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Chapter  1Launching Your Study of Communication Theory


  1. What is communication?
    1. No singular definition of communication is agreed upon by communication scholars.
    2. Frank Dance, who published the first comprehensive book on communication theory, concluded that we’re “trying to make the concept of communication do too much work for us.” 
    3. Michigan Tech professor Jennifer Slack declares, “there is no single, absolute essence of communication that adequately explains the phenomena we study. Such a definition does not exist; neither is it merely waiting for the next brightest communication scholar to nail it down once and for all.”
    4. Communication is the relational process of creating and interpreting messages that elicit a response.
      1. The Creation of messages is central as well as the things that shape our choices.
        1. The word creation implies that the content and form of messages are usually constructed, invented, planned, crafted, selected or adopted by the communicator.
        2. But we aren’t always mindful of the nature and impact of our messages. 
      2. The intense focus on messages is what sets the communication major apart from related disciplines.
        1. Every message has two levels: content and relational.
        2. The content message is the topic addressed by the message.
        3. The relational level communicates how each person thinks and feels about the other.
      3. No matter how carefully you craft a message, you cannot control how other people interpret and respond to it.
      4. Communication is an ongoing relational process between two or more people, which both affects their interpretation of the messages as well as the nature of the connection between the people.  Messages are polysemic and subject to different interpretations.
  2. What is a theory and what does it do?
    1. Judee Burgoon suggested that a theory is nothing more than “a set of systematic informed hunches about the way things work.”
      1. Set of hunches.
        1. If a theory is a set of hunches, it means we aren’t yet sure we have the answer.
        2. Theories always involve an element of speculation or conjecture.
        3. A theory is not just one inspired thought or an isolated idea.
        4. Good theories define their key terms.
      2. Informed hunches.
        1. Good theory and good research go hand in hand.
        2. A theorist’s hunches should be informed.
        3. A theorist has a responsibility to check it out.
      3. Hunches that are systematic.
        1. A theory is an integrated system of concepts, laying out both relevant terms and their relationship to one another. 
        2. A theory ties together ideas into a unified whole.
      4. Images of theory.
        1. Theory might also be understood using some concrete images.
        2. Karl Popper described theories as nets, a tool used to grasp an elusive concept.
        3. Theories can be seen as lenses which help focus attention.
        4. A communication theory is a kind of map that’s designed to help you navigate some part of the topography of human relationships.
  3. What to expect as you read this book
    1. The arrangement of the book’s chapters is explained.
    2. The theory chapters are divided into six major divisions: interpersonal communication, social influence, group and public communication, cultural context, and mass communication.
  4. Resources to help you learn communication theory
    1. Try to read consistently.
    2. Think about the big picture.
    3. In every chapter we include a cartoon for your learning and enjoyment.
    4. The website is a valuable resource.

Chapter  2Objective and Interpretive Approaches to Communication Theory


  1. Introduction.
  1. Objective communication theories assume we live in a world where we can understand truth through unbiased observations.
  2. Interpretive communication theories assume we live in a world where truth is subjective, depending on a person’s lived experiences.
  1. Two communication scholars view a heartwarming ad.
  1. Travis: An objective approach.
  1. Social scientists wonder why the commercial produced such a positive sentiment and whether it changes human behavior.
  2. Social scientists test positive and negative influences of media by relying on theory.
  3. Social scientists seek an objective test of whether the theory’s claims are true.
  1. Kristina: An interpretive approach.
  1. Interpretive scholars focus on the ways language constructs realities that emerge in and across people’s accounts.
  2. Recognizing one’s own stance illuminates how experiences are intrinsically tried to interpretation.
  3. Interpretive scholars reveal meanings that may initially be hidden within a text.
  1. Ways of knowing: Discovering truth or creating multiple realities?
  1. Epistemology is the study of the nature of knowledge.
  2. Objective scholars assume that Truth is singular.
  1. Reality is accessible through our senses.
  2. No one person can know it all, so individual researchers pool their findings and build a collective body of knowledge about how the world works.
  3. Good theories are mirrors of nature, true as long as conditions remain the same.
  1. Interpretive scholars regard truth as socially constructed through communication.
  1. Language creates social realities that are always in flux.
  2. Knowledge is always viewed from a particular perspective.
  3. Texts never interpret themselves.
  1. Human nature: Determinism or free will?
  1. Objective scholars stress the forces that shape human behavior; interpretive scholars focus on conscious choices made by individuals
  2. Objective scholars usually describe human conduct as occurring “because of” forces outside the individual’s awareness, the response to a prior stimulus.
  3. In contrast, interpretive scholars tend to use explanatory phrases such as “so that” or “in order to” because they attribute a person’s action to conscious intent.
  1. They focus on conscious choices of individuals, not on why choices are made.
  2. They believe that significant decisions are value laden. 
  1. As individual freedom increases, predictability of behavior decreases.
  1. The purpose of theory: Universal laws or guides for interpretation?
  1. Objective scholars seek universal laws while interpretive scholars strive to understand individual texts.
  2. The basic activity of behavioral scientists is testing theory; interpretive scholars explore the web of meaning constituting human existence.
  1. The highest value: Objectivity or emancipation?
  1. When we talk about values, we are discussing priorities, questions of relative worth.
  2. Objective scholars believe we benefit from having an unbiased account of communication based on observable evidence.
  3. Interpretive scholars believe we benefit from insight into communication that emancipates people from oppression.
  4. Objective scholars hold a distinction between the “knower” and the “known.”
  5. Interpretive scholars value socially relevant research that gives us deeper insight into how people assign meaning.
  6. Stan Deetz says that every communication theory has two priorities: effectiveness and participation.
  1. Objective or interpretive: Why is it important?
  1. You cannot fully understand a theory without knowing its assumptions about truth, human nature, the purpose of theory, and its values.
  2. It is helpful when thinking through theories to have a way of organizing them into objective and interpretive worldviews.
  3. Understanding objective and interpretive points can help you decide what direction to take your coursework.
  4. Theorists in both camps believe their area of work will improve relationships and society.
  1. Plotting theories on an objective-interpretive scale: A metatheoretical way of comparing theories featured in the book. Objective and interpretive labels anchor the ends of a continuum, with many theories in between.

Chapter  3Weighing the Words


  1. Introduction.
  1. Not all theories are equally effective.
  2. The utility of a theory may be judged by applying the appropriate criteria used by social scientists and a wide range of interpretive scholars to weigh the theories of their colleagues.
  1. What makes an objective theory good?
  1. Scientific standard 1: Prediction of future events. Prediction in physical science is more accurate than in social science, where it is based on probability.
  2. Scientific standard 2: Explanation of the data.
  1. A good theory makes sense out of disturbing situations or draws order out of chaos.
  2. It focuses attention on crucial variables and away from irrelevant data.
  3. It explains what is happening and why.
  4. It explains both the process and the results.
  1. Scientific standard 3: Relative simplicity.  The rule of parsimony dictates that all things being equal, we accept the simpler explanation over the more complex.
  2. Scientific standard 4: Hypotheses that can be tested.  If there is no way to prove a theory false, then any claim that it’s true seems hollow.
  1. They shy away from the put-up-or-shut-up standard—they aren’t testable.
  2. They are never-miss shots.
  1. Scientific standard 5: Practical utility. 
  1. This requirement is consistent with social psychologist Kurt Lewin’s claim that there is nothing as practical as a good theory.
  2. Don't dismiss a theory as impractical unless you understand it.
  3. The wider the scope of a theory’s application, the greater its practical utility.
  1. Scientific standard 6: Quantitative Research
  1. Scientists favor quantifiable experiments and surveys.
  2. The idea that numbers are more reliable than words runs deep in the scientific community.
  3. Through experiments, scientists seek to establish a cause-and-effect relationship by manipulating an independent variable in a tightly controlled situation in order to determine its effect on a dependent variable. 
  4. Surveys rely on self-report data to discover who people are and what they think, feel, and intend to do—the key components of our attitudes.
  1. What makes an interpretive theory good?
  1. Interpretive standard 1: Clarification of values.
  1. Theorists acknowledge their own values.
  2. They seek to unmask the ideology behind messages.
  3. Of course, not all interpretive scholars occupy the same moral ground, but there are core values most of them share.
  4. Many theorists value individual liberty and equality. Krippendorff's Ethical Imperative argues that we should grant others that occur in our construction the same autonomy we practice constructing them.
  5. Many interpretive scholars value equality as highly as they do freedom.
  6. Critical theorists, in particular, insist that scholars can no longer remain ethically detached from the people they are studying, or from the political and economic implications of their work
  1. Interpretive standard 2: New understanding of people.
  1. Interpretive scholarship is good when it offers fresh insight into the human condition.
  2. Rhetorical critics, ethnographers, and other humanistic researchers seek to gain new understanding by analyzing the activity that they regard as uniquely human—symbolic interaction.
  3. Whereas science wants objective explanation, humanism desires subjective understanding. 
  4. Klaus Krippendorff's Self-Referential Imperative states that, as theorists, we are both the cause and the consequence of what we observe.
  1. Interpretive standard 3: Aesthetic appeal.
  1. A theory's form can be as captivating as its content.
  2. Although the elegance of a theory is in the eye of the beholder, clarity and artistry seem to be the two qualities needed to satisfy this aesthetic requirement.
  1. Interpretive standard 4: A community of agreement.  A theory must have widespread scrutiny and usage.
  1. We can identify a good interpretive theory by the amount of support it generates within a community of scholars who are interested and knowledgeable about the same type of communication.
  2. Interpretation of meaning is subjective, but whether the interpreter’s case is reasonable or totally off the wall is ultimately decided by others in the field.
  1. Interpretive standard 5: Reform of society. 
  1. They want to expose and publicly resist the ideology that permeates the accepted wisdom of a culture.
  2. Theory challenges cultural assumptions.
  3. The aim of critical scholarship is to unmask communication practices that create or perpetuate power imbalances in an attempt to stimulate change.
  4. To the extent that the theory stimulates students to rethink, respond, and react to this “free-market” process, it is a good interpretive theory.
  1. Interpretive standard 6: Qualitative research
  1. While scientists use numbers to support their theories, interpretive scholars use words.
  2. Textual analysis and ethnography are the two methods most often used to study how humans use signs and symbols to create and infer meaning.
  3. Textual analysis describes and interprets the characteristics of messages.
  4. Through ethnography, participant-observers experience a culture's web of meaning. 
  1. Contested turf and common ground among theorists.
  1. Although the differences that separate objective and interpretive theorists are meaningful, they can interact as friends across their lines of difference.
  1. It requires mutual respect for each other’s interest and recognition of their intellect.
  2. It requires a mutual appreciation that scientific theorists are comparing multiple messages or groups while interpretive theorists are analyzing a single message or group.
  3. The two sets of six criteria are not as different as they might seem.
  1. Both prediction and value clarification look to the future.
  2. An explanation can further understanding of motive.
  3. Simplicity has aesthetic appeal.
  4. Hypothesis testing is a way of achieving a community of agreement.
  5. Theories that reform are practical.
  6. Qualitative and quantitative research both reflect a commitment to learning more about communication.
  1. It is important for the two communities to at least be familiar with the other’s work.
  2. Although all theories featured in this book have merit, they also have weaknesses revealed by the standards set forth in this chapter.

Chapter  4Mapping the Territory


  1. Introduction.
  1. Communication scholars hold widely divergent views as to what communication is.
  2. Robert Craig thinks practical application is a great starting point for developing a tool to help discriminate between theories.
  3. Communication theory is the systematic and thoughtful response of communication scholars to questions posed as humans interact with one another—the best thinking within a practical discipline.
  4. Craig identifies seven established traditions of communication theory.
  1. The socio-psychological tradition: Communication as interaction and influence.
  1. This tradition epitomizes the scientific perspective.
  2. Scholars believe that communication truths can be discovered by careful, systematic observation that predicts cause-and-effect relationships.
  3. Researchers focus on what is without their personal bias of what ought to be.
  4. Theorists check data through surveys or controlled experiments, often calling for longitudinal empirical studies.
  5. Griffin, Ledbetter, and Sparks wondered if there’s a way to predict which college friendships would survive and thrive after graduation.
  1. The practical question the authors sought to answer was, "What predicts friendship that lasts over time?"
  2. They approached this question from the socio-psychological tradition because it’s designed to identify cause-and-effect patterns.
  1. The cybernetic tradition: Communication as a system of information processing.
  1. Norbert Wiener coined the term cybernetics to describe the field of artificial intelligence.
  1. Wiener’s concept of feedback anchored the cybernetic tradition.
  2. Communication is the link separating the separate parts of any system.
  1. Theorists seek to answer the questions: How does the system work? What could change it? How can we get the bugs out?
  2. University of Washington communication professor Malcolm Parks studies personal relationships by asking both partners to describe their social network.
  1. The practical question Parks sought to answer was, "How are friendships shaped by other people that the friends know?"
  2. He approached this question from the cybernetic tradition because it’s designed to understand how information flows through social networks.
  1. The rhetorical tradition: Communication as artful public address.
  1. Greco-Roman rhetoric was the main communication theory until the twentieth century.
  2. Six features characterize the tradition.
  1. A conviction that speech distinguishes humans from other animals.
  2. A confidence in the efficacy and supremacy of public address.
  3. A setting of one speaker addressing a large audience with the intention to persuade.
  4. Oratorical training as the cornerstone of a leader’s education.
  5. An emphasis on the power and beauty of language to move people emotionally and stir them to action.
  6. Rhetoric was the province of males.
  1. Readers of Aristotle’s The Rhetoric may be surprised to find a systematic analysis of friendship.
  2. Rochester Institute of Technology rhetorician Keith Jenkins examined how Obama appealed to friendship in his 2008 campaign rhetoric.
  1. The practical question Jenkins sought to answer was, "How did Obama persuade people by appealing to close relationships?"
  2. He approached this question from the rhetorical tradition because it’s designed to understand how language changes the minds of others.
  1. The semiotic tradition: Communication as the process of sharing meaning through signs.
  1. Semiotics is the study of signs.
  2. Words are a special kind of sign known as a symbol.
  3. I. A. Richards was an early scholar of semiotics.
  1. His “proper meaning superstition” identifies the mistaken belief that words have a precise meaning.
  2. Meanings don’t reside in words or other symbols, but in people.
  1. Communication professor Michael Monsour (Metropolitan State University of Denver) recognized that the word intimacy used in the context of friendship might mean different things to different people, and the disparity could lead to confusion.
  1. The practical question Monsour sought to answer was, "What does the word intimacy mean to people in the context of friendship?"
  2. He approached this question from the semiotic tradition because it’s designed to understand how the meanings of symbols change between people and across time.
  1. The socio-cultural tradition: Communication as the creation and enactment of social reality.
  1. Communication produces and reproduces culture.
  2. Edward Sapir and Benjamin Lee Whorf pioneered this tradition.
  1. The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis of linguistic relativity states that the structure of a culture’s language shapes what people think and do.
  2. Their theory counters the notion that languages are neutral conduits of meaning.
  1. It is through language that reality is produced, maintained, repaired, and transformed.
  2. Patricia Sias, a communication professor at the University of Arizona, takes a socio-cultural approach when studying friendships that form and dissolve in organizational settings.
  1. The practical question Sias sought to answer was, "What communication practices shape deteriorating workplace friendships?"
  2. She approached this question from the socio-cultural tradition because it’s designed to understand how communication creates social realities.
  1. The critical tradition: Communication as a reflective challenge of unjust discourse.
  1. Critical theory derives from the German Frankfurt School.
  2. The Frankfurt School rejected Karl Marx’s economic determinism, but embraced the Marxist tradition of critiquing society.
  3. Critical theorists challenge three features of contemporary society.
  1. The control of language to perpetuate power imbalances.
  2. Critical theorists are suspicious of empirical work that scientists say is ideologically free, because science is not the value-free pursuit of knowledge that it claims to be.
  3. Critical theorists see the “culture industries” of television, film, music, and print media as reproducing the dominant ideology of a culture and distracting people from recognizing the unjust distribution of power within society.
  1. Southwestern University communication professor Davi Johnson Thornton investigated the image of an interracial friendship on the TV show Psych.
  1. Her critical analysis of the show argues that its particular portrayal of black/white friendship might actually reinforce racism rather than work against it.
  2. The practical question Thornton sought to answer was, "What ideologies of interracial friendship are produced through the TV show Psych?"
  3. She approached this question from the critical tradition because it’s designed to critique how language and the mass media perpetuate unjust differences in power.
  1. The phenomenological tradition: Communication as the experience of self and others through dialogue.
  1. Phenomenology refers to the intentional analysis of everyday life from the standpoint of the person who is living it.
  2. The phenomenological tradition places great emphasis on people’s perceptions and interpretations of their own subjective experiences. 
  3. The phenomenological tradition answers two questions: Why is it so hard to establish and sustain authentic human relationships? How can this problem be overcome?
  4. Ohio University professor emeritus Bill Rawlins works within this tradition as he studies friendship by taking an in-depth look at the actual conversations between friends.
  1. The practical question Rawlins sought to answer was, "How do people create mutual understanding in their friendships?"
  2. He approached this question from the phenomenological tradition because it’s designed to probe how people develop authentic human relationships.
  1. Charting the field of communication theory.
  1. These seven traditions have deep roots in communication theory.
  2. They have been mapped with respect to the objective/interpretive dichotomy.
  3. Some theories are hybrids that arise from multiple traditions.
  4. They might not cover every approach to communication theory—thus the addition of the ethical tradition.
  1. The ethical tradition: Communication as people of character interacting in just and beneficial ways.
  1. Since ancient Greece, scholars have grappled with the obligations of the communicator.
  2. The NCA adopted a “Credo for Communication Ethics,” which tackles difficult questions about communication and ethics: Is it always our duty to be honest? What limits, if any, should exist on freedom of expression? When does persuasion cross the line into intimidation and coercion?
  3. Craig has responded to our proposed ethical tradition by noting that, to define it fully, we'd have to explain how it compares to every other tradition.
  4. Concern for ethics spreads across the objective-interpretive landscape.
  5. The ethical tradition encourages every other tradition to consider what is right or wrong, what is good or bad, and who is virtuous or evil.
  6. Craig’s framework of seven traditions helps us make sense of the great diversity in the field of communication.

Chapter  5Symbolic Interactionism


  1. Introduction.
  1. Social constructionists believe that our thoughts, self-concept, and the wider community we live in are created through communication—symbolic interaction.
  2. Symbolic interaction refers to language and gestures a person used in anticipation of the way others will respond.
  3. George Herbert Mead, an early social constructionist, was an influential philosophy professor at the University of Chicago, but didn’t publish ideas in a book or treatise.
  4. After his death, his students published his teachings in Mind, Self, and Society.
  5. Mead's chief disciple, Herbert Blumer, further developed his theory.
  1. Blumer coined the term symbolic interactionism and claimed that the most human and humanizing activity in which people are engaged is talking to each other.
  2. The three core principles of symbolic interactionism are concerned with meaning, language, and thinking.
  3. These principles lead to conclusions about the formation of self and socialization into a larger society.
  1. Meaning: The construction of social reality.
  1. First principle: Humans act toward people or things on the basis of the meanings they assign to those people or things.
  2. Meaning-making isn’t an individual undertaking.
  3. Once people define a situation as real, it’s very real in its consequences.
  4. Where a behavioral scientist would see causality as stimulus à response, for an interactionist it would look like stimulusà interpretation à response.
  1. Language: The source of meaning.
  1. Second principle: Meaning arises out of the social interaction people have with each other.
  2. Meaning is not inherent in objects.
  3. Meaning is negotiated through the use of language, hence the term symbolic interactionism.
  4. As human beings, we have the ability to name things.
  1. Symbols, including names, are arbitrary signs.
  2. By talking with others, we ascribe meaning to words and develop a universe of discourse.
  1. Symbolic naming is the basis for society—the extent of knowing is dependent on the extent of naming.
  2. Symbolic interactionism is the way we learn to interpret the world.
  1. A symbol is a stimulus that has a learned meaning and a value for people.
  2. Our words have default assumptions.
  3. Significant symbols can be nonverbal as well as linguistic.
  1. Thinking: The process of taking the role of the other.
  1. Third principle: An individual's interpretation of symbols is modified by his or her own thought process.
  2. Symbolic interactionists describe thinking as an inner conversation, or minding.
  1. Minding is a reflective pause. 
  2. We naturally talk to ourselves in order to sort out meaning.
  1. Whereas animals act instinctively and without deliberation, humans are hardwired for thought.
  1. Humans require social stimulation and exposure to abstract symbol systems to have conceptual thought.
  2. Language is the software that activates the mind.
  1. Humans have the unique capacity to take the role of the other.
  1. The self: Reflections in a looking glass.
  1. Self cannot be found through introspection, but instead through taking the role of the other and imagining how we look from the other’s perspective.  This mental image is called the looking-glass self and is socially constructed, or as the Mead-Cooley hypothesis claims, “individuals’ self-conceptions result from assimilating the judgments of significant others.”
  2. Self is a function of language.
  1. One has to be a member of a community before consciousness of self sets in.
  2. The self is always in flux.
  1. Self is an ongoing process combining the “I” and the “me.”
  1. The “I”—the subjective self—sponsors what is novel, unpredictable, and unorganized about the self.
  2. The “me”—the objective self—is the image of self seen through the looking glass of other people's reactions.
  3. Once your “I” is known, it becomes your “me.”
  1. Society: The socializing effect of others' expectations.
  1. The composite mental image of others in a community, their expectations, and possible responses is referred to as the generalized other.
  2. The generalized other shapes how we think and interact with the community.
  3. The “me” is formed through continual symbolic interaction.
  4. The “me” is the organized community within the individual.
  1. A sampler of applied symbolic interaction.
  1. Creating reality.
  1. Erving Goffman develops the metaphor of social interaction as a dramaturgical performance.
  2. The impression of reality fostered by performance is fragile.
  1. Meaning-ful research.
  1. Mead advocated study through participant observation, a form of ethnography.
  2. Experimental and survey research are void of the meaning of the experience.
  1. Generalized other—the tragic potential of symbolic interaction: Negative responses can consequently reduce a person to nothing.
  2. Naming.
  1. Name-calling can be devastating because it forces us to view ourselves through a warped mirror.
  2. These grotesque images are not easily dispelled.
  1. Self-fulfilling prophecy.
  1. Each of us affects how others view themselves.
  2. Our expectations evoke responses that confirm what we originally anticipated, resulting in a self-fulfilling prophecy.
  1. Symbol manipulation—symbols can galvanize people into united action.
  1. Ethical reflection: Levinas’ responsive “I”.
  1. Levinas insists that the identity of our “I” is formed by the way we respond to others, not how others respond to me as Mead contends.
  2. We all have an ethical echo of responsibility to take care of each other that has existed since the beginning of history.
  3. To not recognize our human responsibility when we look at the face of the Other is to put our identity at risk.
  1. Critique: Setting the gold standard for four interpretive criteria.
  1. Mead meets clarification of values, offers a new understanding of people, uses    ethnographic research, and has generated a community of agreement.
  2. Mead does not call for a reform of society. In fact, he says little about power, domination, or emotion. The theory also suffers from a lack of clarity.
  3. Mead overstates his case when he maintains that language is the distinguishing factor between humans and other animals.

