Unity/Identity of Individual and Environment

  • Wolff-Michael Roth
Part of the Cultural Psychology of Education book series (CPED, volume 9)


In standard approaches to psychology – whether researchers adhere to the biological model generally associated with the experimental research method or the interpretive model generally taken up in many of the fields concerned with learning, development, and teaching – the individual is the unit of analysis. Near the end of his life, Vygotsky began to challenge the idea that the individual could be understood independently from its relation to the environment. In a lecture about one month prior to entering the hospital where he died, he proposed a new category, perezhivanie [(emotional) experience]. The Russian term he used is equivalent to the German Erleben and Erlebnis, which is the noun form of a verb that translates “to go through and experiencing something” while being (absorbed) in an event. The Russian category was proposed to stand for “the unity/identity [edinstvo] of personal and environmental moments” (Vygotskij 2001, 77). The term “moment” designates parts of a whole, which means that perezhivanie refers to an irreducible unit that has person and environment as its parts. In a part-whole relation, the relation always is more than the collection of elements arising from disjunctive abstractions (Whitehead 1929/1978). Identity then is not ascribed to the person but to the unit that forms the unity, which means that any characteristic also is that of the person–environment relation, which itself has (temporal, spatial) extension rather than thing-like character. Much later, the anthropologist and philosopher Gregory Bateson would emphasize precisely this latter aspect. Thus, for example, he noted that dependency, aggressiveness, and pride are not characteristics of individual persons but that “all such words have their roots in what happens between persons, not in some something-or-other inside a person” (Bateson 1979, 133, emphasis added). A similar move leads to the ascription of feelings to occasions, and an angry person would then be described as a continuity of feeling of the same subjective form (experience) across successive occasions (Whitehead 1933).


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Wolff-Michael Roth
    • 1
  1. 1.University of VictoriaVictoriaCanada

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