Valentin Nikolaevich Voloshinov (Валенти́н Никола́евич Воло́шинов) (1895–June 13, 1936) was a Soviet/Russian linguist, whose work has been influential in the field of literary theory and Marxist theory of ideology.
Written in the late 1920s in the USSR, Voloshinov's Marxism and the Philosophy of Language (tr.: Marksizm i Filosofiya Yazyka) attempts to incorporate the field of linguistics into Marxism. The book's main inspiration does not, however, come from previous Marxists, whom Voloshinov saw as largely indifferent towards the study of language. Instead, Voloshinov's theories are built on critical engagement with Wilhelm von Humboldt's concept of language as a continuous creative or 'generative' process, and with the view of language as a sign-system posited by Ferdinand de Saussure.To some extent, Voloshinov's linguistic thought was also mediated by the analyses of his Soviet contemporary Nikolai Marr, and by the work of the Crocean linguist Karl Vossler.
For Voloshinov, language is the medium of ideology, and cannot be separated from ideology. Ideology, however, is not to be understood in the classical Marxist sense as an illusory mental phenomenon which arises as a reflex of a "real" material economic substructure. Language, as a socially constructed sign-system, is what allows consciousness to arise, and is in itself a material reality. Because of this belief that language is the defining human characteristic, Voloshinov held that the study of verbal interaction was key to understanding social psychology. Voloshinov further argued for understanding psychological mechanisms within a framework of ideological function in his book Freudianism: A Marxist critique
It was a mistake, argued Voloshinov, to attempt to study language abstractly and synchronically (i.e. in an unhistorical manner), as Saussure had done. Words, for Voloshinov, are dynamic social signs, which take different meanings for different social classes in different historical contexts. The meaning of words is not subject to passive understanding, but includes the active participation of both the speaker (or writer) and hearer (or reader). While every word is a sign taken from an inventory of available signs, the manipulation of the word contained in each speech act or individual utterance is regulated by social relations. In Voloshinov's view, the meaning of verbal signs is the arena of continuous class struggle: a ruling class will try to narrow the meaning of social signs, making them "uni-accentual", but the clash of various class-interests in times of social unrest will make clear the "multi-accentuality" of words.
By virtue of his belief that the 'struggle for meaning' coincides with class struggle, Voloshinov's theories are precursors to those of Italian Communist Antonio Gramsci, who shared an interest in linguistics. Voloshinov's work can also be seen to prefigure many of the concerns of poststructuralism.
It has been widely conjectured that works bearing Voloshinov's name were actually authored by his colleague Mikhail Bakhtin; some of these works have been added to reprinted editions of Bakhtin's collected works.