In his short life of 37 years, Lev Vygotsky formulated such influential ideas that those who study his work inevitably wonder what contributions he would have made had he lived longer. Born in Gomel, Belarus, in 1896, Vygotsky began his research in the late 1920s by focusing on the social nature of human thought.
In the 1930s, he worked with A. R. Luria on a study of Uzbekistan peasants, testing the hypothesis that people of different cultures display different forms of higher mental processes. Through this work, a central principle emerged that Vygotsky continued to refine: that learning and development are social, rather than individual, issues.
During the last three years of his life, Vygotsky began the work that would be his legacy. In considering cognitive development, he turned his attention to the social and cultural world of the child, insisting that children develop cognitively when they engage in challenging problem solving in concert with others. It was this notion-the social nature of cognitive development-that was Vygotsky's essential insight and lasting contribution.
But not immediately. In fact, it wasn't until the 1960s, 30 years after his death in 1934, that Vygotsky's views of the social and cultural aspects of cognitive development saw light and began to generate interest. Before that, his writings were little known in the Soviet Union and unknown outside.