Dialogical Self Theory
State of the Art
Hubert Hermans
International Institute for the Dialogical Self
by Mikhail Bakhtin
by William James
- Summary Dialogical Self Theory
- Different conceptions of dialogue
- Dialogue inhibitors vs. -facilitators
- Controverse between Descartes and Montaigne
- The multiplicity (multivoicedness) of het self
and the necessity of emotion-reason dialogue
The Dialogical Self
A dynamic multiplicity of I-positions in the landscape
of the mind.
As voiced positions they allow dialogical
relationships both within and between people:
Self as society of mind.
Dialogical relationships involve both interchange and
relative dominance and are placed in a contex of
power relationships.
Hermans, H.J.M., Kempen, H.J.G., & Van Loon, J.P. (1992). The dialogical self:
Beyond individualism and rationalism. American Psychologist, 47, 23-33.
The dialogical self
Hubert Hermans &
Agnieszka Hermans-Konopka
by Mikhail Bakhtin
by William James
David Bohm,
Quantum physicist, philosophy of
mind, neuropsychology. Left USA
in McCarthy period because of
suspicions of communism.
Became British citizen
People say: ‘All we need is love.’ If there
were universal love, all would go well.
But we don’t appear to have it. So we
need to find a way that works.
David Bohm on dialogue
- “Thus, in a dialogue, each person does not attempt to make
common certain ideas or items of information that are already
known to him. Rather, it may be said that the two people are
making something in common, i.e., creating something new
together “ (p. 3)
- “Each one of us is doing the same thing- sticking to the
absolute necessity of his idea (…). ‘Is it absolutely
necessary?’. ‘Well, maybe it ‘s not absolute necessary’. Then
the whole thing becomes easier (…) The dialogue can then
enter a creative new area. I think this is crucial” (p. 26)
- Compare also Mead’s (1934) distinction between I and Me
with the generalized other as part of Me and I as the source of
innovation of society (see also Miguel Goncalves’ work on
innovative moments in psychotherapy)
Difference between Bohmian and
Bakhtinian dialogue
1. Dialogue is sometimes
2. Enhances collective
3. Discussion (including
disagreement) is no
1. Dialogue is always
2. Individual and collective
3. Discussion (including
disagreement) is
Barge, J.K., & Little, M. (2002), Dialogical wisdom, communicative practice,
and organizational life. Communication theory, 12 (4), 375-397.
Martin Buber,
Israeli philosopher of dialogue.
Broke with Jewish custom.
Professor at Frankfurt, resigned as
protest to Hitler. Left Germany in
Buber’s distinction between I-You and I-it
Buber (1970): distinction between I –YOU relationship
and I-IT relationship. I is involved in dialogical contact
with YOU. The perception of IT is a form of
objectification (although it can be linguistic
- I and YOU are members of a pair and not isolated
- I and IT are also members of a pair but of a different
- While the tree or a person is observed as part of a
category (I-IT) in the I-YOU relationship it is
experienced as a whole and in its ‘speaking richness’
(see also music or paintings)
Who wrote this text? (2000)
“But dialogue becomes possible only at a particular
time and place under certain psychological,
philosophical, and ethical conditions, and therefore,
not everybody, with any world view and belief in
some political, moral, religious or philosophical
system, can claim that he or she is an advocate of
dialogue. For real dialogue to take place, we require
a set of general, all-inclusive, a priori axioms, without
which no dialogue is possible in the true sense of the
word. It is up to such world organizations as Unesco
to conduct research into these axioms, to publicize
them, and to make them acceptable and even
desirable to the world community” (p. 30)
Mohammad Khatami (1943-), Iranian scholar, Shiite theologian,
and Reformist politician. He served as the fifth president of Iran
from 1997 to 2005. He is currently one of the leaders of the
Iranian Green Movement and an outspoken critic of the President
Ahmadinejad’s government
Exclusive truth pretentions: ‘I’m right’: confusion of
‘perspective’ and ‘reality’
Strong emotions are totalizing the mind: reduction of
multiplicity (e.g., anger, substance addiction, fanatic
Masking positions as dialogue-inhibitors
Transforming cognitive dissonance into consonance
moves the self into a monological direction:
tolerance for contradictions
Dialogue facilitators
Four levels of listening: (a) to the literate text; (b)
conceptual listening; (c) going into the intentions of
the other; (d) listerning to both yourself and the other
Inclusion of uncertainty: creating space for a not-yetknown counter-voice (opposite to prejudice)
Tolerance for contradictions: Montaigne: against
artificial certainty: there is always another perspective
possible; consulting head and heart (two inner
Transform dichtomies into mutually complementing,
counter-voices (open vs. closed, optimist vs.
pessimist, feminine vs. masculine)
Internal dialogues from trait
Revised NEO Personality Inventory (neuroticism,
extraversion, conscientiousness, agreebleness, openness) correlated
with measures of internal dialogical activity.
Persons having many inner dialogues scored
significantly higher on openness (fantasy, aesthetics,
feelings) and higher on instability (self-consciousness,
and anxiety) than persons with less dialogues.
Puchalska-Wasyl,, M. et al. (2008). From internal interlocutors to psychological
functions of dialogical activity. Journal of Constructivist Psychology, 21, 239-269
See also Oles’et al.’s chapter in the Handbook of Dialogical Self Theory. (2012).
