The Dialogic – Mikhail Bahktin


I’ve had an interest in and been working in dialogue for many years, much of what I’d learned came from a different source, people like David Bohm, Peter Senge, William Isaacs and its application in working with teams and in organizational learning.
There are others who wrote and spoke of dialogue from different perspectives too.

Mihkail Bahktin’s ideas come from a different perspective – but I find the ideas meet in the centre and combine and collide to generate new, deeper understanding  – such is the nature of dialogue.

Bakhtin arrived at his ideas through studying the work of great author Fyodr Dostoyevsky, you’ll see him described as “literary critic and theorist” whatever that means. He observed and described how Dostoyevsky’s novels were different from others – in a way he termed “the dialogic”.

His ideas took their time coming to western consciousness but they are doing so now – and how!, becoming influential in educational circles, especially with those interested in reforming educational systems and how we “do education”.

His ideas also form the theoretical basis of Finish Open Dialogue “treatment” for “psychosis” , or “Open Dialogue” as it is becoming known.

“open dialogue” – note the non-capitalisation – has been around in many forms for a while and takes many forms.

Dialogue is about meaning – literally “through meaning:” or “flow of meaning”:  meaning is not unitary, not fixed but emerges, forms and changes as we share our own ideas and expressions. 

Some ideas I like:

  • As  a river is formed from water falling from the surrounding landscape , is shaped by the landscape and in turn, the river shapes the landscape it flows through.
  • A conversation with a centre and no sides

Bahkit offers some powerful additional ideas especially about key roles played by and involving language and how it emerges, forms and is re-formed, through “the dialogic”.

Here’s the best short sweet intro to Mikhail Bahktin’s ideas on dialogue I’ve been able to find so far. Boom!

Dialogue has properties of “The Dialogic” – 

  • Polyphony –       many voices being heard
  • Heteroglossia – many languages, dialects, terminologies, some necessarily challenging – there is no right way to describe what is being described, no accepted jargon, pronunciation – all varieties serve to add to the….  
  • The Chronotope
  • The Carnival  

I’m still getting to grips with my own understanding of the latter two so will leave it to the video… except to offer that the voices I hear sure can be some carnival ride.

Enjoy the carnival…

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