Chapter  6Expectancy Violations Theory


  1. Personal space expectations: conform or deviate?
  1. Judee Burgoon defines personal space as the invisible, variable volume of space surrounding an individual that defines that individual’s preferred distance from others.
  1. The size and shape of our personal space depends upon cultural norms and individual preferences.
  2. Personal space is always a compromise between the conflicting approach-avoidance needs that we as humans have for affiliation and privacy.
  1. Edward Hall coined the term proxemics to refer to the study of people’s use of space as a special elaboration of culture.
  1. He believed that most spatial interpretation is outside our awareness.
  2. He believed that Americans have four proxemic zones.
  1. Intimate distance: 0 to 18 inches.
  2. Personal distance: 18 inches to 4 feet.
  3. Social distance: 4 to 12 feet.
  4. Public distance: 12 to 25 feet to infinity.
  1. He maintained that effective communicators adjust their nonverbal behavior to conform to the communicative rules of their partners.
  1. Burgoon suggests that under some circumstances, violating social norms and personal expectations is a superior strategy to conformity.
  1. An applied test of the original model.
  1. According to Burgoon’s early model, crossing over the “threat threshold” that forms the boundary of the intimate distance causes physical and psychological discomfort.
  2. Noticeable deviations from what we expect cause a heightened state of arousal and spur us to review the nature of our relationship with a person.
  3. A person with “punishing” power should observe proxemic conventions or stand slightly farther away than expected.
  4. An attractive communicator benefits from a close approach.
  5. Burgoon’s original experiments failed to confirm her theory, but she has continued to refine her approach to expectancy violations.
  6. The current version is an excellent example of ideas continually revised as a result of empirical disconfirmation.
  1. A convoluted model becomes an elegant theory.
  1. Burgoon dropped the concept of the threat threshold.
  2. She has substituted “an orienting response” or a mental “alertness” for “arousal.”
  3. Arousal is no longer a necessary link between expectancy violation and communication outcomes such as attraction, credibility, persuasion, and involvement, but rather a side effect of a partner’s deviation.
  4. She has dropped the qualifier “nonverbal” because she believes the principles of EVT apply to verbal interaction as well.
  1. Core concepts of EVT (expectancy violations theory).
  1. EVT offers a soft determinism rather than hard-core universal laws.
  2. Burgoon does, however, hope to link surprising interpersonal behavior and attraction, credibility, influence, and involvement.
  3. Expectancy.
  1. Expectancy is what is predicted to occur rather than what is desired.
  2. Expectancy is based on context, relationship, and communicator characteristics.
  3. Burgoon believes that all cultures have a similar structure of expected communication behavior, but that the content of those expectations differs from culture to culture.
  1. Violation valence.
  1. The violation valence is the positive or negative value we place on the unexpected behavior, regardless of who does it.
  2. If the valence is negative, do less than expected.
  3. If the valence is positive, do more than expected.
  4. Although the meanings of most violations can be determined from context, some nonverbal expectancy violations are equivocal.
  5. For equivocal violations, one must refer to the communicator reward valence.
  1. Communicator reward valence.
  1. The communicator reward valence is the sum of the positive and negative attributes that the person brings to the encounter plus the potential he or she has to reward or punish in the future.
  2. Puzzling violations force victims to search the social context for clues to their meaning and that’s when communication reward valence comes into play.
  3. Burgoon says that all things being equal, the nature of the violation will influence the response it triggers more than the reward potential of the one who did it. 
  4. Communicator reward valence may loom large when it's especially strong either way (exceptionally positive or negative).
  1. Critique: A well-regarded work in progress.
  1. While we might wish for predictions that prove more reliable than a long-range weather forecast, a review of expectancy violations research suggests that EVT may have reached that point and be more accurate than other theories that predict responses to nonverbal communication.
  2. Despite problems, Burgoon’s theory meets five criteria for a good scientific theory (explanation, relative simplicity, testable, quantitative research, and practical advice) and recent research suggests improvement in the sixth criterion—prediction.

Chapter  7Family Communication Patterns Theory


  1. Early family experiences shape how we think, act, and communicate throughout our lives.
    1. Koerner and Fitzpatrick believe that family’s talk exerts great power over how its members experience life.
    2. They refer to this talk as family communication patterns, or repeated communication beliefs and behaviors that orient family members towards a shared reality.
  1. Communication that creates a shared reality
    1. The theory builds upon the work of mass communication scholars Jack McLeod and Steven Chaffee.
    2. McLeod looked at how families talked about political messages using either conformity or conversation.
    3. Families that exhibit high conformity orientation create a shared reality by emphasizing parental authority.
    4. High conversational orientation doesn’t emphasize parental authority or knowledge; instead a shared reality emerges from open discussion and debate of ideas.
    5. Each orientation represents a distinct way of creating a shared social reality.
    6. They call this coorientation or “a situation where two or more individuals focus their cognitive attention on the same object in their social or physical environment and form beliefs and attitudes about the object.”
    7. Coorientation doesn’t mean that family members always agree with each other, but most families experience pressure to achieve at least some level of agreement.
    8. Conversation and conformity are two different means of achieving such coorientation.
  1. Conversation and conformity form four family types
    1. Almost all families contain some mixture of conformity and conversation orientation, though they are inversely related.
      1. Pluralistic families exhibit high conversation and low conformity orientations.
      2. Protective families stress high conformity with low conversation orientation.
      3. Laissez-faire families—meaning “hands-off”—are low in both conversation and conformity.
      4. Consensual families report highs in both conversation and conformity orientations.
    2. Families might look very different from each other, and research suggests that certain types may be healthier than others.
  1. Family communication patterns and the first year of college
    1. In protective families, parents invade their children’s privacy.
      1. Students from protective families were much more likely to report that their parents did things like ask personal questions, read their emails, or check on social media feeds.
      2. This didn’t occur in either laissez—faire or pluralistic families, which makes sense given a low conformity orientation.
      3. But in consensual families—despite high conformity orientations—parents don’t snoop.
    2. For students, privacy invasions were tolerable at first but got worse later on.
      1. Early on, privacy invasions didn’t impact well-being.
      2. Both high conversation and low conformity orientations were helpful to mitigate negative effects.
    3. Consensual families are at risk too.
      1. Consensual parents were less likely to pry; however, their children were less likely to defend their parents’ actions.
      2. Consensual families may also risk generating too much dependence on parents and when that happens, it may threaten the mental health of young adult children.
  1. Schemas with long-lasting effects
    1. In the workplace, employees who were raised in high conformity households as children are much more likely to keep their on-the-job concerns to themselves.
    2. Elizabeth Graham found that adults raised in consensual families were more likely to discuss and participate in political activities compared to those raised in other forms of families. Children from laissez-faire households were the least politically engaged as adults.
    3. Emily Rauscher found that family communication patterns span generations though are capable of change with deliberate choices.
    4. Koerner and Fitzpatrick argue that communication patterns are schema or mental representations of knowledge.
    5. Through these communication patterns, families equip children with schema for understanding all social relationships.
  1. Critique: More conversations are needed about conformity
    1. There is one key reason why family communication patterns theory reigns as the leading family communication theory: relative simplicity.
    2. The theory’s testable hypotheses have enabled scholars to predict how family communication patterns are associated with many diverse outcomes.
    3. Quantitative research suggests that there may be no area of human life untouched by family communication patterns.
    4. The theory’s weakness lies in the ability of conformity orientation to explain the data.
    5. Given family’s formative role in life and foundational place in culture, few things in relational life are more practically useful than understanding it.

Chapter  8Social Penetration Theory


  1. Introduction.
  1. Developed by social psychologists Irwin Altman and Dalmas Taylor, social penetration theory explains how relational closeness develops.
  2. Closeness develops only if individuals proceed in a gradual and orderly fashion from superficial to intimate levels of exchange as a function of both immediate and forecast outcomes.
  1. Personality structure: a multilayered onion.
  1. The outer layer is the public self.
  2. The inner core is one’s private domain.
  1. Closeness through self-disclosure.
  1. The main route to deep social penetration is through verbal self-disclosure.
  2. With the onion-wedge model, the depth of penetration represents the degree of personal disclosure.
  3. The layers of the onion are tougher and more tightly wrapped near the center.
  1. The depth and breadth of self-disclosure.
  1. Peripheral items are exchanged more frequently and sooner than private information.
  2. Self-disclosure is reciprocal, especially in early stages of relationship development.
  3. Penetration is rapid at the start but slows down quickly as the tightly wrapped inner layers are reached.
  1. Societal norms prevent too much early self-disclosure.
  2. Most relationships stall before a stable intimate exchange is established.
  3. Genuine intimate exchange is rare but when it is achieved, relationships become meaningful and enduring.
  4. Sharing personal narratives, which tend to contain a carefully structured story, deeper emotion, and greater detail than other shared information, is a quick path to stronger bonds.
  1. Depenetration is a gradual process of layer-by-layer withdrawal.
  2. For true intimacy, depth and breadth of penetration are equally important.
  1. Regulating closeness on the basis of rewards and costs.
  1. Social penetration theory draws heavily on the social exchange theory of John Thibaut and Harold Kelley.
  2. If perceived mutual benefits outweigh the costs of greater vulnerability, the process of social penetration will proceed.
  3. Three important concepts are: relational outcome; relational satisfaction; and relational stability.
  1. Relational outcome: Rewards minus costs.
  1. Thibaut and Kelley suggest that people try to predict the outcome of an interaction before it takes place.
  1. The economic approach to determining behavior dates from John Stuart Mill’s principle of utility.
  2. The minimax principle of human behavior claims that people seek to maximize benefits and minimize costs.
  3. The higher we index a relational outcome, the more attractive the behavior that might make it happen.
  1. Social exchange theory assumes that people can accurately gauge the benefits of their actions and make sensible choices based on their predictions.
  2. As relationships develop, the nature of interaction that friends find rewarding evolves.
  1. The comparison level (CL): Gauging relational satisfaction.
  1. A person’s CL is the threshold above which an outcome appears attractive.
  2. Our relational history establishes our CL for friendship, romance, or family ties.
  3. Sequence and trends play large roles in evaluating a relationship.
  1. The comparison level of alternatives (CLalt): Gauging relational stability.
  1. The CLalt is the best relational outcomes currently available outside the relationship.
  2. While one’s CL is relatively stable over time, CLalt compares the options at the current moment.
  3. When current outcomes slide below an established CLalt,, relational instability increases.
  4. Social exchange theories have an economic orientation.
  5. The CLalt explains why people sometimes stay in unsatisfying relationships.
  1. Some women endure abuse because Outcome > CLalt.
  2. They will leave only when CLalt > Outcome.
  1. The relative values of Outcome, CL, and CLalt help determine one’s willingness to disclose.
  1. Optimum disclosure will occur when both parties believe that Outcome > CLalt > CL.
  2. A relationship can be more than satisfying if it is stable, but other satisfying options are also available (in case this relationship turns sour).
  1. Ethical reflection: Epicurus’ ethical egoism.
  1. Psychological egoism reflects many social scientists’ conviction that all of us are motivated by self-interest.
  2. Ethical egoism claims we should act selfishly.
  3. Epicurus emphasized the passive pleasures of friendship, good digestion, and above all, the absence of pain.
  4. Other philosophers (Thomas Hobbes, Adam Smith, Friedrich Nietzsche, Ayn Rand) echo the Epicurean call for selfish concern.
  1. Dialectics and the environment.
  1. Altman originally thought that openness is the predominant quality of relationship changes.  The desire for privacy may counteract a unidirectional quest for intimacy.
  2. A dialectical model suggests that human social relationships are characterized by openness or contact and closedness or separateness between participants.
  3. Altman also identified the environment as a heuristic cue that might guide our decisions to disclose.
  4. Disclosing of one’s self may include both our cognitive space (our minds, thoughts) and our physical space or territory. 
  5. Sandra Petronio’s communication privacy management theory (ch. 12) maps out the intricate ways people manage boundaries around their personal information.
  1. Critique: Pulling back from social penetration.
  1. Petronio thinks it’s simplistic to equate self-disclosure with relational closeness.
  2. She also challenges the theorists’ view of disclosure boundaries as being fixed and increasingly less permeable.
  3. Natalie Pennington suggests that much of “what is discovered is passively consumed and rarely discussed” when learning about others through social media. The theory may need to be updated to account for newer communication technology.
  4. Can a complex blend of advantages and disadvantages be reliably reduced to a single index?
  5. Are people so consistently selfish that they always opt to act strictly in their own best interest?
  6. Paul Wright believes that friendships often reach a point of such closeness that self-centered concerns are no longer salient.
  7. Nevertheless, the theory has withstood the test of time with testable hypotheses and quantitative research. 

 


Chapter  9Uncertainty Reduction Theory


  1. Introduction.
  1. No matter how close two people eventually become, they always begin as strangers.
  2. Charles Berger noted that the beginnings of personal relationships are fraught with uncertainties.
  3. Uncertainty reduction theory focuses on how human communication is used to gain knowledge and create understanding.
  4. Any of three prior conditions—anticipation of future interaction, incentive value, or deviance—can boost our drive to reduce uncertainty.
  1. Uncertainty reduction: To predict and explain.
  1. Berger’s emphasis on explanation (our inferences about why people do what they do) comes from the attribution theory of Fritz Heider.
  2. There are at least two types of uncertainty.
  1. Behavioral questions, which are often reduced by following accepted procedural protocols.
  2. Cognitive questions, which are reduced by acquiring information. Cognitive uncertainty is what Berger is addressing.
  1. An axiomatic theory: Certainty about uncertainty.
  1. Berger proposed a series of axioms to explain the connection between uncertainty and eight key variables.
  2. Axioms are traditionally regarded as self-evident truths that require no additional proof.
  1. Axiom 1, verbal communication: As the amount of verbal communication between strangers increases, the level of uncertainty decreases, and as a result, verbal communication increases.
  2. Axiom 2, nonverbal warmth: As nonverbal affiliative expressiveness increases, uncertainty levels will decrease.  Decreases in uncertainty level will cause increases in nonverbal warmth.
  3. Axiom 3, information seeking: High levels of uncertainty cause increases in information-seeking behavior.  As uncertainty levels decline, information-seeking behavior decreases.
  4. Axiom 4, self-disclosure: High levels of uncertainty in a relationship cause decreases in the intimacy level of communication content.  Low levels of uncertainty produce high levels of intimacy.
  5. Axiom 5, reciprocity: High levels of uncertainty produce high rates of reciprocity.  Low levels of uncertainty produce low levels of reciprocity.
  6. Axiom 6, similarity: Similarities between persons reduce uncertainty, while dissimilarities produce increases in uncertainty.
  7. Axiom 7, liking:  Increases in uncertainty level produce decreases in liking; decreases in uncertainty produce increases in liking.
  8. Axiom 8, shared networks: Shared communication networks reduce uncertainty, while a lack of shared networks increases uncertainty.
  1. Theorems: The logical force of uncertainty axioms.
  1. Through pairing axioms, Berger creates 28 theorems.
  2. These 28 theorems suggest a comprehensive theory of interpersonal development based on the importance of reducing uncertainty in human interaction.
  1. Three intriguing issues raised by URT
  1. The restricted scope (initial encounters) and axiomatic form of his theory stimulated other communication scholars to explore three questions that might have also occurred to you.
  2. Does uncertainty reduction work the same way in intercultural situations?
  1. The greater the cultural gap, the greater the complexity and initial uncertainty for both parties.
  2. William Gudykunst proposed 47 axioms that describe the factors that impact uncertainty in intercultural encounters including motivation, expectations, empathy, self-esteem, tolerance for ambiguity, and ability to process complex information.
  3. Gudykunst’s most important contribution to interaction with strangers is to address reduction of anxiety as well as uncertainty.
  1. Can uncertainty wreak havoc in ongoing relationships?
  1. After the initial phase, Leanne Knobloch suggests that uncertainty in close relationships arises from whether we’re sure about our own thoughts, the other person’s thoughts, and our future.
  2. Partner interference (where we feel hindered in our goals by our partner) can increase uncertainty, 
  3. Uncertainty in ongoing relationships leads to relational turbulence, addressed through direct attempts to reduce it.
  1. When emotions run high, how do people manage uncertainty?
  1. Walid Afifi says that when an interpersonal issue is really important, most people first consider the gap between what they know and what they want to know.
  2. The emotions stimulated by this uncertainty gap force us to contemplate three questions of efficacy (coping, communication, and target).
  1. Seeking information to reduce uncertainty
  1. Theorists have outlined four approaches we can use to reduce uncertainty.
  2. Using a passive strategy, we unobtrusively observe others from a distance.
  3. In an active strategy, we ask a third party for information.
  4. With an interactive strategy, we talk face-to-face with the other person and ask specific questions.
  5. The extractive strategy involves searching for information online.
  1. Critique: Nagging doubts about uncertainty.
  1. Berger’s uncertainty reduction theory was an early prototype of what an objective theory should be and it continues to inspire a new generation of scholars today.
  2. Though numerous, the axioms and theorems offer specific, testable hypotheses, are simple to understand, and offer a pragmatic approach based on quantitative research.
  3. As Berger himself admitted, his original statement contained some propositions of dubious validity.
  4. Critics such as Kathy Kellermann consider theorem 17 particularly flawed.
  1. The tight logical structure of the theory doesn't allow us to reject one theorem without questioning the axioms behind it.
  2. In the case of theorem 17, axioms 3 and 7 must also be suspect.
  3. Kellermann and Rodney Reynolds challenge the motivational assumption of axiom 3.
  4. They also have undermined the claim that motivation to search for information is increased by anticipation of future interaction, incentive value, and deviance.
  1. Michael Sunnafrank challenges Berger’s claim that uncertainty reduction is the key to understanding early encounters.
  1. He believes that predicted outcome value more accurately explains communication in early encounters.
  2. Berger insists that you can't predict outcome values until you reduce uncertainty.
  3. Walid Afifi thinks both theories are too narrow. In his theory of motivated information management, he suggests we’re most motivated to reduce anxiety rather than uncertainty.
  1. Despite these problems, Berger's theory has stimulated considerable discussion within the discipline.

Chapter 10Social Information Processing Theory


  1. Introduction.
    1. Social information processing theory’s chief claim is this: People can build interpersonal relationships despite the limitations imposed by mediated channels.
    2. Rapid changes in communication technology over the past several decades have frustrated communication scholars seeking to understand what all of this means for interpersonal relationships.
    3. Walther proposed that under the right conditions, people can conduct satisfying interpersonal and group communication online.
    4. SIP addresses any form of mediated communication that limits the nonverbal cues people can express.
  1. Online versus face-to-face: A sip instead of a gulp.
    1. Walther labeled his theory social information processing (SIP) because he believes relationships grow only to the extent that parties first gain information about each other and use that information to form impressions.
    2. It’s a chain of events that occurs regardless of the medium used to communicate: we get information, we form an impression, and then the relationship grows.
    3. SIP focuses on how the first link of the chain looks a bit different when communicating online.
    4. Before SIP, many communication theorists shared a cues filtered out interpretation of online messages. They believed the lack of nonverbal cues would disrupt the process of gaining information and forming an impression.
    5. Flaming is use of hostile language that zings its target, creating a toxic climate for relationship development and growth.
    6. Walther doesn’t think the loss of nonverbal cues is necessarily fatal or even injurious to a well-defined impression of the other or the relational development it triggers.
    7. Two features of online communication provide a rationale for SIP theory.
      1. Verbal cues: CMC users can create fully formed impressions of others based solely on linguistic content of messages.
      2. Extended time: Though the exchange of social information is slower online versus face-to-face, over time the relationships formed are not weaker or more fragile.
  1. Verbal cues of affinity replace nonverbal cues.
    1. Based on Mehrabian’s foundational research on inconsistent messages, people gave nonverbal cues more weight when interpreting messages where verbal and nonverbal channels clash.
    2. Nonverbal cues become less powerful when they don’t conflict with the verbal message or when we’re conveying facts.
    3. Walther claims we can replace nonverbal cues with verbal messages that convey the same meaning.
    4. This ability to convert nonverbal cues into verbal meaning isn’t new; earlier examples include pen-pal relationships.
  1. Experimental support for a counter-intuitive idea
    1. Walther and his colleagues ran studies to test how online communicators pursue their social goals and if affinity can be expressed through a digital medium.
      1. In their study, the participants discussed a moral dilemma with a stranger via either online or face-to-face communication.  The stranger was actually a research confederate told to pursue a specific communication goal.  Half the confederates were told to interact in a friendly manner and the remaining pairs were told to interact in an unfriendly manner.
      2. The medium of communication made no difference in the emotional tone perceived by the participants.
      3. Self-disclosure, praise, and explicit statements of affection successfully communicated warmth.
      4. In face-to-face interactions, participants relied on facial expression, eye contact, tone of voice, body position, and other nonverbal cues to communicate affiliation.
    2. Compared to visually-oriented channels, building warmth over text might take longer.
  1. Extended time: The crucial variable in online communication.
    1. According to Walther, online communicators need extended time to build close connections.
    2. Rather than drinking a glass by taking big gulps, smaller sips will take more time.
    3. Over an extended period, the issue is not the amount of social information that can be conveyed online; rather, it’s the rate at which that information mounts up.
    4. Email and Twitter allow us to send messages, but still mostly text. Even more visual media (Zoom, Instagram) still provide less social information than would be available face-to-face.
    5. Messages spoken in person take at least four times as long to communicate online. This differential may explain why online interactions are perceived as impersonal and task-oriented.
    6. Anticipated future interaction and chronemic cues may also contribute to intimacy on the Internet.
      1. People will trade more relational messages if they think they may meet again and this anticipated future interaction motivates them to develop the relationship.
      2. Walther believes that chronemic cues, or nonverbal indicators of how people perceive, use, or respond to issues of time, are never filtered out completely when communicating online. 
    7. Walther claims that, sometimes, online exchanges actually surpass the quality of relational communication that’s available when parties talk face-to-face.
  1. Hyperpersonal perspective: Closer online than in person.
    1. Walther uses the term hyperpersonal to label online relationships that are more intimate than if partners were physically together.
    2. He classifies four types of media effects that occur precisely because communicators aren’t face-to-face and have limited nonverbal cues.
      1. Sender: Selective self-presentation
        1. Through selective self-presentation, people who meet online have an opportunity to make and sustain an overwhelmingly positive impression.
        2. As a relationship develops, they can carefully edit the breadth and depth of their self-disclosure to conform to their cyber image, without worrying that nonverbal leakage will shatter their projected persona.
      2. Receiver: Overattribution of similarity
        1. Attribution is a perceptual process where we observe people’s actions and try to figure out what they’re really like.
        2. In the absence of other cues, we are likely to overattribute the information we have and create an idealized image of the sender.
      3. Channel: Communicating on your own time
        1. Many forms of online communication are asynchronous channels of communication, meaning that parties can use them nonsimultaneously— at different times.
        2. A benefit is the ability to edit when dealing with touchy issues, misunderstandings, or conflict between parties.
      4. Feedback: Self-fulfilling prophecy
        1. A self-fulfilling prophecy is the tendency for a person’s expectation of others to evoke a response from them that confirms what was anticipated.
        2. Self-fulfilling prophecy is triggered when the hyperpositive image is intentionally or inadvertently fed back to the other person.
        3. Beyond online dating, Walther suggests hyperpersonal communication may improve relationships between groups with a strong history of tension and conflict, such as Israeli Jews and Palestinian Muslims.
        4. Based on his research, Walther suggests that in order to ease tensions, communicators should focus on common tasks rather than group differences, allowing plenty of time for communication, and exclusively using text-only channels.
  1. The warranting value of information: What to trust?
    1. Hyperpersonal effects aren’t likely to occur when people don’t trust each other.
    2. Walther and his colleagues have examined how people evaluate the credibility of others through social media.
    3. Social media sites display two types of information—that controlled by the profile owner and that beyond the owner’s direct control.
    4. Walther’s investigated the warranting value of personal information, or “the degree to which a target… is perceived to have manipulated, controlled, or shaped information that is abut the target.”  
    5. Information is believed if it has warranting value. Does their online profile match their offline characteristics?
      1. Like email messages, whose content is under the sole control of the sender, information posted by a profile owner is low warrant information because he or she can manipulate it with ease.
      2. Since the profile owner can’t as easily manipulate what’s posted by friends, we’re more likely to accept such high warrant information as true.
    6. Walther believes this happens offline too where we weigh differently the words of others.
    7. Walther’s experiments confirm that people trust high warrant information.
  1. Critique: Does it work outside the lab?
    1. The hyperpersonal model is over 20 years old and was created to describe an online environment that no longer exists. Yet it remains one of the most important and most useful conceptual perspectives for understanding technology-mediated communication.
    2. The theory’s relative simplicity, grounded with testable hypotheses, has performed well in the controlled conditions of quantitative research labs.
    3. It consistently explains the data and predicts outcomes.
    4. But what about outside the lab, where social life is so complex?
    5. Moving beyond the lab, researchers hope for ecological validity.
    6. The work of Erin Ruppel and Bree McEwan questions if the theory’s predictions hold up in real-world relationships.
    7. SIP does not explain how people use multiple media to maintain their relationships.
    8. By focusing on the fundamentals of the communication process, Walther and other SIP researchers have laid a solid foundation.

