The Dialogical Self: A Process of Positioning in Space and Time
Abstract and Keywords
This article examines the concept of the so-called dialogical self. This theory is based on the pragmatism of George Herbert Mead and the work of Mikhail Bakhtin on dialogicality. This article explains that the dialogical theory view the other not as external to self, but as part of the self and constitutive of it. It also introduces the notion of positioning as a further articulation of the dialogical self situated in time and space. The idea is that the self is not organized around one centre or core, but distributed over social relations.
The self can only be truly dialogical when the other person is seen as not purely outside, but simultaneously part of the self and even constitutive of it. Dialogicality, as a form of ‘sociality’ or ‘intersubjectivity’, is not something that is ‘added’ to an embodied self that, in its pre‐existing state, has an existence separate from the other. The self can only be properly understood when intersubjectivity and sociality are considered as intrinsic to its embodiment in space and time. Rather than contrasting the ‘internal self’ with the ‘external’ society, the self itself functions as a social and societal process. As I shall argue in this chapter, the self functions as a mini‐society, being part, at the same time, of the society at large.
The notion ‘dialogical self’ is a composite concept. It weaves two notions, self and dialogue, together in such a way that a deeper understanding of the interconnection (p. 655) of self and other is realized. In many usages of the term, the concept of self refers to something ‘internal’, something that happens within the mind or even within the skin of the individual person, while ‘dialogue’ is typically associated with something ‘external’, a process that takes place between two or more people engaged in communication. The composite concept ‘dialogical self’ is explicitly devised to transcend this dichotomy and to bring the external into the internal and, in reverse, to infuse the internal into the external. Such a self–society interconnection allows us to abandon any conception in which the self is regarded as essentialized and encapsulated in itself. Moreover, it avoids the existence of a ‘self‐less society’ that is deprived of the richness and creativity that the individual human mind has to offer to the renewal and innovation of existing social practices.
Dialogical self theory is not an isolated conceptual development but emerged, and is still emerging, at the interface of two traditions: American Pragmatism and Russian Dialogism. As a self theory it is influenced by James's (1890) and Mead's (1934) classic formulations on the workings of the self (see Chapter 26). As a dialogical theory, it is inspired by the fertile insights on dialogical processes as presented by Bakhtin (1973) and his colleagues (also see Chapter 27).
James's formulations on the extended and social nature of the self
To understand the social and societal nature of the self, it is helpful to refer to some of the insights proposed by James (1890) who has had a tremendous influence on the psychology of the self as it flourished during the twentieth and now the twenty‐first century. His distinction between the I and the Me represents, according to Rosenberg (1979), a classic contribution to the psychology of the self. In James's conception, the I is equated with the self‐as‐knower, or the self as subject, and has three features: continuity, distinctness, and volition. The continuity of the self‐as‐knower refers to a sense of personal identity, that is, a sense of sameness through time. A feeling of distinctness from others, or individuality, also characterizes the subjective nature of the self‐as‐knower. Finally, a sense of personal volition is reflected in the continuous appropriation and rejection of thoughts by which the self‐as‐knower proves itself as an active processor of experience. Implicit in these features (continuity, distinctness, volition) is the awareness of self‐reflectivity that characterizes the self‐as‐knower (Damon and Hart 1982).
According to James, the Me, as equated with the self‐as‐known or the self as object, is composed of the empirical elements considered as belonging to oneself. Of crucial significance for the later formulations of a dialogical self is James's insight in the gradual transition between Me and mine. He observed that the empirical self is composed of all that the person can call his or her own, ‘not (p. 656) only his body and his psychic powers, but his clothes and his house, his wife and children, his ancestors and friends, his reputation and works, his lands and horses, and yacht and bank‐account’ (1890: 291). An important implication of this frequently cited quotation is that people and things in the environment, as far as they are felt as ‘mine’ or ‘belonging to me’, are, as the result of the process of appropriation, properties of an extended self. This conception implies that not only ‘my mother’ belongs to the self in the extended sense of the term, but also ‘my critic’ or ‘my opponent’. Apparently, James's notion of the extended self can be contrasted with the Cartesian self which is based on a dualistic conception, not only between self and body but also between self and other (Hermans and Kempen 1993; Straus 1958). Self and other do not exclude but rather include each other. They are not exclusive but rather inclusive oppositions. With his conception of the extended self, James has paved the way for later theoretical developments in which contrasts, oppositions, and negotiations are part of a distributed, multi‐voiced self.
Almost one century before postmodernist thinkers drew attention to the decentralized multiplicity of the self, James (1890) was well aware that the extended self was social enough to incorporate parts of the social environment as different constituents of the self:
Properly speaking, a man has as many social selves as there are individuals who recognize him and carry an image of him in their mind. To wound any one of these his images is to wound him. But as the individuals who carry the images fall naturally into classes, we may practically say that he has as many different social selves as there are distinct groups of persons about whose opinion he cares. He generally shows a different side of himself to each of these different groups. Many a youth who is demure enough before his parents and teachers, swears and swaggers like a pirate among his ‘tough’ young friends. We do not show ourselves to our children as to our club‐companions, to our customers as to the laborers we employ, to our own masters and employers as to our intimate friends. From this there results what practically is a division of the man into several selves; and this may be a discordant splitting, as where one is afraid to let one set of his acquaintances know him as he is elsewhere; or it may be a perfectly harmonious division of labor, as where one tender to his children is stern to the soldiers or prisoners under his command. (p. 294)
As this quotation suggests, society is not added to the self as a purely external environment, but rather reflected in the extended self in terms of a multiplicity of constituents that are not only different from each other but also show different levels of organization, varying from ‘discordant splitting’ to ‘division of labor’.
James's formulations on the self reveal a striking paradox. As a volitional being a person may reject his enemy as ‘different from me’ and in doing so the person has the subjective conviction that the enemy does not belong to his self. However, as my enemy the other person, defined as Mine, is a constituent of an extended self. This paradoxical element in James's formulations has a significant empirical correlate. (p. 657) As Gregg (1991) has observed, some aspects of the self are located in the vague and ambiguous border‐zone between self and non‐self which can be characterized as ‘identity‐in‐difference’, that is, they belong to me and do not belong to me at the same time. For example, I'm aware that I'm sometimes jealous but at the same time, I do not fully admit jealousy as ‘belonging to me’. I reject parts of my experience. This ambiguity applies also to the extended domain of the self. Particular significant others (e.g. ‘my always cynical colleague’, or ‘my ex‐husband who left me’) can be disowned and subjectively defined as ‘not belonging to me’. Yet, they are significant constituents of an extended self as far as they are defined as ‘mine’ and as such they play a recurring and affect‐arousing part in one's memory, imagination, and anticipation. Apparently, the same aspect of the self can be rejected and yet be appropriated by the same self in a wider sense.
