Bakhtin Mikhail

Bakhtin Mikhail

(1895-1975) Russian thinker, whose ideas on the nature of dialogue have proved highly influential in a number of fields, including literary theory social theory, anthropology, linguistics and psychology. Central to Bakhtin's theory (e.g. Bakhtin, Speech Genres and Other Late Essays, 1986) is the notion of voice as a manner of speaking unique to a particular location in the physical and social worlds. The word in living contexts is therefore socioculturally situated, betraying the belief and value systems of the speaker. Bakhtin claimed that SAUSSURE ignored genres and thus missed much of the essential working of language. The directed nature of speech also means that any utterance involves a dialogic interplay between the voice of the speaker and that of the addressee for whom the utterance is intended. The importance of Bakhtin's ideas in this area for sociology consists mainly in his claims for the sociocultural situatedness of the utterance in everyday language, with its implications for the question of whether anyone can be said to ‘own’ the utterances to which he or she gives voice. His emphasis is on the ‘polyphonic’ and dynamic character of language. These ideas are seen applied in his writings on POPULAR CULTURE, especially the CARNIVAL (Rabelais and his World, 1969), which have attracted recent interest in sociology. He shows how, historically, the carnival operated as a site of‘ambivalence’ (e.g. regarding death and the ‘debasements’ of the body, such as defecation and copulation) as well as a source of a COUNTER CULTURE to more hierarchical forms of culture.
Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000