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Reading :: Luria’s Legacy in the 21st Century

Posted by: on May 31, 2016 | No Comments
Luria's Legacy in the 21st Century
Edited by Anne-Lise Christensen, Elkhonon Goldberg, and Dmitri Bougakov

A.R. Luria, one of Lev Vygotsky's closest collaborators, went on to have an illustrious career in neuropsychology (among other specializations he pursued). In this edited collection, neuropsychologists discuss his continuing impact on their work. I'm certainly no neuropsychologist, but this collection helped me to contextualize Luria's contributions. Below, I'll hit some of the highlights.

In Goldberg and Bougakov's chapter, they note that Luria's neuropsychology was an accident of ideology:
It is not widely known that Luria's becoming a neuropsychologist is more bittersweet serendipity than early career planning. Had Luria lived in a country where career choices were less dictated by the ruling party line and more open to personal preference, he would have probably continued pursuing his earlier interests in cultural psychology. ... However, cultural psychology fell out of favor with the Soviet state and, in order to pursue a viable scientific career, Luria was forced to adapt to the increasingly oppressive circumstances. (p.21)
(This is an abbreviated version of the story Cole tells in his afterword to Luria's biography.)

Luria, however, was still influenced by cultural psychology, as Cagigas and Bilder explain in their chapter:
Leontiev, Luria's contemporary and a member of the original "troika," together with Vygotsky and Luria, also developed a theoretical framework that he christened activity theory, which was inclusive of the many layers that influence human activities (Cole and Engestrom 1993; Engestrom 1996). To date, however, this branch of thought has enjoyed little dialogue with the neurosciences but almost certainly influenced Luria's pioneering ideas. In short, Luria and the other two founding members of the cultural-historical school of thought attempted to create a metatheory that could guide research and help resolve what they called the "crisis in psychology" (Leontiev and Luria, 2005) namely the integration of the two psychologies originally proposed by Wundt: experimental psychology and Volkerpsychologie (Cole 1996; Cole, Levitin, and Luria 2006). (pp.26-27)
It's useful to see this side of the story—and, after reading so many books focused on the story of activity theory, to see Vygotsky demoted as just another member of the "troika" rather than described as its leader. AT is here described (of course) as a metatheory, and the crisis in psychology is sourced by a Leontiev and Luria publication rather than Vygotsky's unpublished manuscript by this name.

Luria's work in neuropsychology went on to examine the different subsystems of the brain. This question is endlessly fascinating, but it's not directly applicable to my work, so I won't go into it here. Instead, I'll plan to hunt down some of the citations to Luria and Leontiev that are offered in these two chapters.

Should you read this book? If you have an interest in Luria's legacy, and in neuropsychology in particular, sure. If your interest is more generally in activity theory, you can safely skip it.