Understanding a little about the nature of dialogic (as opposed to dialectic) communication can help shed some insights as to the nature and purpose of dialogue Рthis might be particularly pertinent in relation to dialogic feedback.


People who do not observe cannot converse – first said by a barrister called Balfour Browne KC and much quoted since.

Richard Sennet (2012) has some lovely to read and easy to understand thoughts about dialogics in his book ‘Together: The Rituals, Pleasures and Politics of Cooperation‘. The general idea is that in dialectic conversation the ‘verbal play of opposites should gradually build up to a synthesis’ – in other words, a consensus will be found or created – a common ground on which everyone can stand in firm agreement. A common understanding is found. The skill here is in spotting and establishing any existing common ground on which to build. Often this common ground might exist more in what is not said than in what is actually said (Zeldin, 1998). A skill commonly used to drive dialectic conversation is subtley displaced reflection – in other words, saying “so in other words ….’ and rephrasing what has been previously stated, but with a slight shift towards a slightly different position.

Dialogics is a term originally coined by Russian literary critic Mikhail Bakhtin. His original work is quite hard to understand, but other people have done the hard work of interpreting his writing in a more accessible format, so it’s probably best to start with someone like Michael Holquist (Dialogism), or simply the summary in the Sennett book. Dialogic discussion is a conversation that does not bring shared agreement. Through the process of exchange, individuals will become more aware of each other’s varying positions and will increase their understanding of each other, without necessarily moving their own position.

Whereas dialectic conversation may be viewed as convergent, dialogic conversation is often viewed as divergent. Dialectic conversation might be thought of as reductive, whereas dialogic discussion might bring an evolving richness of content and understanding.

Relevance to Higher Education, Curriculum Design and Feedback

There may be instances in higher education (especially in disciplines with more critical study or real world exploration) where dialogic discussion with students may bring an additional richness to their work. This may seem to disturb traditional notions of expertise and transmission of knowledge, but sometimes the creation of new knowledge, new understanding and novel approaches to viewing the world can be necessary and enriching. Tolerance and celebration of difference does not always have to be a challenge to expertise. Is there a way that we can bring a more dialogic approach to working with students?


Holquist, M. (2002) Dialogism. 2nd Ed. London: Routledge.

Sennett, R. (2012) Together: The Rituals, Pleasures and Politics of Cooperation. London, Penguin.

Zeldin, T. (1998) Conversation. How Talk Can Change Your Life. London, The Harvill Press.


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  • […] dialogic conversation, we have taken a very broad view of dialogue here. However, our article on Dialogics provides some more detail and further reading on the nature of dialogic and dialectic […]

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