Beyond equality and inequality in education: Bakhtinian dialogic ethics approach of human uniqueness to educational justice

Eugene Matusov, Ana Marjanovic-Shane


In our essay, we challenge the hegemonic Kantian discourse of defining justice as equality (in a broader sense) and injustice as inequality in education (and elsewhere). We argue that this discourse is based on the underlining assumption of replaceability and measurement of people and of educational practice itself. In contrast, we argue that people and their education are unique. Thus, it is necessary to develop an alternative notion of justice based on uniqueness and immeasurability of people and their education. We found that Bakhtin’s dialogic ethics framework is helpful for developing such an alternative approach. According to the Bakhtinian dialogic ethics, people are engaged in self-contradictory deeds, charged with ethical tensions. These ethically problematic deeds must be challenged by others and the self in critical dialogue and must demand responses by the authors of the deeds striving to achieve justice. Taking responsibility is not merely a discursive process of answering – it is not “answerability” – but rather another ethic deed of defining ethically good or bad, defining quality and values, accepting blame, standing grounds, committing to fixing negative consequences, emotional sympathy, and so on. The process of challenging people’s deeds in critical dialogue and their taking (or not taking) responsibility defines (in)justice of people’s deeds. We examine two cases of educational injustice based on the Bakhtinian dialogic ethics framework of uniquness. We try to show that education and its justice are essentially authorial and, thus, unique processes. Even when justice involves measurable things like money, it is still about unique people with unique educational goals, interests, and needs in unique circumstances that these measurable resources afford. We consider a case of allocation of measurable resources as a compromise between the Kantian formulistic and the Bakhtinian dialogic ethics approaches. We conclude our essay with developing a vision for a just educational practice based on students’ academic freedoms for authorial education.


education, justice, equality, Bakhtinian dialogic ethics, human uniqueness

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Copyright (c) 2018 Eugene Matusov, Ana Marjanovic-Shane

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