Dialogical perspectives on
mutual understanding
Ivana Marková
University of Stirling
Leuven, 7th March 2013
Two meanings:
A) In psychotherapeutic practices, psychiatry, counselling
B) In dialogicality, by paying attention to concepts
Example: evolution and upward progress
dialogical brain: ‘we can speculate how a dialogical self
might actually be housed in a dialogical brain’ (Lewis, 2002,
• dialogue and dialogicality deny evolution as an upward
• Dialectics and dialogicality
• Bakhtin: dialogical tension permits realization of author’s
intentions in heterogeneity of languages and ideas
Diversity of dialogical approaches
• different theoretical traditions and diverse issues
• the ancient philosophy of Platonic dialogues; phenomenology,
hermeneutics (Gadamer – interpretation; Levinas – ethical
dialogue); interaction (e.g. George Herbert Mead);
Habermas’s (1991) communicative action; Mikhail Bakhtin
• dialogical approaches do not form a unified theory
• From broadly based ‘Rethinking Language, Mind, and the
World Dialogically’ (Linell, 2009), to more specific theories of
the dialogical self (Hermans and Kempen,1993) and to
analyses of detailed aspects of utterances in the
contemporary French dialogical linguistics (Salazar-Orvig and
Grossen, 2004).
Meanings of dialogue
• Dialogue as a symbolic interaction between two or several
individuals who are mutually co-present; extensions to
artefact-borne forms (e.g. written messages, pictures,
• Internal dialogue - dialogues of individuals and groups and
with absent individuals
• Dialogue among ideas rather than between people e.g. in
‘The Rules of Sociological Method’ (Durkheim, 1938, p. li); to
investigate the ways in which social representations ‘adhere
to and repel one another, how they fuse or separate from one
another’ – in other ways, how they circulate in society.
• Dialogue between different cultural traditions and historical
epochs (Bakhtin (1979/1986a, Yuri Lotman, 1990); e.g.
Mediaeval culture and Renaissance.
Intersubjectivity and strife for recognition
• Intersubjectivity
• the self-other as an irreducible dyad in theories of the self by
James Mark Baldwin, George Herbert Mead and Lev Vygotsky;
• Trevarthen: intersubjectivity can provide an explanation “of
how human social and cultural knowledge is created, how
language serves a culture and how its transmission from
generation to generation is secured”
• Matusov – intersubjectivity may lead to disagreement
• Bakhtin - dialogue as a strife of divergent perspectives
Intersubjectivity and strife for recognition
• The strife for social recognition
• Studies in difficult communication, e.g. cerebral palsy or
learning difficulty; consistency and innovation in imposing
own meaning on the other
• No kind of resources can be a priori considered as noncommunicative or as discrete and isolated units
• Strangeness - effort of the self to understand and surmount
the unknown qualities and meanings of others
• Tension is ever present, whether participants strive for
intersubjectivity, for dominance, for overcoming strangeness
of one another, or for dialogical mutualities
Uniqueness of a dialogical encounter
• Uniqueness - interdependence of participant(s) with the
• No inductive cumulating of data from questionnaires or scales
• Flyvbjerg, B. (2006) Five Misunderstandings About Case-Study
Research - unique cases must be strategically selected
Qualitative Inquiry, 12, pp. 219- 245; ‘analytic generalization’
• when the aim of research is to bring out the greatest possible
knowledge about a given phenomenon, a random or a
representative sample, aggregation, and averaging of
gathered facts do not provide rich knowledge about the
phenomenon in question
Trust and dialogue
• If dialogicality is the fundamental capacity of the Self to
conceive, create, and communicate about social realities in
terms of the Alter – participants must have a basic trust that
there is a common ground between them
• The term ‘trust’ has special dialogical qualities because it is
the existential feature of both intersubjectivity and of social
• It expresses the Self’s direct relation to the other and to the
shared social world; unreflected and reflected trust; other
terms like ‘love’, ‘attachment’
• Ontological moral and ethical binding to fulfil mutual
expectations and obligations
Trust and dialogue
• Trust - deep religious, philosophical, ethical, linguistic roots
• in daily life it makes sense only with respect to its opposite,
(e.g. distrust, doubt, risk)
• ethical obligations, linguistic and non-linguistic features of
communication, the nature of interaction, to content of what
is communicated
• Simmel (1950) - ethical obligations in secret societies
• Dialogical features of concealing and revealing secrets
• Micro-social and macro-social forms of trust and distrust
• Unreflected and reflected forms of trust
Forms of trust and distrust
• Trust as a polysemic concept
• From pre-conceptual to conceptual and reflected trust
• From micro-social trust (e.g. Erikson) to macro-social trust (e.g.
• Erikson: ‘basic trust’ as the first mark of mental life,
preceding any feelings of autonomy and initiative. It evolves
through mutual somatic experiences and ‘unmistakable
• Simmel: the society would disintegrate without trust, feeling
that binds society together
Macro-social trust
(context-specific) trust
A priori generalised
trust (G. Simmel)
Psychosocial feeling
Social cohesion
In-group solidarity
Local communities
Primary (taken-forgranted) trust
Reflective trust
Third parties
Emotional interdependence
Psychosocial feeling
Self doubt/confidence
Inner dialogicality
basic trust
Micro-social trust
• Bakhtin’s (1984) analysis of dialogical trust and risk in
confessional discourse
• Confession - a self-reflective dialogical interaction between
the self and other; communication genres of Dostoyevsky’s
heroes and anti-heroes; confessors’ strategies in exposing
themselves to distrust of the other; fear of non-recognition
and rejection; confession and rejection of those who agree
with self-condemnation; dependence and orientation of the
self towards the other;
• Implication of Bakhtin’s analysis for psychotherapy
Dialogical perspectives on
mutual understanding
A dialogue between
Ivana Marková and Peter Rober

Dialogical perspectives on mutual understanding