Toward a Dialogical Perspective on Agency


John McCarthy Department of Applied Psychology University College Cork Ireland Phone: +353 (0)21 4904502 Fax: +353 (0)21 4270439


The aim of this article is to motivate and outline a dialogical perspective on agency that accommodates centrifugal and centripetal tendencies in current cultural theories of agency. To complement approaches that assume a high degree of integration and clarity, we emphasise the diversity of agency as it is experienced in the open-ended dialogical relationship with a particular other. While these former approaches to agency provide us with the means to examine the influence of social processes such as division of labour and reproduction of community, they tend to underplay the importance of agency as it is embodied and experienced in the lives of particular people. To reflect on this aspect of agency, we will draw extensively on Bakhtin's work, which crosses boundaries between philosophy, psychology and literary criticism, and which is concerned to understand what is personal in activity. In terms of agency, his work draws our attention to the sense of responsibility and potentiality that imbues our dialogues with particular others, the aesthetics and ethics involved in dialoguing with the other, and the sense of dilemmatic choice and intonation that is involved in our dialogue with the other.