Chapter 11Relational Dialectics Theory


  1. Introduction
  1. Leslie Baxter’s theory of relational dialectics treats talk as the essence of close ties.
  2. Baxter found people are caught in “a dynamic knot of contradictions, a ceaseless interplay between contrary and opposing tendencies.
  3. Baxter’s work has generated two versions of RDT, the original statement and premises (RDT 1.0) and the more recent RDT 2.0 with discourse as the core concept.
  1. Discourses that create meaning
  1. The central concept of relational dialectics theory is the discourse, or streams of talk that “cohere around a given object of meaning.”
  2. Baxter thinks discourses constitute or construct what things mean.
  3. We can see the constitutive nature of discourse in how relational partners talk about their similarities and differences. Much traditional scholarship values similarities as a positive glue causing closing.
  4. Baxter’s constitutive approach disagrees. Differences are just as important as similarities.
  5. We tend to think of how we use talk. It’s strange to think about how talk shapes us.  
  1. Dialogue versus monologue
  1. To help make sense of the world of discourse, Baxter draws heavily on the thinking of 20th century Russian intellectual Mikhail Bakhtin.
  2. Bakhtin’s philosophy criticized monologue—a mode of talking that emphasizes one official discourse and silences all others.
  3. Bakhtin embraced dialogue as “a process in which unity and difference, in some form, are at play, both with and against one another.”
  4. Baxter thinks that dialogue animates interpersonal relationships, with our talk reverberating with words spoken before, words yet to come, and words we may never dare voice. She refers to this as an utterance chain. 
  5. Although Baxter believes discourses create any interpersonal connection, most of the recent research on the theory has investigated the family.
  1. Three common dialectics that shape relationships
  1. Across hundreds of interviews about close ties, Baxter heard people voice three recurring themes: integration–separation, stability–change, and expression–nonexpression.
  2. In her first iteration of the theory (RDT 1.0), she called these contradictions. She no longer prefers that word, since it may tempt people to think she’s talking about psychological conflict between different desires.
  3. Baxter thinks we have such internal motivations, but because she takes communication seriously, she thinks cultural discourses create and shape them.
  4. Baxter refers to these themes as discursive struggles or competing discourses.
  5. The Internal Dialectic describes the three dialectics as they shape the relationship between two people.
  6. The External Dialectic describes the dialectics as they create the relationship between two people and the community around them.
  1. Integration and separation.
  1. Within any given relationship, Baxter regards the discursive struggle between connection and autonomy as foundational.
  2. If one side prevails, the relationship loses.
  3. The discourses of integration and separation also address a pair’s inclusion with and seclusion from other people in their social network
  1. Stability and change.
  1. Without the spice of variety to season our time together, relationships become bland, boring, and, ultimately, emotionally dead.
  2. The external version of certainty/uncertainty is conventionality/uniqueness.
  3. Discourses of conventionality consider how a relationship is similar to other relationships, while discourses of uniqueness emphasize difference.
  1. Expression and nonexpression.
  1. The discourse of expression clashes with the discourse of nonexpression.
  2. Just as the openness-closedness dialectic is an ongoing discursive struggle within a relationship, couples and families also face choices about what information to reveal or conceal from third parties.
  1. How meaning emerges from struggles between discourses
  1. Not all discourses are equal: it’s common for some discourses to possess more prominence than others.
  2. Baxter chooses not to focus on the management of discourses because saying that people “manage” discourses “implies that contradictions, or discursive struggles, exist outside of communication.”
  3. She’d rather consider how patterns of talk position certain discourses as dominant or marginalized.
  4. Her work has identified two such overarching patterns, differentiated by time.
    1. In one pattern, competing discourses ebb and flow but never appear together, called diachronic separation.
    2. In contrast, synchronic interplay voices multiple discourses in the same time and place.
  1. Separation: Different discourses at different times.
  1. According to Baxter, separation isn’t unusual.
  2. Simultaneous expression of opposing voices is the exception rather than the rule.
  3. Baxter has identified two typical patterns of separation:
  1. Spiraling inversion involves switching back and forth across time between two contrasting discourses, voicing one and then the other.
  2. Segmentation compartmentalizes different aspects of the relationship.
  1. Compared to the monologue of one dominant discourse, Baxter thinks separation is a step in the right direction.
  1. Interplay: Different discourses at the same time
  1. Baxter’s findings describe four forms of interplay, starting with those that are more like a monologue and moving to those that are more dialogic.
  1. Negating mentions a marginalized discourse in order to dismiss it as unimportant.
  2. Countering replaces an expected discourse with an alternative discourse.
  3. Entertaining recognizes that every discourse has alternatives
  4. Transforming combines two or more discourses, changing them into something new.
  1. Perhaps the highest form of transformation is the aesthetic moment: “a momentary sense of unity through a profound respect for the disparate voices in dialogue.”
  1. Ethical reflection: Martin Buber’s dialogic ethics
  1. Baxter notes that Martin Buber’s ethical approach is particularly compatible with relational dialectics theory.
  2. His ethical approach focus on relationships between people rather than moral codes of conduct.
  3. Buber contrasts two types of relationships: I-It (where others are treated as things to be used) versus I-Thou (where partners are regarded as the very one we are).
  4. Buber said we can only do this through dialogue, though his use of the term is closer in meaning to Bakhtin’s aesthetic moment.
  5. In dialogue, we create a between through which we help each other become more human.
  6. A narrow ridge exists that separates relativism from absolutism. 
  1. Critique: Aesthetic moments, yes; Aesthetic appeal, perhaps not.
  1. Relational dialectics theory stacks up quite well as an interpretive theory.
  1. The theory offers a new way to make sense out of close relationships.
  2. Leslie Baxter’s work has inspired a generation of relational dialectics scholars, and they’re continuing her work. But she does so by excluding objective scholarship and promoting qualitative work almost exclusively.
  3. By encouraging a diverse group of people to talk about their relationships, and taking what they say seriously, Baxter models the high value that Bakhtin placed on hearing multiple voices.
  4. Not only does Baxter listen to multiple voices, but her theory seeks to carve out a space where marginalized voices can be heard.
  5. The theory emphasizes the importance of qualitative work when using the theory.
  6. Baxter’s work deserves praise for its complexity but the richness of ideas and nuanced philosophical terms make it a tough sell on aesthetic merits.
  1. In describing fleeting moments of wholeness, Baxter holds out an attractive ideal to which we can aspire, where the pull of opposing discourses may actually be fun.

Chapter 12Communication Privacy Management Theory


  1. Introduction.
  1. Petronio sees communication privacy management theory as a description of how people handle their private information.
  2. Instead of talking about self-disclosure as many relational theorists do, Petronio refers to the disclosure of private information.
  1. A lot of private information we tell others is not about ourselves.
  2. Self-disclosure is usually associated with intimacy, but there can be other motives for disclosure.
  3. It has a neutral connotation, whereas self-disclosure has a positive feel.
  4. It draws attention to the content of what is said and how the confidant responds.
  1. Ownership and control of private information: People believe they own and have a right to control their private information.
  1. We regard private information as something we own.
  1. Petronio defines privacy as “the feeling one has the right to own private information.”
  2. It doesn’t matter if the perception of ownership is accurate.
  1. Ownership conveys rights and obligations.        
  1. Privacy boosts our sense of autonomy and makes us feel less vulnerable.
  2. Our sense of ownership motivates us to create boundaries that will control the spread of what we know.
  1. Rules for concealing and revealing: People control their private information through the use of personal privacy rules.
  1. An easy way to grasp what she means is to remember that people usually have rules for managing their private information.
  2. Five factors play into the development of a person’s unique privacy rules including culture, gender, motivation, context, and risk/benefit ratio.
  1. Cultures differ on the value of openness and disclosure.
  2. With regards to gender, popular wisdom suggests that women disclose more than men, yet research on this issue is mixed at best. Both men and women would more easily reveal private information to a woman.
  3. Petronio emphasizes attraction and liking as interpersonal motives that can loosen privacy boundaries that could not otherwise be breached.
  4. Traumatic events can temporarily or permanently disrupt the influence of culture, gender, and motivation when people craft their rules for privacy.
  5. Risk/benefit ratios do the math for revealing as well as concealing private information.
  1. Disclosure creates a confidant and co-owner: When others are told or discover a person’s private information, they become co-owners of that information.
  1. The act of disclosing private information creates a confidant and draws that person into a collective privacy boundary whether willingly or reluctantly.
  2. Disclosing information to another person results in co-ownership.
  1. The discloser must realize the personal privacy boundary has morphed into a collective boundary that seldom shrinks back to being solely personal.
  2. As co-owners, people tend to feel responsibility for the information, though not always equally.
  3. Those who had the information foisted upon them may be more casual about protecting it.
  1. Coordinating mutual privacy boundaries: Co-owners of private information need to negotiate mutually agreeable privacy rules about telling others.
  1. This pivotal fourth principle of CPM is where Petronio moves from being descriptive to prescriptive.
  2. Assuming the privacy boundaries co-owners place around the information are different, co-owners must negotiate mutual privacy boundaries—collective boundaries that people shape together.
  3. Boundary ownership is the rights and responsibilities that co-owners of private information have to control its spread.
  1. Not all boundary ownership is 50-50.
  2. A deliberate confidant is someone who intentionally seeks private information, and often the more eager they are to be confided in, the less control they have over what they hear.
  3. A reluctant confidant doesn’t want the disclosure, doesn’t expect it, may find the revealed information an unwelcome burden, and often feels only a vague sense of responsibility to disclosed information, resulting in less of an obligation to follow the privacy guidelines of the discloser.
  4. A shareholder is someone fully vested in keeping the information according to the original owner’s rules.
  5. A stakeholder is someone deemed to deserve access and control.
  1. Boundary linkage is the process of the confidant being linked into the privacy boundary of the person who revealed the information.
  1. When the revealer and recipient have a close relationship, the recipient is more likely to deal with the new information the way the revealer wants.
  2. One motive to create further boundary linkages is a desire for social support to cope with difficult information.
  1. Boundary permeability—How much information can flow?
  1. Informational barriers can be closed, thick, or stretched tight allowing little information to pass through, or boundaries can be open, thin, or loosely held allowing information to easily pass through.
  2. Permeability is a matter of degree.
  1. Boundary turbulence - Relationships at risk: When co-owners of private information don’t effectively negotiate and follow jointly held privacy rules, boundary turbulence is the likely result.
  1. Boundary turbulence is “disruptions in the way that co-owners control and regulate the flow of private information to third parties.”
  2. Turbulence can radically alter our relationships by the way it affects our thoughts, feelings, and actions.
  3. Petronio predicts that people react to turbulence in attempts to regulate the disturbed relationships that it creates. 
  4. Fuzzy boundaries occur when there are no recognized mutual boundaries, in which case a confidant resorts to using their own privacy rules to guide what they say to others.
  5. Intentional breaches occur when a confidant purposefully reveals a secret they know the original owner does not want shared.
  1. They may do so to intentionally hurt the original owner or simply because to do so works to their personal advantage.
  2. A confidentiality dilemma occurs when a confidant must breach a collective privacy boundary in order to promote the original owner’s welfare
  1. Not all boundary and relational turbulence comes from privacy rules out of sync or the intentional breach of boundaries.
  1. Sometimes people create turmoil by making mistakes, such as letting secrets slip out when their guard is down or simply forgetting who might have access to the information.
  2. Errors of judgment occur when someone discusses private cases in public places.
  3. A miscalculation in timing can cause turbulence when information is revealed at a bad time.
  1. Critique: Keen diagnosis, good prescription, cure in process?
  1. CPM nicely meets five of the six criteria for a good interpretive theory.
  2. It scores well on providing a new understanding of people, backing that up by sound qualitative research, the support of a community of agreement, clarifying privacy as a value, and calling for reform (though that is a bit of a stretch). 
  3. CPM lacks aesthetic appeal, in both style and clarity.
  4. A gap in the theory is that Petronio does not offer insight on how to conduct negotiations or offer solutions for when boundary turbulence occurs.
  5. Over the 35 years in working with the theory, she’s acknowledged the theory’s ambiguities and repackaged things for improved clarity.

Chapter 13Media Multiplexity Theory


  1. Introduction.
  1. Caroline Haythornthwaite found that the number of media we use in a relationship often reveals the kind of bond we have with that person.
  2. Media multiplexity theory rests on a consistent empirical finding: the stronger the relational tie we have with a person, the more media we use with that person.
  3. Haythornthwaite took a cybernetic approach to understanding how and why we use different communication channels
  1. Mapping our social networks.
  1. Scholars in the cybernetic tradition think we can map out what our relationships look like in a social network.
  2. Social network scholars call bonds weak ties if they don’t consume much time or energy, like acquaintances, classmates, and distant relatives.
  3. In contrast, strong ties such as romantic partners, immediate family, and deep friends demand that we make a significant investment in the relationship.
  4. Sociologist Mark Granovetter offered a more formal definition of tie strength, claiming it is a “combination of the amount of time, the emotional intensity, the intimacy (mutual confidence), and the reciprocal services” exchanged in the relationship.
  5. Cybernetic theorists want to understand how the structure of a network shapes the flow of information and resources between people.
  1. When are strong ties weak, and when are weak ties strong?
  1. With strong ties, we experience acceptance, intimacy, and enjoyment.
  2. Stanford sociologist Mark Granovetter claimed he wasn’t so sure that strong ties are always better than weak ties.
  3. He affirmed the importance of close relationships for understanding our identity, but noted that strong ties feature a major weakness: They’re redundant when it comes to accessing information and resources.
  4. According to Granovetter, quick access to diverse information is one strength of weak ties.
  5. Among weak ties, bridging ties serve a particularly powerful role. They’re the ties that connect one strong tie group to another.
  6. Granovetter’s treatise on weak ties has inspired many scholars, including Haythornthwaite, who found his explanation of strong and weak ties particularly helpful for understanding the channels that sustain them.
  1. The five propositions of media multiplexity theory.
  1. Proposition #1: Tie strength is positively associated with media multiplexity.
  1. At first, Haythornthwaite wanted to understand how online learners adapt to the computer-mediated environment: “What happens to such relationships when face-to-face contact is unavailable or severely limited?”
  2. But Haythornthwaite’s findings soon drove her into unexplored terrain: “Asking ‘who talks to whom about what and via which media’ revealed the unexpected result that more strongly tied pairs make use of more of the available media, a phenomenon I have termed media multiplexity.”
  3. What differentiated strong ties from weak ties was the number of media the pair employed. Greater tie strength seemed to drive greater numbers of media used.
  4. Although Haythornthwaite initially observed media multiplexity in educational and organizational groups, scholars in the socio-psychological tradition soon took her ideas and applied them to interpersonal contexts.
  1. Proposition #2: Communication content differs by tie strength, not by medium.
  1. SIP researchers have been most interested in the getting-to-know-you phase of relationship initiation, and they’ve pointed to the need for extended time during it.
  2. Media multiplexity theorists have been more interested in the maintenance of ongoing relationships, and they’ve pointed to the nature of the interpersonal tie itself.
  3. Earlier in her research, Haythornthwaite has found that the medium partners use doesn’t change the topic of their talk.
  4. With many more and varied channels, some scholars think this proposition may not always hold true.
  5. Samuel Hardman Taylor speculates this allocation may occur due to the affordances of the channel, or the properties of the channel that enable or constrain certain actions.
  1. Proposition #3: Tie strength and media use cause one another over time.
  1. According to media multiplexity theory, media use and tie strength cause each other.
  2. Weak ties are uncomplicated and don’t need many channels to sustain them. Stronger ties require more media to orchestrate their varied and interdependent connections.
  1. Proposition #4: Changes in the media landscape particularly influence weak ties.
  1. Media multiplexity thory recognizes that sometimes we lose the ability to communicate through a channel.
  2. Overall, then, “a central thesis of MMT is that… changes to the media landscape alter strong ties only minimally but may change the nature of weak ties considerably.”
  1. Proposition #5: Groups have hierarchies of media use expectations.
  1. Allocation of different channels for different kinds of times creates a hierarchy of media use expectations.
  2. To Haythornthwaite, there is nothing sacred about the hierarchy of media use.
  3. Andrew Ledbetter and Samuel Hardman Taylor found that changes in media channel usage is viewed as a violation by family members.
  1. Ethical reflection: Turkle’s reclaiming conversation
  1. Media multiplexity theory treats channels as interchangeable—what we can communicate across one medium, we can find a way to communicate in another.
  2. What matters is the number of channels used, not the nature of those channels.
  3. Sherry Turkle is concerned that the connectivity provided by mobile technologies has unanticipated negative consequences for the health of interpersonal relationships.
  4. She is convinced the continuous distraction of mobile technology deflects from that which makes us truly human—conversation, intimacy, and empathy.
  5. The devices that allow us to talk to people everywhere may hinder our ability to connect with those who are right here, right now.
  1. Critique: Strong on simplicity, weak on explanation and prediction.
  1. Media multiplexity theory is the youngest theory in this book, yet it has gained a sizable following among scholars within and outside the communication discipline.
  2. “To date, [the theory] represents the most comprehensive and systematic attempt to explain how the multimodality of social life influences, and is influenced by, the characteristics of interpersonal relationships.”
  3. One of the theory’s greatest strengths is its relative simplicity.
  4. These hypotheses are testable, and as scholars have conducted quantitative research, the numbers have tended to support the theory’s claims.
  5. Where the theory falters is its explanation of the data.
  6. Haythornthwaite seems to emphasize that tie strength drives channel expansion. Yet at other times, she acknowledges that increased communication probably strengthens the tie.
  7. Another concern about explanation of the data involves the theory’s boundary conditions. Media multiplexity might not occur in certain types of relationships.
  8. Additional research on the theory’s causality claims could enhance the theory’s ability to predict future events.
  9. Despite the need for better prediction and explanation, the theory has demonstrated its practical utility.

Chapter 14Social Judgment Theory


  1. Three latitudes: Acceptance, rejection, and noncommitment.
  1. Social judgment theory says that at the instant of perception, people compare messages to their present point of view.
  2. Individuals’ opinions are not adequately represented as a point along a continuum because degrees of tolerance around their positions must also be considered.
  3. Muzafer and Carolyn Sherif established three zones of attitudes.
  1. The latitude of acceptance represents ideas that are reasonable or acceptable.
  2. The latitude of rejection includes items that are unreasonable or objectionable.
  3. The latitude of noncommitment represents ideas that are neither acceptable nor objectionable.
  1. A description of a person’s attitude structure must include the location and width of each interrelated latitude.
  2. In order to craft a more persuasive message, social judgment theory recommends that a communicator try to figure out the location and breadth of the other person’s three latitudes before further discussion.
  1. Ego-involvement: How much do you care?
  1. Ego-involvement refers to how central or important an issue is in our lives.
  2. The favored position anchors all other thoughts about the topic.
  3. People who hold extreme views on either side almost always care deeply.
  4. Messages are compared or judged against one’s own position.
  1. Judging the message: Contrast and assimilation errors.
  1. The Sherifs claimed that we use our own anchored attitude as a comparison point when we hear a discrepant message.
  2. Contrast occurs when one perceives a message within the latitude of rejection as being more discrepant than it actually is from the anchor point.  This perceptual distortion leads to polarization of ideas.
  3. Assimilation, the opposite of contrast, occurs when one perceives a message within the latitude of acceptance as being less discrepant than it actually is from the anchor point.
  4. Although Sherif is unclear as to how people judge messages that fall within the latitude of noncommitment, most interpreters believe the message will be perceived as intended.
  1. Discrepancy and attitude change.
  1. Judging a message relative to our own position and shifting our anchor accordingly usually takes place below the level of consciousness.
  2. If individuals judge a new message to fall within their latitude of acceptance, they adjust their attitude to accommodate it.
  1. The persuasive effect will be positive but partial.
  2. The greater the discrepancy, the more individuals adjust their attitudes.
  3. The most persuasive message is the one that is most discrepant from the listener’s position, yet still falls within his or her latitude of acceptance or latitude of noncommitment.
  1. If individuals judge a new message to be within their latitude of rejection, they will adjust their attitude away from it.
  1. For individuals with high ego-involvement and broad latitudes of rejection, most messages that are aimed to persuade them that fall within a latitude of rejection have an effect opposite of what the communicator intended.
  2. This boomerang effect suggests that individuals are often driven, rather than drawn, to the positions they occupy.
  1. Sherif’s approach is quite automatic.
  1. He reduced interpersonal influence to the issue of the distance between the message and the hearer’s position.
  2. Volition exists only in choosing the message the persuader presents.
  1. Practical advice for the persuader.
  1. For maximum influence, select a message right on the edge of the audience’s latitude of acceptance or noncommitment.
  2. Ambiguous messages can sometimes serve better than clarity.
  3. Persuasion is a gradual process consisting of small movements.
  4. The most dramatic, widespread, and enduring attitude changes involve changes within reference groups where members have differing values.
  1. Empirical and anecdotal support for SJT
  1. Research on the predictions of social judgment theory requires highly ego-involved issues where strong resistance to some messages is likely.
  2. Sufficient sleep
  1. People will be swayed until they begin to regard a message as patently ridiculous.
  2. A highly credible speaker can shrink the listener’s latitude of rejection.
  1. Asking for money
  1. Application of the theory raises ethical problems.
  2. Is it okay to adapt your message based on the recipient’s latitude of acceptance?
  1. Ethical Reflections: Kant’s categorical imperative.
  1. Social judgment theory focuses on what is effective. But, before we adjust what we say so that it serves our ends and seems reasonable to others, we should consider what’s ethical.
  2. German philosopher Immanuel Kant believed that any time we speak or act, we have a moral obligation to be truthful.
  3. He held an absolutist position, based on his categorical imperative, which is “act only on that maxim which you can will to become a universal law.”
  4. There are no mitigating circumstances. Lying is wrong—always. So is breaking a promise.
  5. Kant would have us look at the difference between what we plan to say to influence others and what we truly believe.
  6. We should then ask, What if everybody did that all the time? If we don’t like the answer, we have a solemn duty not to do the deed.
  7. The categorical imperative is a method for determining right from wrong by thinking through the ethical valence of an act, regardless of motive.
  1. Critique: A useful theory with unanswered questions.
  1. The theory offers specific predictions and explanations about what happens in the mind when a message falls within someone’s latitude of acceptance or rejection.
  2. It is a relatively simply prescription that guides practitioners.
  3. It’s well supported with quantitative research.
  4. But the theory’s explanation of why this works is not as compelling.
  5. Like all cognitive explanations, social judgment theory assumes a mental structure and process that are beyond sensory observation.
  6. Testing the theory’s hypotheses about cause and effect will be somewhat problematic.
  7. Despite these questions, social judgment theory is an elegant, intuitively appealing approach to persuasion.

Chapter 15Elaboration Likelihood Model


  1. The central route and the peripheral route to persuasion. 
  1. Richard Petty and John Cacioppo posit two basic mental routes for attitude change.
  2. The central route involves message elaboration, defined as the extent to which a person carefully thinks about issue-relevant arguments contained in a persuasive communication.
  3. The peripheral route processes the message without any active thinking about the attributes of the issue or the object of consideration.
  1. Recipients rely on a variety of cues to make quick decisions.
  2. Robert Cialdini has identified six such cues:
  1. Reciprocation
  2. Consistency
  3. Social proof
  4. Liking
  5. Authority
  6. Scarcity
  1. Although Petty and Cacioppo’s model seems to suggest that the routes are mutually exclusive, the theorists stress the central route and the peripheral route are poles on a cognitive processing continuum that show the degree of mental effort a person exerts when evaluating a message.
  2. Most messages receive middle-ground attention between these poles.
  3. The more listeners work to evaluate a message, the less they will be influenced by content-irrelevant factors; the greater the effect of content-irrelevant factors, the less impact the message carries.
  1. Motivation for elaboration: Is it worth the effort?
  1. People are motivated to hold correct attitudes.
  2. Yet the number of ideas a person can scrutinize is limited, so we tend to focus on issues that are personally relevant.
  3. As long as people have a personal stake in accepting or rejecting an idea, they will be much more influenced by what a message says than by the characteristics of the person who is saying it.
  4. Without the motivation of personal relevance, there probably will be little elaboration.
  5. Certain individuals have a need for cognitive clarity, regardless of the issue; these people will work through many of the ideas and arguments they hear.
  1. Ability for elaboration: Can they do it?
  1. Elaboration requires intelligence and concentration.
  2. Distraction disrupts elaboration.
  3. Repetition may increase the possibility of elaboration, but too much repetition causes people to resort to the peripheral route.
  1. Type of elaboration: Objective vs. biased thinking.
  1. Biased elaboration (top-down thinking) occurs when predetermined conclusions color the supporting data underneath.
  2. Objective evaluation (bottom-up thinking) lets the facts speak for themselves.
  1. Elaborated messages: Strong, weak, and neutral.
  1. Objective elaboration examines the perceived strength of an argument.
  1. Petty and Cacioppo have no absolute standard for differentiating between cogent and specious arguments.
  2. They define a strong message as one that generates favorable thoughts.
  1. Thoughtful consideration of strong arguments will produce positive shifts in attitude.
  1. The change is persistent over time.
  2. It resists counterpersuasion.
  3. It predicts future behavior.
  1. Thoughtful consideration of weak arguments can lead to negative boomerang effects paralleling the positive effects of strong arguments (but in the opposite direction).
  2. Mixed or neutral messages won’t change attitudes and in fact reinforce original attitudes. 
  1. Peripheral cues: An alternative route of influence.
  1. Most messages are processed through the peripheral route, bringing attitude changes without issue-relevant thinking.
  2. The most obvious cues for the peripheral route are tangible rewards.
  3. Source credibility is also important.
  1. The principal components of source credibility are likability and expertise.
  2. Source credibility is salient for those unmotivated or unable to elaborate.
  1. Peripheral route change can be either positive or negative, but it won’t have the impact of message elaboration.
  1. Pushing the limits of peripheral power.
  1. Petty and Cacioppo emphasize that it’s impossible to compile a list of cues that are strictly peripheral.
  2. Lee and Koo argue that there are times when source credibility is processed through the central route rather than functioning as a peripheral cue.
  3. This is particularly true when there's a close match between an advertised product that consumers really care about and the expertise of the star presenter.
  4. Many variables like perceived credibility or the mood of the listener can act as peripheral cues. Yet if one of them motivates listeners to scrutinize the message or affects their evaluation of arguments, it no longer serves as a no-brainer.
  1. Choosing a route: Practical advice for the persuader.
  1. If listeners are motivated and able to elaborate a message, rely on factual arguments—i.e., appeal through the central route.
  2. When listeners are willing and able to elaborate a message, avoid using weak arguments; they will backfire.
  3. If listeners are unable or unwilling to elaborate a message, rely on packaging rather than content; appeal by using cues be processed on the peripheral route.
  4. When using the peripheral route, however, the effects will probably be fragile.
  1. Ethical reflection: Nilsen’s significant choice.
  1. Thomas Nilsen proposes that persuasive speech is ethical to the extent that it maximizes people’s ability to exercise free choice.
  2. Philosophers and rhetoricians have compared persuasion to a lover making fervent appeals to his beloved—wooing an audience, for example.
  3. For Nilsen, true love can’t be coerced; it must be freely given.
  4. Nilsen would regard persuasive appeals that encourage message elaboration through ELM’s central route as ethical.
  1. Critique: Elaborating the model.
  1. ELM has been a leading theory of persuasion and attitude change for the last twenty-five years, and Petty and Cacioppo’s initial model has been very influential.
  2. These theorists have elaborated ELM to make it more complex, less predictive, and less practical, which makes it problematic as a scientific theory.
  3. As Paul Mongeau and James Stiff have charged, the theory cannot be adequately tested and falsified, particularly in terms of what makes a strong or weak argument.
  4. ELM focuses only on arguments within advocacy messages. Melanie Green and Timothy Brock argued that the model totally ignores the persuasiveness of a compelling story.   
  5. Despite these limitations, the theory synthesizes many diverse aspects of persuasion.

