Dialogue is a form of communication that potentially emerges from an enabling environment. The enabling environment is characterized by qualitative time and space, willingness and good faith. Dialogue itself is characterized by participants peeling away layers of their personae, suspending their judgment and arriving at their own meaning and by a search for shared meaning. Therefore, since a primary process of dialogue is a change of state within essential liminality, dialogue is fundamentally a complex transformative process.

Atlee (2003) suggests that dialogue is a field characterized primarily by more or less transformative effect. I think this is far too simplistic as a whole definition, and draws the field far too broadly. The transformative nature of a search for shared meaning is not the same as, for example, the transformative process of personal mastery, although they can be informed by each other; and, zen meditation is not dialogue. Although it can be dialogical in some regard, a transformative experience alone cannot in and of itself be dialogue, because dialogue has specific characteristics that differentiate it from other transformative processes.

If transformation is the determination of dialogue then any human that changes is in dialogue. Since the human body is constantly re-generating, there is no point at which the human is not changing, whether they are in communication with another or not. Like Heraclitus' river, any subsequent sampling includes, necessarily, transformation of thought and idea; correlation suggests but cannot prove causation. Therefore, transformation is a necessary criteria only in as much as the presence of transformation implies the presence of a living entity, and since transformation exists outside of dialogue it cannot be a sufficient condition or dialogue would be omnipresent. I hold that dialogue is a special form of human behaviour and not an omnipresent one, and as transformation occurs without dialogue, I hold that dialogue as interaction between entities cannot be defined merely by transformation.

Here I must point out that by entities I do not necessarily mean only individuals. I hold that entities can be individuals, but that collections of individuals are also organizational entities with behaviours that are not merely an additive sum of the individuals. I also hold that individuals are a collection of psychological entities and that the individual is not merely an additive sum of these psychological entities. Relationships between entities may be some combination of intrapersonal, interpersonal, extrapersonal and superpersonal; and, these relationships are complex and systemic. I believe these dynamic relationships can all be dialogical and have the potential for dialogue.

At the same time, while not simply transformation, dialogue must be something specific or it is not worth talking about. Since I am going to talk about it, I beg the question of what dialogue is specifically. For this purpose, I will offer my working definition.

Posted by John Bell on March 13, 2009
Tags: Fragments of Dialogue

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