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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Outlines – Critical Practice Studies: Vol 19, No 1 now online

We are happy to announce that Outlines – Critical Practice Studies Vol. 19, No. 1 is now online. Outlines is a publication providing a forum for theoretically and empirically informed debates about the relationships between individual subjects, social structures, and historically developed cultural forms of practice.

Outlines wishes to stimulate forms of social research in which theory and practice presuppose and move each other in reflected processes of development.

We proudly present the following editorial and articles:

Pernille Hviid: Editorial: Why is Outlines – critical practice studies so critical?

Tine Aagaard & Tove Borg: Patient Participation in Healthcare Practice in Greenland: Local Challenges and Global Reflections

Miguel Torres García: The Evolution of a Practice in Trialectic Space: An Approach Inclusive of Norms and Performance.

Chrisstina Munck: How Contradictions in Professional Practices Become Contradictions in Research Practices

Willy Castro Guzmán: A Change Laboratory Professional Development Intervention to Motivate University Teachers to Identify and Overcome Barriers to the Integration of ICT

Bjørg Kjær: The Reflective Methodologists A Cultural Analysis of Danish Pedagogues’ Individualised Silence and Collective Articulations

We hope you enjoy this new issue!

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Child directed play: A study by Jessica Breese (Sheffield Univ.)

The importance of the role of play in early years education in England is emphasised through the Early Years Statutory Framework (2014). The United Nations highlight the case for play provision as a child’s right, however, an appreciation must be made of the complexities of play in practice. Perceptions of the role of early years practitioners in play are variable (Sherwood and Reifel, 2010), therefore, leading to ambiguity regarding the adult’s relative position in play. Play is under-represented in the research and the notion of child-directed play is understood differently within a variety of contexts, amongst different professionals. It has been suggested that play is about engagement, exploration and ‘having a go’ (Standards and Testing Agency, 2016, p.23), however, to what extent does this reflect how all children play? Despite examination of adult-child positions in play through observational techniques (Chesworth, 2016; Anderson et al., 2014), no study to date (August, 2017) has investigated the views of teachers and playworkers in an early years setting.

Through individual ethnographic semi-structured interviews, the perspectives and experiences of teachers and playworkers on child directed play were explored. Obtaining playworkers’ perspectives provided a new dimension to research in this field. The following research question was addressed: What are the views and experiences of teachers and playworkers on child directed play within an early years setting?

Four key themes were identified following data collection and analysis: Child Development (subdivisions: Longer Term Development and Current (Shorter Term) Development); Resources and Equipment; Home and School Environments; Risks and Safety. These links are shown in Figure 1.

Fig1JessicaThe voluntary nature of child-directed play has been discussed as being “…free from environmental threats and urgent needs” (Bruner et al., 1976, p.244). Questions lie around how this has changed over time as with understandings and interpretations of child development. The current findings demonstrate that child development and child directed play are closely related with child development as a thread connecting different views and experiences.

The findings of this study support previous studies where the importance of adequate resources, an appropriate environmentand balancing risks and safetywere all required to facilitate child directed play (Craft et al., 2012; Sherwood and Reifel, 2010). Child development holds as the largest related theme. Overall, further exploration of practitioners’ views and experiences of child directed play is required, as well as the interaction between practitioners and children during play.


Anderson, G. T., Spainhower, A. R. and Sharp, A. C. (2014). “Where do the bears go?” The value of child-directed play. Young Children. 69 (2), 8-14.

Bruner, J., Jolly, A. and Sylva, K. (1976). Play – Its role in development and evolution. Middlesex: Penguin Books, Ltd.

Chesworth, L. (2016). A funds of knowledge approach to examining play interests: listening to children’s and parents’ perspectives. International Journal of Early Years Education, 24 (3), 294-308.

Craft, A., McConnon, L. and Matthews, A. (2012). Child-initiated play and professional creativity: Enabling four-year-olds’ possibility thinking. Thinking Skills and Creativity, 7, 48-61.

Sherwood, S. A. S. and Reifel, S. (2010). The multiple meanings of play: Exploring preservice teachers’ beliefs about a central element of early childhood education. Journal of Early Childhood Teacher Education, 31, 322-343.