Chapter 16Cognitive Dissonance


  1. Dissonance: Discord between behavior and belief.
  1. Identified by Leon Festinger, cognitive dissonance is the distressing mental state that people feel when they find themselves doing things that don’t fit with what they know, or having opinions that do not fit with other opinions they hold.
  2. It is an aversive drive; humans have a basic need to avoid dissonance and establish consistency.
  3. The tension of dissonance motivates the person to change either the behavior or the belief.
  4. The more important the issue and the greater the discrepancy, the higher the magnitude of dissonance.
  1. Health-conscious smokers: Dealing with dissonance.
  1. When Festinger first published his theory, he chose the topic of smoking to illustrate the concept of dissonance.
  2. Today, those that vape face a similar dilemma.
  3. Perhaps the most typical way to avoid anguish is to trivialize or simply deny the link between vaping and lung disease.
  4. Festinger noted that almost all of our actions are more entrenched than the thoughts we have about them.
  1. Reducing dissonance between attitudes and actions.
  1. Hypothesis #1:  Selective exposure prevents dissonance.
  1. We avoid information that is likely to increase dissonance.
  2. People select information that lined up with what they already believed and ignored facts or ideas that ran counter to those beliefs.
  3. Dieter Frey concluded that selective exposure exists only when information is known to be a threat.
  4. Warm personal relationships are the best environment for considering discrepant views.
  1. Hypothesis #2: Postdecision dissonance creates a need for reassurance.
  1. The more important the issue, the more dissonance.
  2. The longer an individual delays a choice between two equally attractive options, the more dissonance.
  3. The greater the difficulty in reversing the decision once it has been made, the more dissonance.
  1. Hypothesis #3:  Minimal justification for action induces attitude change.
  1. Conventional wisdom suggests that to change behavior, you must first alter attitude.
  2. Festinger reverses the sequence.
  3. In addition, he predicts that attitude change and dissonance reduction depend on providing only a minimum justification for the change in behavior.
  1. A classic experiment: “Would I lie for a dollar?”
  1. Festinger’s minimal justification hypothesis is counterintuitive.
  2. The Stanford $1/$20 experiment supported the minimal justification hypothesis because subjects who received a very small reward demonstrated a change in attitude.
  1. Three revisions to clarify the cause and effect of dissonance.
  1. Most persuasion researchers today subscribe to one of three revisions of Festinger’s original theory.
  2. Festinger believed that we experience dissonance when we face logical inconsistency or beliefs and behaviors that don’t quite add up. 
  3. Reducing dissonance is done by removing the inconsistency through a change of behavior or attitude. Other scholars provide a different account.
  4. Self-consistency: the rationalizing animal.
  1. Elliot Aronson argued that dissonance is caused by psychological rather than logical inconsistency.
  2. Inconsistency between a cognition and self-concept causes dissonance.
  3. Humans aren’t rational, they are rationalizing.
  4. Research such as the $1/$20 experiment provides evidence of self-esteem maintenance.
  1. Personal responsibility for bad outcomes (the New Look).
  1. Joel Cooper argues that we experience dissonance when we believe our actions have unnecessarily hurt another person.
  2. Cooper concludes that dissonance is a state of arousal caused by behaving in such a way as to feel personally responsible for bringing about an aversive event.
  1. Self-affirmation to dissipate dissonance.
  1. Claude Steele focuses on dissonance reduction.
  2. He believes that high self-esteem is a resource for dissonance reduction.
  3. Steele asserts that most people are motivated to maintain a self-image of moral and adaptive adequacy. 
  1. These three revisions of Festinger’s theory are not mutually exclusive.
  1. Theory into practice: Persuasion through dissonance.
  1. Festinger’s theory offers practical advice for those who wish to affect attitude change as a product of dissonance.
  2. Don’t promise lavish benefits or warn of dire consequences.
  3. By cultivating friendship, you can bypass selective exposure screens.
  4. Offer reassurance to counter postdecision dissonance.
  5. As long as counterattitudinal actions are freely chosen and publicly taken, people are more likely to adopt beliefs that support what they’ve done. 
  6. Personal responsibility for negative outcomes should be taken into account.
  1. Critique: Dissonance over dissonance.
  1. Cognitive dissonance is one of the few theories in this book that has achieved name recognition within popular culture as people have found it practically useful.
  2. Where the theory falls short is relative simplicity.
  3. Daryl Bem claims that self-perception is a much simpler explanation than cognitive dissonance.
  4. The theory has also received knocks for how difficult it is to actually observe dissonance.
  5. If researchers can’t observe dissonance, then the theory’s core hypotheses aren’t testable—a big problem for a scientific theory.
  6. Patricia Devine applauds researchers who have attempted to gauge the arousal component of dissonance.
  7. The most promising attempts to develop a dissonance thermometer have used neuroimaging.
  1. It has provided initial hard evidence that the experience of cognitive dissonance is, indeed, real.
  2. Even so, actually observing it is difficult and expensive, so even if the theory is testable, it certainly isn’t simple.
  1. Despite detractors, cognitive dissonance theory has energized objective scholars of communication for 60 years.

Chapter 17The Rhetoric


  1. Introduction.
  1. Aristotle was a student of Plato who disagreed with his mentor over the place of public speaking in Athenian life.
  2. Plato’s negative view of public speaking was based on his assessment of the Sophists.
  3. Aristotle, like Plato, deplored the demagoguery of speakers using their skill to move an audience while showing a casual indifference to the truth.
  4. Aristotle saw rhetoric as a neutral tool with which one could accomplish either noble ends or further fraud.
  1. Truth is inherently more acceptable than falsehood.
  2. Nonetheless, unscrupulous persuaders may fool an audience unless an ethical speaker uses all possible means of persuasion to counter the error.
  3. Speakers who neglect the art of rhetoric have only themselves to blame for failure.
  4. Success requires wisdom and eloquence.
  1. Although Aristotle’s Politics and Ethics are polished, well-organized texts, the Rhetoric is a collection of lecture notes.
  2. Aristotle raised rhetoric to a science by systematically exploring the effects of the speaker, the speech, and the audience.
  1. Rhetoric: Making persuasion probable.
  1. Aristotle saw the function of rhetoric as the discovery in each case of “the available means of persuasion.”
  2. In terms of speech situations, he focused on affairs of state.
  1. Courtroom (forensic) speaking renders just decisions considering actions of the past.
  2. Ceremonial (epideictic) speaking heaps praise or blame for the benefit of present day audiences.
  3. Political (deliberative) speaking attempts to influence those who consider future policy.
  1. Aristotle classified rhetoric as the counterpart of dialectic.
  1. Dialectic is one-on-one conversation; rhetoric is one person addressing the many.
  2. Dialectic answers general philosophical questions; rhetoric addresses specific, practical ones.
  3. Dialectic deals with certainty; rhetoric considers probability.
  4. Dialectic searches for truth; rhetoric demonstrates truth that is already found.
  1. Rhetorical proof: Logos, ethos, and pathos.
  1. Persuasion can be artistic or inartistic.
  1. Inartistic or external proofs are those that the speaker does not create.
  2. Artistic or internal proofs are those that the speaker creates.
  1. The available means of persuasion are based on three kinds of proof.
  1. Logical proof (logos) is an appeal to listeners’ rationality.
  2. Emotional proof (pathos) is the feeling the speech draws out of the hearers.
  3. Source credibility (ethos) is the way the speaker’s character is revealed through the message.
  1. Case study: Barack Obama’s commencement address at Notre Dame.
  1. A few months into his first term of office, President Obama accepted an invitation to address the 2009 graduating class at the University of Notre Dame and receive an honorary Doctor of Laws degree.
  2. Based on Obama’s approval of abortion and stem-cell research, the announcement that Obama would be the commencement speaker triggered angry protests from many alumni, some students, and Roman Catholic church leaders.
  3. Despite the pro-and-con arguments about abortion that created a highly charged atmosphere surrounding the event, Obama’s speech was not judicial.
  4. This was a deliberative speech—not about any specific government policy, but one in which he urged listeners to be mindful of the way they interact with those who hold opposing views.
  5. The three types of proof Aristotle discussed demonstrate how President Obama might speak in a way that makes reaching his goal possible, maybe even probable, but never with absolute certainty.
  1. Logos: Quasi-logical arguments that make sense.
  1. Aristotle focused on two forms of logical proof—enthymeme and example.
  2. Enthymeme is the strongest of the proofs.
  1. An enthymeme is an incomplete version of a formal deductive syllogism.
  2. Typical enthymemes leave out the premise that is already accepted by the audience.
  3. Lloyd Bitzer notes that the audience helps construct the proof by supplying the missing premise.
  1. The example uses inductive reasoning—drawing a final conclusion from specific examples.
  1. If an illustration strikes a responsive chord in the listener, the truth it suggests seems evident.
  2. Aristotle said that both forms of logos are persuasive, but examples are especially so when they illustrate a premise or the conclusion of an enthymeme that’s already been stated.
  3. Aristotle noted that examples drawn from the past are more compelling than made-up illustrations.
  1. Pathos: Emotional appeals that strike a responsive chord.
  1. Aristotle was skeptical of the emotion-laden public oratory typical of his era.
  2. Yet he understood that public rhetoric, if practiced ethically, benefits society.
  3. Aristotle catalogued a series of opposite feelings, explained the conditions under which each mood is experienced, and then described how the speaker can get an audience to feel that way.
  1. Anger vs. calmness.
  2. Friendliness vs. enmity.
  3. Fear vs. confidence.
  4. Indignation vs. pity.
  5. Admiration vs. envy.
  1. Aristotle scholar and translator George Kennedy claims that this analysis of pathos is “the earliest systematic discussion of human psychology.”
  1. Ethos: Perceived source credibility.  
  1. According to Aristotle, it’s not enough for a speech to contain plausible arguments. The speaker must seem credible as well.
  2. Aristotle was primarily interested in how the speaker’s ethos is created in a speech.
  3. In the Rhetoric, he identified three qualities that build high source credibility—intelligence, character, and goodwill.
  1. The assessment of intelligence is based more on practical wisdom and shared values than training or education.
  2. Virtuous character has to do with the speaker’s image as a good and honest person.
  3. Goodwill is a positive judgment of the speaker’s intention toward the audience.
  4. Aristotle’s explication of ethos has held up well under scientific scrutiny.
  1. The five canons of rhetoric.
  1. Invention—in order to generate effective enthymemes and examples, speakers draw upon both specialized knowledge about the subject and general lines of reasoning common to all kinds of speeches.
  1. Aristotle called stock arguments topoi, a Greek term that can be translated as “topics” or “places.”
  2. As Cornell University literature professor Lane Cooper explained, “In these special regions the orator hunts for arguments as a hunter hunts for game.”
  1. Arrangement—Aristotle recommended a basic structure.
  1. He wrote that “there are two parts to a speech; for it is necessary first to state the subject and then to demonstrate it.”
  2. First the thesis, then the proof.
  1. Style—Aristotle emphasized the pedagogical effectiveness of metaphor.
  1. But for Aristotle, metaphors were more than aids for comprehension or aesthetic appreciation.
  2. Metaphors help an audience visualize—a “bringing-before-the-eyes” process that energizes listeners and moves them to action.
  1. Delivery—naturalness is persuasive.
  1. Audiences reject delivery that seems planned or staged. Naturalness is persuasive, artifice just the opposite.
  2. Any form of presentation that calls attention to itself takes away from the speaker’s proofs.
  1. Memory—this component was emphasized by Roman teachers.
  1. In our present age of instant information on the Internet and teleprompters that guarantee a speaker will never be at a loss for words, memory seems to be a lost art.
  2. Perhaps for us, the modern equivalent of memory is rehearsal.
  1. Ethical reflection: Aristotle’s golden mean.
  1. He took the Greek admiration for moderation and elevated it to a theory of virtue.
  2. Aristotle assumed virtue stands between two vices.
  3. Moderation is best; virtue develops habits that seek to walk an intermediate path.
  4. This middle way is known as the golden mean.
  5. The golden mean is the path that embraces winsome straight talk, gentle assertiveness, and adaptation.
  6. Aristotle advocated the middle way because it is the well-worn path taken by virtuous people.
  1. Critique: A theory that stands the test of time.
  1. Aristotle’s Rhetoric can be classified as both an objective and interpretive theory.
  1. As a good objective theory, Aristotle’s rhetoric predicts future audience responses, explains why they will respond this way, and has practical utility. 
  2. As a good interpretive theory, Aristotle’s Rhetoric offers a new understanding of people, clarifies the values they are likely to hold, and generated a wide community of agreement that has spanned 24 centuries so far.
  3. Nonetheless, clarity is often a problem with Aristotle’s theory that affects its relative simplicity and aesthetic appeal.

Chapter 18Dramatism


  1. Introduction.
  1. For Kenneth Burke, words are first and foremost action—symbolic action.
  2. For Burke and other rhetorical critics, a critic is one who carefully analyzes the language that speakers and authors use.
  3. They try to discern the motivations behind their messages—and often these motivations aren’t obvious.
  4. Burke devoted his career to developing vocabulary and methods that help theorists understand the connection between the symbols speakers use and their motives for speaking in the first place.
  5. Burke rejected the notion that communication is primarily a process of message transmission.
  6. The transmission approach treats communication as just one part of the realm of motion, where things move according to cause-and-effect laws without meaning or purpose.
  7. Unlike animals, humans possess the capacity to engage in intentional action.
  8. This ability to plan and act arises from our ability to use symbols. Thus, when we speak, we’re engaging in symbolic action—using words to give life to particular motives and pursue particular goals.
  9. Burke coined the umbrella term dramatism to describe “a technique of analysis of language and thought as basically modes of action rather than as means of conveying information.”
  10. The nature of language itself leads us to believe that something is wrong with the world. And if something is wrong, somebody or something needs to pay the price to make things right.
  1. Language as the genesis of guilt
  1. Burke regarded our capacity for language as the source of our downfall. That’s because language introduced the negative.
  2. We couldn’t have laws without the negative.
  3. Man-made language gives us the capacity to create rules and standards for behavior that Burke called the “thou shalt nots” of life.
  4. Burke uses guilt as his catchall term to cover every form of tension, anxiety, embarrassment, shame, disgust, and other noxious feelings he believed inherent in human symbol-using activity.
  5. Burke reiterates that it’s only through man-made language that the possibility of choice comes into being.
  6. Burke suggests that our inventions—language and all the tools developed with language—cause us grief.
  7. The final phrase of Burke’s “Definition of Man,” which is “rotten with perfection,” is an example of what Burke called perspective by incongruity, or the linking of two dissonant ideas in order to provide shocking new insight.
  8. Perspective by incongruity shocks our sensibilities but helps us see things from a different angle.
  1. The guilt-redemption cycle: A universal motive for rhetoric
  1. The ultimate motivation of all public speaking is to purge ourselves of guilt.
  2. Rhetoric is the public search for someone or something to blame, the quest for a perfect scapegoat.
  3. The “devil term” sums up all that the speaker regards as bad, wrong, or evil.
  4. The “god terms” are the words that sum up all that the speaker regards as righteous and good.
  5. Devil- and god-terms reveal another aspect of Burke’s theory: his frequent use of spiritual language.
  6. He regarded theology as a field that has fine-tuned its use of language, and he urged the social critic to look for secular equivalents of the major religious themes of guilt, purification, and redemption.
  7. Burke said that the speaker or author has two possible ways of offloading guilt.
  1. The first option is to purge guilt through self-blame.
  2. Described theologically as mortification, this route requires confession of sin and a request for forgiveness.
  3. Since self-blame (or mortification) is difficult to admit publicly, it’s easier to blame someone else.
  4. Victimage is the process of designating an external enemy as the source of all our ills.
  1. Identification: Without it, there is no persuasion.
  1. Identification is the common ground that exists between speaker and audience.
  1. Substance describes a person’s physical characteristics, talents, occupation, friends, experiences, personality, beliefs, and attitudes.
  2. The more overlap between the substance of the speaker and the substance of the audience, the greater the identification.
  3. Although social scientists use the term homophily to describe perceived similarity between speaker and listener, Burke preferred religious language—identification is consubstantiation.
  1. One of the most common ways for speakers to identify with audiences is to lash out at whatever or whomever people fear.
  2. Audiences sense a joining of interests through style as much as through content.
  3. He was more interested in examining rhetoric after the fact to discover what motivates the speaker.
  1. The dramatistic pentad: A lens for interpreting symbolic action.
  1. Burke’s dramatistic pentad enables the critic to dig beneath surface impressions in order to identify the complex motives of a speaker or writer.
  1. The act is the most important element of the pentad, “foremost among the equals.” The act is what was done.
  2. The agent is the person or kind of person who performed the act.
  3. The agency is the procedure, means, or instruments used to perform the act.
  4. The scene is the background of the act, the environment in which it occurred.
  5. The purpose is the implied or stated motive of the act.
  1. The five elements of the pentad usually refer to the act described within the speech rather than the act of giving the speech.
  2. If we identify with the drama, then we’re persuaded, and the symbolic action worked
  1. Ratio: The relative importance of each part of the pentad.
  1. Burke associated each part of the pentad with a corresponding philosophy.
  1. An emphasis on act demonstrates a commitment to realism.
  2. An emphasis on agent is consistent with idealism.
  3. An emphasis on agency springs from the mind-set of pragmatism.
  4. An emphasis on scene downplays free will and reflects an attitude of situational determinism.
  5. An emphasis on purpose suggests the concerns of mysticism.
  6. The ratio of importance between individual pairs of terms in the dramatistic pentad indicates which element provides the best clue to the speaker’s motivation.
  7. The critic can start by identifying the two elements of the pentad most heavily emphasized in the speech. These two elements create the dominant ratio that provides the most insight into the speaker’s motivations.
  1. Critique: Evaluating the critic’s analysis.
  1. Burke was perhaps the foremost twentieth-century rhetorician.
  2. His ideas are tested through qualitative research from a strong community of agreement.
  3. He provided a creative and new understanding of people.
  4. But some scholars don’t think he did enough to clarify values or reform society.
  5. Perhaps the greatest weakness of dramatism is this: Burke isn’t an easy read.
  6. Although Burke’s followers think he was brilliant, it’s hard to argue that his writings have aesthetic appeal.
  7. Burke has done us all a favor by celebrating the life-giving quality of language.

Chapter 19Narrative Paradigm


  1. Introduction.
  1. For Walter Fisher, storytelling epitomizes human nature.
  2. All forms of human communication that seek to affect belief, attitude or action need to be seen fundamentally as stories.
  3. Offering good reasons has more to do with telling a compelling story than it does with piling up evidence or constructing a tight argument.
  4. Fisher’s narrative paradigm emphasizes that no communication is purely descriptive or didactic.
  1. A disturbing tale to help understand and apply the theory
  1. In late 2018, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford sat before members of the Senate Judiciary Committee as they weighed the nomination of federal judge Brett Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court.
  2. She recounted her experience, claiming that as a teenager, Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her.
  3. A transcription of her testimony is given and used as an example of the theory.
  1. Narration and paradigm: Defining the terms.
  1. Fisher defines narration as symbolic actions—words and/or deeds—that have sequence and meaning for those who live, create, and interpret them.
  2. Fisher’s definition of narration is broad.
  1. Narration is rooted in time and space.
  2. It covers every aspect of life with regard to character, motive, and action.
  3. It refers to verbal and nonverbal messages.
  4. Even abstract communication is included.
  1. A paradigm is a conceptual framework —a widely shared perceptual filter.
  2. A paradigm is a universal model that calls for people to view events through a common interpretive lens.
  3. Fisher’s narrative paradigm is offered as “the foundation on which a complete rhetoric needs to be built.”
  1. Paradigm shift: From a rational-world paradigm to a narrative one.
  1. According to Fisher, the writings of Plato and Aristotle reflect the early evolution from a generic to a specific use of logos—from story to statement.
  2. As opposed to the abstract discourse of philosophy, rhetoric is practical speech—the secular combination of pure logic on the one hand and emotional stories that stir up passions on the other.
  3. Fisher sees philosophical and technical discussion as scholars’ standard approach to knowledge.
  4. The rational-world paradigm is the mind-set of the reigning technical experts.
  1. People are essentially rational.
  2. We make decisions on the basis of arguments.
  3. The type of speaking situation (legal, scientific, legislative) determines the course of our argument.
  4. Rationality is determined by how much we know and how well we argue.
  5. The world is a set of logical puzzles that we can solve through rational analysis.
  1. The narrative paradigm is built on parallel, yet contrasting, premises.
  1. People are essentially storytellers.
  2. We make decisions on the basis of good reasons, which vary depending on the communication situation, media, and genre (philosophical, technical, rhetorical, or artistic).
  3. History, biography, culture, and character determine what we consider good reasons.
  4. Narrative rationality is determined by the coherence and fidelity of our stories.
  5. The world is a set of stories from which we choose, and thus constantly re-create, our lives.
  1. Unlike the rational-world paradigm, the narrative paradigm privileges values, aesthetic criteria, and commonsense interpretation.
  2. Perhaps the biggest shift in thinking has to do with who is qualified to access the quality of communication.
  3. We all judge stories based on narrative rationality.
  1. Narrative rationality: Coherence and fidelity.
  1. Fisher believes that everyone applies the same standards of narrative rationality to stories.
  2. The operative principle of narrative rationality is identification rather than deliberation.
  3. The twin tests of a story are narrative coherence and narrative fidelity.
  4. Narrative coherence:  Does the story hang together?
  1. How probable is the story to the hearer?
  2. Fisher suggests a number of ways we judge whether a story hangs together.
  3. Narrative consistency parallels lines of argument in the rational-world paradigm. 
  4. The test of reason, however, is only one factor affecting narrative coherence.
  5. Stories hang together when we’re convinced that the narrator hasn’t left out important details, fudged the facts, or ignored other plausible interpretations. 
  6. The ultimate test of narrative coherence is whether or not we can count on the characters to act in a reliable manner.
  7. Each element is applicable in the testimony of Blasey Ford.
  1. Narrative fidelity: Does the story ring true and humane?
  1. Does the story square with the hearer’s experiences?
  2. A story has fidelity when it provides good reasons to guide our future actions.
  3. Values set the narrative paradigm’s logic of good reasons apart from the rational-world paradigm’s logic of reasons.
  4. The logic of good reasons centers on five value-related issues. 
  1. The values embedded in the message.
  2. The relevance of those values to decisions made.
  3. The consequence of adhering to those values.
  4. The overlap with the worldview of the audience.
  5. Conformity with what audience members believe is an ideal basis of conduct.
  1. People tend to prefer accounts that fit with what they view as truthful and humane.
  2. There is an ideal audience that identifies the humane values that a good story embodies.
  3. These stories include the timeless “values of truth, the good, beauty, health, wisdom, courage, temperance, justice, harmony, order, communion, friendship, and oneness with the Cosmos.”
  4. Communities not based on humane virtues are possible, but Fisher believes these less idealistic value systems lack true coherence.
  5. Fisher believes the humane virtues of the ideal audience shape our logic of good reasons.
  6. Four of Fisher’s core values (health, temperance, justice, courage) stand out in Blasey Ford’s words.
  7. But do the values embedded in her narrative guarantee that it will ring true?
  8. Almost all communication is narrative, and we evaluate it on that basis.
  1. Critique: Does Fisher’s story have coherence and fidelity?
  1. Fisher’s theory excels in fulfilling most of the requirements of a good interpretive theory.
  2. He expands our understanding of human nature, is specific about the values we prefer, and supports his new paradigm with intriguing rhetorical criticism of significant texts—a classic method of qualitative research.
  3. If Fisher is right, when it comes to evaluating coherence and fidelity, people with ordinary common sense are competent rhetorical critics.
  4. Fisher’s narrative paradigm offers a fresh reworking to Aristotelian analysis.
  5. Critics charge that Fisher is overly optimistic when, like Aristotle, he argues that people have a natural tendency to prefer the true and the just.
  1. Fisher grants that evil can overwhelm our tendency to adopt good stories, but argues that’s all the more reason to identify and promote the humane values described by the narrative paradigm.
  2. Others suggest that narrative rationality implies that good stories cannot go beyond what people already believe and value, thus denying the rhetoric of possibility.