Mead's emphasis on innovation
Mead (1934), the great representative of ‘symbolic interactionism’ as later commentators have characterized him, has at least two views in common with James. Both theorists were interested, each in their own way, in the distinction between I and Me and in the social nature of the self. In order to demonstrate the interplay between self and society, Mead used the I–Me distinction, somewhat differently from James, in order to show that selves are not only representatives of society and conforming to existing institutional structures, but also able to innovate them. He was concerned about the problems that were raised when the social process would be limited to the internalization of social rules and conventions of the ‘generalized other’ into the self. Had he done so, the self would be no more than a copy of externally dictated social roles and the members of society no more than ‘slaves of customs’. Societal processes would be overly repetitive and there would be no innovations that are needed for social changes and renewal of existing institutions. Against this background, Mead introduced his distinction between I and Me:
I have been undertaking to distinguish between the ‘I’ and the ‘me’ as different phases of the self, the ‘me’ answering to the organized attitudes of the others which we definitely assume and which determine consequently our own conduct so far as it is of a self‐conscious character. Now the ‘me’ may be regarded as giving the form of the ‘I.’ The novelty comes in the action of the ‘I,’ but the structure, the form of the self is one which is conventional. (1934: 209)
As Mead saw it, social rules and conventions of the generalized other become part of the Me, whereas the I functions as a source of innovation. Artists, like scientists, do not only follow particular conventions but also break away from them. They certainly accept certain rules of expression but, in their urge to (p. 658) criticize, undermine, and modify existing forms, they also bring in new elements. Artists and scientists introduce an originality that makes their contribution unconventional.
James's and Mead's original contributions are indispensible for conceptualizing a dialogical self. Both have emphasized the intrinsic social nature of the self, arguing against a conception of an encapsulated self that is essentialized as having an existence in itself. Moreover, both theorists found in the I–Me distinction a necessary element in the conception of an agentic self that was necessary for a proper understanding of the connection between the self and the social environment. James did so by considering the I as volitional, that is, capable of appropriating or rejecting elements as constituents of a self that is, more or less, extended to the environment. Mead did so by depicting the I as a source of innovation and as capable of introducing new elements into a society that would otherwise engender overly conforming participants.
In bringing central elements of the two theorists together, we conclude that, as part of the I–Me distinction, the I is agentic in two ways. First, the I is volitional, that is, as an appropriating and rejecting agency it is able to extend an existing Me or Mine towards the social environment and take up the other as part of the self. Second, society, in the form of the (generalized) other, is part of the Me, with the I as able to innovate in society and self. While James carries the self to society, Mead brings society into the self. Despite this difference, both theorists acknowledge, each in their own way, I as agentic. It makes the self both volitional (James) and innovative (Mead).
Bakhtin's polyphonic novel
In James's formulations we discern several characters which he sees as belonging to the Me or Mine: my wife and children, my ancestors and friends. Such characters are more explicitly elaborated in Bakhtin's metaphor of the polyphonic novel which serves as another source of inspiration for later dialogical approaches to the self. Bakhtin introduced this metaphor in his book Problems of Dostoevsky's Poetics (1973) in which he elaborates on the idea that in Dostoevsky's works there is not a single author at work—Dostoevsky himself—but several authors or thinkers, characters such as Myshkin, Raskolnikov, Stavrogin, Ivan Karamazov, and the Grand Inquisitor. Rather than treating these characters as obedient slaves in the service of one author‐thinker, Dostoevsky put these characters forward as independent thinkers, each with their own perspective on the world. Dostoevsky does not stand above his characters imposing from there his finalizing artistic vision upon his characters and enforcing them within the limiting framework of a unified objective world. Rather, the characters are standing beside the author, even disagreeing with him. As in a polyphonic musical work, multiple voices accompany (p. 659) and oppose one another in dialogical ways. Along these lines, Dostoevsky creates a polyphonic multiplicity of perspectives, portraying characters conversing with their alter egos (Ivan and Smerdyakov), with the Devil (Ivan and the Devil), and even with caricatures of themselves (Raskolnikov and Svidrigailov).
Whereas James was primarily, but not exclusively, interested in the temporal aspects of self and consciousness (e.g. his stream of consciousness and his principle of continuity), Bakhtin seemed to be more interested, certainly in his treatment of Dostoevsky's novels, in space. The notion of dialogue, open as it is, provides the possibility of differentiating the inner world of one and the same character in the form of an interpersonal relationship. The transformation of an ‘inner’ thought of a particular character into an utterance instigates dialogical relations to occur between this utterance ‘here’ and the utterance of an imagined other ‘there’. This opposition was vividly exemplified in Dostoevsky's novel The Double in which the second hero (the double) was introduced as a personification of the interior thought of the first hero (Golyadkin). In this way, the interior thought of the main character was exteriorized in the form of a spatially separated opponent so that a fully developed dialogue between two relatively independent parties could develop. In such a dialogical narrative that is structured by space and time, space is ‘upgraded’ so that temporal relations are transformed into spatial relations. This leads to a construction in which temporally dispersed events are contracted into spatial oppositions that are simultaneously present. In Bakhtin's words: ‘This persistent urge to see all things as being coexistent and to perceive and depict all things side by side and simultaneously, as if in space rather than time, leads him [Dostoevsky] to dramatize in space even the inner contradictions and stages of development of a single person’ (p. 23; emphasis added). The construction of narratives as a polyphony of spatial oppositions allows Bakhtin to treat a particular thought or experience in the context of both interior and exterior dialogues, creating an interface where a multiplicity of perspectives can meet.
James and Mead with their fertile views on the self and Bakhtin with his ground‐breaking views on dialogue have been significant sources of inspiration for the development of dialogical self theory as depicted in this chapter. At the same time, I want to go beyond these authors by developing a theory in which the notion of positioning is necessary in order to further articulate both the temporal and spatial aspects of the self. As we will see, this theoretical development provides a basis for understanding the process of positioning and counterpositioning as spatial aspects and the process of positioning and repositioning as temporal aspects of an embodied dialogical self. In the following I give a brief description of the dialogical self and then elaborate on some of its foundations and implications.
(p. 660) The Dialogical Self as Positioned in Space and Time
Inspired by the founding work of James (1890), Mead (1934), and Bakhtin (1929), Hermans et al. (1992) criticized the assumption that the self is organized around one centre or core. Rather than arguing for a self that is organized from a centralized headquarters and separated from its environment, they proposed a (partly) decentralized self that is extended to the social world with the social other as located not outside but inside the self. Instead of one centralized author with a unifying view on the world, the dialogical self was conceived in terms of a dynamic multiplicity of relatively autonomous ‘I‐positions’ that are organized in an imagined landscape. These I‐positions are involved in processes of mutual dialogical relationships that are intensely interwoven with external dialogical relationships with actual others. In this conception, the I is always bound to particular positions in time and space but has the possibility to move from one position to the other in accordance with changes in situation and time. In this process of positioning and repositioning, the I fluctuates among different and even opposed positions, and has the capacity to imaginatively endow each position with a voice so that dialogical relations between positions can develop. The voices behave like interacting characters in a story, involved in a process of question and answer, agreement and disagreement, negotiations and integrations. Each of them has a story to tell about their own experiences from their own perspective. As different voices, these characters exchange information about their respective Mes, creating a complex, narratively structured self.
