Bakhtin's methodology

From: Ares, Nancy (
Date: Wed Jan 14 2004 - 05:54:28 PST


Thanks to Bruce Jones, I can now post without asking others on the list to
do so for me. Much appreciated, Bruce! The following is in response to an
early posting by Phil...

Phil, Eugene and all,

I think that another central notion of Bakhtin's that is important to
understanding a methodology built on his work is that of "who's talking?"
The sense I had from Phil's earlier posting about text and context being
everything was that the importance of history in social interaction was
under-estimated. The idea that text and language are sociocultural
found in both LSV's and Bakhtin's works may be one reason so many folks
see their frameworks as being so compatible or complementary. In any
exchange, participants are not just talking to each other; they are also
calling up and drawing upon other conversations, using language that has
a history and culture embedded in it and communicated through it. So,
contexts and texts are not just happening now, they are also artifacts of
the past and referents for the future as well.

A related notion of Bakhtin's that helps here, I think, is that of the
structuring function of texts and discourse. This helps because it captures
the idea
that texts exist prior to and after interactions, and that they can function
differentially to help determine what the context includes and how
can act/interact. I've included an excerpt from a paper a student of mine
I published in the Journal of Literacy Research:

Authoritative discourse constrains meaning making: "The authoritative word
demands that we acknowledge it, that we make it our own; it binds us, quite
independent of any power it might have to persuade us internally; we
encounter it with its authority fused to it" (cited in Wertsch, 1991, p.
78). Examples include textbooks and certain categories of teachers' talk
(e.g., recitation-style dialogues) that are to be accepted, not interpreted.
Alternately, internally persuasive discourse (e.g., small group-constructed
meaning) invites interpretation and the generation of new knowledge: "The
semantic structure of an internally persuasive discourse is not finite, it
is open; in each of the new contexts that dialogize it, this discourse is
able to reveal ever new ways to mean" (Bakhtin, 1981, cited in Wertsch,
1991, p. 79). Here, texts produced through the interaction of teachers and
students generate knowledge, understanding, and can transform traditional
classroom practice to embrace students' active participation.

Because texts and discourses emerge from interactions that contain elements
of power and
authority, and because those elements are part of what gets called up,
"texts and contexts being everything" becomes a very dynamic and complex
claim. I can imagine that in the classrooms

that Phil is examining, "who's talking" is an even more complex question
because of the
variety of languages (and thus histories, cultures, norms, etc.) involved...

I am also new-ish in thinking about these things, and appreciate the xmca as
a forum for
trying out ideas...

Nancy Ares

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : Sun Feb 01 2004 - 01:00:10 PST