Prospectus

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Dialogues in Past and Present: Human interaction and the construction of meaning

Course 2018-2019

Admission requirements

This course is an (extracurricular) Honours Class: an honours elective in the Honours College programme. There are limited spots available for second- and third-year non honours students. Admission will be based on motivation.

Description

People talk, always and everywhere. The ability to enter into dialogue with other human beings to exchange ideas, create forms of understanding and agreement, acquire information and argue is a necessary instrument for any social interaction. There are conventional linguistic devices for evoking dialogic structure, such as rhetorical questions, and grammatical constructions such as English "be like" or Dutch "zoiets hebben van" (“She was like who do you think you are?”, “Ik had zoiets van ja laat maar”). Your reasoning, thinking, and contemplating is shaped within a conversation frame when you ‘follow’ your heart or ‘listen to’ your conscience, which is interior dialogue rather than interior monologue. Even in artificial intelligence: we engage in a dialogue with Siri on our iPhones.

Forms of dialogue are everywhere nowadays, from television interviews to the FAQs on websites, in education and advertisement, in politics, and in shared decision making by doctors and patients. Once, dialogue also was an extremely influential form of literary production - especially in the Medieval and Early Modern Period. Cultures of courtly conversation, academic disputation, and humanist dialogue shaped personalities, offered patterns of civilized human interaction, and generated knowledge. The first grammar of Dutch was written in the form of a dialogue; Galilei could find no other acceptable way to publish his views on the Chief World Systems than as the ‘natural’ outcome of a conversation.

Its omnipresence in modern media and the long literary and scientific traditions of dialogue writing contrasts sharply with the small amount of shared knowledge in the various disciplines studying fictive and spontaneous conversation. Literary studies, linguistics, and cognitive sciences have their own research interests in dialogue, but apparently fail to communicate with each other. Moreover, the experience of communication professionals in the use of dialogue hardly informs academic research.

We will explore universal features as well as the historical development of a variety of dialogic structures. The ways these relate to their communicative and cognitive effectiveness (or lack thereof). From a historical perspective, dialogue was instrumental in shaping monastic teaching, academic disputation, courtly conversation, self-formation, intercultural debate, and judicial argumentation. All of these have left their mark on modern forms of dialogue, offering models for education and meditation, for inclusion and exclusion, in creative and mundane language use, in judgment and consensus, inquiry and consolation – mostly, however, without present-day users being aware of the historical and cultural roots of their practices of intellectual interactive engagement. An influential present-day theory of human thinking postulates dialogic interaction as a developmental and evolutionary source of higher levels of cognition; we will explore the empirical and conceptual arguments for this approach, while (again) adding a historical dimension, i.e. one of cultural evolution.

But we will also turn to present-day problems. If we want to develop apps that help users in changing their lifestyle, can we learn something from the dialogues that taught readers how to let reason guide their inner life? When we see that cultural uses of dialogue in the past include rearrangements of institutional hierarchies such as master and pupil, can we build on these to overcome authority barriers in the interaction between doctor and patient?

Course objectives

1) Investigate the use of dialogue as a tool for communication and for thinking in various historical periods, cultures, and media.
2) Train students in analysing dialogic dimensions of various types of discourse and genres.
3) Train students to relate stylistic (different linguistic and structural) characteristics of different types of dialogues to the construction of meaning.
4) Develop the capacity of students to use dialogic structures to convey complex networks of interconnected ideas.

Timetable

Thursdays 17-19hrs.

7 February
14 February
21 February
28 February
7 March
14 March
21 March
28 March
4 April
11 April
18 April

Location

Old Observatory, Leiden, room c003.

Programme

TBA

Course Load

This course is worth 5 EC, which means the total course load equals 140 hours.

Lectures and seminars 30 hours
Readings, related assignments 70
Final project 40

Assessment method

Weekly participation and assignments (30%)
Final project: writing a dialogue (70%)

Please note: Attendance is mandatory.

Blackboard and uSis

Blackboard will be used in this course. Students can register for the Blackboard site two weeks prior to the start of the course.

Please note: students are not required to register through uSis for the Honours Classes. Your registration will be done centrally.

Reading list

TBA

Registration

Enrolling in this course is possible from Tuesday November 6th until Thursday November 15th 23.59 hrs through the Honours Academy, via this link. It is not necessary to register in uSis.

Contact

Dr. Geert Warnar