Among the many points of reference that the field of international relations shares with political science is a focus on the point of decision. The process of airing different points of view is seen as a prelude to decision. What happens after the decision is taken is treated as implementation of, or protest against, that decision, or as a prelude to a new decision. Given such a framing, dialogue tends to be treated teleologically as an instrument for reaching decision. The terms that are supposed to incite the scholarly exchange in this forum, dialogue and synthesis, point in the same direction. Dialogue is supposed to lead to synthesis and is validated by dint of this causal chain.

The philosopher of dialogue, Mikhail Bakhtin, is very much against such a reading. From his earliest writings in prerevolutionary Russia through his last unfinished manuscript in the mid-1970s,...

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