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Alexei Nikolaevich Leont'ev

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Title: Alexei Nikolaevich Leont'ev  
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Subject: Lev Vygotsky, Bonnie Nardi, Philosophy in the Soviet Union, Pyotr Zinchenko, Kharkov School of Psychology, Vladimir Asnin, Alexander Zaporozhets
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Alexei Nikolaevich Leont'ev

Alexei Nikolaevich Leont'ev (Russian: Алексе́й Никола́евич Лео́нтьев) (February 18, 1903, Moscow–January 21, 1979, Moscow), was a Soviet developmental psychologist, and the founder of activity theory.


A.N. Leont'ev worked with Lev Vygotsky (1896–1934) and Alexander Luria (1902–1977) from 1924 to 1930, collaborating on the development of a Marxist psychology as a response to behaviourism and the focus on the stimulus-response mechanism as explanation for human behaviour. Leont'ev left Vygotsky's group in Moscow in 1931, to take up a position in Kharkov. He continued to work with Vygotsky for some time but, eventually, there was a split, although they continued to communicate with one another on scientific matters (Veer and Valsiner, 1991). Leont'ev returned to Moscow in 1934. Later, he became the Head of the Psychology Department at the Faculty of Philosophy of Moscow State University. In 1966, Leont'ev became the first ever Dean of the newly established Faculty of Psychology at the Moscow State University, where he worked until his death in 1979. He died of a heart attack.

Scientific work

Leont'ev's early scientific work was done in the framework of Vygotsky's cultural-historical research program and focused on the exploration of the phenomenon of cultural mediation. Representative of this period is Leontiev's study on mediated memory in children and adults The development of higher forms of memory, 1931.

Leont'ev's own research school is based on the thorough psychological analysis of the phenomenon of activity. Systematic development of the psychological foundations of activity theory was started in the 1930-s by Kharkov group of psychologists headed by Leont'ev and included such researchers as Zaporozhets, Gal'perin, Zinchenko, Bozhovich, Asnin, Lukov, etc. In its fullest form, activity theory was subsequently developed and institutionalized as the leading psychological doctrine in the Soviet Union in the post-war period after Leont'ev had moved to Moscow and took a position at the Moscow State University.

For Leont'ev, ‘activity’ consisted of those processes "that realise a person’s actual life in the objective world by which he is surrounded, his social being in all the richness and variety of its forms" (Leont’ev 1977). The core of the Leont'ev's work is the proposal that we can examine human processes from the perspective of three different levels of analysis. The highest, most general level is that of activity and motives that drive it. At the intermediate level are actions and their associated goals, and the lowest level is the analysis of operations that serve as means for the achievement of the higher-order goals.

Leontiev's texts online

In English

  • Problems of the Development of the Mind, 1959 (1st ed.), 1965 (2nd ed.), 1972 (3rd ed.), 1981 (4th ed.); translated in English in 1981:
    • (pp. 7–53). In Problems of the Development of the Mind. (Trans. M. Kopylova) Moscow: Progress Publishers
    • (pp. 156–326). Problems of the Development of the Mind. (Trans. M. Kopylova) Moscow: Progress Publishers.
  • Alexei Leont'ev archive @
    • Activity and Consciousness, 1977
    • Activity, Consciousness, and Personality, 1978
    • The Development of Mind, 1981

In Russian

  • Леонтьев А.Н. (1947). Психологические вопросы сознательности учения
  • Леонтьев А.Н. (1977). )
  • Леонтьев А.Н. (2000). Лекции по общей психологии
  • Леонтьев А. Н. (1978). Воля
  • Леонтьев А. Н. (1986). Проблема деятельности в истории советской психологии

External links

In English

  • Wertsch, J. V. The Concept of Activity in Soviet Psychology. Sharpe, 1981.
  • Veer, R.v.D. and Valsiner, J. Understanding Vygotsky: a quest for synthesis. Oxford: Blackwell, 1991.
  • Leontiev, A. A. The Life and Creative Path of A.N. Leontiev. Journal of Russian & East European Psychology, May/Jun2005, Vol. 43 Issue 3, p8-69,
  • Leontiev, A.N., The Development of Mind, a reproduction of the Progress Publishers 1981 edition, plus "Activity and Consciousness," originally published by Progress Publishers, 1977, published by Erythrospress, see
  • Yasnitsky, A. (2011). pdf

In Russian

  • Short bio @ the Department of Psychology, Moscow State University
  • Bio @
  • Леонтьев А.А. Жизненный и творческий путь А.Н.Леонтьева

See also

  • Leading Activity

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