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Professor Julen Etxabe
Assistant Professor, Peter Allard School of Law UBC

Mikhail Bakhtin’s groundbreaking theory of language as concrete living speech presents a radical challenge to the dominant conception of language as an arbitrary system of signs. The most poignant exposition of this critique can be found in Voloshinov’s Marxism and the Philosophy of Language (1929), which targets the Geneva School of linguistics spearheaded by Ferdinand de Saussure. Behind the critique to Saussure’s linguistic, however, there lies a deeper philosophical objection to positivist and propositional conceptions of language labeled “abstract objectivism,” the intellectual roots of which go back to Descartes and the rationalism of the 17th and 18th centuries. Arguably, the abstract philosophical style targeted by Bakhtin still undergirds contemporary analytical jurisprudence, namely, the “Oxbridge-style” philosophizing that has dominated Anglo-American, European, and Latin American schools of jurisprudence, even if some of their proponents would claim to follow the more pragmatic and ordinary-language views of J. L. Austin, Wittgenstein, and others. The very language in which analytical jurisprudence proceeds and purports to capture conceptual truths about the law by means of discrete propositions (or theses), presupposes the notion of language astutely criticized by Bakhtin. Against this backdrop, Bakhtin develops a fully-fledged and original conception of language as dialogical, interactive, and essentially evaluative that is the aim of this presentation to flesh out.

Originally from the Basque Country, I have just started a new post as Canada Research Chair in Jurisprudence and Human Rights at Peter Allard School of Law at UBC, Vancouver. Prior to that I taught at the University of Helsinki Faculty of Law for seven years.

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