Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Reading :: Apprenticeship in Thinking

Apprenticeship in Thinking: Cognitive Development in Social Context
By Barbara Rogoff

If you read my review of Rogoff's The Cultural Nature of Human Development, you have the gist of this earlier one. The Cultural Nature of Human Development summarized Apprenticeship in Thinking and related research in a popular version. This book is the original, which means that it's less polished but more obviously an academic argument, with appropriate cites and a bit more involved with debates on cognitive development.

Here, Rogoff defines her subject matter:
For the purposes of this book, cognition and thinking are defined broadly as problem solving. I assume that thinking is functional, active, and grounded in goal-directed action. Problem solving involves interpersonal and practical goals, addressed deliberately (not necessarily consciously or rationally). It is purposeful, involving flexible improvisation toward goals as diverse as planning a meal, writing an essay, convincing or entertaining others, exploring the properties of an idea or unfamiliar terrain of objects, or remembering or inferring the location of one's keys. (pp.8-9)
But, Rogoff adds, "Problem solving is not 'cold' cognition, but inherently involves emotion, social relations, and social structure" (p.10). Indeed, as in The Cultural Nature of Human Development, Rogoff emphasizes problem solving within the sociohistorical milieu in which people develop and participate. To get there, she relies on work grounded in Vygotsky and Piaget. Reasonably, she reminds us that
my work, like that of anyone else, involves the appropriation of concepts that I have found useful in the works of others. The use that I make of their ideas undoubtedly involves some transformation from the ideas they offered. This is in the nature of dialogue. The transformation is liable to be greater the more distinct the backgrounds of the speaker and listener, or the author and the reader. The refraction of Vygotsky's ideas, like those of Piaget, through a foreign lens - through differences in time and place, language and intellectual climate - contributes to the listener's making something new of the speaker's words, for better or worse. My purpose in this book is not to explain Vygotsky or Piaget or others, but to build from what I make of them. (p.14)
This is a nice move, since it lets us get past the issue of fidelity to a theory and pushes us toward Rogoff's observations and inferences. Again, you get the gist of these from my review of The Cultural Nature of Human Development, so I won't repeat them here except to say that you'll quickly see why this book is a classic. If you're a casual reader, I'd read The Cultural Nature of Human Development first; if you're publishing in this area, read Apprenticeship in Thinking.

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