Social situation of development

The social situation of development is the unique set of relationships which meets a child’s needs while limiting its freedom thereby creating the ‘predicament’ which can only be overcome by the child (and its carers) making a development.


This is a concept first elaborated by Vygotsky in The problem of age, which forms the basis for his theory of child development.

Vygotsky proposed this concept in direct opposition to the dominant theory which specified the child’s social position in terms of the various factors: parents’ education, income and social status, number of siblings, sibling position, etc. Instead Vygotsky captured the child’s social situation as a concept, - a unique predicament in which the child’s needs are met according to socially determined concepts such ‘infant’, ‘child’, ‘pre-schooler’ and so on, which determine the expectations which are placed on the child and limit what they are permitted to do. So in order to develop, the child must somehow break out of this trap and define a new role for themselves (generally the socially determined successor role), step into that role and demand that the family treat them in a new way, according to this new role.

This process divides the child’s development into a series of stages in which the child occupied a series of social roles, and each step requires a kind of ‘leap’ in development, with one psychological function taking the leading role in each stage. Each ‘leap’ to the next available stage requires a specific development of the will, culminating in the child achieving physical, biological, psychological, interpersonal and social independence. Accordingly, each stage is divided into three phases of development. The main part of the period is marked by the gradual development of one central psychological function – the leading ‘neoformation’; as this has reached the limits of its development within the social situation, the child becomes aware of its limitation and a critical phase of development takes over, characterised by a further development of the will and often marked by negativity, by means of which the child makes a passage into a new social situation; this is then followed by a further critical phase of development in which the child ‘finds their feet’ in the new role and embarks on a new phase of gradual development.

Collaboration with adult carers is essential for the child to achieve this development, particularly the passage through the critical phases of development which entail adult carers accepting the child in a new role. The roles the child is to fulfill are constituted by the adults, and cannot be achieved without adult recognition.


Vygotsky, L. S. (1934). The Problem of Age.

Blunden, A. (2011). Vygotsky’s theory of child development.

-- AndyBlunden - 07 Oct 2014


Topic revision: r1 - 07 Oct 2014, AndyBlunden

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