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New book series on (Post-) Critical Global Studies in Spanish, Portuguese & English

We are very happy to announce our new book series on (Post-) Critical Global Studies. This book series focuses on critical and post-critical research in the broader area of social sciences. It aims to establish a vivid movement of ideas between Latin America and the rest of the world on contemporary social issues as to explore the possibilities for local and global social change. Furthermore, we aim to explore, situate and possibly deconstruct the systems of reason that govern social problems and global change – including deconstructing Euro-American critical paradigms. The series explores innovative theoretical and methodological approaches to emerging phenomena in fields such as: urban, countryside and indigenous studies; human rights; social policy and social movements; intersectionality; media and technology; education; community organization; political economy; ecology; migration and globalization. It will discuss issues such as the geopolitics of knowledge, Paulo Freire’s legacy and post-Freirean approaches, feminisms in Latin America and other areas of the majority world, anthropologies of the state and civil society, de-/post-colonial perspectives among others.

The series will include publications in English, Spanish and/or Portuguese. It is addressed to social scientists from Latin America and all over the world as well as to global policy-makers and international organization and NGO workers who are interested in theoretical and methodological innovation in social studies.MNLM

La serie se centra en las investigaciones críticas y post-críticas en el área amplia de las ciencias sociales. Busca establecer un movimiento de ideas rico y fluido entre Latinoamérica y el resto del mundo sobre cuestiones sociales contemporáneas, así como indagar sobre las posibilidades para el cambio social local y global. Más aún, busca explorar, situar y, si fuera necesario, deconstruir los sistemas de razonamiento que gobiernan los problemas sociales y el cambio global, incluyendo la deconstrucción de los paradigmas críticos euro-americanos. La serie indaga en perspectivas teóricas y metodológicas innovadoras sobre fenómenos emergentes tales como cuestiones urbanas y rurales, grupos indígenas, derechos humanos, políticas sociales, movimientos sociales, interseccionalidad, medios y tecnologías, educación, organización comunitaria, economía política, ecología, migración y globalización. Entre otros temas, incluye discusiones sobre la geopolítica del conocimiento, el legado de Paulo Freire y las perspectivas post-freirianas, los feminismos en América Latina, las antropologías del estado y la sociedad civil, y las perspectivas de-coloniales y poscoloniales. La serie contendrá publicaciones en inglés, español y/o portugués. Se dirige a cientistas sociales de América Latina de otras partes del mundo, así como a quienes trabajan y toman decisiones en organizaciones internacionales y ONG, que están interesados en la renovación teórica y metodológica en las ciencias sociales.

Esta série de livros tem como foco a pesquisa crítica e pós-crítica no amplo campo das Ciências Sociais. Seu objetivo é estabelecer um movimento vívido de ideias entre a América Latina e o resto do mundo no que tange às questões  sociais contemporâneas com o intuito de explorar as possibilidades de mudanças sociais locais e globais. Além disso, objetivamos também explorar, situar e, se necessário, desconstruir sistemas de racionalidade que governam os problemas sociais e a mudança global – incluindo a desconstrução dos paradigmas críticos euro-americanos. A série explora abordagens metodológicas e teóricas inovadoras em relação aos  fenômenos emergentes em áreas  como: estudos urbanos, rurais e indígenas, direitos humanos, política social e movimentos sociais, intersetorialidade, mídia e tecnologia, educação, organização comunitária, economia política, ecologia, migração e globalização. Serão discutidas questões como a geopolítica do conhecimento, o legado de Paulo Freire e abordagens pós-freirianas, feminismos na América Latina e outras áreas dos países em desenvolvimento, antropologias do estado e da sociedade civil, perspectivas decoloniais e pós coloniais – entre outras. Esta série de livros incluirá publicações em inglês, espanhol e/ou português. É direcionado a cientistas sociais da América Latina e de todo o mundo, bem como aos pensadores de políticas públicas globais e colaboradores de organizações internacionais e ONGs, interessados na inovação teórica e metodológica nas Ciências Sociais.

The editors – Prof. Marcia Mascia (Brazil), Dr Silvia Grinberg (Argentina) & Dr Michalis Kontopodis (International Coordinator, UK)

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Dr Shakuntala Banaji: New media, old inequalities: Approaching youth, creative politics and digital media across social class, gender and geography

Over the past seventeen years Shaku Banaji’s research around young people, politics and creativity has interrogated the role and affordances of new and emerging digital media in processes of social change. From refugee children connecting with their peers across Youth Participation in Democratic LifeEurope through ICQ chat in 2002, through youth activists in Europe and India deploying social media in politically progressive or retrograde ways, to young female gamers in the MENA region selectively hiding and revealing their gender via avatars and play talk during MMOGs, one common thread has been the ways in which digital media creates spaces for new politics and new agencies whilst also hiding or entrenching structural inequalities. But to what extent are we simply doing the digital wrong? Could its technical affordances be used to overcome systematic hierarchies, at least online? Do its social affordances simply enhance the agency of particular social classes in the global south? And are there ways in which the narrative of the digital in liberation politics has become yet another enemy of those seeking deeper social structural transformation? You are welcome to join an invited Lecture by Dr. Shaku Banaji on Monday 9th October, 4.15 – 5.30pm (followed by book launch & drinks reception), LT4 The Diamond, University of Sheffield. Her lecture will attempt to answer these questions in the context of findings from several major comparative research projects in Europe, the Middle East and North Africa over the past decade.

