Henri Wallon

Henri Wallon (1879-1962) was a Marxist psychologist well known in Europe, but unlike Piaget, was never widely translated and read in the United States. Like his contemporaries, Vygotsky and Piaget, Wallon was interested in Genetic Psychology.

Piaget and Wallon often debated the merits of their ideas with Piaget wanting to find areas of agreement, while Wallon felt it was more important to emphasize their differences. While Piaget attempted to trace the development of the child through logical structures, which emphasized continuity from one stage to the next ( later stages can be understood in a similar fashion as earlier ones with biological concepts such as assimilation, adaptation, and equilibrium.),  Wallon emphasized the importance of human relations or practice and discontinuity in the development of the child. Wallon argued that there is a unity not only between stages but also within each stage itself. Wallon did not believe development could be compartmentalized as Piaget attempted to do as in cognitive, social, and emotional development. Wallon saw Piaget, while offering some interesting insights, being characteristic of Rousseauian vulgar individualism where social practice is understood only negatively as in denying the (biological) essence of the individual to develop.

Wallon’s Genetic Psychology has much more in common with Lev Vygotsky. They both were influenced by Marxism and utilized dialectical materialism throughout their work. Wallon, like Vygotsky, put a strong emphasis to the role of language and the social milieu in understanding the genesis of the child. After the WW2, Wallon formed a psychology clinic that could be compared to what today we would call a community health center. Like Vygotsky’s emphasis on concept development, Wallon attempted to understand and trace the genesis of the child within his or her social milieu.

Henri Wallon while rarely heard of in the United States offers the reader an important glimpse of what a Marxist Psychology might look like. A psychology where we cannot attempt to understand the genesis of the individual without placing a strong emphasis on the social and cultural forms that makes it possible.