Educational Studies in Mathematics

, Volume 96, Issue 3, pp 367–380 | Cite as

Alienation in mathematics education: a problem considered from neo-Vygotskian approaches



In a recent article published in this journal, Williams (Educational Studies in Mathematics, 92, 59–72, 2016) offers a critique of neo-Vygotskian perspectives exemplified in recent work on the funds of knowledge and on cultural-historical activity theoretic perspectives. The critique has great value in that it asks interesting questions that often go unnoticed and fail to be discussed in mathematics education research—e.g., the question of alienation or the role of agency in Vygotsky’s notion of the zone of proximal development. Despite the great value of the questions raised, the critique fails because its idealist theoretical epistemological underpinning is at odds with Vygotsky’s thought and cultural-historical activity research in general. The critique falls short especially on the point of realizing the materialist dialectical method Vygotsky employed. The goal of this article is to address Williams’ critique by (a) revisiting the main argument of the critique, (b) articulating the departures of the critique from the materialist dialectical method, (c) conceptualizing development along the theoretical lines of the late (Spinozist-Marxian) Vygotsky, and (d) formulating a materialist dialectical approach to alienation. We conclude by summarizing three main problems of the critique.


Cultural-historical theory Alienation Development Activity Materialist dialectical method Vygotsky 


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.École des sciences de I’éducationUniversité LaurentienneSudburyCanada
  2. 2.University of VictoriaVictoriaCanada

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