Respondents: Dr Michalis Kontopodis, School of Education & Professor Dorothea Kleine, Theme Lead, Digital, Data and Innovation, Sheffield Institute for International Development, University of Sheffield

The lecture will be followed by a drinks reception and a launch of the book:

Global Youth in Digital Trajectories (Routledge, 2017) edited by Michalis Kontopodis, Christos Varvantakis and Christoph Wulf.

Dr Shakuntala Banaji is Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Studies in the Department of Media and Communications at LSE. She is Programme Director for the Master’s in Media, Communication & Development and teaches about world cinema, audiences, international media and the global south. Her publications include Reading Bollywood: Young Viewers and Hindi Films (Palgrave 2006), South Asian Media Cultures (Anthem Press, 2010), The Civic Web: Young People, the Internet and Civic Participation (MIT Press, 2013) and Children and Media in India: Narratives of Class, Agency and Social Change (Routledge, 2016).

In a previous blog post, we published a review of her recent work:

This event is organised by the Digital Society Network in association with Sheffield Institute for International Development’s Digital Technologies, Data and Innovation  research theme.

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Research with Transformative Agendas: ISCAR Pre-Conference Workshop in Quebec

How can theory and research push the boundaries to integrate transformative agendas premised on ideals of equality and social justice? The next ISCAR conference takes place from the 28th of August to the 1st of September 2017 in Québec, Canada beginning with our pre-conference workshop on “Research with Transformative Agendas: Increasing Equality in Education and Beyond”. Taking on and expanding upon Vygotsky’s passionate commitment to equality, the directions to be examined are focused on inserting activism into the key considerations about human development and education at the intersection of theory, methodology, research, and practice. This opens up the space for dialogue and collaboration among cultural-historical, sociocultural, and activity scholarship on the one hand, and critical approaches in ethnography, pedagogy, work studies, and Critical Race Theory, on the other. The notions of objectivity, validity, warrants for knowledge, and researchers’ standpoints, as these can be premised on non-neutral ideals of equality and justice, will be explored. The overarching goal is to discuss how to move forward in conducting research that takes on an active role in the world in turmoil and crisis where neutrality is not an option. My presentation in this frame will explore childhood and pedagogy in the context of the Brazilian Landless Movement – one of the most important radical social movements of Latin America, with an estimated 1.5 million landless members of all possible ages and ethnic-racial groups organized all over Brazil.

Landless Children – Sem Terrinha, Landless Workers’ Movement – MST, Espirito Santo, Brazil 2010 15.14 min

For further details visit:

See also: Kontopodis, M., Maria Cecília Magalhães and Maria José Coracini (2016). Facing Poverty and Marginalisation: Fifty Years of Critical Research in Brazil. Peter Lang.

Great thanks to Anna Stetsenko and Eduardo Vianna for their kind invitation!

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Exploring Makerspaces, Mediation & Transformative Literacies in Berlin & Quebec

Communication is nowadays taking place through interactive, mobile and online platforms that enable the speedy distributed production and circulation of multimedia designs across different institutional, geographical and community spaces. In this frame, as elucidated in the collective volume “Global Youth in Digital Trajectories“, the boundaries between life online and life offline are increasingly blurred while the children’s bodies cannot be perceived independently of its connections to multiple devices, interfaces and networks.

Departing from the position that:
• knowledge, cognition as well as affects are distributed, situated and embodied
• certain interfaces and web-designs privilege particular forms of communication and knowledge while they constrain others

I have been involved in a variety of activities at FabLab Berlin as part of a broader project involving seven EU countries and the US (cf. and explored the development of activist and transformative literacies within the rising ‘maker’ culture. A conceptual framework for understanding and supporting children’s engagement in co-constructing and transforming the socio-technical worlds, which they inhabit, was developed bringing together (and in certain cases apart):
• Vygotsky’s cultural-historical approach to human development emphasising his passionate commitment to transformation and equality
• Post-human scholarship exploring the messy and dispersed interrelations between humans and technologies.