 


Chapter 20Functional Perspective on Group Decision Making


  1. Introduction.
  1. Randy Hirokawa and Dennis Gouran believe that group interaction has a positive effect on decision making.
  2. Hirokawa seeks quality solutions; Gouran desires appropriate decisions.
  3. The functional perspective specifies what communication must accomplish for jointly made decisions to be wise.
  1. Four functions for effective decision making.
  1. Hirokawa and Gouran draw on the analogy between biological systems and small groups.
  1. Group decision making must fulfill four task requirements to reach a high-quality decision.
  2. These tasks are requisite functions of effective decision making—hence the functional perspective label.
  1. Function #1: Analysis of the problem.
  1. Group members must take a realistic look at current conditions.
  2. Misunderstandings of situations are compounded when group members make their final decision.
  3. The clearest example of faulty analysis is a failure to recognize a potential threat.
  4. Group members must determine the nature, extent, and probable cause(s) of the problem.
  1. Function #2: Goal setting.
  1. A group needs to establish criteria for judging proposed solutions. If the group fails to meet these, the decision will likely be driven by power or passion rather than reason.
  2. With no definitive goals to focus their discussion, it’s difficult for group members to know whether they’re making an appropriate decision.
  1. Function #3: Identification of alternatives.
  1. Hirokawa and Gouran stress the importance of marshalling a number of different viable options from which to choose.
  2. Groups need to identify courses of action.
  1. Function #4: Evaluation of positive and negative characteristics. 
  1. Group members must test the relative merits of each alternative they identified against the criteria that emerged in the goal setting function.
  2. Some group tasks have a positive bias—spotting the favorable characteristics of alternative choices is more important than identifying negative qualities.
  3. Other group tasks have a negative bias—the downside of options is more important than identifying their positive qualities.
  1. Prioritizing the four functions.
  1. Originally, they thought that no single function was inherently more central than the others.
  2. Hirokawa discovered the groups that successfully resolve especially difficult problems usually take a common decision-making path.
  3. Research suggests that the evaluation of negative consequences of alternative solutions was by far the most crucial to ensure a quality decision.
  4. Hirokawa now splits evaluation of positive and negative consequences and speaks of five requisite functions rather than four.
  5. As long as a group covers all of the functions, the route taken is not the key issue.
  6. Nonetheless, groups that successfully resolve particularly tough problems often take a common decision-making path: problem analysis, goal setting, identifying alternatives, and evaluating the positive and negative characteristics.
  1. The role of communication in fulfilling the functions.
  1. Traditional wisdom suggests that talk is the channel or conduit through which information travels between participants. 
  1. Verbal interaction makes it possible for members to distribute and pool information, catch and remedy errors, and influence each other.
  2. Ivan Steiner claimed that actual group productivity equals potential productivity minus losses due to processes.
  3. Communication is best when it does not obstruct or distort the free flow of ideas.
  1. In contrast, Hirokawa believes that group discussion creates the social reality for decision making.
  2. Hirokawa and Gouran outline three types of communication in decision-making groups.
  1. Promotive—interaction that calls attention to one of the four decision-making functions.
  2. Disruptive—interaction that detracts from the group’s ability to achieve the four task functions.
  3. Counteractive—interaction that refocuses the group.
  1. Since most communication disrupts, effective group decision making depends upon counteractive influence.
  1. Using member narratives to field-test group processes.
  1. Hirokawa and Gouran acknowledge their intellectual debt to early-twentieth-century American philosopher John Dewey.
  2. Dewey advanced a six-step process of reflective thinking to solve problems which mirrors a doctor’s approach:
  1. Recognize symptoms.
  2. Diagnose the cause.
  3. Establish the criteria for wellness.
  4. Consider all possible remedies.
  5. Test to determine the best solution.
  6. Implement the best solution.
  1. Hirokawa and Gouran’s four requisite functions replicate steps two through five of Dewey’s reflective thinking.
  2. Hirokawa studied four-person health care teams to analyze their decision making.
  1. Thoughtful advice for those who are certain they’re right.
  1. Start with a healthy dose of humility concerning the wisdom of our own opinions.
  2. Be skeptical of personal opinions.
  1. Groups often abandon the rational path due to the persuasive efforts of other self-assured group members.
  2. Unsupported intuition is untrustworthy.
  1. To counteract faulty logic, insist on a careful process.
  1. Ethical reflection: Habermas’ discourse ethics.
  1. Jürgen Habermas suggests a rational group process through which people can determine right from wrong.
  2. Being ethical means being accountable.
  3. People in a given culture or community can agree on the good they want to accomplish and over time build up wisdom on how to achieve it.
  4. Habermas’ discourse ethics sets up a discursive test for the validity of any moral claim.
  5. The person who performed an act must be prepared to discuss what he or she did and why he or she did it in an open forum.
  6. He imagined an ideal speech situation where participants were free to listen to reason and speak their minds without fear of constraint or control.
  7. Three requirements must be met to have an ideal speech situation:
  1. Requirement of access for all affected parties.
  2. Requirement of argument to figure out the common good.
  3. Requirement of justification or universal application.
  1. Critique: Valid only if new functions are added or scope is narrowed.
  1. Although the functional perspective is one of the three leading theories in small group communication, its exclusive focus on rationality may cause the mixed experimental results when testing prediction.
  2. Stohl and Homes suggest that unless the theorists adopt a bona fide group approach, the theory is irrelevant for most real-life group decisions.
  3. In these authentic situations, many members have roles in overlapping groups that have a stake in the decision they make and are typically responsible to a leader or manager outside the group.
  4. Stohl and Holmes emphasize that most real-life groups have a prior decision-making history and are embedded within a larger organization.
  1. They advocate adding a historical function requiring the group to talk about how past decisions were made.
  2. They also advocate an institutional function that is satisfied when members discuss relevant parties who are absent from the decision-making process.
  1. Recently, Gouran has raised doubts about the usefulness of the functional perspective for all small groups.
  1. It’s beneficial for members to fulfill the four requisite functions only when they are addressing questions of policy.
  2. Groups addressing questions of fact, conjecture, or value may not find the requisite functions relevant.
  3. The scope of the functional perspective is more limited than first believed.

Chapter 21Symbolic Convergence Theory


  1. Central explanatory principle of SCT: sharing group fantasies creates symbolic convergence.
  1. 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.
  2. When the drama was enhanced in this way, members developed a common group consciousness and drew closer together.
  1. Dramatizing messages: Creative interpretations of there-and-then.
  1. According to SCT, conversations about things outside of what’s going on right now can often serve the group well.
  2. Dramatizing messages contain imaginative language that describes events occurring somewhere else or at some other time than the here/now.
  3. The dramatizing message must paint a picture or call to mind an image.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  1. Fantasy chain reactions: Unpredictable symbolic explosions.
  1. Bormann uses fantasy for dramatizing messages that are enthusiastically embraced by the whole group.
  2. Most dramatizing messages don’t get that kind of reaction.
  3. 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.
  4. A fantasy chain occurs when there is a common response to the dramatizing message.
  5. 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.
  1. Fantasy themes: Content, motives, cues, types.
  1. A fantasy theme is the content of the dramatizing message that sparks a fantasy chain.
  2. A fantasy theme is the basic unit of analysis for SCT.
  3. Bormann suggested that group members’ meanings, emotions, motives, and actions are apparent in their fantasy themes.
  4. Many fantasy themes are indexed by a symbolic cue.
  5. A symbolic cue is an “agreed upon trigger that sets off the group members to respond as they did when they first shared the fantasy” such as a code word, gesture, or inside joke.
  6. Clusters of related fantasy themes sometimes surface repeatedly in different groups and are labeled with a fantasy type.
  1. Symbolic convergence: Group consciousness and often cohesiveness.
  1. Symbolic convergence results from sharing group fantasies.
  1. Symbolic convergence is the way in which two or more private symbol worlds incline toward each other, come more closely together, or even overlap.
  2. Symbolic convergence causes group members to develop a unique group consciousness.
  3. 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.
  1. Symbolic convergence usually, but not always, results in heightened group cohesiveness.
  1. Rhetorical vision: A composite drama shared by a rhetorical community.
  1. Fantasies that begin in small groups often are worked into public speeches, become picked up by mass media and ‘spread out across larger publics.’
  1. Rhetorical vision refers to a composite drama that catches up large groups of people into a common symbolic reality.
  2. Rhetorical community is the wide ranging body of people who share a reality.
  1. Fantasy theme analysis discovers fantasy themes and rhetorical visions that have already been created.
  2. Fantasy theme analysis is a specific type of rhetorical criticism that’s built on two basic assumptions
  1. People create their social reality.
  2. People’s meanings, motives, and emotions can be seen in their rhetoric.
  3. Four features should be present in the shared fantasies: characters, plot lines, scene, and sanctioning agent.
  1. 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.
  1. Theory into practice: Advice to improve your college experience.
  1. Bormann offers advice on how to use SCT as it applies to a group.
  1. 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.
  2. If the fantasies are destructive, creating group paranoia or depression, cut the chain off whenever possible.
  3. To build cohesiveness, use personification to identify your group.
  4. Be sure to encourage the sharing of dramas depicting your group history.
  5. 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.
  1. Most rhetorical visions embrace either a righteous vision, a social vision, or a pragmatic vision.
  1. Critique: Judging SCT as both a scientific and interpretive theory.
  1. 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.
  2. But the methodology of determining fantasy themes, fantasy types, and rhetorical visions is rhetorical criticism—a humanistic approach that’s undeniably interpretive.
  3. SCT holds up well against both the criteria for an objective theory and an interpretive theory.
  4. Despite this success, SCT fails to meet at least two benchmarks of a good theory (one objective benchmark and one interpretive benchmark).
  1. SCT researchers adequately predict the benefits of convergence (cohesiveness) but have little success predicting when a dramatizing message will trigger a chain reaction.
  2. 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.
  3. There’s no doubt that fantasy theme analysis uncovers the values of a rhetorical community. One concern is an ideology of convergence.
  4. SCT vocabulary shows the theory’s pro-social bias, but ignores issues of power.

 


Chapter 22Cultural Approach to Organizations


  1. Introduction.
  1. Anthropologist Clifford Geertz views cultures as webs of shared meaning, shared understanding, and shared sensemaking.
  2. Geertz' work has focused on Third World cultures, but his ethnographic approach has been applied by other scholars to organizations.
  3. In the field of speech communication, Michael Pacanowsky has applied Geertz's approach in his research of organizations.
  4. Pacanowsky asserts that communication creates and constitutes the taken-for-granted reality of the world.
  1. Culture as a metaphor of organizational life.
  1. Initial interest in culture as a metaphor for organizations stems from initial American fascination with Japanese corporations.
  2. Corporate culture has several meanings.
  1. The surrounding environment that constrains a company’s freedom of action.
  2. An image, character, or climate that a corporation has.
  3. Pacanowsky argues that culture is not something an organization has but is something an organization is.
  1. What culture is; what culture is not.
  1. Culture as a system of shared meaning is somewhat vague and hard to grasp.
  2. Geertz and his colleagues do not distinguish between high and low culture.
  3. Culture is not whole or undivided.
  4. Pacanowsky argues that the web of organizational culture is the residue of employees' performances. Geertz called these cultural performances an ensemble of texts.
  5. The elusive nature of culture prompted Geertz to label its study a “soft science,” an interpretive approach in search of meaning.
  1. Thick description: What ethnographers do.
  1. Participant observation, the research methodology of ethnographers, is a time-consuming process.
  2. Pacanowsky spent over a year imbedded in Gore & Associates to understand how members experienced the organization.
  3. He advised other researches to assume an attitude of “radical naivete” to experience the organization as a “stranger.”
  4. An ethnographer has five tasks.
  1. Accurately describe talk and actions and the context in which they occur.
  2. Capture the thoughts, emotions, and the web of social interactions.
  3. Assign motivation, intention, or purpose for what people said and did.
  4. Artfully write this up so readers feel they’ve experienced the events.
  5. Interpret what happened; explain what it means within this culture.
  1. Thick description refers to the intertwined layers of common meaning that underlie what people say and do.
  1. Thick description involves tracing the many strands of a cultural web and tracking evolving meaning.
  2. Thick description begins with a state of bewilderment.
  3. The puzzlement is reduced by observing as a stranger in a foreign land.
  1. Ethnographers approach their research very differently from behaviorists.
  1. They are more interested in the significance of behavior than in statistical analysis.
  2. Pacanowsky warns that statistical analysis and classification across organizations yields superficial results. 
  1. As an ethnographer, Pacanowsky is particularly interested in imaginative language, stories, and nonverbal rites and rituals.
  1. Metaphors: Taking language seriously.
  1. Widely used metaphors offer a starting place for assessing the shared meaning of a corporate culture.
  2. Metaphors are valuable tools for both the discovery and communication of organizational culture.
  1. The symbolic interpretation of story.
  1. Stories provide windows into organizational culture.
  2. Pacanowsky focuses on the script-like qualities of narratives that outline roles in the company play.
  3. Pacanowsky posits three types of organizational narratives.
  1. Corporate stories reinforce management ideology and policies.
  2. Personal stories define how individuals would like to be seen within an organization.
  3. Collegial stories—usually unsanctioned by management—are positive or negative anecdotes about others within the organization that pass on how the organization “really works.”
  1. Both Geertz and Pacanowsky caution against simplistic interpretations of stories.
  1. Ritual: This is the way it's always been, and always will be.
  1. Many rituals are “texts” that articulate multiple aspects of cultural life.
  2. Some rituals are nearly sacred and difficult to change.
  3. Because it is ”their” ritual, researchers should be guided by employees’ interpretation of what it means.
  1. Can the manager be an agent of cultural change?
  1. Geertz regarded shared interpretations as naturally emerging from all members of a group rather than consciously engineered by leaders.
  2. But even if a culture could be changed, there still remains the question of whether it should be.
  3. Linda Smircich notes that communication consultants may violate the ethnographer's rule of nonintervention, and may even extend management’s control within an organization.
  1. Critique: Is the cultural approach useful?
  1. The cultural approach adopts and refines the qualitative research methodology of ethnography to gain a new understanding of a specific group of people, particularly in clarifying values of the culture under study.
  2. The cultural approach is criticized by corporate consultants who believe that knowledge should be used to influence organizational culture.
  3. Critical theorists attack the cultural approach because it does not evaluate the customs it portrays.
  4. The goal of symbolic analysis is to create a better understanding of what it takes to function effectively within the culture, not to pass moral judgment or reform society.
  5. Adam Kuper is critical of Geertz for his emphasis on interpretation rather than behavioral observation.
  6. There isn’t as much excitement about the cultural approach among organizational scholars today as there was when it was first introduced. That may be because few interpretive scholars write in the compelling and quotable prose produced by Geertz.  

Chapter 23Communicative Constitution of Organizations


  1. Introduction
    1. Robert McPhee and other communicative constitution of organizations (CCO) theorists believe that communication is not just a process that happens within organizations; it creates the organization itself.
    2. CCO isn’t a single theory but rather a family of theoretical approaches to thinking about how organizations are co-constructed.
    3. McPhee believes that communication creates, or constitutes, an organization.
  1. Communication: The essence of organization
    1. Employees are not a set of lifeless parts; people create an organization.
    2. Communication calls organization into being.
    3. For CCO theorists, communication is the primary means of constructing social reality.
    4. McPhee’s answer to the big CCO question [how does communication create organization?] is four specific forms of communication, or flows.
      1. Membership negotiation.
      2. Self-structuring.
      3. Activity coordination.
      4. Institutional positioning.
    5. McPhee thinks each flow literally creates the company as members talk. These flows aren’t something an organization does but rather what an organization is.
  1. The four flows of CCO.
    1. CCO theorists believe organizations are like a river—always moving and changing.
    2. McPhee believes the communication must occur in four flows, or “circulating systems or fields of messages.”
    3. Specifically, these four flows concern who is a member of the organization, how these members structure their working relationships, how they coordinate their work, and how the organization positions itself with other people and organizations.
    4. It’s worth noting that not all communication between organization members involves the four flows.
    5. What sets the four flows apart is that they are necessary for creating the organization itself.
    6. Chapter illustrations are drawn from Habitat for Humanity and Greek organizations on campuses.
  1. Membership negotiation: Joining and learning the ropes.
    1. All organizations regulate who is a member and who is not.
    2. You become an organizational member through a communicative process.
    3. Membership negotiation doesn’t end after accepting a job offer.
    4. The next step of membership negotiation is socialization, or learning what it means to be a member of the organization.
  1. Self-structuring: Figuring out who’s who in the organization.
    1. Self-structuring refers to the formal communication acts that create the organization.
    2. After the organization’s founding, self-structuring continues through the writing of procedures manuals, memos, and sometimes a chart that specifies the relationships among employees.
    3. How can members align their activities when they’re geographically far apart? Cooren and Fairhurst point out that we seek closure, or a sense of shared understanding that emerges in back-and-forth interaction.
    4. McPhee reminds us that the official chart isn’t the final word on structure.
  1. Activity coordination: Getting the job done.
    1. McPhee believes all organizations have goals.
    2. A defined purpose, such as a mission statement, separates an organization from a crowd of people. Most important to CCO theorists, members communicate to accomplish the organization’s day-to-day work toward their goals—a flow McPhee terms activity coordination.
    3. Activity coordination becomes quite complex at any organization with more than a handful of employees.
  1. Institutional positioning: Dealing with other people and organizations.
    1. Institutional positioning is communication between an organization and external entities—other organizations and people.
    2. No organization survives on its own.
  1. Four principles of the four flows.
    1. McPhee claims that communication constitutes organization through the four flows of membership negotiation, self-structuring, activity coordination, and institutional positioning.
    2. It’s the intersection of the four flows, mixing and blending together, that constitutes organization.
    3. Four principles direct the four flows of communication.
      1. All four flows are necessary for organization.
      2. Different flows happen in different places.
      3. The same message can address multiple flows.
      4. Different flows address different audiences.
        1. Self-structuring is of little interest to those outside an organization.
        2. Membership negotiation targets new members or those who may be leaving.
        3. Activity coordination addresses specific groups within an organization.
        4. Institutional positioning focuses on external organizations.
  1. Diverting the flow: Crafting solutions to organizational problems.
    1. Some CCO scholars are pragmatists who try to use such insights to fix organizational problems.
    2. Recall that one goal of an interpretive theory is to foster new understanding of people.
    3. It is likely that improvements to an organization must address more than just one flow.
  1. Critique: Are the four flows the best approach to communicative constitution?  
    1. The idea that communication creates organizations provides a compelling explanation for the value of organizational communication.
    2. McPhee provides a degree of relative simplicity and aesthetic appeal by suggesting the four flows, but that simplicity doesn’t appeal to everybody.
    3. CCO researcher James Taylor is critical of McPhee’s simplicity and its top-down approach and instead prefers a ground-up theory that starts with everyday conversation.
    4. Taylor is critical of McPhee’s vague definitions, particularly of the term “flow.”
    5. With such imprecision, Taylor doubts CCO can provide a new understanding of people.
    6. Taylor counters that conversations organize when members engage in co-orientation, or communication “wherein two or more actors are entwined in relation to an object.”
    7. Some researchers suggest that this focus on materiality is the reason the Montreal School approach has generated more extensions of theory and research than McPhee’s CCO.
    8. According to Bishop and Bisel, both approaches are valuable.
    9. Both may be necessary conditions rather than sufficient conditions.
    10. Although they may disagree on the details, CCO theorists share a broad community of agreement.

Chapter 24Critical Theory of Communication in Organizations


  1. Introduction.
  1. Stanley Deetz views multinational corporations as the dominant force in society.
  2. Deetz’ critical communication theory seeks to unmask what he considers unjust and unwise communication practices within organizations.
  3. His theory advocates “stakeholder participation.” He believes that everyone who will be significantly affected by a corporate policy should have a meaningful voice in the decision-making process.
  1. Corporate colonization and control of everyday life.
  1. Corporate-speak increasingly creeps into our personal lives, and can become more meaningless as the words stand in for what we really mean to say.
  2. Corporate influence also extends into employees’ home life.
  3. That pervasive influence isn't necessarily all bad—they can use their clout for good.
  4. But corporate control has sharply diminished the quality of life for most citizens.
  5. Deetz’ theory of communication is critical in that he questions whether corporate practices that have now become commonplace have downsides for the corporation itself, as well as the broader communities in which we live.
  6. Deetz wants to examine communication practices in organizations that undermine fully representative decision making and thus reduce the quality, innovation, and fairness of business decisions.
  1. Information or communication; Transmission or the creation of meaning.
  1. Deetz challenges the view that communication is the transmission of information, a view that perpetuates corporate dominance.
  2. He contends that each line item in an annual report is constitutive—created by corporate decision makers who have the power to make their decisions stick.
  3. Deetz offers a communication model that emphasizes the role of language in shaping social reality.
  1. Language does not represent things that already exist; it produces what we believe to be “self-evident” or “natural.”
  2. Corporations subtly produce meanings and values.
  1. Deetz offers a 2 x 2 model that contrasts communication as information vs. communication as creating reality, and managerial control vs. codetermination.
  2. Managerial control often takes precedence over representation of conflicting interests or long-term company and community health.
  3. Co-determination, on the other hand, epitomizes participatory democracy.
  4. Public decisions can be formed through strategy, consent, involvement, and participation—the four cells depicted in the model.
  1. Strategy—overt managerial moves to extend control.
  1. Deetz contends that managers are not the problem—the real culprit is managerialism.
  2. Managerialism is a discourse that values control above all else.
  3. Any focus on individuals diverts attention from a failed managerial system based on control.
  4. Forms of control based in communication systems impede any real worker voice in structuring their work.
  5. The desire for control can even exceed the desire for corporate performance.
  6. The quest for control is evident in the corporate aversion to public conflict.
  7. Strategic control does not benefit the corporation, and it alienates employees and causes rebellion.
  8. Because of these drawbacks, most managers prefer to maintain control through workers’ voluntary consent.
  1. Consent: Unwitting allegiance to covert control.
  1. Through the process that Deetz calls consent, most employees willingly give their loyalty without getting much in return.
  2. Consent describes a variety of situations and processes in which someone actively, though unknowingly, accomplishes the interests of others in the faulty attempt to fulfill his or her own interests.
  3. Discursive closure suppresses potential conflict.
  1. Certain groups of people may be classified as disqualified to speak on certain issues.
  2. Arbitrary definitions may be labeled “natural.”
  3. Values behind decisions may be kept hidden to appear objective.
  1. Involvement: Free expression of ideas, but no voice.
  1. Truth emerges from the free flow of information in an open marketplace of ideas, and an information transfer model of communication worked well when people shared values.
  1. Freedom of speech guaranteed equitable participation in decision making.
  2. Persuasion and advocacy were the best ways to reach a good decision.
  3. Autonomous individuals could then make up their own minds.
  1. The information transfer model does not work well in today’s pluralistic, interconnected world.
  2. Free expression is not the same as having a “voice” in corporate decisions, and knowledge of this difference creates worker cynicism.
  3. Deetz suggests that in present-day corporate practices, “the right of expression appears more central than the right to be informed or to have an effect.” 
  4. Voice means expressing interests that are freely and openly formed, and then having those interests reflected in a joint decision.
  1. Participation: Stakeholder democracy in action.
  1. Deetz’ theory of communication is critical, but not just negative.
  2. Meaningful democratic participation creates better citizens and social choices while providing economic benefits.
  3. The first move Deetz makes is to expand the list of people who should have a say in how a corporation is run.
  4. Deetz advocates open negotiations of power among those who have a stake in what an organization does.
  5. There are at least six classes of stakeholders, each with unique needs: Investors, workers, consumers, suppliers, host communities, and greater society and the world community.
  6. Since some stakeholders have taken greater risks and made longer-term investments than stockholders and top-level managers, Deetz believes these stakeholders should have a say in corporate decisions.
  7. Managers should coordinate the conflicting interests of all parties—be mediators rather than persuaders.
  8. He stresses that diversity among stakeholders generates productive interaction and creativity instead of merely reproducing what’s always been.
  9. Deetz offers nine conditions that must be met in order for diverse stakeholders to successfully negotiate their needs and interests.
  1. Avoiding meltdown—Putting theory into practice
  1. Given entrenched managerial power and privilege in corporations, most economic observers are skeptical that the workplace participation Deetz advocates will become reality.
  2. But Deetz’ recent work with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) might give naysayers cause for pause.
  3. Deetz’ ultimate goal is to reach a point where all stakeholders voluntarily do the right thing because they see it’s in their own interest or the interests of those they love.
  1. Critique: A quality critical theory, but is workplace democracy just a dream?
  1. Applied to organizational life, Deetz’ critical approach is an exemplar of what this type of interpretive theory should be.
  2. He clarifies the harmful values of managerialism, provides a new understanding of managerial control, sets a reform agenda, offers rich qualitative data to support his theory, has generated a wide community of agreement, and presents it with wit and humor that makes the theory aesthetically pleasing.
  3. However, many organizational scholars regard the possibility of managers voluntarily giving up power as unrealistic.
  4. As CCO theorist Robert McPhee (ch. 23) puts it in his ironic summary of Deetz’ theory, “If we just didn’t find it natural and right and unavoidable to hand power over to managers, everything would be different and all our problems would be solved.”
  5. Deetz understands the difficulty in altering entrenched power, but the number of problems like those faced in nuclear power plants may put the forces of a changing world on the side of collaboration between management and workers. 
  6. Deetz’ summary of his life work emphasizes his desire to remove “structural and systemic features of life” that hinder “creative mutually beneficial choices.”

