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Summary: James Wertsch’s “The Multivoicedness of Meaning”. Response Essay

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Introduction

In this article, Wertsch seeks to give insight into the implications ofBahktin’sunique ideas on Vygotskian approach to mediated action.

While Bahktin still recognizes and acknowledges the centrality of meaning to the socio-cultural approach to mediated action, unlike most semiotic analyses that have mainly focused on the nature of formal structure central in most contemporary linguistics, Bahktin and Vygotsky, in line with the Russian tradition of prioritizing semantics also focuses on “how language and other semiotic structures can be used to produce meaning and how that meaning shapeshuman response/ action”(Wertsch 222).

Deviating from the two arguments that ‘individuals own meaning’ and that ‘nobody owns meaning’, Bakhtin seems to take the seemingly middle ground that individuals, in using language, only ‘rent’ meaning. That a speaker can only mean what he says indirectly by taking words and giving them back to the audience in accordance with the protocols of dialogue; meaning therefore belongs to a group of people and not to an individual (Wertsch 223).

Discussion

Wertsch then proceeds to present the implications of Bahktian theory in the ways that this theory differs from the rest in its approach to meaning. These he discusses under three key concepts:

Rejecting the ‘disengaged self’ and the ‘atomism’ tied to it.Bahktin, like Charles Taylor, disputes the ‘atomism’ attached to claims of the ‘disengaged self’ which states that the individual is ‘metaphysically independent of society’ (Wertsch 225).

He reflects this stand in his attempt to answer the question ‘Who is doing the talking?’

Bahktin rejects the idea that an isolated individual can create an utterance and meaning. A kind of interference or subordination, Bahktin argues, is inherent in any utterance and meaning, this is especially evident in ventriloquation; that never is the creation of an utterance and meaning attributable solely to a voice. The voice is precluded by the fact that the word half-belongs to someone else as claimed by Bahktin. The very process of speaking therefore precludes any claims of ‘atomism’ (Wertsch 224).

Recognizing a ‘dialogic’ and a ‘univocal’ function of text.Here, Bahktin seems to argue against the mathematical information theory which views the transmission of information as unidirectional, i.e.directly from the speaker to the listener. Bahktin’s perspective does not agree with the perceived passiveness of the listener, this model downplays the need for the listener to voice his response as key to their understanding (Wertsch 226).

Bahktin’s perspective also seems to dispute the perceived singularity of meaning in this model; that there is only one meaning that can be achieved as reflected in the unidirectional heading of the arrows in the diagrammatic illustration of this model (Wertsch 226).

Recognizing the authority tied to text.Here, Wertsch discusses how Bahktin distinguishes ‘authoritative’ from ‘internally persuasive’ discourses(Wertsch 226). Bahktindescribes the authoritative word as that which does not permitdebate or dialogue of any kind. Authoritative words are ‘dead and static’ and are meant to be accepted or rejected as they are and not to be modified (e.g. religion, teacher’s word, etc) (Wertsch 226).

On the other hand,internally persuasive words provoke thought and can be interpreted and modified as one wishes. They are said to bear dynamic tension andtherefore provoke dialogue. And since they bear dynamic tension, persuasive words are linked to sociocultural contexts (Wertsch 226).

Conclusion

In conclusion, Wertsch illustrates and coordinates his comments on the three implications of Bahktin’s theory.

Works Cited

Wertsch, James. Voices of the Mind: A Sociocultural Aproach to Mediated Action.London: Harvester Wheatsheaf.1990. Print.

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