Skip to main content
Log in

Dialectics of Influence: How Agency Works

  • Arena of Becoming
  • Published:
Human Arenas Aims and scope Submit manuscript


Dialectical perspectives have had an ambiguous history in European thought in the past two centuries. Having become established in the late eighteenth century by J. G. Fichte and G. W. Hegel as a philosophical system, the dialectical perspective episodically entered into other sciences (psychology, sociology) while being “politically kidnapped” in the Soviet Union in the 1920s–1980s. The result has been uneven development of basic ideas of change and development in the conceptual repertoires of the biological, social, and human sciences. It is time to bring back this venerable tradition of thought to the center of the construction efforts of new perspectives in the social sciences of the twenty-first century. In this article, we outline the core of the dialectical ideas as these are centrally relevant for a new synthesis of developmental psychology and traditionally systemic but non-developmental theoretical domains such as psychoanalysis. We use one of the concepts from psychoanalysis that has proven to be productive in all of human psychology—the notion of ego-defense mechanisms—and re-conceptualize them as self-construction mechanisms. We thus make a basic psychoanalytic concept developmental—self-construction is a process where the Ego uses its agentive power in different dynamic and dialectical transformation of the various societal influences. It creates a synthetic set of personal-cultural tools for anticipatory actions towards future challenges when these occur. The human agency functions in pre-defending the Ego in relation to undesired influences and dialectical self-construction mechanism occupy a central place in this eternal fight for feeling oneself as a meaningfully whole person in the middle of constantly new life-course experiences.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this article

Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.

Instant access to the full article PDF.

Fig. 1

Similar content being viewed by others


  1. Note that contradiction between parts of the system can take forms other than that of dialectical: neutral, mutually feeding-in (Valsiner 2002a), conflict maintaining, etc. It is through use of signs that the stable inclusive relations become transformed (Valsiner 2002b, 2002c).

  2. In the original:

    Wenn ich sage: Ich bin für mich, so liegt darin, ich bin nicht abhänging von [einem] Anderen, ich negierte diesen negative Dasein, das Endliche ist Sein für ein Anderes. Das Unendliche is Fürsichselbstsein. Das ist [die] Sphäre der Qualität” (Hegel 2001, pp. 95–96)

  3. It is precisely here where psychology—reversing this relation (into quantity dominating over quality)—went wrong in its construction of empirical research methods. Any quantity is of some quality, while quality stands on its own (does not need quantity to specify itself).

  4. It is important to note that the intricate link with the dialectical dynamics of the units—which is present in the Russian original—is lost in the English translation, which briefly stated the main point: “Psychology, which aims at a study of complex holistic systems, must replace the method of analysis into elements with the method of analysis into units” (Vygotsky 1986, p. 5). The notion of tension as the most important feature of these units has not survived in the English translation—with the subsequent misunderstanding of Vygotsky’s originally fully dialectical starting point. A technical translation flaw has for decades eliminated the possibility of further advancement of a central theoretical ideas.

  5. “Der neue Zustand hat alle Charaktere der Krankheit übernommen, aber er stellt eine artefizielle Krankheit dar, die überall unseren Eingriffen zugänglich ist.” G.W.X. p. 135 (S.E. XII, 154 e.ed.)


  • Adorno, T. W. (1961). “Static” and “dynamic” as sociological categories. Diogenes, 9, 28–49.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ameln, F., Gerstmann, R., & Kramer, J. (2009). Psychodrama (2., ed.). Berlin: Springer.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Cairns, R. B., Elder, G., & Costello, E. (Eds.). (1996). Developmental science. New York: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Chaudhary, N., Hviid, P., Marsico, G., & Villadsen, J. (Eds.). (2017). Resistance in everyday life: constructing cultural experiences. Singapore: Springer Nature.

    Google Scholar 

  • Cunha, C. A., Gonçalves, M., & Valsiner, J. (2011). Transforming self-narratives in psychotherapy: looking at different forms of ambivalence in the change process. In R. A. Jones & M. Morioka (Eds.), Jungian and dialogical self perspectives (pp. 43–66). Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  • Diriwächter, R., & Valsiner, J. (Eds.). (2008). Striving for the whole: creating theoretical syntheses. New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers.

    Google Scholar 

  • Fichte, J. G. (1794). Grundlage der gesammten Wissenschaftslehre. Leipzig: Christian Ernst Gabler.

    Google Scholar 

  • Gigerenzer, G., Swijtink, Z., Porter, T., Daston, L., Beatty, J., & Krüger, L. (1989). The empire of chance. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Greenberg, L. and Pascual-Leone, J. (1995). A dialectical constructivist approach to experimental change l In R. A, Neimeyer and M. J. Mahoney (Eds), Constructivism in psychotherapy (pp. 169–189). Washington, DC: APA Press.

  • Greenberg, L., & Pascual-Leone, J. (2001). A dialectical constructivist view of the creation of personal meaning. Journal of Constructivist Psychology, 14, 165–186.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hegel, G. W. (1998). Dissertationi philosophicae de orbits planetarum. In G. W. Hegel (Ed.), Gesammelte Werke. Vol. 5. Schriften und Entwürfe (1799-1808). Hamburg: Felix Meiner Verlag [original 1801].

    Google Scholar 

  • Hegel, G. W. (2001). Vorlesungen über die Logik. Hamburg: Felix Meiner Verlag.