Internal dialogues from trait perspective
“This is probably modified by developmental factors since, in
adolescents, internal dialogicality corresponds higher with
Neuroticism than with Openness […] while in the middle-aged
samples the internal dialogical activity corresponds higher with
Openness than with Neuroticism […]). This implies that in
adolescents internal dialogues are stimulated mainly by anxiety
and personal problems, whereas in adults mostly by openness
and curiosity. Adolescents may use internal dialogues for coping
with the unknown, which tends mainly to reduce anxiety, while
middle-aged adults use internal dialogues mainly for exploring
new worlds and for dialectical thinking which broadens the scope
of personal possibilities”
Oles et al. (2011). Dialogicality and personality traits. In: H.J.M. Hermans & T. Gieser
(Eds.) (2012), Handbook of Dialogical Self Theory (241-252). Cambridge UK:
Cambridge University Press.
Talking to, about, and with
Triadic situation: Student stalking about their
experiences in their internship with a school mentor
and workplace mentor:
- Talking to the student: 65%
- Talking about the student: 21%
- Talking with the student: 9%
While talking with the student is the situation in which
they learn most about themselves
Winters et al. (2012). The self in carreer learning: An evolving dialogue. In: H.J.M.
Hermans & T. Gieser (Eds.) (2012), Handbook of Dialogical Self Theory (pp. 454-469).
Cambridge UK: Cambridge University Press.
Controverse between Descartes and
Montaigne on certainty and contradictions
Montaigne: (1533-1592)
Descartes: (1596-1650)
1. Against arrogant certainty
1. Perfect certainty
(“Que sais je?”)
2. Removing
2. Tolerance and awareness
contradictions and
of contradictions and
uncertainty: one
uncertainty: different
rational perspective
3. Reason above emotion: 3. Reason and emotion as
head above the heart
equivalent sources of
Montaigne: Multiplicity within and between selves
“We are all framed of flaps and patches, and of
so shapeless and diverse contexture, that every
piece, and every moment plays its part.
And there is as much difference found between
us and our selves, as there is between our selves
and others’’
(Montaigne, 1580)
“It is a major achievement, believe me, to act as
one person”
(Seneca, circa 65 AD)
Hermans, H.J.M., & Kempen, H.J.G. (1993). The dialogical self: Meaning as
movement. San Diego: Academic Press
Alice: Telling different things from different positions
(open vs. closed)
Question about her past:
Is there something important or influential in your past
that still exerts an influence today?
Valuation from her open position:
“My mother, open and cheerful,
has always been like a friend to me”
Valuation from her closed position:
“When I was 12 years old,
my father left the house;
I know so little about that period;
I think there is much pain and sorrow during that time”
Alice: Telling different things about the same
Question about her present:
Is there something important or influential
in your present life?
Valuation from her open position:
“In the contact with my boyfriend: I’m
always listening to him; I’m always there for
Valuation from her closed position:
“My partner and I have both had a broken
relationship in the past; I do not want to lose
myself again in another relationship”
How DOMINANT were these
valuations in your thinking
during the past week?
Reversal of dominance
is expressed by the
crossing lines
Figure 3.1. Average dominance ratings for thinking about personal
valuations for open and closed positions over four weeks
Hermans, H.J.M., & Kempen, H.J.G. (1993). The dialogical self.
San Diego: Academic Press
these valuations in your
thinking during the past
reversal is
by the crossing lines
Figure 3.2 . Average meaningfulness ratings for thinking about personal
valuations for open and closed positions over four weeks
Hermans, H.J.M., & Kempen, H.J.G. (1993). The dialogical self. San Diego:
Academic Press
I in relationship with mother, father, partner,
friend, and teacher
“The position of Mother's Child was the most talkative,
expressed most emotions , had the most colorful
stories , most intensively expressed the needs of
affiliation and intimacy and most often mentioned
relations with other people […] Generally, these
findings are in agreement with the assumption of DST
that people produce different self-narratives from the
perspective of different I-positions” (Stemplewska et al.,
2012; see also Raggatt’s work on positioning)
Stemplewska-Żakowicz, K., et al. (2012). Cognitive architecture of the dialogical self: An
experimental approach. In H.J.M. Hermans & T. Gieser (Eds.), Handbook on the Dialogical Self
Theory. (264-283). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Emotion from Different Perspectieves
- COGNITIVE: result of interpretations
- FYSIOLOGICAL: adrenaline, cortisol
- EVOLUTIONARY: fight, flight, freezing
- DIALOGICAL: Emotion als message; as temporary I-position;
. importance of listening.
. What does an emotion say about yourself or another?
. Reason gives an answer to the emotion. Learning from it.
- First-order phenomenology (“He is a….”) and second-order
awareness(“I’m angry”) (Lambie & Marcel, 2002): uncertainty!
- Dialogue emotion-reason (not rational and also not
overwhelmed by emotions )
Emotion-reason dialogue
Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592): knowing via
head and heart; reason and emotion
mind and body versus Descartes: reason
above emotion
Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) “The heart has its
reasons, that the reason doesn't know"
Emotion-reason dialogue
Emotion work after a loss,
deep insult or serious conflict:
‘dialogical emotion’
Dialogical authenticity:
Taking the position of a
significant other: dialogical
Falling in love and taking a realistic metaposition (e.g., alimentation, common
Summarizing 1
1. Philosophical, psychological, and novelistic
literature shows different conceptions of
2. When dialogue is not always and everywhere,
it makes sense to give attention to the
distinction between dialogue-inhibitors and –
3. In the controverse between Descartes and
Montaigne one of the deeper implications is the
tolerance for contradictions and uncertainty.
Summarizing 2
4. A significant aspect of the multiplicity
of the self, is the relationship between
emotion and reason. This leads to the
relevance of developing emotion-reason
5. Dialogue implies learning from the
other and from oneself
Thank you for your attention!
Have a good dialogue!
General Info
- Website Hubert J.M. Hermans:
- Dialogical Practice Network:
- Hermans, H.J.M., & Hermans-Konopka, A.
(2010). Dialogical Self Theory: Positioning and
counter-positioning in a globalizing society.
Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Hubert Hermans - Le Moyne College