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Chapter 18—Symbolic Convergence Theory
- Central explanatory principle of SCT: sharing group fantasies creates symbolic convergence.
- Similar to Bales, Bormann and his team of colleagues observed that group members often dramatized events happening outside the group, things that took place at previous meetings, or what might possibly occur among them in the future.
- When the drama was enhanced in this way, members developed a common group consciousness and drew closer together.
- Dramatizing messages: Creative interpretations of there-and-then.
- According to SCT, conversations about things outside of what’s going on right now can often serve the group well.
- Dramatizing messages contains imaginative language that describes events occurring at some other place and/or time.
- The dramatizing message must paint a picture or bring to mind an image.
- A vivid message is dramatizing if it either describes something outside the group or portrays an event that has happened within the group in the past or might happen to the group in the future.
- Dramatizing messages are creative interpretations that help the speaker, and sometimes the listener, make sense of a confusing situation or bring clarity to an uncertain future.
- Fantasy chain reactions: Unpredictable symbolic explosions.
- Bormann uses fantasy for dramatizing messages that are enthusiastically embraced by the whole group.
- Most dramatizing messages don’t get that kind of reaction.
- Some dramatizing messages cause a symbolic explosion in the form of a chain reaction in which members join in until the entire group comes alive.
- A fantasy chain occurs when there is a common response to the imagery.
- Fantasy chains are hard to predict, but when they occur, they are hard to control and a group will often converge around a fantasy theme.
- Fantasy themes: Content, motives, cues, types.
- A fantasy theme is the content of the dramatizing message that sparks a fantasy chain.
- A fantasy theme is the basic unit of analysis for SCT.
- Bormann suggested that group members’ meanings, emotions, motives, and actions are apparent in their fantasy themes.
- Many fantasy themes are indexed by a symbolic cue.
- Clusters of related fantasy themes sometimes surface repeatedly in different groups and are labeled with a fantasy type.
- Symbolic convergence: Group consciousness and often cohesiveness.
- Symbolic convergence results from sharing group fantasies.
- Symbolic convergence is the way in which two or more private symbol worlds incline toward each other, come more closely together, or even overlap.
- Symbolic convergence causes group members to develop a unique group consciousness.
- Bormann suggested that it is important for members to memorialize their group consciousness with a name and recorded history that recalls moments when fantasies chained out.
- Symbolic convergence usually, but not always, results in heightened group cohesiveness.
- Rhetorical vision: A composite drama shared by a rhetorical community.
- Fantasies that begin in small groups often are worked into public speeches, become picked up by mass media and ‘spread out across larger publics.’
- Rhetorical vision refers to a composite drama that catches up large groups of people into a common symbolic reality.
- Rhetorical community is the wide ranging body of people who share a reality.
- Fantasy theme analysis discovers fantasy themes and rhetorical visions that have already been created.
- Fantasy theme analysis is a specific type of rhetorical criticism that’s built on two basic assumptions
- People create their social reality.
- People’s meanings, motives, and emotions can be seen in their rhetoric.
- Four features should be present in the shared fantasies: characters, plot lines, scene, and sanctioning agent.
- Examples of such rhetorical visions can be seen in McCabe’s work on pro-eating disorders (also known as high-risk dieters) or the impact of the “Make America Great Again” movement during the run-up to the 2016 US Presidential elections.
- Theory into practice: Advice to improve your college experience.
- Bormann offers advice on how to use SCT as it applies to a group.
- When the group begins to share a drama that in your opinion would contribute to a healthy culture, you should pick up the drama and feed the chain.
- If the fantasies are destructive, creating group paranoia or depression, cut the chain off whenever possible.
- To build cohesiveness, use personification to identify your group.
- Be sure to encourage the sharing of dramas depicting your group history.
- Even though a conscious rhetorical effort on your part can succeed in igniting a chain reaction, remember that the fantasy may take an unexpected turn.
- Most rhetorical visions embrace either a righteous vision, a social vision, or a pragmatic vision.
- Critique: Judging SCT as both a scientific and interpretive theory.
- The theory’s basic hypothesis that sharing group fantasies creates symbolic convergence is framed as a universal principle that holds for all people, in any culture, at any time, in any communication context; it typifies the objective tradition.
- But the methodology of determining fantasy themes, fantasy types, and rhetorical visions is rhetorical criticism—a humanistic approach that’s undeniably interpretive.
- SCT holds up well against both the criteria for an objective theory and an interpretive theory.
- Despite this success, SCT fails to meet two at least benchmarks of a good theory (one objective benchmark and one interpretive benchmark).
- SCT researchers adequately predict the benefits of convergence (cohesiveness) but have little success predicting when a dramatizing message will trigger a chain reaction.
- Without the ability to forecast when a fantasy chain reaction will occur, SCT is difficult to test and not as useful as group practitioners desire.
- There’s no doubt that fantasy theme analysis uncovers the values of a rhetorical community.
- SCT vocabulary shows the theory’s pro-social bias, but ignores issues of power.
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