chapter  2
Means to meaning
Pages 24

Dialogism is a philosophical orientation associated with the Russian thinker Mikhail Bakhtin. Originally applied in literary theory, the term ‘dialogism’ denotes a form of discourse in which utterances explicitly acknowledge that their own distinctiveness is made possible by their relations to other instances-both past (to which the particular utterance responds) and future (whose responses it anticipates) (Shepherd 2011). Bakhtin contrasted it with monologism as a form of discourse that fails to acknowledge its relational constitution, and thereby misconstrues itself as ‘independent and unquestionably authoritative’ (ibid: par. 2). Dialogism thus becomes an ontology. In Bakhtin’s words,

The single adequate form for verbally expressing authentic human existence is the open-ended dialogue. … To live means to participate in dialogue: to

ask questions, to heed, to respond, to agree, and so forth. In this dialogue a person participates wholly and throughout his whole life …

(Bakhtin 1963: 293)

This does not necessarily reduce human existence to its verbal expression (contra social constructionism). First and foremost, Bakhtin’s framework identifies how utterances-spoken and written-perform a participation in dialogue. The following subsections outline the ideas that I have found most useful towards articulating the research process of the present study.