The presented view does not imply that dialogue is there always and everywhere. At least two factors prevent dialogical relationships from developing. First, as part of a multiplicity of positions, some of them are more dominant in the self than other ones. As Linell (1990) has argued, such dominance differences are partly the result of differences in relative dominance between speakers in interaction (e.g. the amount of talk), partly they are reflections of societal power differences (e.g. positions based on one's race, gender, religion, or age). The implication of these differences is that some positions and their voices are backgrounded, silenced, or even suppressed. When one position becomes highly dominant in the self, so that other positions have no chance to speak from their own needs, emotions, memories, and expectations, the relationship becomes more monological than dialogical. It should be noted, by the way, that a monological relationship is not simply undesirable. There are situations in which a monological relationship can be necessary (e.g. a quick decision of a general in an emergency situation at war) or desirable (e.g. when ‘I as a smoker’ is seen as obnoxious, it can be suppressed by ‘I as concerned about my health’ and this suppression is felt as contributing to the well‐being of many other (p. 661) parts of the self). Second, not all positions in the self are in direct contact with each other so that dialogical relationships have no chance to develop. Some positions can function well without contact with other significant positions. For many people sex (‘I as being in a sexual mood’) may be a desirable position in which they find themselves well functioning, but this position has no direct contact with their functioning as an intellectual thinker. Stronger, when engaged in an intimate contact, a dialogical interchange between these positions could well disturb the well‐functioning of each of them. On the other hand, there are situations in which a direct dialogical contact between positions is felt as highly desirable in order to take a ‘reasonable’ decision as, for example, when the person is involved in an inner conflict between her wish to reduce her working time in the service of ‘I as an enjoyer of life’ and her wish to work more hours in the service of ‘I as making a career’. In other words, dependent on the nature of the situation and the organization of the position repertoire as a whole, positions are involved in contact with each other or not. When they are involved in contact, this can take the form of a dialogue or a monologue. The processes of positioning and counterpositioning, like the positioning and repositioning, are taking place in a self that can be described as a ‘society of mind’ (for a comparable view, see Minsky 1985). When dialogical relationships have a chance to develop, positions get in touch with each other and exchange ideas, emotions, memories, expectations, and plans. They learn from each other to their mutual benefit and to the benefit of the self as a whole. In other words, in the presented theory, dialogue is seen as a valuable potential of the self and as intrinsically bound to the process of positioning that both enables the self and constrains it.
In the proposed conception the dialogical self is seen as ‘social’, not in the sense that a self‐contained individual enters into social interactions with other ‘outside people’, but in the sense that other people occupy I‐positions in a multi‐voiced self. The self is not only ‘here’ but also ‘there’ and due to the power of imagination the person can act ‘as if’ she were the other (the other‐in‐the‐self). This is not to be equated with ‘taking the role of the other’ as Mead (1934) would have it, as this expression implies that the self takes the actual perspective of the other. Rather, I construe another person or being as an ‘external position in the self’ that I can occupy and that creates an alternative perspective on the world and myself. This perspective may or may not be congruent with the perspective of the actual other, can be more or less imaginary, and might be a creative construction (e.g. an artistic perception or depiction of the other). The imaginary, illusionary, or creative aspects of the other‐in‐the‐self can be made explicit by entering into a dialogue with the actual other leading to the confirmation, correction, modification, or further development of the original position.
In psychological circles questions are often raised about the implications of the multi‐voiced dialogical self for psychological health. The implicit assumption behind this question is that multi‐voicedness is detrimental to the prevailing (p. 662) notion of the self as an indivisible unity and centred in itself. In these discussions, unity is often contrasted with fragmentation, with unity as a desirable end‐state or even as a starting‐point, and fragmentation as an aberration. Consequently, many scientists and professionals believe that healthy self‐development requires the fostering of unity and the avoidance of fragmentation. However, the notion of I‐position favours the inclusive opposition between unity and multiplicity instead of the exclusive opposition between unity and fragmentation. Whereas the exclusive opposition is associated with a strong evaluative connotation (unity is good, fragmentation is bad), the inclusive opposition assumes that the two principles, unity (expressed in the continuity of the I across positions) and multiplicity (expressed in the diversity of positions), are equivalent and even presuppose one another as complementary and dynamic aspects of a dialogical self.
A frequently discussed issue is the distinction between the normal functioning of the multi‐voiced, dialogical self and the controversial clinical dysfunction, Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD) or, its more recent version, Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) (see Chapter 23). Typically, these clinical categories refer to the serious impediments in the dialogical relationships between the ‘host personality’ and a diversity of ‘alters’, the latter ones representing rejected aspects of the original self (Carson et al. 1996). The difference between a multi‐voiced self and dissociative phenomena, however, can only be fully grasped if one takes into account the insight that the dysfunctional aspects of MPD and DID are not primarily in the existence of ‘parts’ in the self but in their functioning and organization. In the dysfunctional case, the dialogical contact between the several positions is severely constrained although in some cases one personality may be co‐conscious with another and different parts may even communicate with each other (Barresi 1994). As Bromberg (2004) has argued, multi‐voicedness is the normal condition, but it becomes abnormal when it used for defensive purposes or for the dissociation of unbearable parts of the self. As a consequence, the different voices are not in line with the demands of the situation at hand. An adult person may behave as a child in a situation that requires the response of an adult. In the dysfunctional organization of the self, moreover, one alter tends to dominate the total experiential field, with a simultaneous impairment of the possibility to move flexibly to other alters (although some people with this dysfunction may learn to invite different alters to enter into mutual conversations). Therefore, one could agree with Watkins (1986) when she concludes that dissociative phenomena are characterized by a sequential, monological succession of parts rather than by a simultaneous, cooperative, and dialogical relationship between different subselves. (For research and treatment of a client with DID, see Hermans and Hermans‐Jansen 1995: 187–95.)