Chapter 25Communication Accommodation Theory


  1. Introduction.
  1. Howard Giles built communication accommodation theory (CAT) as an answer to questions regarding intent and perception of changing speech patterns, cultural group membership, and social consequences.
  2. Giles refers to his speech adjustments as accommodation or changing communication behavior in a way that reduces social distance.
  3. In contrast, failing to alter one’s style (or any other communication adjustment that maintains or increases social distance) is nonaccommodation.
  4. The core of CAT is this: communicative differences and similarities are deeply intertwined with our group identities. 
  5. The early research of Giles and his colleagues centered on interethnic communication, often between two bilingual groups in the same country.
  6. In the last three decades, however, CAT researchers have also shown consistent interest in exploring accommodation in an intergenerational context.
  7. Whether differences between people are generational, cultural, or from any other source, Giles thinks an understanding of CAT can help members of different groups communicate effectively with each other.
  1. How we accommodate (or how we don’t)
  1. Giles contrasts convergence and divergence, two strategic forms of communication used to interact with diverse others.
  2. Convergence.
  1. Convergence is a strategy by which you adapt your communication behavior in such a way as to become more similar to the other person.
  2. Most of the time, we do it because we want to accommodate the other person.
  3. It is a form of audience adaptation to reduce nonverbal differences.
  4. Discourse management, another way of adapting, is the sensitive selection of topics to discuss.
  1. Divergence.
  1. Divergence is a communication strategy of accentuating the differences between yourself and another.
  2. Most of the time, the goal of divergence is nonaccommodation.
  3. Divergence may include counteraccommodation—direct, intentional, and even hostile ways of maximizing the differences between speakers.
  4. The elderly often increase social distance through the process of self- handicapping —a defensive, face-saving strategy that uses age as a reason for not performing well.
  5. Giles and his colleagues describe two other strategies similar to divergence that are a bit more subtle, but function as nonaccommodation.
  1. Maintenance is the strategy of persisting in your original communication style regardless of the communication behavior of the other.
  2. The other strategy that’s similar to divergence is overaccommodation, which may be well-intended, but has the effect of making the recipient feel worse.
  1. Different motivations for convergence and divergence.
  1. CAT theorists have always maintained that desire for approval was the main motivation for convergence
  2. But this doesn’t account for divergence, nor for when speakers act as representatives of a group.
  3. Social identity theory.
  1. When communicators are aware of their group differences, that’s intergroup contact. Henri Tajfel and John Turner believed intergroup contact is common, and that our social identity is based upon it.
  2. We often communicate not as individuals but as representatives of groups that define us.
  3. Communication may be used to reinforce and defend ties to reference groups.
  4. When groups are salient at the start of an interaction with someone different, CAT claims that communication will diverge away from a partner’s speech rather than converge toward it.
  5. Tajfel and Turner pictured a motivational continuum with personal identity on one end of the scale and social identity on the other.
  6. If communicators feel the need for distinctiveness, then divergence is often the result.
  7. They hold out the possibility that a person could seek approval and distinctiveness within the same conversation when personal and social identities are both salient.
  8. There’s no hard-and-fast rule but a person’s initial orientation is a somewhat reliable predictor.
  1. Initial orientation.
  1. Initial orientation is the predisposition a person has toward focusing on either individual identity or group identity.
  2. Five factors impact the perception of a conversation as an intergroup encounter.
  1. Collectivistic cultural context.
    1. The we-centered focus of collectivism emphasizes similarity and mutual concern within the culture—definitely oriented toward social identity.
    2. The I-centered focus of individualistic cultures valorizes the individual actor—definitely oriented toward individual identity.
  1. If previous interactions were uncomfortable, competitive, or hostile, both interactants will tend to ascribe that outcome to the other person’s social identity.
  2. The more specific and negative stereotypes people have of an out-group, the more likely they are to think of the other in terms of social identity and then resort to divergent communication.
  3. Expectations of group norms can shape whether a member of one group regards a person from another group as an individual or as “one of them.”
  4. High group solidarity and high group dependence would predict that we have initial intergroup orientation.
  1. No single factor determines a person’s initial orientation, yet if all five factors line up in the direction of social identity, they make it almost certain that a communicator will approach it as an intergroup encounter.
  1. Recipient evaluation of convergence and divergence.
  1. People converge when they want social approval and diverge when they want to emphasize their distinctiveness.
  2. Giles and his colleagues still believe that listeners regard convergence as positive and divergence as negative.
  3. Convergent speakers are evaluated as more competent, attractive, warm, and cooperative compared to divergent communicators who are seen as insulting, impolite, and hostile.
  4. What is ultimately important is how the communicator is perceived.
  1. Objective versus subjective accommodation.
  1. A disconnect may exist between what is actually happening and what a listener perceives is happening.
  2. Speakers who converge may also misperceive the other’s style.
  1. Attribution theory.
  1. Heider and Kelley suggest that we attribute an internal disposition to the behavior we see another enact.
  2. Our default assumption is that people who do things like that are like that.
  3. Listeners’ evaluation is based on the other’s ability, external constraints, and expended effort.
  4. Overall, listeners who interpret convergence as a speaker’s desire to break down cultural barriers react quite favorably.
  1. There are benefits and costs to both convergent and divergent strategies.
  2. CAT research continues to document the positive interpersonal relationship development that can result from appropriate convergence.
  3. The interpersonal tension created by divergence or maintenance can certainly block the formation of intergroup or intercultural relationships and understanding.
  4. But the upside for the communicator is the reaffirmed social identity and solidarity that comes from enacting a divergent strategy.
  1. Applying CAT to police officer-civilian interaction.
  1. CAT can be applied to any intercultural or intergroup situation where the differences between people are apparent and significant.
  2. Giles and Travis Dixon have employed CAT to analyze routine traffic stops for issues of accommodation and race.
  3. Based on CAT, Dixon and Giles predicted that interracial interactions would be less accommodating than those where the officer and driver were of the same race.
  4. They predicted this outcome because an interracial interaction in this high-pressure context would make each party’s racial identity significant for them.
  5. Although Dixon and Giles stopped short of accusing the police of overt racism, they believe the nonaccommodation of officers is a barrier to good relations.
  1. Critique: Enormous scope at the cost of clarity.
  1. CAT not only describes communication behavior, it explains why it happens.
  2. The theory has consistently predicted what will happen in specific situations.
  3. CAT is an extraordinarily complex theory presented in multiple versions that are sometimes offered simultaneously.
  4. The structure and underlying terminology are not always represented consistently with even the meaning of “accommodation” slippery.
  5. The complexity problem spills over into the possibility of being able to demonstrate that the theory is false.
  6. Tests of the theory have admirably used a mix of qualitative and quantitative methods.
  7. The theory provides practical insight into many situations where people from different groups or cultures come into contact.

Chapter 26Face-Negotiation Theory


  1. Introduction.
  1. Stella Ting-Toomey’s face-negotiation theory helps to explain cultural differences in response to conflict.
  2. A basic assumption is that all people negotiate “face.”
  1. Face is a metaphor for our public self-image – the way we want others to see us and treat us.
  2. Facework refers to specific verbal and nonverbal messages that help to maintain and restore face loss, and to uphold and honor face gain.
  1. Our identity can always be called into question, which inevitably leads to conflict and vulnerability.
  2. Facework and corresponding styles of handling conflict vary from culture to culture.
  3. Face-negotiation theory postulates that the facework of people from individualistic cultures like the United States or Germany will be strikingly different from the facework of people from collectivistic cultures like Japan or China.
  1. Collectivistic and individualistic cultures.
  1. Harry Triandis says that there are three important distinctions between collectivistic and individualistic cultures—the different ways members perceive self, goals, and duty.
  2. Japan and the U.S. represent collectivistic and individualistic cultures, respectively.
  3. It is Ting-Toomey’s grouping of national cultures within the collectivistic and individualistic categories that distinguishes her theory of conflict management from a mere listing of the way a country’s citizens tend to respond to conflict.
  4. Whereas Japanese tend to value collective needs and goals (a we-identity), Americans tend to value individualistic needs and goals (an I-identity).
  5. Whereas Japanese tend to perceive others in us/them categories and attach little importance to pursuing outsiders’ attitudes or feelings, Americans assume that every person is unique and reduce uncertainty by asking questions.
  1. Self-construal: Varied self-images within a culture.
  1. Ting-Toomey recognizes that people within a culture differ on the relative emphasis they place on individual self-sufficiency or group solidarity.
  2. She discusses the dimension of self-construal (or self-image) in terms of the independent and interdependent self, or the degree to which people conceive of themselves as relatively autonomous from, or connected with, others. 
  1. The independent self is more self-face oriented. This view of self is most prevalent within individualistic cultures.
  2. Conversely, interdependent self is more concerned with other-face and is closely aligned with collectivistic cultures.
  1. The distinction between collectivistic and individualistic cultures is still important because culture has a strong effect on an individual’s self-construal.
  1. The multiple faces of face.
  1. Face is a universal concern because it is an extension of self-concept.
  1. Ting-Toomey defines face as “the projected image of one’s self in a relational situation.”
  2. Penelope Brown and Stephen Levinson define face as the public self-image that every member of society wants to claim for himself/herself.
  3. Taiwanese writer Lin Yutang called face “a psychological image that can be granted and lost and fought for and presented as a gift.”
  1. Face means different things to different people, depending on their culture.
  2. Face concern focuses on whose face a person wants to save.
  1. One can save one’s own face or the face of others.
  2. Those in individualistic cultures tend to be more concerned with preserving their own face, whereas people in collectivistic cultures value maintaining the face of the other person.
  1. Mutual face is where there’s an equal concern for both parties’ image, as well as the public image or their relationship.
  2. Face-restoration is the facework strategy used to stake out a unique place in life, preserve autonomy, and defend against loss of personal freedom and is the typical face strategy across individualistic cultures.
  3. Face-giving is the facework strategy used to defend and support another’s need for inclusion.
  1. It means taking care not to embarrass or humiliate the other in public.
  2. It is the characteristic face strategy across collectivistic cultures.
  1. Although cultural difference is not absolute, people from collectivistic and individualistic cultures tend to privilege other-face and self-face, respectively.
  1. Refining the relationship between face concern and conflict style
  1. Since the turn of the century, Ting-Toomey, Oetzel, and many other intercultural researchers have identified three primary conflict styles: dominance, avoidance, and integration.
  2. She and Oetzel now use them as umbrella terms to designate 3 clusters of 11 specific facework strategies.
  1. Dominance.
  1. Defend: Stand up for one’s opinion.
  2. Express emotion: Verbally express one’s feelings.
  3. Aggression: Make a direct or passive effort to hurt the other.
  1. Avoidance.
  1. Give in: Accommodate the other person.
  2. Pretend: Act like the conflict doesn’t exist.
  3. Third party: Seek outside help to resolve the conflict.
  1. Integration.
  1. Apologize: Say sorry for past behavior.
  2. Private talk: Avoid public confrontation.
  3. Remain calm: Stay composed during the conflict.
  4. Problem solve: Engage in behaviors to join perspectives.
  5. Respect: Demonstrate regard for the other by listening.
  1. The three clusters are important because Ting-Toomey and Oetzel claim that the type of face concern people have will best predict the type of facework they’ll employ in conflict situations. They found:
  1. Those most concerned with self-face will try to dominate.
  2. People with an other-face concern will attempt to avoid conflict.
  3. Parties with a mutual-face concern will favor integrating strategies.
  1. Oetzel and Ting-Toomey conducted a four-nation study to test their theory with Chinese, Japanese, German, and American students.
  1. As for the dominance tactics, self-face is linked with both defending and aggression, but not, as predicted, to emotional expression.
  2. As predicted, all three of the avoidance strategies—giving in, pretending, and seeking third-party help—are associated with high other-face concerns.
  3. What wasn’t anticipated is that three of the behaviors presumably fostered by mutual-face concern are shown to be associated with other-face concern alone.
  4. It is not total confirmation of the theory and the researchers did not measure self-construal but it is encouraging support of the theory.
  1. In a follow-up study, Ting-Toomey and Oetzel studied the role of apology in fostering forgiveness that might predict reconciliation.
  1. They wanted to confirm their prediction that interdependent self-construal has a positive effect on reconciliation in the US and China.
  2. They found a positive effect on apology and forgiveness was strikingly similar in China and US.
  3. In China, a much greater proportion of people have interdependent self-construal compared to the much more independent self-construal of Americans, making the chain of forgiveness much less likely to happen in the United States.  
  1. Application: Competent intercultural facework.
  1. Ting-Toomey’s ultimate goal for her theory goes beyond merely identifying the ways people in different cultures negotiate face or handle conflict.
  2. She wants the theory to help people manage intercultural conflict effectively.
  3. She says there are three requirements.
  1. Knowledge is the most important dimension of facework competence.
  2. Mindfulness shows a recognition that things are not always what they seem. It’s a conscious choice to seek multiple perspectives on the same event.
  3. Interaction skill is your ability to communicate appropriately, effectively, and adaptively in a given situation.
  1. Critique: Passing the objective test with a good grade.
  1. Ting-Toomey and Oetzel have conducted extensive quantitative survey research to craft and test an objective theory that predicts that members of collectivistic cultures will manage conflict differently than members of individualistic societies will.
  2. Then they use the constructs of self-construal and face concern to explain why that’s so. Ting-Toomey has laid out “conflict face-negotiation theory” (which she now calls it) in 24 testable hypotheses.
  3. One methodological shortcoming is the reliance on self-report data from participants who are often college age with more wealth and status than similarly-aged peers.
  4. Given the complex nature of culture, she has made the choice to sacrifice simplicity for validity, which makes the theory tougher to grasp.
  5. For more than two decades as a third-party neutral mediator, Em has found the theory has practical utility.

Chapter 27Co-Cultural Theory


  1. Members of co-cultural groups have less power than members of the dominant culture.
    1. Mark Orbe uses the term co-cultural to refer to marginalized groups of people who are typically labeled as minority, subcultural, subordinate, inferior, or nondominant.
    2. Co-cultural is a neutral term that designates significant differences from the dominant culture, but with no hint of contempt or condemnation.
    3. There are many varied co-cultural groups in the United States, such as women, people of color, the economically disadvantaged, people with physical disabilities, the LGBTQ community, the very old and very young, and religious minorities.
    4. Orbe sees co-cultural theory as an extension of both standpoint theory and muted group theory—two other theories concerned with unequal power.
    5. Orbe thinks it’s important to spend time and effort focusing on co-cultural communication—“communication between dominant group and co-cultural group members from the perspective of co-cultural group members.”
    6. Orbe has found that, to maneuver within the dominant culture and achieve some degree of success, co-cultural group members will adopt one or more specific communication orientations in their everyday interactions.
  1. Communication orientation: What they want and what they say to get it.
    1. Orbe claims there are nine communication orientations that different co-cultural group members adopt when trying to survive and thrive within the dominant group culture.
      1. Communication orientation is the term he uses to describe a co-cultural group member’s preferred outcome pursued through the communication approach they choose to achieve that goal.
      2. The three goals—assimilation, accommodation, separation—describe the preferred outcomes co-cultural members might seek when face-to-face with members of the dominant culture.
      3. The three communication approaches—nonassertive, assertive, aggressive—identify the verbal and nonverbal behavior co-cultural members might use to reach their chosen goal
      4. A three-by-three model (i.e., crossing preferred outcomes with communication approaches) yields nine communication orientations.
    2. Inside each of the nine communication orientation boxes are shorthand descriptors of communicative practices.
      1. These practices summarize the specific verbal and nonverbal actions that co-cultural group members take when interacting with members of the dominant culture.
      2. The cluster of terms labeling the practices in each box reflects how that orientation plays out in actual types of behavior.
    3. As Orbe listened to co-cultural group members talk about their interactions with the dominant culture, their words strongly influenced his recognition and interpretation of the three preferred outcomes, the three communication approaches, and the nine different communication orientations they form.
      1. A nonassertive approach is where “individuals are seemingly inhibited and nonconfrontational while putting the needs of others before their own.”
      2. An aggressive approach is behavior “perceived as hurtfully expressive, self-promoting, and assuming control over the choices of others.”
      3. Orbe pictures the nonassertive and aggressive approaches as anchoring opposite ends of a continuum on which an assertive approach (self-enhancing and expressive behavior that takes into account both self and others’ needs) falls roughly in between.
  1. Assimilation as a preferred outcome of communication.
    1. For co-cultural group members, assimilation means fitting into the dominant culture while at the same time shedding the speech and nonverbal markers of their group.
      1. Nonassertive assimilation: Co-cultural members attempt to meet their own needs as best they can by unobtrusively blending into the dominant society.
        1. Emphasizing commonalities—focusing on similarities; downplaying differences.
        2. Developing positive face—Being graciously attentive and considerate.
        3. Censoring self—Remaining silent to inappropriate or offensive comments.
        4. Averting controversy—Moving conversation away from risky or dangerous areas.
      2. Assertive assimilation: Co-cultural members with this orientation attempt to fit into dominant structures by “playing the game.”
        1. Extensive preparation—Preparing thoroughly prior to interaction.
        2. Overcompensating—Making a conscious and consistent effort to be a “superstar.”
        3. Manipulating stereotypes—Exploiting the dominant image of the group for personal gain.
        4. Bargaining—Making covert or overt arrangements to ignore co-cultural differences.
      3. Aggressive assimilation: This is a single-minded, sometimes belligerent approach, which seeks to be regarded as part of the dominant group and not as members of a co-cultural group.
        1. Dissociating—Trying hard to avoid the typical behavior of one’s co-cultural group.
        2. Mirroring—Adopting dominant communication codes to mask co-cultural identity.
        3. Strategic distancing—Stressing individuality by cutting ties with your own group.
        4. Ridiculing self—Taking part in discourse demeaning to one’s co-cultural group.
  1. Accommodation as a preferred outcome of communication.
    1. Rather than following the other guys’ rules as those trying to assimilate do, co-cultural members who seek accommodation work at changing the rules to take their own life experiences into account.
    2. As out-group members adapt their behavior to become more similar to that of the dominant in-group culture, they gain credibility for advocating at least incremental change.
      1. Nonassertive accommodation: By conforming to the norms of the dominant culture, co-cultural members desire to gain acceptance.
        1. Increasing visibility—Maintaining co-cultural presence within the dominant group.
        2. Dispelling stereotypes—Changing images of the group by just being yourself.
      2. Assertive accommodation: Co-cultural members whose abilities and interpersonal skills are valued work cooperatively within the dominant culture, advocating for the needs of both cultures.
        1. Communicating self—Interacting with the dominant group in an open, genuine manner.
        2. Intragroup networking—Talking with co-cultural people with a shared worldview.
        3. Utilizing liaisons—Seeking support from dominant group members you can trust.
        4. Educating others—Explaining co-cultural norms and values to the dominant group.
      3. Aggressive accommodation: Working within the dominant culture, these co-cultural advocates offer a prophetic voice calling for major transformation of structures and practices that hold co-cultural groups down.
        1. Confronting—Asserting one’s “voice” in a way that may violate others’ rights.
        2. Gaining advantage—Calling out dominant group oppression to get a response.
  1. Separation as a preferred outcome of communication.
    1. The co-cultural group members who desire separation work to create and maintain an identity distinct from the dominant culture.
    2. Separatist speech is akin to what Giles labeled divergent communication (see ch. 25) and is used to accentuate differences between the two cultures.
      1. Nonassertive separation: These co-cultural members have an inherent belief that their lives will be more tolerable when they “stick to their own kind.”
        1. Avoiding—Staying away from places and situations where interaction is likely.
        2. Maintaining personal barriers—Using verbal and nonverbal cues to stay aloof.
      2. Assertive separation: Co-cultural members with this orientation make a strategic decision to remain separate from an oppressive dominant culture.
        1. Exemplifying strengths—Making the group’s strength, success, and contribution known.
        2. Embracing stereotypes—Putting a positive spin on the dominant group’s biases.
      3. Aggressive separation: This is often employed by a powerful co-cultural group leader when segregation from the dominant culture seems imperative.
        1. Attacking—Inflicting psychological pain through personal attack.
        2. Sabotaging others—Undermining the benefits of dominant group membership.
  1. Phenomenology—Tapping into others’ conscious lived experience.
    1. Orbe is convinced that the goals of co-cultural group members and the different styles of communication they adopt are the key factors because he has great confidence in the research method that revealed them—phenomenology.
      1. Phenomenology is a research commitment to focus “on the conscious experience of a person as she or he relates to the lived world.”
      2. Orbe enlisted the help of nearly 100 marginalized people from a variety of co-cultural groups and listened to their stories of interactions with people in the dominant culture.
      3. This inductive type of qualitative research is akin to what Baxter did with relationship partners in developing relational dialectics theory (ch. 11), and how Deetz partnered with corporate employees to form his critical theory of communication in organizations (ch. 24).
    2. It’s a multiple-step process.
      1. First, Orbe invited his co-researchers (his phenomenological term for “participants”) to describe their experiences within the dominant culture, recorded everything they said, and later made a word-for-word transcript.
      2. Next, Orbe pored over this record, looking for repeated words, phrases, or themes that described and gave meaning to their communication.
      3. He conducted this phenomenological interpretation by finding meanings that weren’t immediately apparent in the first two steps.
      4. Through this process, he also identified four other factors that influence how members of co-cultural groups interact with members of the dominant society: Field of experience, situational context, ability, and perceived costs and rewards.
  1. Dominant group theory—an extension of co-cultural theory.
    1. Orbe and Robert Razzante address how dominant group members respond to the communicative practices of co-cultural group members in dominant group theory, which is an extension of Orbe’s co-cultural theory. 
    2. In many ways, dominant group theory (DGT) is the mirror image of his original work.
    3. It takes into account three possible outcomes the dominant group members may want to achieve vis-à-vis the oppressive structures co-cultural members face.
    4. They may want to reinforce the structures (maintain status quo), impede them (resist their spread), or dismantle them (work at systemic change).
    5. They may use the same three communication approaches: nonassertiveness, assertiveness, or aggression.
      1. Nonassertive/Reinforcement: Refusing to recognize one’s own privilege or keeping silent about it.
      2. Assertive/Reinforcement: Downplaying one’s own power and privilege; denying there’s a dominant group culture.
      3. Aggressive/Reinforcement: Blaming the co-cultural group’s plight on members’ lack of responsibility.
      4. Nonassertive/Impediment: Acknowledging social privilege as a member of the dominant group.
      5. Assertive/Impediment: Acknowledging the magnitude of co-cultural issues; modeling care for members of both groups.
      6. Aggressive/Impediment: Confronting oppressive rhetoric as ignorant and hurtful; affirming co-cultural group members.
      7. Nonassertive/Dismantling: Sacrificing self (money, social isolation, arrest) to prioritize the needs of co-cultural group members.
      8. Assertive/Dismantling: As a co-cultural ally, working against systems of privilege; focusing on institutional change.
      9. Aggressive/Dismantling: Pushing one’s own agenda for societal change with little regard for those who are hurt.
    6. Just like co-cultural theory, DGT suggests that the choices dominant group members make are strongly influenced by four factors: field of experience, situational context, ability, and perceived costs and rewards.
    7. Countering one of the original premises of co-cultural theory, DGT recognizes that some dominant group members use their power and privilege to assertively or aggressively challenge society’s oppressive structures instead of reinforcing them.
  1. Critique: An interpretive theory both ambitious and limited.
    1. Mark Orbe uses the criteria set forth in chapter 3 to favorably evaluate his interpretive theory.
    2. His phenomenological methodology is prototypical qualitative research.
    3. To read what his co-cultural researchers said is to gain a new understanding of people who are trying to survive and thrive in a dominant culture created by privileged men who at least tacitly work to maintain the status quo.
    4. Clarity and artistry are the two faces of aesthetic appeal.
      1. As for clarity, it’s hard to see how the four additional factors of field of experience, situational context, ability, and perceived costs and rewards fit into the framework of the theory.
      2. Many of the quotes from co-cultural group members could be viewed as found art.
    5. Orbe’s stated indebtedness to muted group theory and standpoint theory gives co-cultural theory a built-in community of agreement among communication scholars who take a critical approach.
    6. Orbe doesn’t call for reform of society or take on the role of advocate. Co-cultural theory seems descriptive rather than prescriptive.
    7. As for clarification of values, rather than show either pity or scorn for those who are marginalized in the United States, Orbe expresses admiration for how his co-researchers use or don’t use communication in order to cope as outsiders within a dominant culture.

