Sociocultural Theory goes to a party

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So, looks like I can’t just go out in the field, conduct my research and write it up – PhD done. Damn!  There’s just the small issue of the theoretical framework. What’s your view of the world – i.e. what is reality?  The answer to this question defines your ontology. And how can you find things out about this reality? The answer to that question is your epistemology. Both of these should run through your theoretical framework.  And for that you pick key concepts from the literature and show how you plan to operationalise these through your methods. Easy!

Enter Sociocultural Theory as a possible candidate. Why?

1) At a, er, theory party (bear with me!), SCT would happily chat away all night with Discourse Analysis, Postmodernism, Poststructuralism and Social Constructivism. Constructing giggles all night long – they have so much in common!  If I was invited, that’s the group I would join too over nibbles and a glass of wine or five.

2) SCT would be the life and soul of said party – after all, everything starts with the social, and this one is an active producer of her own social and cultural environment, including choosing the music.

3) When Motivation turns up alone, not quite sure of himself and a bit up-and-down mood-wise, it finds SCT very friendly, showing him around and introducing him to her friends . SCT treats motivation kindly because she thinks he’s emerging through the interactions of participants, context and sociocultural activity in a socio-historically situated process.  Aw, bless!

In case you’re wondering why SCT’s female and Motivation’s male, well, gender is a social construction, and  I constructed it that way through my discourse. And why not!

Have you come across SCT before? Yes you have, and if you’re a (language) teacher you DEFINITELY have!  Scaffolding, dynamic assessment, internalisation? These are all concepts derived from SCT. Here’s a few others (for brevity’s sake can’t mention them all!)

Mediation: All human behaviour is organised and controlled by concrete or symbolic artefacts. Mediation is the process which connects the social and the individual. Language is an artefact?! Of course it is, if you think about it!


Zone of Proximal Development. Various definitions are available for this one! Through mediated support (scaffolding!!) a learner achieves more than they would have on their own. Learning leads to development. Here’s hoping!


Yes, really, this is a word. It refers to meaning-making and shaping knowledge and experience through language. Ever talked to yourself? That’s called private speech. Talking with others ideally takes place as collaborative dialogue. Yeah, well, that’s ideally!

Scientific and everyday concepts:

These are symbolic tools used to solve problems. Scientific concepts are conscious, systematic, and generalisable. Everyday concepts are experience-based, partially transferrable, unconscious, and unsystematic. The dialectic between the two creates the ZPD. Neat!


Thinking and feeling are closely connected. A brave person to disagree with this one!

Activity theory:

Complicated-looking diagrams of triangles – developed by Leont’ev based on Vygotsky’s (he dreamed up the whole SCT malarkey in the first place) conceptualisation of the individual and his or her goal-oriented context. Personally, I’m giving this one a miss.

Dynamic Assessment:

Assessment as social and cultural activity. Can be joint construction of performance, not just learner as sole performer. An expert will guide learner to a performance they’ll later be able to carry out on their own, as opposed to measuring past learning. Liking this one a lot!  Complete opposite of psychometric testing.

So, is SCT going to feature in my theoretical framework? Not really, not as much as its friends mentioned above anyway. I might give it a nod, but I just couldn’t really make it fit. I enjoyed reading about it though! My approach turns out altogether differently grounded – but that’s a whole new theory for another day!

What framework are you using in your research?


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