(p. 663) The spatial nature of the self
The concepts of position and voice can only be properly understood when their spatial nature is taken into account. This nature becomes particularly manifest when one focuses on the difference between logical and dialogical relationships (Bakhtin 1973; Vasil'eva 1988). Consider two phrases that are completely identical, ‘life is good’ and again ‘life is good’. From the perspective of Aristotelian logic, these two phrases are related in terms of identity; in fact, they are one and the same statement. From a dialogical perspective, however, they are considered as two remarks expressed by the voices of two spatially separated people involved in communication, who entertain a relationship of agreement. From a logical point of view the two phrases are identical but as utterances they are different because they are originating from two people with different positions in space. The first is a statement, the second a confirmation. Similarly, the phrases ‘life is good’ and ‘life is not good’ can be compared. Within the framework of logic, one is a negation of the other. However, as utterances from two different speakers, there is a relation of disagreement.1
There are not only spatial differences between two people in communication, but also between different voices of the self of one and the same person. Two voices in the self have different spatial positions and their meaning is determined not only by these positions but also by their dialogical interchange. This is quite evident when I'm involved in an imagined conversation with my father who is somewhere ‘there’ in my mind, located in a place in my self‐space that is different from the place ‘here’ from which I speak to him. This spatial difference does not only apply to the imagined contact with a dear parent, understanding friend, wise adviser, or ideal lover, but also with purely imaginary figures. Referring to cultural anthropological literature, Watkins (1986) gives the example of the Batak people of northern Sumatra, who believe that a spirit who determines the character and fortune of a person is ‘a man within a man’. Such a spirit does not coincide with his self and can even be considered as an opponent who is experienced as a special being within the self, with its own will and desires. Also Cassirer (1955) emphasizes that in mythical awareness a tutelary spirit is not conceived as the ‘subject’ of someone's inner life but as something objective, ‘which dwells in man, which is spatially connected with him and hence can also be spatially separated from him’ (Cassirer 1955: 168, cited by Watkins 1986).
The spatial distance and tension exist not only between the position of myself ‘here’ and the imagined or imaginary other who is experienced as ‘there’, but also (p. 664) between different positions in the purely internal domain of the self (e.g. ‘I as open’ vs. ‘I as closed’ or ‘I as rational’ or ‘I as emotional’). This becomes particularly manifest when people say that they have different or even opposite ‘sides’ in their personality or, more dynamically, when they feel ‘swept’ between two impulses during an internal conflict. Spatial differences are intrinsic to different positions in which one is located and to the different voices with which one speaks. Different positions and voices are associated with different emotions, memories, aspirations, and expectations that are subjected to articulation, development, or change as originating from their different locations in the space of the self (for the notion of ‘self‐space’ see also Jaynes 1976).
The embodied nature of the self
Although verbal language plays a crucial role in the practice of the dialogical self, it should be noted that dialogue is broader than linguistic dialogue. Much dialogue between people develops through body language, facial expression, smiling, gazing, vocalizations, intonations, and gestures. Non‐verbal forms of dialogue are also expressed in dance, drum beating, music, ballet, and in other forms of artistic activity. Even actions can have a symbolical meaning as, for example, when a parent punishes a child as a sign of disapproval. Mead (1934) also was well aware of the relevance of non‐verbal communication, when he introduced the notion of ‘gesture’ as a central element in his theory of symbolic interactionism.2
The body and body movements function as a physical basis for the metaphorical movements in a multi‐positional self. Johnson (1987), for example, has argued that metaphors are deeply entrenched in the human mind in the form of ‘image schemas’, like verticality and horizontality, which find their origin in the shape of our body. We use such schemas to structure the environment and make sense of the events that take place in our surroundings. A verticality schema helps us to employ an up–down orientation. We stand ‘upright’ or ‘lie down’ and ask how tall our child is. A horizontality schema is useful to employ a here–there orientation. We ‘leave a place’ or push something ‘away’ that bothers us.
However, an image schema has a function that goes beyond a purely corporeal structure. It is employed as a metaphor for organizing our psychological (p. 665) understandings. For example, estimations of quantities are expressed in terms of verticality, as in the phrasings ‘prices are going up’ or ‘the company's gross earnings fell’. Such statements are based on the concept that ‘more is up’ although we are not aware of that. Apparently, we employ a verticality schema as a physical base for our mental comprehension, although there is not any intrinsic reason why ‘more’ should be ‘up’. Similarly, horizontal schemas are applied to structure and to understand ourselves and the surroundings. We say, ‘I feel such a distance in my contact with him’ or ‘the project is in progress’. We are used to applying a horizontal schema to conceptualize what is happening, although there is no intrinsic reason to see improvement of a project as a form of forward movement.3
Apparently, an image schema emerges first as a structure of our body and is then figuratively applied at more abstract levels of understanding. Likewise, the processes of positioning and repositioning are originally movements of the body that are later used as metaphors for understanding the functioning of the self. On a vertical plane we experience ourselves as ‘top‐dog’ or ‘underdog’, terms that reflect power differences as contrasting positions in the self. The verticality dimension can be seen as a metaphorical basis of the relative dominance of positions in the self. On a horizontal plane where we make (imaginary) steps towards or away from something or somebody else, we can position ourselves as ‘close to’ or ‘far from’ somebody else, in this way reflecting a psychological distance between ourselves and others. Also dialogical relationships can be portrayed as metaphorical movements. We move to the position of the other and back, going hence and forth on an horizontal plane. When we are dominant in an interchange with another or ourselves (e.g. placing ourselves above the other or looking down to ourselves in case of disrespect) we are moving up and down on a vertical plane. The horizontal and vertical planes form bodily fundaments on which processes of positioning and counterpositioning can take place both between people and within the self.
(p. 666) Significant moments in the development of the dialogical self
For understanding the dialogical nature of the self, both space and time are basic categories.4 From a temporal perspective, I will describe some forerunners and early manifestations of dialogical activities in order to demonstrate that verbal dialogical activity has its basis in embodied forms of intersubjectivity. I will argue that the dialogical nature of the self is rooted in prelinguistic and non‐verbal forms of interaction and intersubjectivity (see Chapter 2). In order to understand the emergence of a dialogical self, and the process of positioning and repositioning in particular, insight in the bodily basis of early interactions is required.
Imitation, provocation, and inborn subjectivity
Like echoing in the auditory field, imitation in the visual field can be considered as a precursor of dialogical activity. Investigations of neonatal imitation are particularly relevant to understanding the developmental and embodied basis of a dialogical self. Neonatal imitation refers to a young infant's facial, hand, and finger movements and vocalizations as a reflection of the corresponding movements of a perceived other. Much of this research is instigated by the pioneering work by Maratos (1973) and Meltzoff and Moore (1994) who demonstrated that from birth onward infants are capable of imitating tongue protrusion as modelled by an experimenter. This phenomenon is striking as infants are able to imitate the perceived body movements of the other before a visual representation of the corresponding parts of their own body is available.
