Definitions and differences

One important thing is to have in mind are the principles guiding our research. Definitions are always treacherous things, but they can be a good starting point and it may be helpful to put some basic concepts down on the paper.

  • Dialogism: the self exists in dialogue with others in a discursive relation. The self and the other do not exist in isolation so identity cannot be something ‘individually constructed even if each individual has a unique identity made up of a different combination of many others. The individual need the other’s vision to see herself and the other way round in a dialogic relation.
  • Heteroglossia: the multiplicity of human perceptions and voices. Identities are constantly being created and recreated in the process of speaking and responding to the world.

Also important are different possible approaches to analysis of social interaction and language. As I see it, these approaches are not necessarily mutually exclusive but may complement or create a creative dialogic tension between them.

  • Formal Approach: focus on linguistic aspects, such as syntax and  semantics. However, it tends to see the individual, and language, in isolation.
  • Sociocultural Approach: knowledge is created and negotiated in the social context in which interactions occur. meaning is constructed by the group inside borders – the spatial/temporal moment and, therefore, generalization is limited.
  • Sociohistorical Approach: relationships and dialogue are inseparable from a  larger social and historical context. People maintain or transform meaning as they go about recreating their worlds.

According to Matusov, there are fundamental differences between Vygostsky sociohistorical approach and the dialogical approach proposed by Bakhtin. I tried to summarize them in the table below,

Vygotsky’s sociohistorical approach Bakhtin’s dialogical approach
Deeply instrumental, defining consciousness through activity mediation

Implies the potential transparency through the development of shared mediation in the zone of proximal development (ZPD)

A gap in mutual understanding is seen as a deficit that has to be bridged for learning to occur by setting a developmental goal that leads to mutual understanding and growing intersubjectivity through agreement.


A child learns through the mediation of the educated other in the ZPD until mutual understanding, self-determination and independence is achieved.

Essentially ontological, defining consciousness though responsiveness, addressivity and relationship with the other

Based on the fundamental principle of the non-transparency of human consciousness

A gap in the mutual understanding between people is a necessary condition for dialogic, humane communication, and for the entire human relationship as people cannot, and even must not, fully know each other for learning to occur

A child, and any person, learns in dialogue – each participant in the ‘conversation’ contributes something new, interesting, and important. Deep learning occurs with ontological engagement in the joint problem.

Differences between Vygotsky and Bakhtin, based on Matusov, 2011.


  • Matusov, E., 2011. Irreconcilable differences in Vygotsky’s and Bakhtin’s approaches to the social and the individual: an educational perspective. Culture & Psychology, 17(1), pp.99–119.