Research in Dialogue and Dialectic

Comparing Bakhtin and Freire

Researcher: Dr Peter Rule

This study compared the work of the Brazilian adult education theorist, Paulo Freire (1921-1997), and the Russian literary critic and philosopher, Mikhail Bakhtin (1895-1975), on the notion of dialogue. It found that the two, while never having met or encountered one another’s writing, had a number of things in common. They both experienced persecution by their respective governments for their work and views, Freire by the Brazilian military regime and Bakhtin in Stalin’s Soviet Union. Both were teachers, both were fascinated by language and by ideas of dialogue, and both insisted on the situated socio-political nature of a language and its users.

For both Bakhtin and Freire, dialogue is not just conversation between two or more people, but is central to what it means to be authentically human. It happens both internally, within consciousness, and externally, with the other. It is a value-laden process of acknowledging and engaging with the other as a subject. Both contrast dialogue with an inauthentic way of being: monologism (Bakhtin) and anti-dialogue (Freire), which are associated with the suppression of the other and its reduction to the status of an object.

While there are commonalities in their understanding of dialogue, they differ in their treatment of dialectic. This study looked at similarities and differences within a Bakhtin-Freire dialogue on the notions of dialogue and dialectic. It then teases out some of the implications for education theory and practice in relation to two South African contexts of learning that facilitate the access to education for disadvantaged groups, one in higher education and the other in early childhood education. The study was published in the journal Educational Philosophy and Theory.