Studying the mechanism of neonatal imitation Nagy and Molnar (2004) discovered that newborns are not only capable of responding to tongue protrusion by an experimenter, but are also able to take initiative during this interaction. Apparently, there exists not only neonatal imitation but also neonatal ‘provocation’ as indicated by the finding that newborns spontaneously produce previously imitated gestures while waiting for the experimenter's response. Infants are not only capable of responding to a model by imitating, but also able to take the initiative to evoke an imitative response on the part of the other. As part of this study, the investigators found that the underlying physiological mechanisms of imitation and provocation were different. While imitation was accompanied by heart rate acceleration (as an index of preparatory arousal), provocation was accompanied by heart rate deceleration (as an index of orientation and attention). The investigators concluded that, ‘These findings may constitute a laboratory demonstration of the first dialogue’ (p. 54). Indeed, imitation, as responding to the initiative of the other, and (p. 667) provocation, as taking the initiative, can be considered as precursors of turn‐taking behaviour and exchange in terms of question and answer, as typical of later dialogical processes.5
Pseudo‐dialogues, memory, and imagination
For the development of turn‐taking behaviour, so‐called ‘pseudo‐dialogues’, taking place between mother and child, are of particular interest. Studying early interactions with the use of stop‐frame and slow‐motion microanalysis of films and videotapes, investigators have observed that mothers and infants are involved in turn‐taking behaviour from the moment the infant is born. Involved in an intimate contact with their children, mothers respond to the sucking pattern of their babies. When the baby sucks, the mother is quiet. However, when the baby pauses, she often talks to her and touches her, addressing the baby in verbal and non‐verbal ways. The mother treats the baby's burst of sucking as a ‘turn’, responding to it with an interactional pattern. During this rhythmic process of turn‐taking, the mother waits for an imagined response from the baby and acts as if the baby is involved in an actual process of turn‐taking (Newson 1977).
At some later point in time, the infant actually responds with babbling and the incidence of this reaction increases dependent on the mother's responses. When the baby is approximately one year old, she is generally able to give some real responses. When there is an expectant pause in the interaction, the child is able to vocalize and pseudo‐dialogues change into more developed speech acts:
Mother:‘Do you like that’?
Mother:‘Yes, it's a nice top, isn't it’?
As said earlier, at the beginning of this chapter, imagination is crucial for the functioning of a dialogical self, particularly for the development of the other‐in‐the‐self. When children are 2 to 3 years of age, they converse not only with their parents and siblings, but also with imagined interlocutors. When they are on their own, they rework memories of earlier events, amuse themselves, and use language to direct their own actions. Garvey (1984) recorded a variety of vocalizations and speech from 28‐month‐old Sarah during a nap period and found a remarkable variety of quiet murmurs, grunts, squeals, and intoned babbles. The range included humming and snatches of songs, rhymes, and counting. Sarah had an imagined ‘telephone conversation’ and even described her own activities (e.g. ‘I'm putting (p. 668) my socks on’). As these observations suggests, memory and imagination enable the child to evoke others (e.g. family members and dolls) and interiorize them as positions of their extending selves.
Joint attention and indirect self‐knowledge
A crucial step in the development of a dialogical self is when the child, by 9 months of age, starts to perceive and understand others as intentional. The perception of the other as an intentional being is closely related with viewing the environment from the perspective of the other. When the adult, involved in a conversation with the child, points with her finger to an object in the environment, the child does not look at the finger, as it used to do earlier, but it looks in the direction to which the adult is pointing. This interactional phenomenon is described in terms of ‘joint attention’, highlighted as ‘the nine‐month miracle’ (Tomasello 1993). When children are able to jointly attend, they are not just directing their attention to other individuals as separate from objects in the environment and not to objects in the environment as separated from others, but they actually start to see objects from the perspective of the other person, that is, through the eyes of the other person. The child is learning not simply from another but rather through another.
A significant developmental step is made when the joint attention between caretaker and child is directed not only to the environment, but also to the child itself, resulting in a form of self‐reflective attention. This attention is not a direct but rather an indirect perception of the child of herself, that is, through the perspective of the caretaker. From now on, the child is able to learn about herself via the perception, intention, and evaluation of the other toward her (Bertau 2004; Tomasello 1993). This indirect self‐knowledge is well in agreement with Mead's (1934) classic notion of ‘taking the role of the other’, with the difference that the position of the other‐in‐the‐self is a complex combination of taking the position of the other and imaginative processes that construct and reconstruct the other as part of an extended self.
Joint attention is not only a cognitive process, it also has affective implications. Contingent on the frequency, intensity, and duration of the reactions of the parents, some positions become more dominant in the self than others. When the child is repetitively placed in a negative position by parents or caretakers (e.g. ‘You are a bad boy’), there is a good chance that this position becomes more rooted and dominant in the self than when he is primarily placed in a positive position (‘You are a good boy’). As the result of joint attention and its affective connotation, the child incorporates the (affective) view of the other towards himself, unless his self is able to develop counter‐forces that compensate for this influence. Self‐reflection and self‐dialogue develop via the other and include the perceptions, intentions, and emotions of the other and the child's reactions to them. The (p. 669) process of joint attention paves the way for inclusion of the other‐in‐the‐self as resulting from a two‐way interchange between self and other.6
Turning points in body positions
The relationship between self and environment is highly contingent on the positioning and repositioning of the body. When Neisser (1988) proposed his concept of the ‘ecological self’ he had in mind the position of an embodied self in a spatial environment. The perception of objects depends directly on the information about the location of one's own body in the environment. The perception of the environment gives feedback and information about one's own position in space. On the empirical level, this view is supported by Lee and Lishman (1975) who placed an observer in a room in which the end wall recedes from the position of the observer. The discrepancy between the visual information and the position in the room then causes a loss of posture stability in the backward direction and, as a correction of this loss, the observer tends to fall forward. The opposite effect takes place when, in the reversed condition, the observer is placed in a room with an approaching wall. As such experiments suggest, one's physical position in space has direct repercussions for the way the environment is perceived and vice versa.
With reference to the ecological nature of the self, there are four moments in the development of the young child that show how the process of repositioning in space leads to dramatic differences in perspectives: rolling over, crawling, standing, and walking. By 6 months most babies are able to roll over from back to front and front to back, movements that give entirely different views on the environment. The front position gives the child a frontal view on the environment and from this position it can actively grasp and move objects toward the body and to the mouth in particular. The objects can be moved from ‘there’ to ‘here’ and back and, moreover, from ‘not felt’ to ‘felt’ and back on a horizontal plane. When babies, from 6 to 12 months, start crawling, objects that are initially out of reach can be approached and touched. Placed in a field of tension between what is reachable and what is not reachable, a dynamic and linear field is stretched between ‘here’ and ‘there’ in which the baby is able to make movements from the one to the other with the possibility to diminish or enlarge the distance between the two positions. The first attempts to stand upright can be observed from the time that the child is about 4 to 5 months old. Whereas crawling enables the infant to move on the horizontal plane, standing up, although frightening at the beginning due to the risk of falling, makes it possible to explore movements on a vertical plane. While crawling makes (p. 670) it possible to play and experiment with the opposite pair of ‘here’ versus ‘there’, standing stimulates the child to explore the opposite pair of ‘high’ versus ‘low’. The form and structure of the body and corresponding movements in the spatial environment enable the child to position and reposition himself in a physical space. This physical space provides the basis for later metaphorical forms of positioning, repositioning, and counterpositioning in the space of the self. The ecological self forms the basis for a spatially structured dialogical self.
