral personalities engage in oral behaviours particularly when stressed i.e. smoking, nail biting and thumb suckers. At the anal stage from years 1-3, the greatest pleasure for the child is gained from control. The child desires tend to be in conflict with the reality of the outside world, signalling the development of the ego. Fixation in this stage results in anal-explosive personalities that result in the adult being messy, disorganised and rebellious. The phallic stage, years 3-6, is when the child becomes aware of the anatomical differences between the sexes. This awareness sets in motion the conflict between erotic attraction, resentment, rivalry, jealousy and fear which is called the Oedipus complex for boys and the Electra complex for girls. Both these sub-stages are resolved, according to Freud, through the adapting to characteristics of the mother for the girls and father for the boys. In the latency stage, years 5-6 to puberty, sexual drives become dormant, the focus instead becomes play with other children of the same gender. Genital stage, from puberty to adulthood, is when the individual engages with sexual experimentation which is eventually resolved with a loving one-to- one relationship with another person of a similar age.

Ivan Pavlov (1849-1936) emphasised, on the contrary, the role of external stimuli (such as rewards and punishment) in shaping human behaviour, explaining development as a product of nurture. Pavlov’s classical conditioning experiments involved learning to associate an unconditioned stimulus enabling a particular response with a new conditioned stimulus, so that the new stimulus brings about the same response. For example, Pavlov’s salivating dog experiment identified three stages in the development of behaviour: before conditioning, during conditioning and after conditioning. Before conditioning, food is the unconditioned stimulus, with salivation being the unconditioned response. The bell is rung, with no response elicited. During conditioning, however, the bell and food become the unconditioned stimuli, with salivation being the unconditioned response. After conditioning, the bell becomes the conditioned stimulus and the salivation the conditioned response. In a quite similar way, according to this classic school of thought, human behaviour is established and can be scientifically explained.

In a yet different perspective, Jean Piaget (1896-1980) explored the development of mental functions such as abstract thinking or memory as resulting from biological maturation. Piaget’s understanding of cognitive development is different to previous developmental theories as the child is an active agent through continual interaction with their environment supported with biological maturation. Piaget describes four stages of cognitive development. Sensorimotor stage (birth to 1 years) is when the child become aware that an object still exists even if it hidden known as object permanence. The preoperational (2-7 years) stage is where the child communicate to others through their ‘language’ of symbols. Concrete operational (7-11 years) is the beginning of the child’s process to thinking logically, being able to understand that something can stay the same despite a change in appearance. The final stage of formal operations (11 years and over), is when the child can begin to think about abstract concepts. According to Piaget’s classic works, these stages are natural and rather universal in human development.

Different methods and approaches have been employed in developing the above-mentioned theoretical approaches, which, in turn, resulted in the establishment of distinct schools of psychological thinking: unstructured oral accounts resulted in psychoanalysis, experiments in behaviourism, tests, interviews and measurements in cognitivism. The emergence of each distinct paradigm has often rendered the previous dominating one obsolete or forgotten – unfortunately with very little dialogue taking place between the different approaches. Over the course of psychology’s history more complex and synthetic approaches have of course been developed such as the school of cultural-historical psychology founded by Lev Vygotsky (1896-1934). The nature vs. nurture debate underlies contemporary research with cognitive neuroscientists such as Michael Gazzaniga (1939-) attributing psychological states to brain mechanisms while constructionist and discursive psychologists such as Kenneth Gergen (1935-) and Jonathan Potter (1956-) emphasize the primary role of language and social construction in human psychology.

The “Individual” as Unit of Analysis

Developmental psychology has commonly focused on the individual as the primary unit of development commonly understanding the ideal adult as balanced, coherent and accountable. The word individual seems to refer to its Latin etymology: an unbreakable unit; the collective is often described as being more than the sum of the individuals involved in it – without however that it is always made explicit how the collective and the individual may be linked.

