Heteroglossia leadership – a way forwards in a complex world?

I went, unusually, for a beer at midday yesterday.  I met up with someone far more erudite and accurate than myself.  We spoke for a couple of hours on world history, politics and more.  And, as in the best of company, I learnt a new word.


The term heteroglossia describes the coexistence of distinct varieties within a single “language” (in Greek: hetero- “different” and glōssa “tongue, language”). In this way the term translates the Russian разноречие [raznorechie] (literally “different-speech-ness”), which was introduced by the Russian linguist Mikhail Bakhtin in his 1934 paper Слово в романе [Slovo v romane], published in English as “Discourse in the Novel.”

Bakhtin argues that the power of the novel originates in the coexistence of, and conflict between, different types of speech: the speech of characters, the speech of narrators, and even the speech of the author. He defines heteroglossia as “another’s speech in another’s language, serving to express authorial intentions but in a refracted way.” Bakhtin identifies the direct narrative of the author, rather than dialogue between characters, as the primary location of this conflict.

It seems to me that the key concept lies in the following phrase (the bold is mine): “He defines heteroglossia as ‘another’s speech in another’s language, serving to express authorial intentions but in a refracted way.'”

As a result, I’ve been brainstorming the idea a bit on Twitter this morning.  The key tweets:

To conclude that:

In fact, as per the title of my post today, isn’t this “heteroglossia” leadership style incredibly suited to an evermore complex world – and way beyond the already challenging confines of the newspaper industry?

We don’t give up on imposing – or pursuing is perhaps a better way of putting it – a certain ideology at all: we just adapt authoritarian instincts so they become inclusive and efficient at the same time.

An example of good democracy in both politics and business, if there ever was one …?



  1. Reblogged this on 901 . exposed and commented:
    I posted this today over at my brainstorming site, MILJENKO.COM. It’s nominally about newspapers and editors, but as an editor is clearly a leader sat atop hierarchical structures, we can apply the lessons just as easily to business and traditional politics.

    So here’s the idea: heteroglossia leadership.

    Don’t let the word terrify you!!!


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