A Bakhtinian Perspective on Communication
  • Robert Stephens


Mikhail Bakhtin has the reputation of one of the greatest theoreticians of literature of the twentieth century. Bakhtin’s ideas have also enjoyed some recent influence in post-structural social theory, yet, despite clear similarities, they remain relatively unknown to systems audiences. In this paper some leading concepts of Bakhtin’s social philosophy are presented as pertinent to constructivist and linguistically orientated systems thought. Broad affinities exist between Bakhtinian dialogism and the communicative, or second order cybernetics of Bateson (1972), Capra (1983) or von Glasersfeld (1984), as well as some contemporary fields of organizational research, systems thinking and information systems development. In this paper I shall be concerned mainly with the latter, because of a common theme in the concern for the meaning generating properties of linguistic interaction. Firstly, interpretivist criticism of objectivism has made the case that information systems, rather than unproblematically representing the world, are inherently meaningful, open to interpretation and therefore qualitatively different from mechanical systems. Secondly, and in sympathy with this, information systems research is critically concerned with processes of symbolic communication, implying that the information concept, as used in this context, has to be approached in terms of semiotics (Stamper, 1987; Mingers, 1996; Holmqvist, Andersen, Klein, and Posner, 1996). Further, a ‘linguistic turn’, both in organizational studies (e.g., Morgan, 1986) and information systems research (e.g., Lyytinen, 1985), has encouraged some scholars to adopt language, or language use, for analytical purposes, and even as the analogue for software models (e.g., Winograd and Flores, 1986).


Information System Research Information System Development Symbolic Communication Linguistic Turn Speech Genre 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1997

Authors and Affiliations

  • Robert Stephens
    • 1
  1. 1.Faculty of Computer Studies and MathsUniversity of the West of EnglandFrenchay, BristolUK

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