Connection between the Social and the Body
The infant is social and embodied from birth onward. The social and embodied foundations of the self are intensely interconnected. If one gives primacy to the social, then one is at risk of underestimating the role of the body. When, reversely, primacy is given to the body, one is confronted with the problem of neglecting the profound role of the social in human life. As the increasing interest in the role of ‘embodied (social) cognition’ (e.g. MacDonald and Leary 2008) exemplifies, there is not only theoretical but also empirical evidence that body and social cognition are intensely intertwined from a psychological and neuroscientific point of view.7
If this is so, what then is the relationship between the body and the social in the emergence of a dialogical self? In order to answer this question, the spatial and embodied nature of the self should be taken into account from the onset in order to understand the social development of the child. As soon as social processes are taking place, the child is developing, at the same time, as an embodied being and she can only be social in an embodied way. In the course of her development, the child will increasingly structure her experiences in relation to others and herself on the basis of spatial metaphors that have their roots in the form of the body and in the movements that are allowed by the body. As bodily located, the child is able to move (crawl or walk) away from the mother and to go back to her. When the spatial distance between the mother and the child increases, the child feels, at some point, unsafe and wants to return to the mother in order to feel safe again.8 In (p. 671) doing so, the child is moving on a horizontal dimension that is, at some later point in time, interiorized in the self as a metaphorical dimension stretched between the polar opposites of feeling close versus feeling distant in the relationship with the mother as a significant other‐in‐the‐self or in the relationship with oneself (e.g. feeling close to oneself or alienated from one's desires).
In summary, social and bodily dimensions are intensely intertwined in the development of the child and sign‐mediated interchanges with others and oneself lead to the construction of personal and social meanings in a spatially structured and embodied self. I‐positions are not abstract entities but emergent properties of a socially constructed and embodied self. They emerge from social processes that are structured by the form and movements of the body and its basic opposites. Analogous to Vygotsky's (1987) view that the child begins to converse with himself as he previously conversed with others, I assume that the child experiences the positions in himself that he previously experienced in his embodied relationship with the other. It should be added that, when positions emerging from social interactions are interiorized, the self is able to respond to these positions in the form of counterpositions. In the interplay between positions and counterpositions the agency of the self comes to its full expression.
What is Dialogical in the Self?
The preceding considerations lead us to the question of what is dialogical in the self. In order to answer this question four notions that are at the heart of the dialogical self are needed: addressivity, difference, innovation, and alterity.
When there is a verbal dialogue between people or groups of people, they do not simply talk about each other, but they talk with each other. They address each other (p. 672) on a level where they both are subjects involved in a social relationship. One person addresses another person as another I, approached in his subjectivity and intentionality. In the context of dialogue, the subject is not understood as a separate person, encapsulated in his own subjectivity or as a self‐contained entity, as Sampson (1985) would have it, but as a participant in an interchange that is marked by addressivity and responsiveness. In this interchange the Jamesian levels of self‐as‐subject and self‐as‐object have to be taken into account. On the subject level different selves address and respond to each other as subjects involved in a process of verbal or non‐verbal interchange. They do so from the perspective of their own positions from which they address the positions on the part of the other (e.g. the other as friend, parent, opponent). On the object level the parties involved in dialogue talk about themselves, each other, or their worlds. The two levels are not independent. The subject level has primacy over the object level. That is, the content of the object level is not fixed, stable, and materialized as a book in a library. Instead, it is fluid, changing, and modifiable as a result of the influence of the subject level on the object level. When I have a productive discussion with a friend about matters that interest us, my view on the object matter and on myself is changed under the influence of our intersubjective exchange.
Addressivity as an intrinsic feature of dialogue is not a purely individualized matter. It refers not only to productive interchanges between the voices of individuals but also between collective voices of the groups, communities, and cultures to which the individual person belongs. Collective voices speak through the mouth of the individual person (e.g. ‘I as a psychologist’, ‘I as a member of a political party’, or ‘I as a representative of an ecological movement’). From a Bakhtinian perspective, all utterances are multi‐voiced and dialogical at the same time (Skinner et al. 2001). They are multi‐voiced not only because I can talk with different internal voices (e.g. in an internal conflict) but also because I'm part of social groups, conventions, or communities. In the act of speaking there are at least two voices: the voice of the speaking person and the voice of a social language (e.g. one's dialect, one's professional group, one's generation). As Bakhtin argued, the word in language is ‘half‐foreign’ as the collective voice of a social group speaks through the mouth of the individual speaker. The collective voice of the group or community becomes one's own when the speaker populates it with his own intentions, intonations, and expressive tendencies (e.g. ‘I speak as a psychologist, but at the same time I'm expressing my personal view or conviction’). A significant feature of collective voices is that they already exist before the individual person is born and they become deeply entrenched in particular positions in the self. Collective voices influence the content of particular positions in the self (e.g. I as a man, as white, as raised in a Western culture) and even their organization (e.g. depending on the culture in which I'm raised, some positions receive a higher place in the position hierarchy than others). Not only verbal but also non‐verbal forms of collective positioning influence the content and organization of the individual (p. 673) position repertoire, as exemplified by collective practices like carnival festivities, funeral ceremonies, rites of passage and religious traditions, forms that can be renewed over time depending on changing circumstances and the innovative capacities of individuals and groups.
Individual selves are not only bearers of traditions but also agentic in the sense that they are equipped to give an original response to the workings of collective voices and traditions. They do so in the form of agreement or disagreement, confirmation or renewal, from a personal point of view. As Hermans (2001 a) has argued, self is culture‐inclusive and culture is self‐inclusive. An implication of this view is that collective voices are not purely outside the individual self but a constitutive part of it. Self and others are addressing each other as a multiplicity of individual and collective voices.9
Dialogue can only proceed when differences between the voices are taken into account. As argued in the preceding sections, differences are in the nature of dialogue because, even when the same sentence is produced, they are different as utterances given their different positions in space. Such differences are at the heart of the dialogical self, because the mind is addressing and questioning itself without receiving an immediate answer. In a thorough analysis of the notion of dialogue, Blachowicz (1999) conceives the self in terms of a series of proposals and disposals, comparable with the interchange between a witness and a police artist cooperating in the construction of a drawing of a suspect:
I propose viewing the ‘dialogue of the soul with itself’ as a series of proposals and disposals similar in function to the exchange between the police artist and the witness in their collaboration. The two parties represent the independent interests of meaning and articulation. At one moment we may possess a meaning but fail to articulate it; at another moment we may possess just such an articulation, but find that its meaning fails to correspond with our intended one. We talk to our self when we think because only a (p. 674) dialogue where each side provides proposals and corrective disposals for the other can achieve a simultaneous satisfaction of these twin requirements. (1999: 182)
For a well‐functioning self, it should be added that the two parts are not entirely different. Blachowicz (1999) is well aware of this in arguing that, in order to produce a well‐functioning dialogue, the partners need some degree of each other's skills. Each should share the capacities of the other to some degree in order to make the collaboration productive. As part of a dialogue difference needs some degree of commonality. When people are cooperating in performing some kind of activity that needs coordination, such as husband and wife, employer and employee, or guide and traveller, they need some knowledge and understanding of each other's contribution to make the cooperation effective.