When focusing on individual children as the interchangeable participants randomly allocated to an experimental condition or a survey in developmental psychological research, the specificities of the child are not at the centre of the researchers’ attention, because the researchers are interested in the abstract properties of children in general or the average effect of some intervention on learning and development, and not in a child’s own historical and idiosyncratic individuality. As an example, Piaget’s classical three-mountains task was used to measure the age in which children move beyond thinking egocentrically to decentred thinking i.e. begin to recognise that there are more viewpoints then their own and crucially recognise others. The three mountains task would begin with the child sitting at a table and be presented with a model of three mountains that were different in appearance. Once the child had returned to their seat a doll would be placed at one of the mountains. The child would then be asked to select from 10 pictures that show different views, the child would have to select the view the doll would have. Children of 7 years were the only age category to do this correctly showing decentred thinking.

In research based on interpretative interviewing and ethnographic observations, individual children are often referred to in the role, in which they are positioned, while they are being interviewed and/or observed, e.g., student, daughter, patient, member of a specific community etc. In this case, the individual child is often seen through the “eyes” of a specific institution or the profession. This is often marginalising and devaluing the voice of the child, still reinforcing the societally constructed hierarchy of adult then child.

Theory and method remain in all cases integrally linked, as different methods lead to different results, and have even led to different paradigms of psychological thinking, as mentioned above. Relational approaches to developmental psychology have more recently focused on activity systems, institutional relations, and communities of practice as to move beyond the individual as a unit of analysis and explore learning, development and social interaction as contextualised and interlinked psychosocial processes. In previous work (Kontopodis, 2014), we have explored links between individual and collective human development in a wide range of educational and community settings around the globe. We introduced a differentiation between two discrete modes of human development: individual development (as in classic developmental psychology) and development of new societal relations, which is at the same time individual and collective. Exploring the links between individual and collective developments in open-ended ways is of particular importance especially when referring to the education and social integration of vulnerable children from minority communities, who have often been placed in the margins of developmental psychological research as well as in the margins of society.

Psychological Knowledge, Values & Positionality

Developmental psychology has often been criticised as the science of the white, heterosexual, adult, middle-class men and has sometimes even been explicitly racist – especially in its early phases. Historically formal testing i.e. examination, assignments, practical’s, questionnaires, scientific research, and especially intelligence quotients (IQ), developed by Alfred Binnet (1857-1911), was used as a way to ‘scientifically’ support white supremacy. Although IQ testing is less popular in modern day, formal testing through examination and assignments within British Education is a way segregation is still practiced today with formal testing beginning at age 6. This initiates early segregation between more or less abled children creating a hierarchy of groups determining their path of progression based on their intelligence.

Significant efforts to reflect on the values, contexts and limitations of classic developmental psychological theories and propose alternatives to these from feminist, LGBTQ, post-colonial and other critical standpoints have indeed taken place in the second half of the 20th century. Prominent female psychologists such as Carol Gilligan (1936-), Valerie Walkerdine (1947-), Anna Stetsenko (1958-) and Erica Burman (1960-) and have emphasised the significance of care, social justice, equality and relationality in human development as well as questioned the norms underlying classic developmental psychological theories. LGBTQ theorists (from beyond the discipline of psychology) such as Judith Butler (1956-) have introduced plural ways of understanding gender, sexuality, race, health, and disability while a variety of movements to establish so-called “indigenous” or “postcolonial” psychologies have taken place around the globe – beginning with the seminal “Black Skin, White Masks” published by African scholar Frantz Fanon (1925/1961) in the 1960s.

More recently, Beverly Daniel Tatum (1954-) developed psychological theory and research with a focus on the development of racial identity. She introduced a specific method of confronting racial stereotypes, the so-called three F’s: felt, found and feel. For example, if one would be confronting another person’s racial stereotypes, one would use the ‘three F’s’ in the following way: “I felt that the words you used were harmless; but I found out that those types of words reinforce stereotypes and create a divide. I feel that it’s really important to let you know that I don’t think those words are appropriate to use.” Such a method of positive confrontation is in opposition to classic psychological research, as it does not overlook history and preconceived cultural norms, but takes these as points of departure in attributing responsibility and encouraging agency with the explicit aim of tackling racism in society.

