Keynote Speakers

Keynote speakers for the Fourth Interdisciplinary Conference 

Please click Keynote names to access their biographies

Bakhtin and the Internet Age
The theme of this interdisciplinary conference is ‘dialogue at the boundaries’, but what is a boundary? It is normal to think first of identities, you and me, France and Germany, psychology and linguistics, and then to think of the boundaries that define each identity by dividing it from others. ‘Dialogue at the boundary’ is then a secondary phenomenon: first we have the identities and then we have the dialogue between them. But what if the dialogue comes first? In this talk I will begin by exploring the implications of Bakhtin’s dialogism for our understanding of the nature and role of boundaries in a range of discipline areas including the boundary between moments of consciousness in neuro-science, the boundary between self and other in developmental psychology, the boundary between figure and ground in art and the boundary between teacher and learner in education. In each discipline area, applying dialogism to re-value the role of boundaries brings new insights.

I will then turn to consider how dominant modes of communication, in combination with 
educational and other cultural practices, may have served to construct and maintain quite different experienced realities, each of which can be defined through the role played by boundaries. In oral cultures the boundary between self and other is often very differently experienced than in cultures where print-based literacy has a privileged position. Applying Bakhtin’s dialogism can help us to understand what is happening to thought, knowledge, identity, disciplinarity and education in the emerging Internet Age.

Bakhtinian Pedagogy in Historical Perspective

Although formal educational processes appear very seldom in the ideas of the Bakhtin Circle, a much more general, social, educational process permeates all Bakhtin’s writings on culture. This is the heritage of a concern with what was known as ‘social pedagogy’ and Bildung that formed a central part of the Kulturkritik and neo-Kantian philosophy that lay behind his attempt to create a non-psychologstic humanism. Particularly important is Paul Natorp’s Social Pedagogy (1904) in which neo-Kantianism was fused with an ethical socialism and the pedagogical ideas of von Humboldt and Pestalozzi. The heritage of Natorp’s ideas is ambiguous and, along with the ideas of the American philosopher, psychologist and educational reformer John Dewey, they formed one of the theoretical perspectives that gained a significant amount of influence among educational reformers in the early Soviet period. All members of the Circle were involved in the radical educational reforms of the immediate post-Revolutionary period. The revolutionary context served to bring to the surface the radical, democratic potential of the new pedagogical ideas, and they were combined with new, radical ideas in language and psychology. Towards the end of the 1920s, however, some of the other sides of the approach began to come to the fore, limiting demotic voices and leading to a paternalism which ended up saturating the whole Soviet discourse of kul′turnost′ (the quality of being cultured). Bakhtin’s works of the 1930s and beyond have an ambiguous relationship to these developments, in some respects seeming to celebrate the enfranchisement of voices ‘from below’, but also subordinating them to the allegedly benevolent judgement of the intellectual. How are we to understand these tensions? What significance do they have for applications of Bakhtinian ideas in the context of formal education? What are the dangers of an uncritical adoption of Bakhtinian perspectives in this area? What can we do to ensure the productive potential implicit in Bakhtinian thought is retained while the paternalist dangers are minimized? Such questions require a historical investigation of some of the roots of Bakhtinian ideas, and a willingness to revise and supplement the ideas in the light of that investigation. Such will be the focus of this lecture.

Karin Junefelt is Professor Emerita in Swedish Language at the Department of Scandinavian Languages at Stockholm University, Sweden. Her research has foremost concerned psycholinguistics and children’s linguistic and cognitive development, but has wide implications for communication, education and human thought. At the conference she will, against the background of empirical material from her own studies as well as those of others, discuss shortcomings of dominant theories of children’s linguistic and cognitive development. Against this background she will incorporate Bakhtinian ideas about language. Although neither Bakhtin nor Voloshinov were concerned with children per se Karin will present an argument for careful consideration of these ideas in re-conceptualising  communication as a dialogic event. These perspectives, she will propose, open up possibilities for a deeper understanding of children’s linguistic and cognitive development as well as the importance of dialogue for development throughout life span.

