The Contexts Project: The Russian and European Contexts of the Works of Mikhail Bakhtin and the Bakhtin Circle

Background and objectives

The work of the Russian theorist Mikhail Bakhtin (1895-1975) and the Bakhtin Circle is an important point of reference for Slavists pursuing research in the areas of literary and linguistic studies. However, like much other Slavic theory, this work has been recognised as having resonance far beyond the narrow field of Slavic studies, and since the 1970s has been cited with increasing frequency by scholars in a wide range of disciplines: anthropology, cultural studies, literary theory, linguistics, sociology, philosophy, psychology and others.

The number of publications (monographs, collections of essays, articles) in many languages arising from this interest in the Bakhtin Circle is enormous. The Bakhtin Centre´s Analytical Database and associated projects were set up to monitor and to support the extensive and intensive appropriation and application of the Circle´s work. It is already evident that the encounters of contrasting intellectual and scholarly traditions fostered by these processes have produced reconsiderations and realignments of established positions, in many cases important and profound. However, as these processes continue, it is becoming equally evident that the understanding, and therefore the application and appropriation, of the Circle´s theories is being significantly impeded by incomplete access to primary sources, and by imperfect knowledge of the Circle's intellectual affiliations.

As a result of the vicissitudes of intellectual life in the Soviet Union, the discovery and publication of the work of the Bakhtin Circle was fraught with problems, and by no means all the Circle´s texts are yet available in definitive form. The reliability of translations into other languages has suffered as a consequence: in the case of the English translations, more than ten translators have produced versions that vary in quality and, more importantly, in rendering of key terminology. This stems from and contributes to partial understanding of the Russian and European contexts of the Circle´s work.

Much therefore remains to be done in order to establish a definitive corpus of Bakhtin Circle texts, and to contextualise the Circle´s work.

The objectives of the project are:

  • To revise existing English translations of Bakhtin Circle texts, and to translate hitherto untranslated and/or unpublished texts, including interviews, with particular emphasis on accurate and consistent rendering of philosophical terminology, and establishment of its sources and antecedents.
  • To compile a full critical apparatus to accompany the translations.
  • To compile a comprehensive and definitive glossary of Bakhtin Circle terminology.
  • To identify the most important sources, antecedents, and intertexts of the Bakhtin Circle's work, paying particular, although not exclusive, attention to Kantian and Neo-Kantian thought, and to other relevant trends in early-twentieth-century Russian and European philosophy.
  • In the light of the above, to undertake a critical analysis of existing approaches to the Bakhtin Circle.
  • To publish the results of this research in the most appropriate form.