Taking a reflective stance towards classic psychological research, one could argue that there are multiple ways of being, becoming and developing. How one understands and evaluates development depends on one’s epistemological, ontological and theoretical presumptions as well as on the methodologies, techniques and values involved in studying development. Researchers are not neutral entities external to the research procedure, but choose the focus of their research and contribute (not always consciously) to the complex dynamics of institutional and cultural continuity and change when producing, applying and disseminating developmental psychological knowledge.

The question poses itself in this frame, why shouldn’t children themselves participate actively in the production of developmental psychological knowledge, as well? Children are indeed commonly seen by psychologists as the recipients of the universally valid knowledge and the intervention programmes that adults design for them. Contemporary sociologists and anthropologists of childhood have recently achieved significant outcomes in making research with diverse children and not only about or for them. With the use of visual technologies, it is not difficult nowadays to employ innovative means of communication and enable diverse children to express themselves, to experiment with different possibilities of organising their institutional everydayness and to participate actively in the production of knowledge on themselves and their realities. Such participatory research could inspire new advances in developmental psychology, too – most importantly: it could enable developmental psychology to overcome its Euro- adult- and male- centredness. Will participatory methodologies indeed transform the future of developmental psychology? Will developmental psychology, as a scientific subdiscipline, move beyond its contested cultural history? We leave this question open and look forward to the answer, which imminent developments in science and society may stipulate.

Further readings

Berk, L. E. (2013). Child development. Boston: Pearson.

Burman, E. (2017). Deconstructing developmental psychology (3rd edition). New York: Routledge.

Christensen, P., & James, A. (2017). Research with children: Perspectives and practices (3rd edition). New York: Routledge.

Fanon, F. (1952/1967). Black skin, white masks. New York: Groove.

Kontopodis, M. (2014). Neoliberalism, pedagogy & human development. New York: Routledge.

Slater, A. & Quinn, P. (Eds.) (2012). Developmental psychology: Revisiting the classic studies. Thousand Oaks: Sage.

Stetsenko, A. (2017). The Transformative mind: Expanding Vygotsky’s approach to development and education. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press.

Tatum, B. D. (1997). “Why are all the black kids sitting together in the cafeteria?”: A psychologist explains the development of racial identity. New York: Basic Books.

Walkerdine, V. (1993). Beyond developmentalism? Theory & Psychology, 3(4), 451-469.

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Mapping Global Childhood & Youth Futures

Special thanks to everybody who attended my inaugural lecture “Mapping Global Childhood & Youth Futures” at the School of Education, University of Leeds yesterday. I feel very thankful to family, friends & colleagues from around the world for their kind support since I completed my PhD in 2007. PP slides including videos & hyperlinks from the inaugural lecture are available HERE.

Since 1795 when philosopher Immanuel Kant published his essay on Perpetual Peace there has been much debate on cosmopolitanism i.e. the idea that all human beings to belong to a single “global” community, based on a shared morality that would apply to all people independently of their races, colours and ethnicities, local histories, gender, age or any other specific characteristics. This proposition has been much criticised by scholars emphasising Otherness – in its different facets: Otherness as a general principle (e.g. in phenomenology), Otherness as a concrete product of the history of colonialism, and Otherness in terms of intersecting age, gender, sexual orientation, class, race, colour, ethnicity and/or dis-/ability.

KontopodisHow do these debates play out in a world that is interconnected through the flows of capital, technologies, populations, media images and ideas as well as divided through nationalist movements, inequalities, and in-/ visible borders and walls?

In my inaugural lecture, I explored this question by revisiting case studies from my research projects from the past ten years.

Drawing on research from these diverse contexts I reflected on what global childhood and youth studies could entail in the contemporary frame, in two directions:

  • hyper-connecting youth & co-experiencing developmental crises in the context of global crisis
  • remembering common pasts & mapping yet unknown futures in urban and rural educational settings

I concluded my lecture with rethinking pedagogy and education while exploring how globalisation from above could be transformed into globalisation from below.

