RE: Bakhtin

From: Eugene Matusov (
Date: Sat Jan 17 2004 - 13:59:43 PST

Dear Nancy and everybody-

Nancy, I agree with your important question coming from Bakhtin, "who's
talking?" I'd like to add complementary questions of no less importance:
"who's talking?", "to whom?", "about whom?", "for what purpose?", "how is it
heard?", and "who can and cannot listen to?" I think our parallel
discussion of "Southern culture of honor" is a good example of why all these
questions are important. I wonder what the "subjects" of Cohen's research
would say about it if they were able to read the report.

I think Bakhtin's call on including people whom you study into audience of
your report can be very interesting as it may prevent from studies like

When I have heard classical behavioristic definition of psychology as
science aimed "to control and predict behavior," I always was thinking WHO
is going to control WHOSE behavior. There is interesting power differential
is implied in the classical definition of psychology....

What do you think?


> -----Original Message-----
> From: Ares, Nancy []
> Sent: Tuesday, January 13, 2004 11:50 AM
> To: ''
> Cc: ''
> Subject: Bakhtin
> I have contacted Bruce Jones to see why my postings don't make it
> to the xmca list, but wanted to send along my musings in case it
> takes a while for Bruce to help. Hope this is helpful or at least
> interesting...
> 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
> constructions
> 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
> the idea
> that texts exist prior to and after interactions, and that they can
> differentially to help determine what the context includes and how
> participants
> can act/interact. I've included an excerpt from a paper a student of mine
> and
> I wrote:
> Authoritative discourse constrains meaning making: "The authoritative
> demands that we acknowledge it, that we make it our own; it binds us,
> 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
> Alternately, internally persuasive discourse (e.g., small
> 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
> 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.)
> I am also new-ish in thinking about these things, and appreciate the xmca
> a forum for
> trying out ideas...
> cheers,
> Nancy Ares

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