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

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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.

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How to Cite
Matusov, E., & Marjanovic-Shane, A. (2018). Beyond equality and inequality in education: Bakhtinian dialogic ethics approach of human uniqueness to educational justice. Dialogic Pedagogy: A Journal for Studies of Dialogic Education, 6.
Author Biographies

Eugene Matusov, University of Delaware

Eugene Matusov is a Professor of Education at the University of Delaware. He studied developmental psychology with Soviet researchers working in the Vygotskian paradigm and worked as a schoolteacher before immigrating to the United States. He uses sociocultural and Bakhtinian dialogic approaches to education. His recent books are: Matusov, E. (2017). Nikolai N. Konstantinov’s authorial math pedagogy for people with wings, Matusov, E. & Brobst, J. (2013). Radical experiment in dialogic pedagogy in higher education and its Centauric failure: Chronotopic analysis, and Matusov, E. (2009). Journey into dialogic pedagogy.

Ana Marjanovic-Shane, Chestnut Hill College Philadelphia, PA

Ana Marjanovic-Shane is an Independent scholar in Philadelphia, USA. She studies meaning making in human development, dialogic educational relationships and events, democracy in education, dialogic teacher orientation, the role of imagination, drama, play and critical dialogue in education. In her studies, she is developing a dialogic sociocultural paradigm, inspired by a Bakhtinian dialogic orientation. Her articles were published by "Mind, Culture, Activity Journal", "Learning, Culture and Social Interaction", and as book chapters in books on play, education, and democracy. Her most recent publication is: Marjanovic-Shane et al, (2017). Idea-dying in critical ontological democratic dialogue in classrooms. Learning, Culture and Social Interaction.