Further details are given in the various books and articles above.

University Webpage:

Twitter: @m_kontopodis

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De-centring the Psychology Curriculum: Diversity, Social Justice & Psychological Knowledge

The psychology curriculum has close ties to the histories and cultural traditions of industrialised societies’ white middle-class populations, so it is unclear how it may relate to the values and interests of students from a variety of ethnic, racial and socio-economic backgrounds in the contemporary higher education settings. To address this question, me and my colleague Marta Jackowska, we established an innovative research project of de-centring the psychology curriculum, so that BA students from diverse backgrounds could familiarise themselves with cultural-historical, postcolonial, feminist and other critical approaches and reflect on the histories, contexts and limitations of classic developmental psychological theories and research. We also conducted focus group discussions with the students as to explore the teaching of psychology through their perspectives. The findings of our research form the basis for critical reflection on the positionality of psychological knowledge and the possibilities and challenges of de-centring the psychology curriculum in the contemporary university settings.

The relevant article (published with Theory & Psychology) is available HERE.

Looking very much forward to your feedback.

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The Transformative Mind by Prof. Anna Stetsenko: Reviewing & Expanding Vygotsky’s Approach

9780415256742Allan Prout concluded “The Future of Childhood” calling for interdisciplinary dialogue – among others – between the new sociology of childhood and the Vygotskian tradition of developmental psychology (2005, p. 145). I am soon moving to the University of Leeds hoping to further develop the work Allan Prout as well as Pia Christensen, Allison James and other colleagues have been doing over the last many years, precisely in this direction.

My aim below is to engage in this frame with Anna Stetsenko’s pioneering work The Transformative Mind: Expanding Vygotsky’s Approach to Development and Education” (Cambridge University Press, 2017). In about 400 highly accessible pages, Stetsenko explores how the classic work by Vygotsky can be expanded in dialogue with contemporary theories and research across an impressive array of natural and social sciences.

Vygotsky’s scholarship has indeed become increasingly popular among a variety of scholars, disciplines and cultural contexts over the last 40 years. Accessing high quality translations and less known texts has become much easier in the same period of time (Yasnitsky 2010). Moving beyond early rather reductive interpretations of Vygotsky’s work (such as the theory of scaffolding within zones of proximal development in Wood, Bruner, and Ross 1976) most contemporary scholars understand that Vygotsky’s theoretical work offers a complex account on interrelated processes of psychological, inter-personal and broader socio-political and cultural-historical transformation with implications not only for psychology or education but also for sociology, anthropology and other fields (Daniels 2012; Kontopodis, Wulf, and Fichtner 2012).

The first question, which poses itself in this frame is what and how to read from the considerable amount of texts that are now available (6 volumes of Collected Works,additional scientific work published elsewhere, e.g. van der Veer, and Valsiner 1994, as well asletters and personal notes such as in Zavershneva, and Van der Veer 2018). Mapping and navigating Vygotsky’s vast intellectual trajectory is not anyhow an easy task – especially for scholars who may come from different scholarly traditions and/or spend most of their time and resources engaging in field research.

A second question concerns the actuality and completeness of Vygotskian theory: Not only did Vygotsky build theory a century ago; he also died of tuberculosis at the age of 37 leaving behind a long yet sketchy and rather unfinished account of what could have probably become a complete theory, would he have lived long enough – let’s say as long as Jean Piaget or Claude Lévi-Strauss did. How does this unfinished theory from the 1930s look when taking under consideration current trends such as cognitive neuroscience, complexity theory, new sociology of childhood, actor-network theory or (post-) feminist scholarship?

Anna Stetsenko undertakes the very difficult task of guiding the contemporary reader to understand how the questions above can be addressed. Stetsenko received her doctorate in general and developmental psychology at Moscow State University in 1984, and spent several years studying and working with highly renowned scholars (such as A.A. Leontiev and V.V. Davydov) of the cultural-historical school established by L.S. Vygotsky. In September 1991, Anna Stetsenko moved on a post-doctoral research fellowship to the prestigious Max Planck Institute for Human Development and Education in Berlin, Germany – the Fall of the Soviet Union took place just a few months after this, in December 1991.

