The Norms of Answerability

Social Theory Between Bakhtin and Habermas

By Greg M. Nielsen
Foreword by Caryl Emerson

Subjects: Russian Studies
Paperback : 9780791452288, 272 pages, January 2002
Hardcover : 9780791452271, 272 pages, January 2002

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Table of contents



Introduction: Theory on the Borders of Sociology

Syncrisis and Anacrisis: The State of Bakhtin Studies
Creativity and General Sociological Theory
The Bridge between Culture and the Political

1. Diversity and Transcultural Ethics

Disciplinary Orientations
Decentered Subjects and Critiques of Discourse Ethics
The Creative Side of the Normative
The Normative Side of Creativity
Between the Creativity and the Normativity of the Act

2. Communicative Action or Dialogue?

Communicative Action and Moral Development
The Limits of Universal Reason
Dialogism: Mixing the Word and Style

3. The World of Other's Words

Bakhtin and Voloshinov on the Subject of the Utterance
Social and Ethical Worlds of Dialogue in Dostoevsky
The Frankfurt Tradition
Habermas's Break
Genres of Discourse in Literature and in Theory
From Dostoevsky to Calvino
Convergence and Difference

4. On the Sources of Young Bakhtin's Ethics (Kant, Vvedenskij, Simmel, Cohen)

Kant's Three Postulates
Vvedenskij's Fourth Postulate
Simmel's Shadow
Bakhtin and the Formal Ought
Cohen's "Discovery of Man as Fellowman"
Influences and Steps

5. Action and Eros (Kant-Weber-Bakhtin)

Kant: Duties Toward the Body Concerning the Sexual Impulse
Weber: Action, Ethics, and Eros
Bakhtin: The Fourth Postulate and Body-Dialogue
Eros and Action Today

6. Reflexive Subjectivity (Mead-Bakhtin)

Philosophical and Disciplinary Orientations
Between Consciousness and Language: The Ambiguity of Experience
Murder, Confession, and Community
Why the Subject Is Behind Us
Action Inside and Outside the Subject

7. Citizenship and National Identity

On the Dialogue Between Ethnos and Demos
For and against the Nation

8. A Dialogue on the Nation in Postnational Time

The Nation as a Sociology of Culture: The Quebec Case
Habermas: The Nation as Subjectless Communication
Taylor: The Nation as a Politics of Concession
Kymlicka: On National Minorities
Associational Sovereignty: Fourth Way?

9. Conclusion: On Culture and the Political




Explores the relevance of Bakhtin's thought to social theory.


Greg M. Nielsen brings Mikhail Bakhtin's ethics and aesthetics into a dialogue with social theory that responds to the sense of ambivalence and uncertainty at the core of modern societies. Nielsen situates a social theory between Bakhtin's norms of answerability and Jürgen Habermas's sociology, ethics, and discourse theory of democracy in a way that emphasizes the creative dimension in social action without reducing explanation to the emotional and volitional impulse of the individual or collective actor. Some of the classical sources that support this mediated position are traced to Alexander Vvedenskij's and Georg Simmel's critiques of Kant's ethics, Hermann Cohen's philosophy of fellowship, and Max Weber's and George Herbert Mead's theories of action. In the shift from Bakhtin's theory of interpersonal relations to a dialogic theory of societal events that defends the bold claim that law and politics should not be completely separated from the specificity of ethical and cultural communities, a study of citizenship and national identity is developed.

Greg M. Nielsen is Associate Professor of Sociology at Concordia University and Adjunct Professor in the Graduate Programme in Social and Political Thought at York University. He is also the author of Le Canada de Radio-Canada: Sociologie Critique et Dialogisme Culturel.


"Bakhtin is a hot topic, and the Bakhtin scholarship behind this book is first rate. This book also makes an original contribution to discussions on post-national democracy." — Brian C. J. Singer, author of Society, Theory, and the French Revolution: Studies in the Revolutionary Imaginary

"I think the author's use of Bakhtin's dialogism in order to provide a basis for negotiating between the extremes of ethnos and demos is an original and intellectually important contribution to social-political philosophy in an age that recognizes diversity as a major resource and problem for society." — Fred Evans, author of Psychology and Nihilism: A Genealogical Critique of the Computational Model of Mind