Chapter 28Afrocentricity


  1. Introduction
    1. You likely operate with an understanding of what is “normal” in your social context.
    2. Often, we embrace social norms unconsciously, meaning we don’t think about them.
    3. Molefi Kete Asante argues that Western society fails to appreciate the role of culture in shaping its sense of normalcy.
    4. The tendency to look down on other cultures due to differences lies at the heart of Asante’s concern with Western society.
    5. Asante’s scholarship offers an important alternative to Eurocentrism, a worldview that centers Western norms and civilization over non-Western counterparts.
    6. He is convinced it is impossible to understand African and African American customs, rituals, and traditions without understanding the culture that produced them. This conviction serves as the foundation for Asante’s Afrocentricity, a worldview that centers African culture in the study of the African diaspora.
  1. The Dangers of Eurocentrism
    1. Eurocentrism threatens the African diaspora (the spread of African people beyond Africa) and other non-European people because it diminishes their value, intellect, and contributions to society.
    2. Asante sees this imposition of values as cultural hegemony, the invisible domination of one culture over others.
    3. Afrocentrism is concerned with the ways that Eurocentrism implicitly devalues other cultures by asserting the intellectual superiority of the West.
    4. Asante maintains a deep suspicion of any theory that claims to be objective; he believes cultural values and assumptions always inform our ideas.
    5. The claim of objectivity only serves to obscure those values, not to eliminate them.
    6. By positioning Western values as universal, Eurocentrism pressures people of African descent to affirm Western norms as a condition of approval, imprisoning people of African descent in cultural chains.
    7. At the heart of Afrocentricity lies the goal of liberating the African diaspora from Eurocentric ways of thinking.  
  1. Afrocentrism as liberation
    1. Liberation from Eurocentrism depends on reconnecting people of African descent to African culture.
    2. Afrocentrism is built on the premise that cultural artifacts, expressions, and customs can only be understood using theories that share the culture’s values, assumptions, and beliefs.
    3. Afrocentricity, on the other hand, positions “African people in the center of any analysis of African phenomena.”
    4. Asante is not primarily concerned with who studies African phenomena, but how they study it.
    5. Afrocentrism calls for anyone who studies African phenomena to do so in an Afrocentric manner.
    6. Criticisms may suggest, inaccurately, that Afrocentricity is against Western culture. It doesn’t deny the value of theories emerging from the Western tradition, but it rejects perspectives that see these theories as universally valid beyond a European context.   
  1. Three core assumptions of Afrocentrism
    1. Within an Afrocentric paradigm, knowledge must advance the goal of liberation.
    2. Knowledge must be useful.
    3. A second major assumption of the Afrocentric paradigm is that the nature of life is spiritual.
    4. Within the European tradition, scholars often prioritize the material or physical world; Afrocentricity rejects the primacy of the material world, emphasizing knowledge gained through the spiritual realm.
    5. Afrocentricity views culture as a crucial source for shaping identity.
    6. People thrive when their sense of identity is grounded in their culture, history, and biology.
    7. Afrocentricity holds that a dearth of historical, cultural, or biological perspectives can lead to dislocation, meaning that the person will lack the conceptual resources to enjoy a fully formed sense of self.
    8. The problem with Eurocentrism is that it forces the African diaspora to live through the eyes of another.
  1. Four principles of Afrocentric communication
    1. Afrocentricity’s potential application is far-reaching.
    2. Afrocentric scholar Maulana Karenga identifies four key principles of Afrocentric communication.
      1. Afrocentric communication must benefit African people.
        1. Karenga sees communal focus as an essential trait of Afrocentric communication.
        2. Asante shares this perspective, arguing that “the stability of the community is essential, and publicly speaking, when used in connection with conflict solution, must be directed toward maintaining community harmony.
      2. Afrocentric communication must resist racism and colonialism.
        1. Karenga points to a strong emphasis on resistance in African communication.
        2. The Civil Rights Movement provides one of the most visible examples of African communication’s commitment to resistance.
      3. Afrocentric communication must affirm the humanity of African people.
        1. Afrocentric communication must constantly (re)affirm the humanity and inherent dignity of Black people, which is constantly dismissed by the West.
        2. Hip-hop artists consistently celebrate Blackness in their music.
        3. Afrocentric communication should promote a sense of inherent dignity—of self-worth that transcends one’s immediate circumstances.
      4. Afrocentric communication must envision fresh possibilities for the future.
        1. Afrocentric communication refuses to accept the world as it is; rather, it continually explores what the world may be.
        2. It is committed to communication that “explore[s] possibilities in the social and human condition.”
  1. Nommo: The heart of African communication
    1. Afrocentricity sees the African diaspora as an oral culture rather than a written one.
    2. Afrocentricity’s approach to the study of African communication centers on the concept of Nommo—the generative and productive power of the spoken word.
    3. Drawn from the Dogon people of Mali, Nommo attaches spiritual power to the spoken word that is absent in the Western tradition and attributes tremendous spiritual significance to it.
    4. According to Asante, Nommo continues to operate in Black culture today, both consciously and unconsciously. 
  1. The tools of Afrocentric analysis
    1. Afrocentricity’s emphasis on oral communication leads scholars to study the ways that communication artifacts reflect (or fail to reflect) the values, traditions, and customs of African culture.
    2. Nommo manifests in numerous ways in communication.
      1. Nommo manifests in the improvisational styles that often define African communication.
        1. Speakers informed by African culture often rely on a style of delivery in which the message is only partially prepared.
        2. The unprepared portion of the message depends on the audience to co-create the message with the speaker.
        3. The speaker must be ready to respond to a variety of potential outcomes during the message.
      2. African communication often features a call-and-response style in which audience members offer verbal and nonverbal feedback on the speaker’s message.
        1. This call-and-response is commonplace in the Black church.
        2. This style allows the congregation to supply commentary on the message while it’s being delivered, allowing the primary speaker opportunities to adjust the message.
      3. African communication depends on mythoforms, which serve as a source of ideas and concepts around which people organize their lives.
        1. If you think of myths as stories we turn to—like those found in African or Greek mythology—then mythoforms capture families of similar myths.
        2. Collectively these different manifestations of the narrative operate as a mythoform, explaining and illuminating humanity’s past, present, and future.
    3. Myths offer a sense of control, contribute to the culture in deeper ways with insights on how to overcome oppression, and they establish connections among past, present, and future.  
  1. Critique: Evaluating Afrocentricity
    1. Afrocentricity endures as an important contribution to the study and liberation of the African diaspora.
    2. Asante’s contributions to rhetoric, media studies, and intercultural communication have shaped an entire generation of scholars who employ his Afrocentric paradigm to study communication artifacts produced by the African diaspora.
    3. His emphasis on culture has produced a new understanding of people.
    4. It represents an effort to reform society by liberating the African diaspora from Eurocentrism and clarifies values through its insistence that African communication be studied in a manner consistent with the values and assumptions of the culture.
    5. Asante understands any theory to be a tool or step towards emancipation.
    6. Afrocentric scholarship is not known for its aesthetic appeal, especially for readers unacquainted with Black culture.
    7. Afrocentric scholars use various forms of qualitative research in their scholarship, but they come short of totally embracing methodologies embedded with Western values.
    8. It carved out a new community of agreement that was previously hidden from the mainstream.
    9. If we take Afrocentricity seriously, then evaluating the theory according to these criteria may be problematic; Asante desires to break from the cultural hegemony of the West, which is where the criteria were developed.
    10. He would challenge us to develop new criteria for evaluating theories grounded in the cultural values, assumptions, and beliefs of African culture.

Chapter 29Feminist Standpoint Theory


  1. Introduction.
  1. Standpoint theorists suggest our view of the world depends on our social location.
  2. That social location is shaped by our demographic characteristics, including sex, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and economic status.
  3. As Julia Wood puts it, “the social groups within which we are located powerfully shape what we experience and know as well as how we understand and communicate with ourselves, others, and the world.”
  4. Standpoint theorists believe that knowledge starting from the social location of marginalized people “can provide a more objective view than the perspective from the lives of the more powerful.”
  5. We must start with a critique of epistemology—or, how do we know what we know?
  1. Philosophical foundations: A standpoint necessarily opposes the status quo.
  1. Georg Hegel revealed that what people “know” depends upon which group they are in and that the powerful control received knowledge.
  2. Early feminist standpoint theorists were influenced by Marx and Engels’ idea that the poor can be society’s “ideal knowers.”
  3. By substituting women for proletariat and gender discrimination for class struggle, early feminist standpoint theorists had a ready-made framework for advocating women’s way of knowing.
  4. Standpoint theory is also influenced by symbolic interactionism, which suggests that gender is socially constructed, and by the postmodernism of theorists such as Jean-Francois Lyotard, which suggests a critique of male-centered epistemologies.
  5. They warn that a standpoint is not the same thing as a social location, an opinion, or a perspective. A standpoint is more because it emerges from careful thought about why society privileges certain social locations.
  6. A standpoint opposes the status quo.
  7. Most critical scholars today demand that all concerns regarding sex and gender must take into account the intersectionality of identity.
  1. Intersectionality and Black feminist thought
  1. For critical scholars, intersectionality refers to how identities occur at the crossroads of gender, race, sexuality, age, occupation, ability, and many other characteristics.
  2. We can’t understand the social location of a person without having a complete picture of their identity.
  3. Patricia Collins claims that “intersecting oppressions” put Black women in a different marginalized social location than either white women or Black men.
  4. Collins refers to this social location as “outsider within.”
  5. Four ways that Black women validate knowledge.
  1. Lived experience as a criterion of meaning.
  2. The use of dialogue in assessing knowledge claims.
  3. The ethic of caring.
  4. The ethic of personal accountability.
  1. Shardé Davis appeals to Collins’ description of the strong Black woman controlling image, which is “a socially constructed ideal that oppresses Black women by celebrating our attempts to meet impossible expectations of strength at all times.”
  1. Women as a marginalized group.
    1. Standpoint theorists see important differences between men and women that affect their communication.
  1. These differences are a result of cultural expectations and the treatment that each group receives from the other.
  2. Culture is not experienced identically by all members of society because of inequities.
  1. An intersection of minority positions creates a highly looked down-upon location in the social hierarchy.
  2. Collins refers to these intersecting dimensions of privilege as a matrix of domination.
  1. Knowledge from nowhere versus local knowledge.
  1. People at the top of the societal hierarchy have the power to define others.
  2. Standpoint theorists believe that those who define a field shape the picture of the world that emerges from that field.
  3. This view contrasts sharply with the claim that “truth” is value-free and accessible to any objective observer.
  4. Harding and other standpoint theorists insist there is no possibility of an unbiased perspective that is disinterested, impartial, value-free, or detached from a particular historical situation.
  5. She does not want to abandon the search for reality; she simply believes that the search should begin from the lives of those in the underclass.
  1. Like all knowledge, the perspectives arising from the standpoint of women or any other minority are partial or situated knowledge.
  2. However, standpoint theorists believe that the perspectives of marginalized groups are more complete and thus better than those of privileged groups in a society.
  1. Strong objectivity: Less partial views from standpoints at the margins.
  1. Harding emphasizes that it’s the perspective generalized from women’s lives that provides a preferred standpoint from which to begin research.
  1. She calls this approach “strong objectivity.”
  2. By contrast, knowledge generated from the standpoint of dominant groups offers only “weak objectivity.”
  1. Wood offers two reasons why the standpoints of women and other marginalized groups are less partial, distorted, and false than those of men in dominant positions.
  1. Marginalized people have more motivation to understand the perspective of the powerful than vice versa.
  2. Marginalized people have little reason to defend the status quo.
  1. They believe a feminist standpoint is an achievement gained through critical reflection on power relations.
  1. Theory to practice: communication research based on women’s lives.
  1. Wood’s study of caregiving in the United States exemplifies research that starts from the lives of women.
  2. Davis contends that the opposing, gender-based privileges and restraints creates an even more acute struggle for Black women who are caregivers (as compared to white women).
  3. Wood suggests that a standpoint approach is practical to the extent that it generates an effective critique of unjust practices.
  1. Ethical reflection: Fricker’s Epistemic Injustice
  1. Society assigns greater worth to some knowers than it does to others.
  2. Miranda Fricker refers to epistemic injustice as the harm resulting from that bias, and believes it’s a serious ethical problem.
  3. Testimonial injustice occurs when prejudice on the hearer’s part causes them to give the speaker less credibility than they would otherwise have given.
  4. Hermeneutical injustice occurs when people participate unequally in the practices through which social meanings are generated.
  5. Epistemic injustice is tackled through reflecting on one’s biases and addressing broader social structures and systems.
  1. Critique: Can standpoint theory be misused?
  1. Communication scholars insist that our understanding of people will be incomplete unless we seriously consider social locations beyond the white, male, heterosexual, nondisabled, socioeconomically comfortable norm.
  2. They also believe serious reckoning with power differences must lead to societal reform to end oppression.
  3. John McWhorter, a Black professor of English at Columbia University, is concerned that some people use standpoint theory’s logic oppressively.
  4. Other critics see the concept of strong objectivity as inherently contradictory, since it seems to appeal to universal standards of judgment
  5. Standpoint theory energizes Idaho State University rhetorician Lynn Worsham and others in the theory’s broad community of agreement who believe that minority standpoints can be a partial corrective to the biased knowledge that now passes for truth.

Chapter 30Muted Group Theory


  1. Introduction.
  1. To Cheris Kramarae, language is a man-made construction.
  2. Women’s words and thoughts are discounted in our society.
  3. When women try to overcome this inequity, the masculine control of communication places them at a disadvantage.
  4. Women are a muted group because man-made language aids in defining, depreciating, and excluding them.
  1. Muted groups: Black holes in someone else’s universe.
  1. Anthropologist Edwin Ardener first proposed that women are a muted group.
  2. He noted that many ethnographers claimed to have “cracked the code” of a culture without referencing female speech.
  3. He and Shirley Ardener discovered that mutedness is caused by the lack of power that besets any group of low status.
  4. Mutedness doesn’t mean that low-power groups are completely silent. The issue is whether people can say what they want to say when and where they want to say it.
  5. He claimed that muted groups are “black holes” because they are overlooked, muffled, and rendered invisible.
  6. Kramarae argues that the ever-prevalent public/private distinction in language is a convenient way to exaggerate gender differences and pose separate sexual spheres of activity.
  1. The masculine power to name experience.
  1. Kramarae’s basic assumption is that women perceive the world differently from men because of women’s and men’s different experiences and activities rooted in the division of labor.
  2. Kramarae argues that because of their political dominance, men’s system of perception is dominant, impeding the free expression of women’s alternative models of the world.
  3. Men’s control of the dominant mode of expression has produced a vast stock of derogatory, gender-specific terms to refer to women’s speech.
  4. There are also more words to describe sexually promiscuous women than men.
  5. The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis suggests that muted women may come to doubt the validity of their experiences and the legitimacy of their feelings.
  1. Men as the gatekeepers of communication.
  1. Even if the public mode of expression contained a rich vocabulary to describe feminine experience, women would still be muted if their modes of expression were ignored or ridiculed.
  1. Kramarae points out that both the law and the conventions of proper etiquette have served men well.
  2. Kramarae observes that most gatekeepers are men—a “good ole boys” cultural establishment that historically has excluded women’s art, poetry, plays, film scripts, public address, and scholarly essays.
  3. Mainstream communication is “malestream” expression.
  1. Authors such as Virginia Woolf and Dorothy Smith have argued that women have not been given their rightful place in history. 
  2. Many women have suppressed their feminine identity to satisfy the demands of a male gatekeeper.
  3. To some extent, Kramarae thinks advances in technology create new spaces where women can make their voices heard.
  4. But tech executive Eli Pariser notes that these programs are likely to “simply reflect the social mores of the culture they’re processing.”
  5. Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg believes technology won’t reflect the interests of female users until we have more women in technology fields.
  6. Sufiya Umoja Noble calls attention to algorithmic oppression, i.e., the bias encoded in social media and search engines that favors dominant groups and oppresses marginalized groups.
  1. Speaking women’s truth in men’s talk: The problem of translation.
  1. Kramarae believes that in order to participate in society, women must transform their own models in terms of the received male system of expression.
  2. This translation process requires constant effort and leaves women wondering if they said it right.
  3. According to Kramarae, women have to choose their words carefully in public forums.
  1. Speaking out in private: Networking with women.
  1. Kramarae believes that females are likely to find ways to express themselves outside the dominant public modes of expression used by males.
  2. She labels women’s outlets the female “sub-version” that runs beneath the surface of male orthodoxy.
  3. She is convinced that “males have more difficulty than females understanding what members of the other gender mean” because they haven’t made the effort.
  4. Dale Spender hypothesizes that men realize that listening to women would involve a renunciation of their privileged position.
  1. Enriching the lexicon: A feminist dictionary.
  1. The ultimate goal of muted group theory is to change the man-made linguistic system that oppresses women including challenging sexist dictionaries.
  2. Traditional dictionaries pose as authoritative guides to proper language use, but because of their reliance on male literary sources, lexicographers systematically exclude words coined by women.
  3. Kramarae and Paula Treichler have compiled a feminist dictionary that offers definitions for women’s words that don’t appear in Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary and presents alternative feminine readings of words that do.
  1. Sexual harassment: Coining a term to label experience.
  1. The popularization of the term sexual harassment represents a great victory for feminist communication scholarship—encoding women’s experience into the received language of society.
  2. Although unwanted sexual attention is not new, until recently it went unnamed.
  3. The battle over sexual harassment is as much a struggle over language as it is over sexual conduct.
  1. Communication professor Ann Burnett (North Dakota State University) identifies similar confusion and powerlessness regarding date rape—an acute form of sexual harassment often directed at college women.
  2. Uncertainty favors men—and mutes women—before, during, and after date rape.
  1. Critique: Do men mean to mute?
  1. Feminist scholars insist that “the key communication activities of women’s experiences—their rituals, vocabularies, metaphors, and stories—are an important part of the data for study.”
  2. The theory has inspired many scholars to take the voices of women and other muted groups seriously.
  3. Few other interpretive theories in this book can claim such wide-ranging support and enthusiasm.
  4. Steeped in the critical tradition, muted group theory is exceedingly candid about trying to clarify values.
  5. So, can men be members of a muted group? Kramarae’s answer is yes, especially if those men identify with another marginalized group, such as the economically disadvantaged or an ethnic minority.
  6. Kramarae acknowledges that oppression is more complex than identification with any one group.
  7. Her perspective on men’s motives is contested by scholars such as Tannen.
  8. Kramarae thinks Tannen’s apology for men’s abuse of power is too simple.

Chapter 31Media Ecology


  1. Introduction.
  1. Ecologists study the environment, how people interact with it, and the way these interactions result in change.
  2. Media ecologists study media environments, seeking to understand how people interact with media and how those interactions shape our culture and our daily experiences.
  3. Marshall McLuhan believed that media should be understood ecologically.
  4. Dennis Cali defines media ecology as “the study of the interrelationship of people, media, culture, and consciousness, and of the changes that occur among them.”
  5. Media ecology aims to equip us with a new ability to step back and see our media environment in a different light.
  1. The medium is the message.
  1. McLuhan was thinking about a much bigger, grander picture than which channel you use to send a greeting; he focused on the overall environment created by the communication medium.
  2. When McLuhan said, "the medium is the message," he wanted us to see that media—regardless of content—reshape human experience and exert far more change in our world than the sum total of all the messages they contain.
  3. McLuhan was convinced that when we consider the cultural influence of media, we are usually misled by the illusion of content (or messages).
  4. We focus on the content and overlook the medium—even though content doesn’t exist outside of the way it’s mediated.
  5. “The medium is the message” isn’t a claim about whether you’d prefer to catch up with a friend through email or phone or whether you’d rather watch a movie than play a video game. It’s a claim about the pervasive, unavoidable effect of media on how we perceive the world—much greater than the effect of any message.
  1. Symbolic environments that alter the senses
  1. Any understanding of social and cultural change is impossible without a knowledge of the way media work as symbolic environments.
  2. That phrase refers to the socially constructed, sensory world of meanings that in turn shapes our perceptions, experiences, attitudes, and behavior.
  3. McLuhan believed communication technology extends our central nervous system—a complex network of nerves that transmits signals from the environment.
  4. Communication technology reconfigures our symbolic environment by enabling us to sense things we otherwise could not.
  5. All symbolic environments are inherently intangible and interrelated.
  1. Invisibility of environments.
  1. We have trouble recognizing “the way media work as environments’ because we’re so immersed in them.
  2. We need to focus on our everyday experience of technology—experiences that are so common we don’t think much about them.
  3. A medium shapes us because we partake of it over and over until it becomes an extension of ourselves.
  4. It’s the ordinariness of media that makes them invisible.
  5. When a new medium enters society, there is a period of time in which we are aware of its novelty. But when it fades into the background of our lives, we become vulnerable to its patterns—its environmental influence.
  1. Complexity of environments.
  1. Research on media ecology is rather sparse because it takes up the challenge of trying to understand the interplay between all of these things in a culture that changes at blazing speed.  
  2. McLuhan believed that it took a special ability to be able to stand back from the action and take in the big picture. 
  3. One way McLuhan tried to gain a broader perspective was by stepping outside the moment and considering all of human history.
  1. A media analysis of symbolic environments throughout human history.
  1. McLuhan divided all human history into four periods, or epochs—a tribal age, a literate age, a print age, and an electronic age.
  1. In each case the world was wrenched from one era into the next because new developments in media technology altered the nature of our senses.
  2. McLuhan believed the transitions (shaded in gray in Figure 31-1) took 300 to 400 years to complete.
  1. The tribal age: An acoustic place in history.
  1. The senses of hearing, touch, taste, and smell were more advanced than visualization. McLuhan wrote about the “sensory balance” of the tribal age—a delicate balance and harmony of all the senses despite the high importance of hearing in an age where most of the important information was acoustic and needed to be heard.
  2. McLuhan claimed that “primitive” people led richer and more complex lives than their literate descendants because the ear, unlike the eye, encourages a more holistic sense of the world.
  3. People acted with more passion and spontaneity.
  1. The age of literacy: A visual point of view.
  1. In an acoustic environment, taking something out of context is nearly impossible. In the age of literacy, it’s a reality. Both writer and reader are always separated from the text.
  2. Literacy moved people from collective tribal involvement into “civilized” private detachment.
  3. Even though the words may be the same, the act of reading a text is an individual one.
  4. Literacy encouraged logical, linear thinking, and fostered mathematics, science, and philosophy.
  5. When oppressed people learned to read, they became independent thinkers.
  1. The print age: Prototype of the Industrial Revolution.
  1. McLuhan argued that the most important aspect of movable type was its ability to reproduce the same text over and over again.
  2. Because the print revolution demonstrated mass production of identical products, McLuhan called it the forerunner of the industrial revolution.
  3. The development of fixed national languages produced nationalism.
  4. Concurring with this new sense of unification was a countering sense of separation and aloneness.
  1. The electronic age: The rise of the global village.
  1. McLuhan believed that the electronic media retribalized the human race.
  2. We now live in a symbolic environment of instant communication, which returns us to the pre-alphabetic oral tradition where sound and touch are more important than sight.
  3. Closed human systems no longer exist.
  4. Privacy is either a luxury or a curse of the past.
  1. The digital age? A wireless global village.
  1. The mass age of electronic media is becoming increasingly personalized.
  2. Instead of mass consciousness, which McLuhan viewed rather favorably, we have the emergence of a tribal warfare mentality.
  3. Media scholar Brian Ott claims Twitter has altered the nature of public discourse by demanding simplicity, promoting impulsivity, and fostering incivility.
  1. Ethical reflection: Postman’s Faustian bargain.
    1. Neil Postman believed that the forms of media regulate and even dictate what kind of content the form of a given medium can carry.
    2. Unlike McLuhan, Postman believed that the primary task of media ecology is to make moral judgments.
    3. New technology always presents us with a Faustian bargain—a potential deal with the devil.
    4. Postman believed whatever advantages TV offers are more than offset by the fact that it has led to the loss of serious public discourse.
    5. Postman feared that virtual interaction may sabotage the kind of intimacy that only comes by being in the physical presence of others.
  1. Critique: An unconventional thinker ahead of his time.
  1. In McLuhan’s intentional breaking of the rules, there is artistry; his writing contains pithy insights that challenge our assumptions about media and culture.
  2. The aesthetic appeal of his work captures the attention of both scholars and everyday people.
  3. Today, with several decades of hindsight, McLuhan sounds eerily prophetic.
  4. Both the criticism of his detractors and the praise of his fans demonstrate that McLuhan has shaken up our understanding of people.
  5. He didn’t clarify the values that undergird his theory.
  6. He also seemed uninterested in challenging the values that shape the development of communication technology.
  7. Just as there has been a community of disagreement that denounces McLuhan, there is also a widespread community of agreement that celebrates and continues his work.
  8. Passionate members of the Media Ecology Association use qualitative research to consider the possible cultural effects of new media technologies.

