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Vinh Bang (1922– 2008)

Vinh-Bang Huê (Viet-Nam), 15 Nov 1922 - Genève (Suisse), 7 Nov 2008

Professor Vinh Bang has left us; he passed away towards the end of 2008, in his 86th year. He was called “Bang” by both Piaget and Inhelder, as well by most of his own colleagues; a familiarity that was a natural consequence of his openness. He was always open to discussion, and loved placing theoretical issues in the context of practical, everyday reality. Those close to him were struck by the unique blend of subtlety, ingenuity and pragmatism that characterized Bang’s lifetime’s work. Upon arriving at the Jean-Jacques Rousseau Institute in Geneva in 1948 to study educational psychology, Vinh Bang was immediately immersed in the vibrant intellectual environment of the time - that “golden age” of the rise of genetic psychology and epistemology. His academic training, concluded by a doctorate in 1955, took place when Piagetian theory provided both a formal description of behavior based on operational logic that was considered universal, complemented by a socio-historical perspective of the growth of scientific knowledge; these, taken together, provided a general framework for analyzing the genesis of human knowledge. As well, Prof. Vinh Bang was involved in the International Center for Genetic Epistemology - as a permanent collaborateur - from its very foundation until its dissolution with the death of its founder, Jean Piaget.

Bang’s creativity expressed itself most fully, however, in his work on a set of developmental tests, an endeavor that had its roots not only in his initial interests in educational psychology but also in his personal disposition to analyze all psychological functioning in its specific, practical context. That’s what drove Prof. Vinh Bang to develop his unique agenda of applied research which adopted a general epistemological framework of knowledge development as the starting point for devising a set of assessment instruments, based on Piagetian tasks, which placed subjects’ behavior on a developmental scale. Of course, it is no secret that genetic psychology was developed on the basis of observations collected using non-standardized procedures; indeed, the deliberate intention to follow cognitive functioning as closely as possible inevitably led to large variations in experimental situations and interviewing methods, even in the same study. Now the challenge that Vinh Bang set himself was to design testing methods respecting Piaget’s clinical-critical method, yet able to provide results that were comparable from one subject to another, and, ordered hierarchically in accordance with psychogenetic stage theory. This original idea of designing developmental measures based on a hierarchy of behaviors has since been elaborated further with more powerful statistical methods such as Rasch analysis. Vinh Bang carried out his project with perseverance and succeeded in providing psychologists with a new tool: standardized operational tests. These tests conformed to criteria of objectivity, validity, reliability and theoretical coherence, whilst allowing the examiner to make adjustments for individual differences and variations, thereby providing a flexible diagnostic instrument.

It was this deep, humanist respect for individuality in psychological development that shaped Vinh Bang’s work in another field; that of education. For him, school learning should be conceived as the meeting point between the pupil’s level of operational development and the structural-functional properties of the material to be learned. It followed quite naturally then that Vinh Bang’s favored “psycho-pedagogy” called upon the same methods and modes of interpretation as those of genetic psychology. Professor Vinh Bang was an important identity in the Piagetian project to understand human development, not only through his direct contributions to fundamental research but also, and perhaps foremost, through his efforts to put formal descriptions of behavior to the test of applying them to real, situated tasks. For this reason, Vinh Bang’s name should remain associated with the desire to relate fundamental research to practice in the field, whether that of the psychologist who wants “to understand (in order) to help” or the pedagogue who wants “to help to understand”.

Sylvain Dionnet
Université Joseph Fourier, Grenoble (France)