At the same time of conceiving of child development as a cultural-historical phenomenon, Vygotsky also posed the question as to how human history can lead to a new type of society and a new type of human being. Concepts such as mediation, appropriation, and active subjectivity, have been central in this undertaking. The notion of active subjectivity implies that children as well as scientists or teachers act according to their own intentions and motivations, actively participating in defining how signs and tools are used and meanings are appropriated. Active subjectivity can thus transform a given social situation so that new meanings and new practices emerge. Children can on the longer run create new meanings and new ways of VR design, making or hacking in this frame or participate in such creative processes in collaboration with others, which also explains how civilisations develop. In Russian the term “mediating activity” emphasises exactly the generation of novelty in every developmental process (as opposed to the term “mediated activity”).

The notion mediation offers a fairly fertile ground to begin analysing children’s activities in FabLabs. Yet, in its Vygotskian version, it somehow discloses exactly what it is supposed to reveal: the involvement of mediating tools and devices in on-going action, which is not only “human” but distributed in time and space and embodied in networks of technical and material artefacts (e.g. 3D printers, VR headsets, software, cables, fabrics, sensors).

This is the most crucial aspect: an actor-network e.g. of a child + software + keyboard/ mouse pad + laptop + 3D printer (as in the picture above) does not just do more or better of what this child would anyway do, it does different things and transforms the activity at stake in ways that neither the children (or the teachers/ facilitators) nor the software programme (and its developers) would have necessarily envisaged in advance. In a post-humanist perspective, the contingency and unpredictability of this dynamic ordering of humans and Other-than-humans cannot be reduced to any single part – let alone to the agency or intentions of a single human agent. A “program of action” emerges symmetrically in this context: it refers as much to the intentions of human beings as to the functions of artefacts, without invoking a distinction between humans and non-humans on the level at which the terms are applied. The original program of action is thus “translated” or “transformed” in the technical mediation into a new one. Both the machines and the person change in the course of mediated action: neither has an “essence”; they have existence, they exist, and they are transformed in their relation to one another.

If this sounds interesting to you, a few readings for further reference in this context are suggested below – I can also send you a yet unpublished chapter if you would contact me per email:

I am soon giving a presentation on this topic in the Congress of the International Society for Culturalhistorical Activity Research in Quebec: which you may further follow through my twitter: @m_kontopodis

More information on FabLab Berlin: 

Suggested readings:

Kontopodis, M., Wulf, C., & Fichtner, B. (Eds.). (2011). Children, development and education: Cultural, historical, anthropological perspectives. Dordrecht, London, New Delhi and New York: Springer.

Kontopodis, Michalis (2012). How Things Matter in Everyday Lives of Preschool Age Children: Material-Semiotic Investigations in Psychology and EducationJournal für Psychologie, 20(2), 1-14. Open access also here:

Kontopodis, M.; Varvantakis, C. & Wulf, C. (Eds) (2017). Global Youth in Digital Trajectories. London: Routledge.

Latour, B. (1994). On technical mediation: Philosophy, sociology, genealogy. Common Knowledge, 3(2), 29–64.

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

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Book Launch: Facing Poverty and Marginalisation: Fifty Years of Critical Research in Brazil

Facing Poverty and Marginalisation: Fifty Years of Critical Research in Brazil (co-ed Kontopodis, Magalhaes & Coracini) will be launched next Tuesday 23 May 2017, 4.15-5.00, at the Centre for Critical Psychology and Education, 388 Glossop Road Room, Room 3.02, University of Sheffield.

This book launch is organised as part of the School of Education Research Day
– there will be a reception with drinks and there is no need to reserve a place.

A 30% discount flyer is attached
HERE (which you may use even if you don’t manage to attend the event).

Detailed information on the book is provided here:

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New Issue: Outlines: Critical Practice Studies

We are happy to announce that Outlines Vol. 18, No. 1 is now online

Outlines is an e-journal publication providing a forum for theoretically and empirically informed debates about the relationships between individual subjects, social structures, and historically developed cultural forms of practice.

This issue features the following articles:

Jeppe Oute & Lotte Huniche: Who gets involved with what? A discourse analysis of gender and caregiving in everyday family life with depression

Sverre Raffnsøe: What is Critique? Critical Turns in the Age of Criticism

Kari Bergset: School Involvement: Refugee Parents’ Narrated Contribution to their Children’s Education while Resettled in Norway

Anne Line Wittek, Tone Dyrdal Solbrekke, Kristin Helstad: “You Learn How to Write from Doing the Writing, But You Also Learn the Subject and the Ways of Reasoning”


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