The Monologic Imagination

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Matt Tomlinson, Julian Millie
Oxford Studies in Anthropology of Language
  • Oxford, U.K.: 
    Oxford University Press
    , June
     288 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


The pioneering and hugely influential work of Mikhail Bakhtin has led scholars in recent decades to see all discourse and social life as inherently "dialogical." No speaker speaks alone, because our words are always partly shaped by our interactions with others, past and future. Moreover, we never fashion ourselves entirely by ourselves, but always do so in concert with others. Bakhtin thus decisively reshaped modern understandings of language and subjectivity. And yet, the contributors to this volume argue that something is potentially overlooked with too close a focus on dialogism: many speakers, especially in charged political and religious contexts, work energetically at crafting monologues, single-voiced statements to which the only expected response is agreement or faithful replication. Drawing on ethnographic case studies from the United States, Iran, Cuba, Indonesia, Algeria, and Papua New Guinea, the authors argue that a focus on "the monologic imagination" gives us new insights into languages' political design and religious force, and deepens our understandings of the necessary interplay between monological and dialogical tendencies.

About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Matt Tomlinson is associate professor of anthropology at the Australian National University. Since the mid-1990s, he has conducted research on culture, language, and ritual in Pacific Islands societies. He is the coeditor of several volumes and the author of two books, In God's Image: The Metaculture of Fijian Christianity (2009) and Ritual Textuality: Pattern and Motion in Performance (Oxford, 2014).

Julian Millie is senior lecturer and Australian research council future fellow in anthropology at Monash University. He has completed research on Islamic practice in Indonesia and on the genres of Islamic culture in the region. He has published two books: Bidasari: Jewel of Malay Muslim Culture (2004) and Splashed by the Saint: Ritual Reading and Islamic Sanctity in West Java (2009).


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