In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Mikhail Bakhtin

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Works by Bakhtin
  • Edited Volumes
  • Dialogue and Communication Theory
  • Uses in Intercultural Communication
  • Uses in Mass and Media Communication
  • Relevant Web Resources

Communication Mikhail Bakhtin
Donald L. Anderson
  • LAST REVIEWED: 15 January 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 15 January 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756841-0161


Mikhail Mikhailovich Bakhtin (b. 1895–d. 1975) has received much more scholarly attention since his death than he ever did while alive. Bakhtin’s early years found him joining small groups of like-minded intellectuals eager to escape the social and political turmoil of Russia in the late 1910s. In the late 1920s he wrote several of his most important works, influenced by discussions with colleagues Valentin Voloshinov and Pavel Medvedev (now called the “Bakhtin circle”); indeed, some scholars claim that books authored by Voloshinov and Medvedev were actually written by Bakhtin. Bakhtin’s participation in these intellectual circles is likely one reason why he was arrested in 1929 and sent to exile at a hard labor camp in the north where he almost certainly would have died if not for his already poor health (his leg was injured and later amputated in the late 1930s) and the intervention of well-placed family and friends that diverted him instead to Kazakhstan. After five years of exile Bakhtin was released and permitted to begin a teaching career. During this time he wrote extensively, having completed Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics, Discourse in the Novel, and in 1941, Rabelais and His World, which he submitted as his doctoral dissertation. A locally popular figure in the 1950s and 1960s, Bakhtin lectured and taught and would have remained relatively unknown if it were not for a group of scholars who admired his writings and helped to popularize them. After Bakhtin’s death, his writings were translated into English (in the 1970s and 1980s), where they quickly found influence. Bakhtin is now included as one of the most prominent social theorists of the 20th century. Bakhtin’s major concepts include dialogue (and monologue), heteroglossia, genre, carnival/carnivalesque, centripetal/centrifugal forces, and authorship. Dialogue may be the most commonly referenced Bakhtinian concept and yet it may also be the most misunderstood. Dialogue in a Bakhtinian sense is an expansive philosophy that considers that all communication is dialogic, where meaning can only be understood in its social context. The concept of intertextuality, while never explicitly identified in Bakhtin’s work, was developed by Kristeva from Bakhtin’s thinking. This as well as other Bakhtinian concepts have greatly influenced scholars in the fields of communication, where his influence became widespread beginning in the 1990s and 2000s. In particular, this influence has been felt in the disciplines of rhetoric, interpersonal communication, organizational communication, intercultural communication, and mass communication. This entry concentrates primarily on English-language essays and empirical studies using Bakhtin’s concepts in each of these fields in communication.

General Overviews

Bakhtin’s work can be challenging to read, and many readers benefit from an edited reader or accompanying volume introducing his ideas and core concepts. Some of these are general introductions or texts addressed to readers from any discipline whereas others reflect disciplinary traditions or are written for readers in certain fields. Some are organized by presenting Bakhtin’s writings in a reader format with extracts from specific publications (Dentith 1995, Morris 1994), whereas others are organized by topic or theme, presenting the concepts with reference to multiple publications (Shields 2007, Vice 1997).

  • Dentith, Simon. 1995. Bakhtinian thought: An introductory reader. London: Routledge.

    Dentith’s work consists of two parts: the first provides an overview of Bakhtin’s concepts (including language, the novel, carnival, and contemporary criticism) and the second includes excerpts from Bakhtin’s work. Excerpts also include work attributed to Voloshinov and Medvedev.

  • Morris, Pam, ed. 1994. The Bakhtin reader. London: Edward Arnold.

    Morris’s volume, despite the name, also includes works attributed to Voloshinov and Medvedev. It contains carefully selected and edited excerpts of many of Bakhtin’s works, organized by topic, and each major section is annotated with commentary. Art and Answerability, The Dialogic Imagination, and Speech Genres are underrepresented due to copyright issues.

  • Shields, Carolyn M. 2007. Bakhtin primer. New York: Peter Lang.

    Shields’s introduction is useful for any new reader of Bakhtin’s work, with definitions and accessible descriptions of Bakhtin’s concepts alongside the main text. The author is writing to an education audience, so many of the examples and applications specifically address Bakhtin’s concepts as applied to educational settings.

  • Vice, Sue. 1997. Introducing Bakhtin. Manchester, UK, and New York: Manchester Univ. Press.

    Vice’s introduction to Bakhtin’s work is organized by five major concepts: heteroglossia, dialogism, polyphony, carnival, and chronotope. Each section provides quotes from Bakhtin, connections to academic commentary and study, and historical and contemporary examples from novels, newspapers, and other media.

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