As involved in a process of proposing and disposing or positioning and counterpositioning, the self is confronted with its own differences and needs these differences in order to arrive at some point of clarity about itself. A dialogical self is based on the differences between the self and itself and therefore it is necessarily a process of positioning itself toward itself, including the‐other‐in‐the‐self. As Gadamer wrote: ‘Because our understanding does not comprehend what it knows in one single inclusive glance, it must always draw what it thinks out of itself, and present it to itself as if in an inner dialogue with itself. In this sense all thought is speaking to oneself’ (1989: 422). In this context, Gadamer referred to the ‘imperfection of the human mind’ in an anti‐Cartesian way: ‘the imperfection of the human mind consists in its never being completely present to itself but in being dispersed into thinking this or that’ (1989: 425). Likewise, the dialogical self is intrinsically uncertain because it is never complete at any moment in time and is always in need of a different part of itself, in order to arrive at some clarity in its relation to itself and the world.10
Agreement and disagreement, like question and answer, are dialogical forms. However, a question can be purely rhetorical or even coercive. And a disagreement between two people, particularly when they are defending their own point of view, can result in a two‐sided monologue. A fully fledged dialogue is more than that. It implies a learning process that confirms, innovates, or further develops existing positions on the basis of the preceding exchange (see also the innovative potential of the I in Mead's (1934) view). As a learning process it has the capacity to move the self to higher levels of awareness and integration. It is an arena of individual and collective learning (see also Bohm et al. 1991). As such, dialogue is more specific (p. 675) than the broader concept of ‘communication’. When a demagogic political leader is giving a speech to his audience describing another group of people as ‘bad’, ‘evil’, or ‘dangerous’, this is certainly a form of communication, but can it be said that he is involved in dialogue? The problem with the notion of communication is that it means ‘everything’ and therefore ‘nothing’. In contrast, dialogue is one of the most precious learning instruments of the human mind and is valuable enough to be stimulated and developed, particularly in situations where learning is hampered by monological communication. Therefore, it is necessary that we know not only how dialogue can be stimulated but also what its constraints are. There are situations where there is no dialogue or where it is not or not yet possible (e.g. in situations in which one party believes that its power position can only be maintained by the suppression of the other party) or even not required (e.g. a rescue in an emergency situation). The crucial question is not: is the person dialogical or not? But rather: when and under which conditions is dialogue possible and how can it be fostered?
The dialogical self can be further articulated by distinguishing it from ‘inner speech’, usually described as the activity of ‘silently talking to oneself’ and discussed in the literature in the form of equivalent concepts like ‘self‐talk’ or ‘self‐verbalizations’ and related concepts like ‘private speech’ or ‘egocentric speech’ (for review see Morin 2005). The dialogical self is different from inner speech in at least four respects: (a) it is multi‐voiced rather than mono‐voiced, as involved in interchanges between spatially different voices from different social or cultural origin; (b) voices are not only ‘private’ but also ‘collective’, as they talk through the mouth of the individual speaker; (c) the dialogical self reflects a theoretical view that explicitly rejects any dualism between self and other: the other (individual or group) is not purely outside the self but conceptually included as other‐in‐the‐self; (d) the dialogical self is not only verbal but also non‐verbal: there are embodied forms of dialogue before the child is able to verbalize or use any language (Hermans and Hermans‐Konopka 2010).11
Innovation is lacking in the phenomenon called ‘rumination’, where one or a few negatively experienced positions are dominating in the self (e.g. ‘I as a failure’, ‘I as guilty’, ‘I as a loser’, or ‘I as drinking too much’) to a degree that other positions that are qualitatively different have no chance to be included in the interchange. Often these positions are connected with a limited range of extended positions (e.g. ‘my angry father’ or ‘my boss who is not satisfied about me’) that evenly lack qualitative differences. In rumination the I is severely constrained by a cluster of positions that are easily accessible, but do not allow any exit as long as the worrying process continues. Typically, the person makes cyclic movements across these positions, again and again arriving at the same positions and becoming absorbed in their negatively coloured memories, cognitions, and anticipations. In fact, such a cluster (p. 676) functions as an I‐prison from which the person feels not able to escape. There is a tendency of becoming locked up in oneself and losing an open contact with the environment. Positive positions (e.g. ‘I as optimist’ or ‘I has having a sense of humour’) are backgrounded and not accessible so that the negative positions have no chance to change or develop as long as the self is imprisoned in rumination.
In a dialogical conception of the self a moral stance follows from the consideration that the ‘other’ is an intrinsic part of an extended self. As Richardson et al. say: ‘Dialogic relations are always fundamentally ethical because in them we always are either acknowledged or ignored, understood or misunderstood, treated with respect or coerced’ (1998: 510). Not only dialogue, but also the self can be seen as a basically moral enterprise, as Taylor concludes in an exploration of the self as emerging in the history of philosophy: ‘My identity is defined by the commitments and identifications which provide the frame or horizon within which I can try to determine from case to case what is good, or valuable, or what ought to be done, or what I endorse or oppose. In other words, it is the horizon within which I am capable of taking a stand’ (1989: 27). Indeed, in dialogue we appear before the actual others and take a moral stance. This implies that dialogical relationships do not only require that the other person is recognized as different from oneself but is also respected and valued in his alterity.
As Cooper and Hermans (2007) have observed, there is not only an alterity in the world around us, but also inside: the positions within the self deserve attention and recognition in their otherness. Just as one can talk of the alterity of another person, it is legitimate to talk of ‘self‐alterity’. By introducing this concept, we proposed to go beyond Levinas's (1969) characterization of the self as ‘sameness’ and understand it, instead, as having an intrinsic diversity and alterity. We emphasized that self‐alterity should be seen as an extension of ‘other‐alterity’ rather than as an alternative to it. The idea was that even the most ‘internal’ self‐experiences are infused with something non‐self. Self‐alterity, like other‐alterity, is characterized by the recognition and evaluation of the differences, multiplicity, and changes of one's own positions in their relative autonomy.
