Dialogue and its Discontents: Re-Framing Understanding across Difference
Many educational theorists argue that dialogue cultivates communicative virtues such as patience, tolerance for alternative viewpoints, empathy, respect for differences, ability to listen thoughtfully and attentively, an openness to giving and receiving criticism, and honest and sincere self-expression. Dialogue is thereby thought to facilitate students' ability to be responsive to difference, that is, their ability to move from idiosyncratic or parochial responses and interpretations, to more socially conscious and aware ones. However, dialogue takes on different forms within educational theory and philosophical literature. This article examines how well different conceptualizations of dialogue facilitate students' ability to be responsive to difference. I examine three commonly found forms of dialogue within educational theory and philosophical literature: the cognitive, hermeneutic, and relational. The cognitive model is illustrated through the work of Ruth Grant, the hermeneutic through Hans-Georg Gadamer and Rob Reich, and the relational through Jacques Derrida, Emmanuel Levinas, and Nel Noddings. I argue that the cognitive and hermeneutic forms provide an impoverished conception of dialogue by inadequately attending to affect, which is the human beings' capacity for receptivity, for being moved, stirred or excited by that which is not the self. I suggest that the jettisoning of the affective sphere truncates students' ability to have a deep engagement with different others or perspectives. As an alternative, I argue that the relational form of dialogue brings the affective sphere to the forefront robustly, and in a way not evidenced in the other two forms, facilitating students' ability to become more open to and responsive to different others and perspectives.
Keywords: Dialogue, Relation, Difference, Affect
Assistant Professor, Department of Curriculum and Instruction, Adelphi University