Monday, September 27, 2010

Mikhail Mikhailovich Bakhtin

Bakhtin is a thinker who is well worth looking up, although how much of what you find out is going to be autobiographical mythology remains an open question. Russian, did philosophy and or literary criticism, lost a leg.
I’m not going to explore his life and times, but rather to describe two idea’s of his which seem as if they should be important in education. The first idea is a kind of human uncertainty principle, the idea that we can never truly describe or understand someone in their entirety, because a person is a mutable and ever changing target, evolving and changing as life goes on and aims and goals and abilities change.
The second is a concept of multiple versions of the truth. Here the notion is that our assumption that if two people have differing views about something this implies that one of them must be wrong is called into question. The thought being that just as there are many different viewpoints in life, there may also be many versions of the truth, which, although mutually inconsistent are not necessarily privileged with respect to each other.
Again I think this has clear educational implications, where there may be many differing narratives in a group activity and no clear reason for saying that one is better than the other
1. Deborah Haynes, “Universe Magazine - Reviewing Monet Story,” spring 1998,
2. wikipedia, “Mikhail Bakhtin - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia,” accesed sept 27 2010,


  1. Hey Larry;
    Bakhtin is becoming more prominence in many discussion, exposing his many sides, but the two you mention are critical.
    A thought - sometimes when we search for truth and rightness - I think we're trying to do things that are a step too far beyond our evolution. John Shotter, I think, would suggest that this indeterminacy that Bakhtin points out, it lies at the heart of our ability to do things jointly or what the biologist Humberto Maturana would call structural coupling. The ability to survive as a species is less dependent on our ability to be correct than it is to be able to do things together. It would then seem likely that our language would evolve to be flexible in this way. Just a late Saturday nite wandering thought.

  2. Sorry for the delay in responding, I didn’t spot your comment initially, and when I did it gave me a lot to follow up, as I was unaware of Maturano's work.
    The redundancy and ambiguity in language seem to imply that it is often more important to communicate than to have a precise understanding. The existence of specific codes where precision is required, such as when commands are given in sailing or rock-climbing is evidence of this.
    The idea of structural coupling is more complex, but I think quite important in the context of the digital ecosystem within which eLearning is placed. This has started me thinking about how we co-exist with both the tools and the organizations we use, for example my PLE is a function my ability to see in the digital environment, and as I understand it, I have a structural coupling with it. There is food for thought here, and I think this is an area worth exploring further.