The alterity of self and other and its realization in dialogical relationships is located in a field of tension with the notion of identity in the sense of sameness over time. It is a well‐accepted view in the social sciences that the self is striving for identity, stability, and continuity because these qualities are in the service of the basic need of safety. As a result, the alterity of the other becomes subordinated to dominant identity positions in the self. Recognizing the alterity of the other implies certain ‘identity costs’ as it is challenging a stabilized self‐identity. Therefore, in order to recognize the alterity of the other and even of the different positions in the (p. 677) self, a certain tolerance for uncertainty is required. This tolerance should be a central part of ‘alterity‐learning’ (Hermans and Hermans‐Konopka 2010) that invites the person to find a balance between the need for a clear and sufficiently stable (yet open) identity on the one hand and the necessity of accepting alterity as part of productive dialogical relationships on the other hand. Alterity learning is a challenging task because the need for stability and safety instigates people to remain in the ‘comfort zone’ of the self that refers to a set of ordinary positions that are perceived as familiar and to which one continuously tends to return. We tend to return to the same positions not only in the internal domain but also in the external (extended) domain and we do so in our memories, thoughts, and fantasies (e.g. a picture of a deceased family member on the wall or a figure who is revisited in one's fantasies). Such ‘returning visits’ bring order, continuity, and safety in the self. In contrast to this tendency, alterity needs some deviation from the stabilized routines of everyday life and requires a broadening and innovation of one's comfort zone. The self is able to take alterity into account only when it is open to the uncertain inputs of the less familiar aspects of both the positions of others and those of oneself.
The ‘dialogical self’ is a composite concept that weaves together two notions, self and dialogue, in such a way that dialogue is brought into the self and the self into dialogue. Inspired by James (1890), Mead (1934), and Bakhtin, the proposed theoretical framework aims to transcend any dualism between self and other and, in a wider sense, between individual and society. The central thesis of this chapter is that the dialogical self is positioned in space and time. The notion of space was materialized by the concepts of positioning and counterpositioning whereas time was elaborated in the process of positioning and repositioning. Closely related to the spatial nature of self and dialogue, the bodily foundation of the dialogical self was explored. Referring to recent studies in developmental psychology, some precursors and developmental origins of the dialogical self were presented: imitation, provocation, joint attention, and significant turning points in the development of the body and its movements. Together these phenomena show how the spatial, embodied, and social aspects of the dialogical self go together in prelinguistic forms of contact and interchange. Finally, four key factors were discussed that are central to a full‐fledged dialogical self: addressivity, difference, innovation, and alterity. As an extension of the view of Levinas (1969), the phenomenon of (p. 678) ‘self‐alterity’ was presented as an acknowledgement and evaluation of the differences between positions within the self.
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(1) Dialogical relationships even allow the same sentence to receive the opposite meaning, depending on a different intonation in speech. When two people leave a theatre and one says, ‘This was a good performance’ and the other ‘repeats’ the remark in a sarcastic way, ‘This was a good performance!’ then this meaning difference fits with a dialogical framework but not with a logical one.
(2) From a neuropsychological point of view, Schore (2004) refers to the relevance of the right hemisphere for non‐verbal forms of dialogue. He argues that empathy, identification with others, and more generally intersubjective processes, are largely dependent upon right hemisphere resources. In apparent contrast to the conception that linguistic processes are typically associated with the left hemisphere, Schore emphasizes the critical function of the right hemisphere for the development of a dialogical self. Early social interactions are crucial for the development of non‐verbal manifestations of the self and, in turn, these events influence the later development of a more complex dialogical self.
(3) A recent trend in psychology is studies on ‘embodied cognition’. They are based on the idea that many metaphorical expressions have their literal basis in the body. For example, Williams and Bargh (2008) went with their participants into an elevator and asked them to keep, for a short time, a cup of warm or cold coffee in their hands. The participants who had felt the warm object judged afterwards a target person as having a warmer personality than did the participants who had felt the cold object. Also the metaphorical experience of ‘pain’ has a basis in the body. On the basis of a literature review, MacDonald and Leary (2008) describe that humans experience emotional pain as physical pain, in agreement with the finding that social animals have a warning system for socially threatening situations that has its roots in the brain areas for physical pain. Such experiments are in support of the idea that the use of metaphors has a literal basis in the functioning of the body.
(5) Imitation is not limited to physical movements but includes also affective reactions. Newborn infants at an average of 36 hours of age were able to imitate facial expressions of happiness, sadness, and surprise as a reaction to an actress who displayed these expressions (Field et al. 1982).
(6) In dialogical self theory, the spatial foundation of the process of positioning is intimately connected with its embodied and affective nature. For an elaboration of affective processes, and the dialogical relationship between self and emotions in particular, see Hermans and Hermans‐Konopka (2010: ch. 5).
(7) See nn. 2 and 3.
(8) In order to demonstrate the pervasive influence of early mother‐child interactions on the maturation of the brain, Schore (1994) refers to the ability of the self to occupy a ‘multiplicity of positions’ as reflecting the emergent capacity to adaptively switch between psychobiological states that are colored by different affects. When the maturing child develops a dialogical self, she is increasingly able to transcend her immediate state (e.g. distress) and to enhance ‘self‐solace’ capacities, i.e. the child is able to make a transition from an unsafe to a safe position. She can do so also when the mother is not present (‘Mammy is away now but she will come back’). The mature orbitofrontal cortex, involved as it is in homeostatic regulation, is increasingly able to adjust and correct emotional responses, given its capacity to shift between different limbic circuits and to make a transition between high and low arousal states in response to stressful alterations of external environmental conditions. The capacity of the orbitofrontal system to facilitate such transitions enables the self to maintain continuity across various situational contexts. As Schore argues, this capacity to make transitions from a negative to positive positions and to realize a certain level of adaptive continuity of the self is seriously reduced in forms of insecure attachment (1994: 373–85). (For neurological and psychological processes in the ‘dialogical brain’ see also Lewis 2002.)
(9) The notion of collective voice provides a useful alternative to Mead's notion of the generalized other. As Ritzer (1993) has argued, Mead's theory represents a ‘homogeneous society’ metaphor, with a heavy emphasis on micro‐social game‐like processes. In a globalizing world that is increasingly populated by a multiplicity and diversity of contrasting and conflicting voices on the interfaces of cultures (Hermans and Dimaggio 2007), the concept of the ‘generalized other’ becomes more and more obsolete. At these interfaces, different and even conflicting rules that ‘worked’ within the boundaries of relatively isolated groups or cultures have lost their significance as general principles. Given the processes of globalization and localization as intimately related developments, world citizens are challenged by the possibility and even necessity to develop ‘joint attention’ to their differences and conflicts as participants in a world that is spatially compressed but populated by individuals and groups who are lacking the dialogical capacity to deal with cultural differences and conflicts.