    Google Scholar 

  • Hegel, G. W. (2008). Lectures on logic. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Hermans, H. J. M. (1996). Voicing the self: from information processing to dialogical interchange. Psychological Bulletin, 119(1), 31–50.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Holmes, P., Farrall, M., & Kirk, K. (2014). Empowering therapeutic practice: integrating psychodrama into other therapies. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

    Google Scholar 

  • Infante, J. (1995). Some reflections on phantasy and creativity. In E. Person, P. Fonagy, & S. Figueira (Eds.), On Freud’s “Creative Writers and Day-dreaming” (pp. 53–64). New Haven: Yale University Press.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  • Karp, M., Holmes, P., & Brandhaw Tauvon, K. (1998). The handbook of psychodrama. London: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Lehmann, O. V. (2016). Silence and sense-making: The musicality of affect restored to Wissenschaft of everyday life. In S. H. Klempe (Ed.), Cultural psychology of musical experience (pp. 281–298). Charlotte: Information Age Publishers.

    Google Scholar 

  • Lehmann, O. V. (2019). The poetic resonance of an instant. In G. Marsico & L. Tateo (Eds.), Ordinary things and their extraordinary meanings (pp. 55–75). Charlotte: Information Age Publishers.

    Google Scholar 

  • Maimon, S. (2010). Essay on transcendental philosophy. London: Continuum books.

    Google Scholar 

  • Mascolo, M. (2017). The transformation of a White Supremacist: a dialectical-developmental analysis. Qualitative Psychology, 4(3), 223–242.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Rado, S. (1925). The economic principle in psychoanlaytic technique. The International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 6, 35.

    Google Scholar 

  • Rosenbaum, P. J. (2015). Self as sign: locating Peirce’s semiotics in Sullivan’s self-system. In P. J. Rosenbaum (Ed.), Making our ideas clear: pragmatism in psychoanalysis (pp. 43–71). Charlotte: Information Age Publishers.

    Google Scholar 

  • Rosenkranz, K. (1872). The science of logic. Journal of Speculative Philosophy, 6, 97–120.

    Google Scholar 

  • Salvatore, S. (2016). Psychology in black and white. Charlotte: Information Age Publishers.

    Google Scholar 

  • Salvatore, S., & Valsiner, J. (2014). Outlines of a general psychological theory psychological intervention. Theory & Psychology, 24(2), 217–232.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Salvatore, S., & Zittoun, T. (Eds.). (2011). Cultural psychology and psychoanalysis: pathways to synthesis. Charlotte: Information Age Publishers.

    Google Scholar 

  • Strachey, J. (1958). The standard edition of the complete psychological works of Sigmund Freud. Volume XII (1911-1913): The case of Schreber, Papers on Technique and Other Works. (1958).

  • Toomela, A., & Valsiner, J. (Eds.). (2010). Methodological thinking in psychology: 60 years gone astray? Charlotte: Information Age Publishers.

    Google Scholar 

  • Valsiner, J. (1988). Developmental psychology in the Soviet Union. Brighton: Harvester Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Valsiner, J. (2002a). Forms of dialogical relations and semiotic autoregulation within the self. Theory & Psychology, 12(2), 251–265.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Valsiner, J. (2002b). Mutualities under scrutiny: dissecting the complex whole of development. Social Development, 11(2), 296–301.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Valsiner, J. (2002c). Irreversibility of time and ontopotentiality of signs. Estudios de Psicología, 23(1), 49–59.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Valsiner, J. (2015). The place for synthesis: Vygotsky’s analysis of affective generalization. History of the Human Sciences, 28(2), 93–102.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • van der Veer, R. (Ed.). (2020). Lev Vygotsky Pedology of the school child. Charlotte: Information Age Publishers.

    Google Scholar 

  • Verhofstadt-Denève, L. (2007). Existential-dialectical psychodrama: the theory behind practice. In C. Baim, J. Burmeister, & M. Maciel (Eds.), Psychodrama. Advances in theory and practice (pp. 111–126). New York: Brunner/Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Vygotsky, L. S. (1982). Istoricheskii smysl psikhologicheskogo krizisa. In L. S. Vygotsky (Ed.), Sobranie sochinenii. Vol. 1. Moscow: Pedagogika.

    Google Scholar 

  • Vygotsky, L. S. (1986). Thought and language. 2nd ed. Cambridge: MIT Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Zittoun, T. (2015). Compatibility of early psychoanalysis and pragmatism. In P. J. Rosenbaum (Ed.), Making our ideas clear: pragmatism in psychoanalysis (pp. 23–42). Charlotte: Information Age Publishers.

    Google Scholar 

Download references


We want to acknowledge the first author’s coffee-making machine that made the development of the dialectical ideas in this article very solidly (non-dialectically) possible.


The authors received no financial support for the research and publication of this article. The article stands on its own as a virginal creative act that is so often the case in contemporary academia.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Dominik Stefan Mihalits.

Ethics declarations

Ethical Approval

This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by the authors. Neither of the authors has any pet animals in their homes who could have been traumatized by the authors’ serious demeanor and constant focus on the computer keyboards.

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest with respect to the research and publication of this article.

Additional information

Publisher’s Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Mihalits, D.S., Valsiner, J. Dialectics of Influence: How Agency Works. Hu Arenas 5, 90–104 (2022).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Revised:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: