Dialogue (sometimes spelled dialog in American English) is a literary and theatrical form consisting of a written or spoken conversational exchange between two or more ("dia" means through or across) people. Its chief historical origins as narrative, philosophical or didactic device are to be found in classical Greek and Indian literature, in particular in the ancient art of rhetoric.
While the dialogue was less important in the nineteenth century than it had been in the eighteenth, it was not extinct. The British author W.H. Mallock employed it successfully in his work "The New Republic," which was explicitly based on Plato's "Republic" and on the writings of Thomas Love Peacock. But the notion of dialogue reemerged in the cultural mainstream in the work of cultural critics such as Mikhail Bakhtin and Paulo Freire, theologians such as Martin Buber, as an existential palliative to counter atomization and social alienation in mass industrial society.
As literary and philosophical device
Antiquity and the middle ages
Dialogue as a genre in the Middle East and Asia dates back to the year 1433 in Japan, Sumerian disputations preserved in copies from the late third millennium BC and to Rigvedic dialogue hymns and to the Mahabharata.
Literary historians commonly suppose that in the West Plato (c. 437 BC – c. 347 BC) introduced the systematic use of dialogue as an independent literary form: they point to his earliest experiment with the genre in the Laches. The Platonic dialogue, however, had its foundations in the mime, which the Sicilian poets Sophron and Epicharmus had cultivated half a century earlier. These works, admired and imitated by Plato, have not survived but scholars imagine them as little plays, usually presented with only two performers. The Mimes of Herodas give us some idea of their scope.
Plato further simplified the form and reduced it to pure argumentative conversation, while leaving intact the amusing element of character-drawing. He must have begun this about the year 405 BC, and by 400 he had perfected the dialogue, especially in the cycle directly inspired by the death of Socrates, and is considered a master of the genre. All his philosophical writings, except the Apology, use this form.
Following Plato, the dialogue became a major literary genre in antiquity, and several important work both in Latin and in Greek were written. Soon after Plato, Xenophon wrote his own Symposium; also, Aristotle is said to have written several philosophical dialogues in Plato's style (none of which have survived).
Dialogue is formed by the two words 'dia' and 'logos', which can be literally interpreted as 'to speak across', 'to converse', or more appropriately the 'two way flow/exchange' of meaning, which is the tone suggested by Bohm, and many modern philosophical (and management) writers.
Modern period to the present
Two French writers of eminence borrowed the title of Lucian’s most famous collection; both Fontenelle (1683) and Fénelon (1712) prepared Dialogues des morts ("Dialogues of the Dead"). Contemporaneously, in 1688, the French philosopher Nicolas Malebranche published his Dialogues on Metaphysics and Religion, thus contributing to the genre's revival in philosophic circles. In English non-dramatic literature the dialogue did not see extensive use until Berkeley employed it, in 1713, for his treatise, Three Dialogues between Hylas and Philonous. Landor’s Imaginary Conversations (1821–1828) formed the most famous English example of dialogue in the 19th century, although the dialogues of Sir Arthur Helps also claim attention and make himself more popular.
In Germany, Wieland adopted this form for several important satirical works published between 1780 and 1799. In Spanish literature, the Dialogues of Valdés (1528) and those on Painting (1633) by Vincenzo Carducci are celebrated. Italian writers of collections of dialogues, following Plato's model, include Torquato Tasso (1586), Galileo (1632), Galiani (1770), Leopardi (1825), and a host of others.
More recently, the French returned to the original application of dialogue. The inventions of "Gyp", of Henri Lavedan, and of others, which tell a mundane anecdote wittily and maliciously in conversation, would probably present a close analogy to the lost mimes of the early Sicilian poets. This kind of dialogue also appeared in English, exemplified by Anstey Guthrie, but these dialogues seem to have found less of a popular following among the English than their counterparts written by French authors.
The Platonic dialogue, as a distinct genre which features Socrates as a speaker and one or more interlocutors discussing some philosophical question, experienced something of a rebirth in the 20th century. Authors who have recently employed it include George Santayana, in his eminent Dialogues in Limbo (1926, 2nd ed. 1948; this work also includes such historical figures as Alcibiades, Aristippus, Avicenna, Democritus, and Dionysius the Younger as speakers), and Iris Murdoch, who included not only Socrates and Alcibiades as interlocutors in her work Acastos: Two Platonic Dialogues (1986), but featured a young Plato himself as well.
The philosophic dialogue, with or without Socrates as a character, continues to be used on occasion by philosophers when attempting to write engaging, literary works of philosophy which attempt to capture the subtle nuance and lively give-and-take of discourse as it actually takes place in intellectual conversation.
Compare: Closet drama
Martin Buber assigns dialogue a pivotal position in his theology. His most influential work is titled I and Thou. Buber cherishes and promotes throughout his work dialogue not as some purposive attempt to reach conclusions or express mere points of view, but as the very prerequisite of authentic relationship between man and man, and between man and God. His concern with the profound nature of true dialogue has resulted in what is known as the philosophy of dialogue.
The Second Vatican Council placed a major emphasis on dialogue with the World. Most of the Council's documents involve some kind of dialogue : dialogue with other religions (Nostra Aetate), dialogue with other Christians (Unitatis Redintegratio), dialogue with modern society (Gaudium et Spes) and dialogue with political authorities (Dignitatis Humanae).
The physicist David Bohm originated a related form of dialogue where a group of people talk together in order to explore their assumptions of thinking, meaning, communication, and social effects. This group consists of ten to thirty people who meet for a few hours regularly or a few continuous days. Dialoguers agree to leave behind debate tactics that attempt to convince and, instead, talk from their own experience on subjects that are improvised on the spot. People form their own dialogue groups that usually are offered for free of charge. There exists an international online dialogue list server group, facilitated by Don Factor, co-author of a paper called "Dialogue - A Proposal," with David Bohm and Peter Garrett.
