The Dialogical Self: The stories I tell to myself.

Considering I am taking a Theories of Instructional Technology course that requires exploration of the fundamental opinions concerning what makes us think and tick, I am not surprised that we are repeatedly required to explain our theories about ourselves. 

Question: Who am I?

The Dialogical Self

Well. The answer is complicated. Typically, our efforts to answer this question begin with us outlining our educational backgrounds, our professional achievements, our relationships, and our views and perspectives regarding our place in this world. But, I now know that such “stories about myself” are ones that I created based on how I feel when the question is answered. Who am I? Really?

Let’s begin with a broad-stroke overview of Dutch psychologist, Hubert Hermans’ (2001) Dialogical Self Theory (DST). Loosely defined, DST proposes that who we are depends upon what we tell ourselves about ourselves (Hermans, 2001) in space and context. (Huh?)

Looked at another way, as homo narrans, or innate storytellers (Bidinotto, 2012), Hermans theorizes we spend our days engaged in multiple conversations with ourselves about ourselves. He wrote that what we say to ourselves about ourselves is based on the time and space we occupy when such discussions take place (p. 249). Hermans’ DST defines who we are falls within context of the internal spaces, times, and circumstances (“I am a mother.” “I am a writer.” “I am a workforce development specialist.”) that we occupy when we talk to ourselves. He also explained that such mental conversations are influenced by our perspectives and positionalities related to our external spaces (“My husband.” “My children.” “My friends.”) as well within the time and space those external factors exist (p. 248).

“I-Positions” and Personal Identify

But wait. Hermans’ DST gets even more complicated. According to Hermans’ DST, the internal and external mental conversations we have with ourselves – about ourselves – create multivoiced I-positions we later use to “agree, disagree, understand, misunderstand, oppose, contradict, question, challenge,” or even “ridicule” ourselves when we talk about who we are within our minds (p. 249).  Herman calls these mental negotiations within us our “mind society (p. 250), or cognitive processing of the multiple conversations we have about ourselves – with ourselves. In addition, considering long-accepted theories that humans are social creatures (Vygotsky, 1978) and that “no man is an island” (Flap, 2002), Hermans’  advises we carefully consider the influences our cultures and social capital networks, or what he called the pluralistic outside world, might play during our internal and external conversations about ourselves. Hermans cautions we later use these conversations to define our personal and self-identities (p. 273) so we should be careful about the stories we tell about ourselves to ourselves. Using metaphors, Herman compared the mental processing of our conflicting dialogical multivoiced I-position conversations to the workings within a computer’s communities of neural networks. He explained, similar to a computer’s processing of data, the self-programming we feed our minds computes our self-image narrative outputs (p. 251).  Therefore, we are warned we should remain cognizant of the stuff we feed our minds about ourselves because we use this dialogical self-programming to compute our personal identity when we talk about ourselves to others (Hermans, 2001, p. 252).  

DST: Ramifications for Educators and Instructional Designers

Now, let’s connect the relevance of Hermans’ DST to my Theories of Instructional Technology class. Later working with Meijers (2017), Hermans and his co-researcher tested the ramifications of his DST in educational environments (Meijers & Hermans, 2017, p. 50). Using transcripts from one study, the researchers documented how employing the DST framework impacted learning during a lesson about the Milky Way and planet positioning. Meijers and Herman observed the teacher give her students space and time to engage in mulitvoiced I-positions group conversations regarding the topic.  The researchers found the teacher’s use of the DST approach led to infused multi-cultural-multi-historical conversations among her students that eventually enabled them to gain an enhanced and expanded understanding of the topic and arrive at a collective society of minds consensus about the Milky Way’s planets (p. 53-54). The findings led Meijers & Hermans to suggest DST could play a transformational role in early childhood education (p. 57-60) because the framework encourages a “… new and innovative meaning …” to productive cooperative problem-solving that requires students to “… take into account …” the cultures and societal identities of diverse others “… for the welfare of themselves and society” (p. 60). Because of this foundational empirical study, the researchers to speculate that employing the DST framework in classrooms worldwide might present a possible solution for resolving today’s polarized and divided global society (p. 61).  

Jennie’s Perspective

I completed my primary education in the aftermaths of America’s turbulent Civil Rights movement, debatable Viet Nam War involvement, and disruptive early attempts at school desegregation. So, I personally experienced how societal divisions and discord can impact our nation’s students in their classrooms.

But, I was blessed to have been educated by teachers that looked and sounded like me, for the most part, and they guided me through these self-defining social and educational events mentally and academically whole.  I was also blessed to be raised within a supportive two-parent household where I got the mind and body food I needed to develop healthy internal and external self-talk. I credit these social and emotional dynamics to the confidence I express when telling people exactly who I think I am. (Humph.)

Loudly. Unapologetically. And without a moment’s hesitation. I can tell my story of “Me!(Ha!)

But, I cannot help but consider those whose primary and secondary educational journey and cultural and societal environments are so unlike mine. Therefore, as a member of the larger education community and an instructional designer, the questions I ask myself late at night are: What dialogical self-talk are we promoting in our multicultural and diverse classrooms today? Do we make room for students to work collectively and collaborative to develop emotional intelligence and group problem-solving? Do we employ evidence-based frameworks and methodologies, such as DST, to ensure we know how to create safe and inclusive learning spaces for all students? Do we create instructional designs that transition teaching from traditional instructor-led monologic lectures and static learning activities toward dynamic action-oriented experiential learning networked spaces (Demblon & D’Argembeaur, 2017) that help students develop creative positive self-concepts (Karwowski, 2016)?

As I wrote in an earlier post, my mother was a Sunday School teacher. So, I feel compelled to close with this adage: “For as he thinks in his heart, so is he. “Eat and drink!” he says to you, but his heart is not with you” (Proverbs 23:7, NKJV). 

So, this final question I direct to all: Are we preparing a society even capable of moving toward world peace?

I pray and hope so. Don’t you?

I’m just sayin …


Bidinotto, R. (2012, August 21). Are We “Homo Narrans”? Retrieved from

Demblon, J., & D’Argembeau, A. (2017). Contribution of past and future self-defining event networks to personal identity. Memory25(5), 656-665.

Flap, H. (2002). No man is an island: the research programme of a social capital theory. Conventions and Structures in Economic Organisations: Markets and Hierarchies. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.

Hermans, H. J. (2001). The dialogical self: Toward a theory of personal and cultural positioning. Culture & psychology7(3), 243-281.

Karwowski, M. (2016). The dynamics of creative self-concept: Changes and reciprocal relations between creative self-efficacy and creative personal identity. Creativity Research Journal28(1), 99-104.

Meijers, F., & Hermans, H. (Eds.). (2017). The dialogical self theory in education : A multicultural perspective. Retrieved from

Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s