Her academic career continued with an Assistant Professorship at the Department of Developmental Psychology, Institute of Psychology of the University of Bern in Switzerland, where she worked from 1993 to 1999. In 1999 she received tenure status with immediate effect as an Associate Professor at the Graduate Center of The City University of New York, where she works until today (being a Full Professor since 2008). Having the roots of her academic career in the rigid academic tradition of Soviet cultural-historical psychology, migrating a few times to different countries, getting to know the European and American psychological and social scientific thinking from the inside and at the same time being a woman academic has eventually offered Anna Stetsenko the critical blend of unique experiences that created the conditions of possibility for the seminal The Transformative Mind to come into life.

Anna Stetsenko does not only revisit the classic work of Lev Vygotsky; she further develops it by bringing it in dialogue with the most recent debates in evolutionary biology, epigenetics, neuroscience and dynamic systems theory as well as in critical and (post-) feminist scholarship. The result is an ambitious and highly provocative monograph, which takes critical distance from classic interpretations of Vygotsky’s work as well as from contemporary streams of Anglo-American post-modern critical thinking. Anna Stetsenko produces a powerful theory, which takes under consideration micro-political dynamics (e.g. related to gender and race) as well as ecological issues. Her analysis adds significantly to classic versions of cultural-historical psychology and activity theory, which have often been human-centric, and which have not sufficiently reflected on Otherness.

At the same time, Anna Stetsenko addresses macro-political struggles and takes seriously the dialectical philosophy and the Marxist ideology underlying cultural-historical psychology and activity theory. Is it possible to affirm Otherness while at the same time referring to “grand narratives” and “collective futures”? The answer, which Stetsenko gives to this question, is positive:

“…[A]ffirming the future in realizing it in the present is coextensive with persons affirming themselves – and not as isolated individuals but as actors and agents of social practices in their ongoing communal historicity – along with affirming others as such actors and agents too, in their heterogeneity and plurality, through commitment to solidarity” (31).

Stetsenko acknowledges the importance of the relational thinking in natural-scientific, psychological, educational and social research (as opposed to modes of analysis, which focus on particular brain functions, the individual person, etc.). Yet, Stetsenko argues that relational thinking, as such, does not provide all the conceptual and methodological tools that one may need in order to understand social change and contribute to it; Stetsenko proposes therefore a transition from a relational worldviewtowards a transformative worldviewpremised on the ethos of solidarity and equality (Part I and II).

Expansively developing Vygotsky’s project in dialogue with a variety of other critical traditions, she outlines the Transformative Activist Stance as a foundational principle in understanding the processes of human being and becoming in the “world-in-the-making”. Human development is, in this perspective, a collaborative project of people “changing the world while being changed by and in this very process of enacting their transformative agency” (270). The mind and other psychological processes are understood non- individualistically as embedded in social life and community practices – which does not imply “passively dwelling in a stable world of the status quo” (270) but actively seeking after future of social justice and equity. The vision of such a future is thereby constantly redefined and transformed every time an individual makes an “agentive contribution to this process” (33). On this premise, theories and research on mind, development and education are challenged and radically reworked in terms of transformative onto-epistemology (Part III). Last but not least, in dialogue with Paulo Freire and other critical traditions, the pedagogy of daringis outlined (Part IV).

Anna Stetsenko invites us to participate in an intellectually challenging endeavour, which aims at overcoming much-criticised divides such as nature/culture; psychological/social; praxis/theory; particularity/universality. Through her in-depth and timely analysis, Stetsenko introduces not only a powerful conceptual frame but also a methodology for mapping and further transforming socio-material and political formations that concern children and adult lives at local and global levels (cf. Kontopodis, Magalhães, and Coracini 2016). Anna Stetsenko’s work sets the foundations for a radical and thought-provoking approach to understanding human nature andhistory; She provides a powerful synthesis (in the dialectical sense of the word), which draws on, as well as moves beyond a wide array of existing modes of theorising with challenging implications across fields – most importantly for the study of human development and education.