Culture has no Internal Territory
Professor Eugene Matusov, University of Delaware
Culture mismatches and culture clashes in the classroom and elsewhere are often explained using essentialist approaches to culture. According to the essentialist approaches, cultures pre-exist and sometimes cause relational breakdowns. Using video observations of and interviews about South African classrooms, I argue that such essentialist “ready-made” approaches to culture have limited use. Based on Bakhtin’s (1999, p. 301) insights that “culture has no internal territory” but exists on boundaries, I offer an alternative socio-constructivist, authorial, dialogic, approach that helps teachers guide how to develop a “new culture” in the classroom in a dialogic response to a communicational, relational, and expectation breakdown. According to a dialogic approach, “a cultural interpretation” — an interpretation that constructs culture through its assumption of pre-existence — is a response to some relational breakdowns. I argue that this interpretation has to be constructed actively and collaboratively through a dialogue. In contrast to an essentialist view emphasizing enculturation, people become active actors of culture — “a person of culture” (Bibler, 2009) — only through working on boundaries, dialogic addressivity, taking responsibility, and transcending the ready-made, naturalized, culture. In my presentation, I will unpack, discuss, and problematize this Bakhtinian dialogic notion of culture and draw its consequences for education.

Dr. Michael E. Gardiner, University of Western Ontario, Canada
One of the key concepts in autonomist Marxism is the notion of the 'general intellect'. Taking their cue from the remarkable passage in the Grundrisse called 'Fragment on Machines', the autonomists argue that, as capitalism develops, abstract knowledge becomes the primary force driving the productive process. One consequence is that labour and its products become increasingly 'immaterial', inasmuch as the physical side of production is taken over by automated systems, and all aspects of the collective worker's affective, desiring and cognitive capabilities as located in the 'social factory' (or society at large) are now brought to bear on production itself. Marx intimates that such tendencies would eventually 'socialize' the capitalist mode of production in a manner unbeknownst to (or at least unanticipated by) capitalists and their managers, and that we might be poised on the threshold of a 'high-tech' communism. Today's autonomists, including such theorists as Franco ('Bifo') Berardi, Antonio Negri, Christian Marazzi and Paolo Virno, are not quite so sanguine as Marx on the latter point, not least because such changes are riddled with paradoxes and contradictory tendencies. They do, however, note that any clear connection between necessary labour time and measureable values or outputs has been cast into considerable doubt. This is a dual consequence of the explosive growth of immaterial labour in the post-Fordist era, involving 'science, information, linguistic communication, and knowledge in general' (Virno 1996: 267), and also because the production of digital and symbolic goods have become the norm, which effectively problematizes capitalistic notions of proprietary control and ownership. As a result of these and related factors, capitalism is plunged into ever deeper crises of overproduction, underconsumption and resource depletion, of which the 2008 financial collapse, and the 'New Deal in reverse' that followed in its wake, is only the latest and most spectacular example. Ever more intensive and violent modes of exploitation and subjectivation in order to speed up the circuits of capital accumulation are marshalled to compensate for such economic downturns, stoking global psychopathologies of fear, panic and depression, as Berardi suggests. But there is also the possibility that the general intellect employed by the mass 'cognitive worker', and the inherently co-operative principles it embodies, can progressively detach itself from neoliberal mechanisms of subsumption and valorization, laying the foundation for a new autonomous and communalistic ethos.

What is especially interesting is that some of the autonomists specifically evoke the work of Mikhail Bakhtin vis-à-vis the concept of the general intellect (see, for instance, Maurizio Lazzarato, 1996 and 2004). Perhaps this is not entirely surprising: in challenging conventional notions of authorship and cultural production, Bakhtin consistently underscored the point that dialogism is an irreducibly collective phenomenon, involving all the speaker's affective and corporeal qualities, and that we all contribute to the making and continuous remaking of language, from the most mundane expressions to great works of novelistic art. For Bakhtin, a particular utterance is only part of a potentially endless chain of signification, one that stretches to the distant past and anticipates responses in an infinite and unknowable future, in the flow of 'great time'. As such, meaning is necessarily plural and heterogeneous, the product of the interaction of many texts and voices that can only be unified at the point of its reception, and even then only pragmatically and contingently so. Individuals do not 'own' the words they use; even though we each impart a unique 'emotional-volitional tone' to utterances in every enunciative act, what we say or write is always 'still warm' from the traces of innumerable past uses and the social struggles they reflect and refract. 'Quests for my own word are in fact quests for a word that is not my own', as Bakhtin (1986: 149) reminds us. This talk seeks to explore this oft-overlooked but tantalizing connection between Bakhtin and the autonomist tradition, turning on the central insight that communication, in all its possible expressions and modalities, is always 'more than myself', and hence integral to the 'social brain' that is a shared legacy, our 'commonwealth'. In so doing, I raise the possibility of a more 'troublesome' Bakhtin than is generally presented by the mainstream academy, and a concomitantly 'dangerous' dialogism that haunts a digitalized and networked world marked in equal measure by tremendous emancipatory promise and catastrophic threat. 

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