Meaning of Sociocultural Theory (What is it, Concept and Definition)

What is Sociocultural Theory

Sociocultural theory is a stream of psychology developed by Lev Vygotsky (Russia, 1896-1934), according to which learning and knowledge acquisition results from social interaction. In this sense, it can be said that sociocultural theory is a learning theory.

According to Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory, the cognitive development of individuals is directly related to social interaction within the framework of the dominant culture, that is, it responds to the socialization process. It is understood, then, that the development of the person is a consequence of socialization.

Sociocultural theory is one of the most influential in the field of evolutionary psychology and in the field of education, along with Piaget’s theory of cognitive development (1896-1980). Both theoretical models try to explain the process by which individuals acquire skills and knowledge to interpret reality and solve specific problems. However, while Piaget focuses on the child as an active agent of knowledge, Vygotsky understands that learning and knowledge of it are the result of social interaction and, therefore, of culture.

Characteristics of Sociocultural theory

  • Part of the genetic-comparative method and the experimental-evolutionary method, and distinguishes four areas of analysis:
    • Phylogenetic, relative to the origin of human psychological functions as a species;
    • Sociocultural historical, relative to the context of insertion of the subject;
    • Ontogenetic, related to biological and sociocultural evolution and, finally,
    • Microgenetic, relative to the particular psychological characteristics of the individual.
  • It includes the individual and the learning process from an evolutionary perspective.
  • It takes into account the instruments and signs that mediate between the process of social interaction and the development of the individual, especially when language.
  • It highlights the importance of the subject’s relationships with society.
  • Believes that the understanding of children’s cognitive development is only possible if one cares for the culture in which the child develops.
  • Understand that thought patterns respond to a social construction and not to an innate condition of the subject.
  • In that sense, knowledge is the result of co-construction where both the individual and the social group participate.
  • It recognizes that there are innate mental abilities (such as perception, attention and memory), but their development is possible in social interaction.

Basic concepts of sociocultural theory

Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory is based on the following fundamental concepts:

  • Mental functions:
    • Lower mental functions: refers to those functions with which each individual is born;
    • Higher mental functions: those that are acquired or developed through social interaction.
  • Psychological skills: refers to those that appear in the individual’s individual scope once he has acquired superior mental functions, that is, those skills that, after first appearing at the social (interpsychological) level, end up being apprehended or internalized at the personal (intrapsychological) level ).
  • Near Development Zone (ZDP): refers to those functions that have not yet been developed or are in the process of maturation. In other words, it refers to the distance between the current level of development of an individual and their level of potential development. It is reflected, for example, in what children fail to do something for themselves until they gain independence.
  • Thinking tools: refers to all those socially constructed tools that stimulate or optimize thinking. There are two essential types:
    • Psychological tools: language, numbers and symbol systems in general. Others also apply, such as social conventions, norms, maps, works of art, schemes, etc.
    • Technical tools: all kinds of material tools such as pencils, papers, machines, instruments, etc.
  • Mediation: refers to the interaction processes developed by the subject through:
    • Instrumental mediations, that is, the tools of thought, whether technical or psychological;
    • Social mediations, that is, human relationships (father, mother, teachers, etc.).

Contributions of sociocultural theory to psychology

According to Beatriz Carrera and Clemen Mazzarella in an article called Vygotsky: sociocultural approach, the contributions From sociocultural theory to the field of evolutionary psychology they are mainly:

  • the understanding of sociocognitive development occurred in early childhood;
  • language development and communication;
  • the study of the construction of written language.