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White historical activity theory: toward a critical understanding of white zones of proximal development

  • Author(s): Leonardo, Z
  • Manning, L
  • et al.

© 2015 Taylor & Francis. Best known for arguing that individual development is part of social and historical development Vygotsky’s entry into education may be captured by his concept of the ‘zone of proximal development’ (ZPD). ZPD has not yet been synthesized with a critical study of whiteness. When ZPD is used to explain racial disparities in the service of inclusion, it is usually connected with the lives of people of color. This leaves out a critical understanding of racially dominant experiences, or whiteness. This article argues that a progressive union between Vygotsky and the field of race studies generally, Whiteness Studies specifically, benefits educators insofar as the concept of ZPD is applied to the particular ideological development of white identity. Likewise, Whiteness Studies gains an explanatory framework to account for the cognitive development of the dominant racial group, in short, a learning theory of whiteness. A Whiteness Studies intervention within Vygotskian theory pushes the limits of developmental theory when it analyzes the contours of a white ZPD. When racialized to consider whiteness, certain terms and concepts, such as Vygotsky’s genotypic and phenotypic analyses, take on a different significance, even different meanings. As a racially sensitive framework, particularly within a US-based understanding, Vygotskian theory is limited without critical attention to the development of white identity and whiteness as an ideology. By focusing on this nexus, Vygotskian theory fulfills part of its historical mission as a concrete study of cultural relations.

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