The Russian philosopher and semiotician Mikhail Bakhtin’s theory of dialogue emphasized the power of discourse to increase understanding of multiple perspectives and create myriad possibilities. Bakhtin held that relationships and connections exist among all living beings, and that dialogue creates a new understanding of a situation that demands change. In his influential works, Bakhtin provided a linguistic methodology to define the dialogue, its nature and meaning:
Dialogic relations have a specific nature: they can be reduced neither to the purely logical (even if dialectical) nor to the purely linguistic (compositional-syntactic) They are possible only between complete utterances of various speaking subjects... Where there is no word and no language, there can be no dialogic relations; they cannot exist among objects or logical quantities (concepts, judgments, and so forth). Dialogic relations presuppose a language, but they do not reside within the system of language. They are impossible among elements of a language.
The Brazilian educationalist Paulo Freire, known for developing popular education, advanced dialogue as a type of pedagogy. Freire held that dialogued communication allowed students and teachers to learn from one another in an environment characterized by respect and equality. A great advocate for oppressed peoples, Freire was concerned with praxis—action that is informed and linked to people’s values. Dialogued pedagogy was not only about deepening understanding; it was also about making positive changes in the world: to make it better.
Today, dialogue is used in classrooms, community centers, corporations, federal agencies, and other settings to enable people, usually in small groups, to share their perspectives and experiences about difficult issues. It is used to help people resolve long-standing conflicts and to build deeper understanding of contentious issues. Dialogue is not about judging, weighing, or making decisions, but about understanding and learning. Dialogue dispels stereotypes, builds trust, and enables people to be open to perspectives that are very different from their own.
In the past two decades, a rapidly-growing movement for dialogue has been developing. The website of the National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation, serves as a hub for dialogue (and deliberation) facilitators, conveners, and trainers and houses thousands of resources on these communication methodologies.
Groups such as Worldwide Marriage Encounter and Retrouvaille use dialogue as a communication tool for married couples. Both groups teach a dialogue method that helps couples learn more about each other in non-threatening postures, which helps to foster growth in the married relationship.
Dialogue is a delicate process. Many obstacles inhibit dialogue and favor more confrontational communication forms such as discussion and debate. Common obstacles including fear, the display or exercise of power, mistrust, external influences, distractions, and poor communication conditions can all prevent dialogue from emerging.
Egalitarian dialogue is a concept in dialogic learning. It may be defined as a dialogue in which contributions are considered according to the validity of their reasoning, instead of according to the status or position of power of those who make them.
Structured dialogue represents a class of dialogue practices developed as a means of orienting the dialogic discourse toward problem understanding and consensual action. Whereas most traditional dialogue practices are unstructured or semi-structured, such conversational modes have been observed as insufficient for the coordination of multiple perspectives in a problem area. A disciplined form of dialogue, where participants agree to follow a framework or facilitation, enables groups to address complex problems shared in common.
Aleco Christakis (Structured Dialogic Design) and John N. Warfield (Science of Generic Design) were two of the leading developers of this school of dialogue, which was practiced for over 20 years as Interactive Management. The rationale for engaging structured dialogue follows the observation that a rigorous bottom-up democratic form of dialogue must be structured to ensure that a sufficient variety of stakeholders represents the problem system of concern, and that their voices and contributions are equally balanced in the dialogic process.
Today, structured dialogue is being employed by facilitated teams for peacemaking (e.g., Civil Society Dialogue project in Cyprus, Act Beyond Borders project in the Middle East,), global indigenous community development, government and social policy formulation, strategic management, health care, and other complex domains.
In one deployment, structured dialogue is (according to a European Union definition) "a means of mutual communication between governments and administrations including EU institutions and young people. The aim is to get young people’s contribution towards the formulation of policies relevant to young peoples lives." The application of structured dialogue requires one to differentiate the meanings of discussion and deliberation.
- Bohm Dialogue
- Dialogical self
- Dialogue Among Civilizations
- Dialogue in writing
- Intercultural Dialogue
- Interfaith dialogue
- Philosophy of dialogue
- Small talk
- Speech communication
- See entry on "dialogue (n)" in the Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd ed.
- G. J., and H. L. J. Vanstiphout. 1991. Dispute Poems and Dialogues in the Ancient and Mediaeval Near East: Forms and Types of Literary Debates in Semitic and Related Literatures. Leuven: Department Oriëntalistiek.
- dialogue. Dictionary.com. Online Etymology Dictionary. Douglas Harper, Historian. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/dialogue (accessed: February 28, 2013).
- Maranhão 1990, p.197
- Maranhão 1990, p.51
- Bakhtin 1986, p.117
- Emotional Competency web page on dialogue
- http://www.ActBeyond Borders.net
- Definition of structured dialogue focused on youth matters
- Bakhtin, M. M. (1986) Speech Genres and Other Late Essays. Trans. by Vern W. McGee. Austin, Tx: University of Texas Press.
- Maranhão, Tullio (1990) The Interpretation of Dialogue University of Chicago Press ISBN 0-226-50433-6
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press
- E. Di Nuoscio, "Epistemologia del dialogo. Una difesa filosofica del confronto pacifico tra culture", Carocci, Roma, 2011
|Look up dialogue in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|
- National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation
- Smith, M. K. (2001) Dialogue and conversation, the encyclopaedia of informal education
- The Journal of Inter-Religious Dialogue
Transmission of ideas