Given the depth and scope of this book, one could say that Anna Stetsenko has now accomplished the intellectual endeavour that began many years ago in one of her first publications in English, in Mind, Culture & Activity, titled: “Constructing and deconstructing the self: Comparing post-Vygotskian and discourse-based versions of social constructivism” (Stetsenko, and Arievitch 1997). Building on the powerful foundations, which Anna Stetsenko developed, future work could probably address the following issues:

  • How to theorise agency that may appear to be collaborative and transformative, although in reality it is often not that – for example, in the case of young people engaging in right-wing political groups? Further work addressing this question would be particularly welcome by the international readership and highly relevant given today’s global socio-political turmoil.
  • What is the place of academic theory and writing in relation to other modes of knowledge, which can also be emancipatory, let’s say: oral stories by indigenous people living in the Amazon or YouTube movies by teenagers experiencing the recent financial crisis in Athens? How can the attention given to such modes of knowledge be “equal” to the attention given to academic knowledge? There is a heated debate in the relevant fields on this question; Stetsenko’s emphasis on the socio-material and embodied dimensions of knowing and the pedagogy of daring hint at possible answers to this issue, which would eventually deserve its own attention in a separate piece of work.
  • Last but not least: Anna Stetsenko puts appropriate emphasis on the values of solidarity and social justice at all steps of her theorising. How could the Transformative Activist Stancebe further expanded so as to embrace ethical-political values that refer to Other-than-humans, such as the interdependence of all life forms and sustainability? It would be interesting, in this regard, to follow up from the links drawn between political ecology and transformative views on ontology and epistemology (Part III, 189 ff.) and make this dimension explicit in the overview and table provided in the last section of the book (Part V, 353-354).

Given the impressive depth and breadth of theoretical discussions and analyses presented in The Transformative Mind, this brief reflection constitutes an invitation to the interested reader to think along,withand, if needed, beyond Anna Stetsenko – in accordance withthe foundational openness of Stetsenko’s pedagogy of daring.

I see this book as a highly significant and much-needed contribution to the dialogue across psychological and sociological traditions of thought with concrete and valuable implications for pedagogy and education. What is more: the book constitutes a rich and timely resource for neuroscientists and biologists interested in the dialogue with social sciences – which is precisely what Allan Prout in “The Future of Childhood” has encouraged. Last but not least: Stetsenko’s theoretical work provides powerful foundations for teachers and practitioners in the fields of social work, child policy and community engagement to counteract neoliberal politics and support children and young people in transforming their “collectividual” lives.


Daniels, H., ed. 2012. Vygotsky and Sociology. London: Routledge.

Kontopodis, M., C. Wulf, and B. Fichtner, eds. 2011. Children, Development and Education: Cultural, Historical, Anthropological Perspectives. Dordrecht: Springer.

Kontopodis, M., M. C.  Magalhães, and M. J. Coracini, eds. 2016. Facing Poverty and Marginalization: 50 years of Critical Research in Brazil. Bern, Oxford and New York: Peter Lang.

Stetsenko, A. 2017. The Transformative Mind: Expanding Vygotsky’s Approach to Development and Education. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press.

Stetsenko, A., and Arievitch, I. 1997. “Constructing and Deconstructing the Self: Comparing Post-Vygotskian and Discourse-based Versions of Social Constructivism.” Mind, Culture & Activity4(3): 160-173.

van der Veer, R., and J. Valsiner, eds. 1994. The Vygotsky Reader. Oxford and Cambridge, MA: Blackwell.

Wood, D., J. Bruner, and G. Ross. 1976. “The Role of Tutoring in Problem Solving.” Journal of Child Psychiatry and Psychology17(2): 89-100.

Yasnitsky, A. 2010. “Archival Revolution in Vygotskian Studies? Uncovering Vygotsky’s Archives.” Journal of Russian & East European Psychology48(1): 3-13.

Zavershneva, Е., and R. Van der Veer, eds. 2018. Vygotsky’s Notebooks: A Selection. Dordrecht: Springer.

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Gender & Pedagogy in South Korea: An Analysis of Online Discussions by Minkyung Kwon, University of Sheffield

A very interesting dissertation study has recently been conducted by Minkyung Kwon, MA student at the University of Sheffield. The study aimed at investigating the perspectives of the Korean online commenters about gender norms in the educational settings. A particular online news article on applying dichotomic gender-relevant pedagogy to improve boys’ achievement in Korean primary schools was chosen and 3,772 comments uploaded about the article were analysed. The news article described the current issue of boys’ underachievement and girl’s outperformance along with the difficulties boys face in classrooms due to the feminised school environment. The commenters raised diverse viewpoints, which were categorised into six different themes as displayed below in a figure.

The first notable feature of the themes was that although the first five themes had different main arguments, all had one similarity in that the arguments were based on the commenters’ underlying beliefs of binary gender divisions. It was only in the sixth theme that the challenging perspectives against dichotomic gender norms were expressed, followed by some comments in the fourth theme partly raising critical viewpoints against assigned gender-roles being assessed in two contradictory ways. Mostly there existed clearly divided normative roles for females and males in the commenter’s discussion, which indirectly but indisputably represents the Korean society’s discourse of gender still directing the cooperation of two sexes and the responsibility of individuals to perform the ‘appropriate’ gender (Jeong, 2017).

Another interesting finding was that the conflicting and contradictory constructions of masculinity and femininity were discovered among the commenters’ discourses. For instance, whilst the commenters in the second theme argued for the superiority of males situating females in an inferior position, the males in the fifth theme were portrayed as failing beings who face counter-discrimination and excessive social responsibility. The specific terms created by an online community consisted of males only were repetitively reproduced between the commenters, the terms directing contradictory ideal images of femininity such as being financially independent while becoming sexually obedient and passive. In addition, girls were portrayed to be a threat to boys by outperforming them by the commenters, but at the same time were degraded for their incapability and a lack of contribution to the development of the country when femininity was used as a proof for superior masculinity. The conflicting and contradictory meaning-making of masculinity and femininity displayed by the comments may act as a counterproof to the biological essentialist definition of gender. It implies the necessity of reflecting back on the commenters’ belief in binary division of gender construction and considering alternative understanding of gender norms as a regulatory fiction, a ‘performativity’ (Butler, 1990).

The last finding is that the most of the themes reacted to the news article with multiple and discrete interpretations of masculinity. Though normative ideas about femininity were also mentioned, femininity was described in the process of explaining masculinity by being contrasted with the masculinity while masculinity was clearly the primary concern of the discussion between commenters. It was only when the critical viewpoints against current gender construction were raised, that the description of femininity was emphasised.

Reflecting on findings by Francis (2000) that it is boys’ conformity to laddish boys’ culture in class that causes the underachievement of the boys, it is suggested by this study that we should reconsider what it means that the majority of the commenters concentrated on discussing how boys and girls are/ should be. The study argues that only by students’ deconstruction of the contradictory construction and conflicting positioning of gender norms will both girls and boys be emancipated from binary division of ‘outperforming girls and underachieving boys’ issue in class. In addition, as reported by a recent news report (Park, 2017) which described the difficulties of primary school teachers who struggle with boys using the misogyny terms in class created online, the influence of online gender culture on children cannot be denied. Therefore, the study suggests that the future research expand the context of the research to include the influences of diverse online gender culture on students. The thesis is available here (protected password file).

Jeong, H.J. (2017). ‘Korean men’s colonial masculinity and feminist theory’, in Kwonkim, H.Y. (2017). Analysing Korean Men. GyoYangIn.

Butler, J. (1990). Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity(2nd ed.). London: Routledge.

Park, S.J (2017). ‘Misogyny’ developing in primary school classrooms. Han-kook-il-bo. Available from: [Accessed 11thAugust 2017].

Francis, B. (2000). Boys, girls, and achievement: Addressing the classroom issues. Psychology Press.

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