Chapter 32Context Collapse


  1. Introduction.
  1. Technology destroys the boundaries between contexts.
  2. The blurring of contextual boundaries especially happens on social networking platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
  3. Boyd and Marwick use the term “context collapse” to describe how technology flattens multiple audiences into one.
  4. Members of marginalized or stigmatized communities may especially struggle with performing an identity that is acceptable across all contexts reached by technology.
  5. In one sense, crossing contextual boundaries isn’t new, but context collapse via social media ramps that up to a much higher degree.
  6. Communication technology is more than a hammer that knocks a hole in the wall between two contexts; it’s a bomb that can turn all contextual walls to dust.
  7. boyd and Marwick’s theory explores how communication technology does this, explains why social media alters how we think about our identities, and describes strategies people use to navigate it all.
  1. Technological features that collapse contexts
  1. In describing context collapse, boyd and Marwick draw from the insights of communication scholar Joshua Meyrowitz.
  2. In 1985—before the creation of web browsers in the early 1990s and well before the social media revolution of the 2000s—Meyrowitz described the plight of public speakers in the television broadcast age.
  1. He pointed particularly to the example of Stokely Carmichael, a civil rights leader in the mid-twentieth century.
  2. When speaking in an auditorium, sanctuary, or lecture hall, Carmichael adapted his style to his audience, using either Caucasian American or African American language and mannerisms depending on who was in the crowd.
  3. Broadcast television brings vast, diverse audiences together through a medium that lacks immediate feedback.
  4. The television camera collapsed otherwise separate contexts into a single communicative space.
  5. It amplified the reach of Carmichael’s message, but also made his identity so much more difficult to perform.
  1. Today, many people have access to Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, or other technologies that connect us to far-flung audiences.
  2. boyd and Marwick are convinced social media makes context collapse much more common and powerful.
  3. They point to the affordances of the technology, or characteristics of technology design that encourage (and discourage) actions.
  4. boyd identifies six affordances of modern communication technology that roll our social groups into one big audience.
  1. Persistence. What’s posted online stays online—seemingly forever.
  2. Scalability. “Often the funny, the crude, the embarrassing, the mean, and the bizarre” tend to circulate rapidly through social media.
  3. Searchability. Wherever and whenever things happened, you can search for them.
  4. Profiles. To use many sites, you need to create a profile that contains information for other users to view.
  5. Networks. The ability to build visible connections with other users is the heart of platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
  6. Feeds. When you open many social media apps, you’re greeted with a stream of information.
  1. According to boyd and her colleague Nicole Ellison, those last three affordances are particularly crucial.
  2. In combination, they are the recipe for social networking sites—platforms with unique user profiles, publicly viewable connections between users, and streams of user-generated content.
  3. Scholars use the term social media as a more general phrase that refers not only to social networking sites, but also to any platform that shares user-generated content.
  4. Offline, boundaries of time and space tend to separate our social groups.
  5. The affordances of persistence, scalability, searchability, profiles, networks, and streams are the dynamite that demolishes the walls of those boxes.
  6. As context collapses, it becomes harder to perform your identity for all audiences at the same time.
  1. Performing identity frontstage and backstage
  1. Erving Goffman described social interaction as a dramaturgical performance, divided between the frontstage and the backstage.
  2. The frontstage is analogous to Mead’s me where performances are carefully managed to satisfy the audience.
  3. The backstage is analogous to Mead’s I where performances are less tidy and more authentic.
  1. Invisible and imagined audiences
  1. The theory of context collapse claims that a public post is a giant frontstage. What’s more, it’s a frontstage where the performer often can’t see who is viewing the performance.
  2. Someone might like, favorite, or comment on a post, revealing themselves as a member of the audience, while others will lurk in the background and not respond in any detectable way.
  3. boyd refers to this as the invisible audience.
  4. According to Marwick and boyd, when people can’t be certain who is in the audience, they imagine the audience.
  5. The imagined audience may not correspond to the actual invisible audience.
  6. Goffman warned, “the impression of reality fostered by a performance is a delicate, fragile thing that can be shattered by minor mishaps.”
  7. Context collapse scholars have devoted focused attention to how people with marginalized or stigmatized identities navigate social media.
  8. Stefanie Duguay identifies two overarching approaches to navigating the reality of context collapse. They are not exclusive; people can and do use several at the same time.
    1. Strategy 1: Tailoring performances to please the audience.
  1. When people engage in tailoring performances on social media, they seek to execute a performance suitable for all audiences.
  2. Self-censorship.     
  1. Some people handle context collapse by choosing their words very carefully.
  2. This is also referred to as the lowest common denominator approach.
  1. Monitoring and scrubbing information. 
  1. The very nature of social media is that it is social.
  2. That means our identity performance also depends on other people supporting the role we are trying to play.
  1. Balanced presentation.
  1. Because different audiences are interested in different things, some people make sure they post about a variety of topics.
  2. This is particularly important for those whose social media use mixes personal and business concerns.
  1. Encoded signals
  1. Some people communicate in a way that sends a subtle message recognizable to specific groups but goes over the heads of the general audience.
  2. A community could recognize it while others dismiss it. 
    1. Strategy 2: Segmenting audiences to avoid context collapse.
  1. Performing identity for a diverse and invisible audience can be tough. Some people avoid that challenge by trying to control the size and scope of the audience and rebuilding the walls between contexts.
  2. Privacy settings
  1. Social networking sites have extensive settings that allow savvy users to limit the audience for content.
  2. Jessica Vitak found that those with larger and more diverse Facebok networks made greater use of the site’s privacy settings.
  1. Limiting connections
  1. You may not need privacy settings if you never establish a social network tie with someone in the first place.
  2. If you regret forming a social media connection, unfriending or blocking cuts people out of the audience.
  1. Secondary profiles and alternate accounts
  1. Some people create a secondary account known only to close friends.
  2. In Goffman’s terms, it’s a backstage place for authentic identity performance in contrast to the frontstage Instagram account followed by a wider variety of people.
  1. Different audiences on different social media
  1. Some social media afford greater privacy than others.
  2. Because Snapchat involves quickly disappearing messages and Reddit involves anonymous user handles, they could facilitate backstage performances in a way that other platforms do not.
  1. Private messaging.
  1. Most major social media platforms afford users the ability to send a private message to a specific person.
  2. It’s like pulling them out of the frontstage crowd in order to have a backstage conversation in a side room.
  1. Critique: Whose interests does context collapse serve?
  1. A good interpretive theory pushes us to reconsider things we have taken for granted and context collapse does that.
  2. It offers new understanding of what people are doing when they post on social media; they’re performing their identity.
  3. The theory has earned a broad community of agreement among scholars in several disciplines.
  4. Although qualitative research forms the core of most context collapse studies, the community includes quantitative researchers who have gathered statistical evidence to support the theory’s claims.
  5. The aesthetic appeal of context collapse articles exceeds the norm for academic journals as scholars vividly describe the tensions, challenges, and opportunities of digitized life.
  6. Some of the most recent work considers reform of society by highlighting how members of co-cultural groups particularly struggle with online identity performance.
  7. Although context collapse provides novel insight into what’s happening online, it could go further in clarifying the values behind the development and refinement of these technologies.
  8. Brooke Erin Duffy critiques the ideological forces that glamorize social media, particularly for those who want to make a living from it.
  9. Aspirational labor involves the work of social media influencer hopefuls who produce media content for free in the hope of the future payoff.
  10. Duffy doesn’t think it’s an accident that many aspiring social media laborers are female.
  11. In addition to gendered labor expectations, social media facilitates a broader shift to a gig economy where people receive pay for one-time jobs rather than ongoing employment.
  12. Laborers experience unrelenting pressure to develop and refine self-branding which Marwick defines as “a series of marketing strategies applied to the individual… a way of thinking about the self as a salable commodity that can tempt a potential employer.”
  13. The affordances of communication technology can collapse many contexts into one.
  14. It would be a shame if they also collapsed our understanding of human value to the number of likes, comments, and retweets a person can generate.   

Chapter 33Semiotics


  1. Introduction.
  1. The goal of semiotics is interpreting both verbal and nonverbal signs.
  2. Roland Barthes held the Chair of Literary Semiology at the College of France.
  3. In Mythologies, he sought to decipher the cultural meaning of visual signs, particularly those perpetuating dominant social values.
  4. Semiology is concerned with anything that can stand for something else.
  5. Barthes is interested in signs that are seemingly straightforward, but subtly communicate ideological or connotative meaning.
  1. Wrestling with signs.
  1. Ferdinand de Saussure coined the term semiology to refer to the study of signs.
  2. A sign is the combination of its signifier and signified.
  1. The signifier is the image; the signified is the concept.
  2. In Barthes’ terms, the signifier isn’t the sign of the signified—rather the sign is the combination of signifier and signified, which are united in an inseparable bond.
  3. These distinctions come from Saussure.
  4. The relationship between the signifier and the signified in a verbal sign is arbitrary.
  5. The relationship between the signifier and the signified in a nonverbal sign is based on affinity and labelled a denotative sign.
  1. A sign does not stand on its own: it is part of a system.
  1. Barthes initially described his semiotic theory as an explanation of myth.
  2. He later substituted the term connotation to label ideological overtones that signs carry wherever they go.
  3. Significant semiotic systems create myths that affirm the status quo as natural, inevitable, and eternal.
  1. COVID-19 mask: From protection of community to threat to individual freedom.
  1. Not all sign systems are mythic.
  2. Mythic or connotative systems are second-order semiological systems built off preexisting denotative sign systems.
  3. Within mythic systems, the sign of the first system becomes the signifier of the second.
  4. The concrete example of mask wearing illustrates Barthes’ position.
  5. At first, a symbol for medical personal protective gear shifts to politicized statement.
  1. The making of myth: The sign of its history.
  1. The shift from “protection of community” to “a threat to individual freedom” followed a typical semiotic pattern.
  2. Every ideological sign is the result of two interconnected sign systems.
  3. The first system is strictly descriptive as the signifier image and the signified concept combine to produce the denotative sign.
  4. The second system appropriates the sign of the denotative system and makes it the signifier of the connotative system. 
  5. This lateral shift transforms a neutral sign into an ideological tool.
  1. The signifier of the denotative sign system is the image of COVID-19 mask in the mind of the person who sees it or puts it on.
  2. The content of the signifier includes the virus, the community of self and others at risk, and the protective fabric. The mask speaks for itself.
  3. The corresponding denotive sign is “protection of community.”
  4. Subsequent usage takes over the sign of the denotative system and makes it the signifier of a secondary connotative sign system.
  5. As a mask of protection is appropriated to support the deep-seated conviction of American individualism, the sign loses its historic grounding.
  1. In service of the mythic semiotic sign system, the mask becomes empty and timeless, form without substance.
  1. Unmasking the myth of absolute free choice
  1. Only those with semiotic savvy can spot the hollowness of connotative signs.
  2. Throughout his life, Roland Barthes deciphered and labeled the ideologies foisted upon naive consumers of images.
  1. Mythic signs don’t explain, defend, or raise questions.
  2. The connotative spin always ends up the same.
  3. Mythic signs always reinforce dominant cultural values.
  1. Ideological signs enlist support for the status quo by transferring history into nature—pretending that current conditions are the natural order of things.
  1. The semiotics of mass communication: “I’d like to be like Mike.”
  1. Because signs are integral to mass communication, Barthes’ semiotic analysis has become an essential media theory.
  2. Kyong Kim argues that “the mass signification arising in response to signs… is an artificial effect calculated to achieve something else.”
  3. Advertisements on television create layers of connotation that reaffirm the status quo.
  1. Critique: Do mythic signs always reaffirm the status quo?
  1. Roland Barthes’ semiotics fulfills five of the criteria of a good interpretive theory exceedingly well: New understanding of people, aesthetic appeal, qualitative analysis, proposal for reforming society, and clarification of values.
  2. While widely cited internationally, the majority of communication scholars in the United States ignore the field of semiotics and the work of its central theorists such as Barthes; thus it receives mixed reviews on the standard of community of agreement.
  3. There are questions about Barthes’ view that all connotative systems uphold the values of the dominant class; one example is the sign of taking a knee, using to protest racial injustice in the United States.
  4. Barthes’ semiotic approach to imagery remains a core theoretical perspective for communication scholars, particularly those who emphasize media and culture.

Chapter 34Cultural Studies


  1. Introduction - Critical theorists such as Stuart Hall question the narrow, quantitative, and scientific focus of mainstream communication research on media influence.
  1. Cultural studies versus media studies: An ideological difference.
  1. Hall believed that the mass media maintain the dominance of the powerful and exploit the poor and powerless.
  2. Empirical researchers represent their work as pure science with no presuppositions, but every media theory by its very nature has ideological content.
  3. Ideology is defined as “the mental frameworks – the languages, the concepts, categories, imagery of thought, and the representation – which different classes and social groups deploy in order to make sense of, define, figure out and render intelligible the way society works.”
  4. Most of us are unaware of our ideologies and the tremendous impact they can have on our lives.
  5. Mainstream U.S. mass communication research ignores the power struggle that the media mask.
  6. To avoid academic compartmentalization, Hall preferred the term cultural studies to media studies.
  7. Articulate means both speaking out against oppression and linking that subjugation with the communication media.
  8. He said the effort to jar people loose from their entrenched power positions often requires harsh words.
  9. Since one of Hall’s stated aims was to unmask the power imbalances within society, he said the cultural studies approach is valid if it “deconstructs” the current structure of a media research establishment that fails to deal with ideology.
  10. Hall was suspicious of any cultural analysis that ignores power relationships.
  11. Hall believed the purpose of theory and research is to empower people who are marginalized in order to change the world.
  1. Hegemony: Marxism without guarantees.
  1. Hall is strongly influenced by Marxist thought, though he sees the hard line of economic determinism as an oversimplification.
  2. He adopted a theoretical approached he referred to as “Marxism without guarantees.”
  3. Hall uses the term hegemony to refer to already accepted interpretations of reality that keep society’s haves in power over its have-nots.
  4. He emphasizes that media hegemony is not a conscious plot, it’s not overtly coercive, and its effects are not total.
  5. The broadcast and print media present a variety of ideas, but then they tend to prop up the status quo by privileging the already-accepted interpretation of reality.
  6. The result is that the role of mass media turns out to be production of consent rather than a reflection of consensus that already exists.
  7. Hall believed that the consent-making function of the mass media is to convince readers and viewers that they share the same interests as those who hold the reins of power.
  1. Encoding/ decoding: A model of hegemony’s subtle way.
  1. In a capitalistic society, the rich and powerful own and rule most media corporations.
  2. Hall has no doubt that production of news is immersed within the dominant culture.
  3. News producers (including reporters, photographers, writers, and editors) are active in encoding the media message and consumers of that message are active in decoding it.
  4. Since meanings can always be contested, Hall didn’t see a good fit between the intended or preferred meaning of the news shaped within the dominant culture and the acquired interpretations of consumers who aren’t members of the dominant class.
  5. Encoding the news.
  1. Hall saw corporate clout as only one reason broadcast and print journalism support the status quo.
  2. Over an eight year period, Herbert Gans of Columbia University conducted a content analysis of newscasts at CBS and NBC along with the coverage of two news magazines—Newsweek and Time.
  3. He discovered multiple values, procedures, and publishing realities that ensure their stories favor people who already have power, fame, and fortune. Those factors include sources of news, individualism, ethnocentrism, the democratic process, and objectivity.
  1. Sources of news: The bulk of broadcast and print news comes from those who already have power.
  2. Individualism: Americans value individual effort and news stories are usually framed around a single person who is powerful, wealthy, and has a vested interest in the status quo.
  3. Ethnocentrism: Like reporters in other nations, U.S. journalists value their own country over others. They don’t want the United States to look bad. 
  4. Democratic processes: Reporters are committed to democracy, so they frame every election in terms of a simplistic “who won or lost?” dichotomy rather than the complexity of the issues.
  5. Objectivity: Most journalists have a strong commitment to report the news without bias—objective reporting of facts without taking sides. This gives the impression that every position is equally valid.
  1. Decoding the media message.
  1. The fact that the media present a preferred interpretation of human events is no reason to assume that the audience will correctly “take in” the offered ideology.
  2. There are three ways to decode a message.
  1. Dominant-hegemonic practice. The media produces the message; the masses consume it.
  2. Negotiational practice. The audience assimilates the leading ideology in general but opposes its application in specific cases.            
  3. Oppositional practice. The audience sees through the establishment bias in the media presentation and mounts an organized effort to demythologize the news.
  1. Although Hall had trouble believing the powerless can change the system, he respects the ability of people to resist the dominant code.
  2. He was determined to do everything he could to expose and alter the media’s structuring of reality.
  3. James Anderson (University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign) and Amie Kincaid (University of Illinois, Springfield) point out the paradox of satire that is used by Stephen Colbert on his television show.
  4. His very exposure and reiteration of the dominant ideology may make it more acceptable.
  5. Without naming a viable alternative, the dominant ideology will have no rival and seem to be natural.
  6. All of this suggests that while hegemony is never total, effective resistance is never easy.
  1. Cultural studies research: Policing the crisis.
  1. Hall doubted social scientists’ ability to find useful answers to important questions about media influence.
  2. Hall’s qualitative research relied on ethnography, interviews, and especially the content analysis of how British newspapers covered a specific type of crime—“mugging.”
  1. Hegemony and counter-hegemony in popular culture.
  1. The scope of Hall’s cultural studies extends far beyond newspapers and television.
  2. He saw cultural industries such as art, architecture, music, movies, sports, fashion design, smartphones, fiction, video games and other producers of entertainment as having the power to either reproduce or resist the dominant ideology.
  3. Janelle Applequist recounts how Disney princess films have had a hegemonic influence on what the ideal woman should look like but notes that Disney’s Frozen changes the script.
  4. Although many intellectuals dismiss the study of popular culture as frivolous, Hall saw it as a key site where the struggle for power between the haves and the have-nots takes place.
  1. Ethical reflection: Larry Frey’s communication activism for social justice.
  1. Social justice activism is based on an identification and solidarity with oppressed, marginalized, and under-resourced communities.
  2. Larry Frey says action to address these wrongs starts with a social justice sensibility—the ethical conviction that “none of us is truly free while others of us are oppressed.”
  3. But according to Frey, most current cultural studies scholars have turned to merely gazing with interest at cultural phenomena. They ignore any attempt to meaningfully intervene to aid those trapped in the cultural systems that Hall described.
  4. The ethical mandate of communication activism for social justice insists we act to change structural conditions and attempt to make the world more just.
  5. Frey and Mara Adelman used their communication skills at the Bonaventure House, a residential home for people with AIDS.
  1. Critique: Your judgment may depend on your ideology.
  1. Although the label “cultural studies” describes the work of a wide range of communication and sociological scholars, Stuart Hall comes the closest to being the founder or godfather of this critical interpretive approach.
  2. Perhaps more than any other theorist covered in this book, he sought to change the world.
  3. Hall was critical of scholars who didn’t realize—or didn’t reveal—their value commitments.
  1. Many communications scholars question the wisdom of performing scholarship under an ideological banner.
  2. To some, the strong ideological component inherent in cultural studies limits its credibility.
  1. Students first reading a typical Stuart Hall monograph may find it daunting, both in clarity and in style. As for style, Cliff Christians is lavish in his praise. “His essay, like the Taj Mahal, is an artistic masterpiece inviting a pilgrimage.”
  2. His book, Policing the Crisis, is a classic piece of qualitative research.
  3. The field of cultural studies, where Stuart Hall was a prime mover, is a rich place to gain new understanding of what people think, do, and value.
  4. Hall enjoys a widespread community of agreement for his pioneering work.

Chapter 35Uses and Gratifications


  1. Introduction.
  1. Instead of asking, “What do media do to people?” Katz flipped the question around to ask, “What do people do with media?”
  2. The theory attempts to make sense of the fact that people consume an array of media messages for all sorts of reasons, and the effect of a given message is unlikely to be the same for everyone.
  3. The driving mechanism of media use is need gratification.
  4. Understanding the need(s) helps to explain the reasons and the effects of media usage.
  5. Five key assumptions underlie the theory of uses and gratifications.
  1. Assumption 1: People use media for their own particular purposes.
  1. The study of how media affect people must take account of the fact that people deliberately use media for particular purposes; this is Katz’s fundamental assumption.
  2. Audiences are not passive; they decide which media they want to use and what effects they want the media to have.
  3. Uses and gratifications theory emphasizes that media choices are personal and can change over time.
  4. Exposure to media messages do not affect everyone in the same way, but fulfill different purposes at different times.
    1. The uniform effects model of media proposes that media messages have the same effect on everyone in the audience.
    2. Uses and gratifications theory rejects this image and replaces it with one of free choice based on individual yearnings at particular times.
  1. Research by Robert Plomin discovered that genetics accounted for as much as 25% of the variance in media use.
  2. We may have a genetic predisposition to be attracted to given media but the active choice we make cannot be accounted for by DNA.
  1. Assumption 2: People seek to gratify needs.
  1. People have needs that they seek to gratify through media use.
  2. The deliberate choices people make in using media are presumably based on the gratifications they seek from those media.
  3. There is not a straight-line effect where a specific effect on behavior can be predicted from media content alone, with no consideration of the consumer.
  4. The key to understanding media depends on which needs a person satisfies when selecting a media message.
  1. Assumption 3: Media compete for our attention and time.
  1. Different media compete with each other for your time as well as other activities that don’t involve media exposure.
  2. The notion that media compete for attention and time is only an initial step in understanding the choices people make. The more interesting question is why they make their choice of one option over another.
  3. The need that motivates media consumption must be identified in an effort to understand why people make the choices they do.
  1. Assumption 4: Media affect different people differently.
  1. Audiences are made up of people who are not identical.
  2. These differences determine the outcome or gratification a consumer receives.
  1. Assumption 5: People can accurately report their media use and motivation.
  1. If uses & gratifications theory was to have any future, researchers had to find a way to uncover the media that people consumed and the reasons they consumed it.
  2. To discover why people consume media, they must be asked.
  3. The controversial aspect of this measurement strategy is whether or not people are truly capable of discerning the reasons for their media consumption.
  4. Scholars have attempted to show that people’s reports of the reasons for their media consumption can be trusted, but this continues to be debated.
  1. A typology of uses and gratifications.
  1. For many decades, uses & grats researchers have compiled various lists of the motives people report, constructing a typology of major reasons for exposure to media.
  2. A typology is simply a classification scheme that attempts to sort a large number of specific instances into a more manageable set of categories.
  3. Rubin claims that his typology of eight motivations can account for most explanations people give for why they watch television.
  1. Passing time.
  2. Companionship.
  3. Escape.
  4. Enjoyment.
  5. Social interaction.
  6. Relaxation.
  7. Information.
  8. Excitement.
  1. These broad categories may not be mutually exclusive.
  2. Each category is relatively simplistic but can be further subdivided.
  3. Rubin claims that his typology captures most of the explanations people give for their media consumption.
  4. Researchers have argued for including habitual watching as a possible motive for media use.
  1. Parasocial relationships: Using media to have a fantasy friend.
  1. A parasocial relationship is a sense of friendship or emotional attachment that develops between TV viewers and media personalities. 
  2. Public figures often want to build parasocial relationships with followers.
  3. When a media personality appears in TV or movie scenes with a specific product brand, viewers rate the brand more positively if they have a parasocial relationship with the celebrity.
  4. While users gratify their desire for entertainment, public figures gratify their desire for fame, influence, and profit.
  1. A sampler of modern applications of uses & grats.
    1. Uses & grats is inspiring more research than almost any other theory in this book.
    2. It is being applied to various technologies on the twenty-first century media landscape.
      1. Glebatis Perks and Turner claim that podcasts meet listeners’ desires for content that is “fresher,” “more engaging,” and more customizable than what’s available in local radio markets.
      2. Spinda and Puckette found four uses and gratifications for sports fans’ use of Snapchat: ease and convenience, ability to get “behind the scenes,” the “vicarious experience,” and the “unique point of view.”
      3. Lee and Cho looked at five gratifications of fitness apps: recordability, network connections with other users, credible health information, easy to understand, and trendiness.
      4. Pires and colleagues identified five gratifications of YouTube users: using it like a radio, using it like a TV, creating your own content, making social connections, and taking advantage of educational opportunities.
    3. Scholars’ application of uses & grats helps identify how a technology fits into our menu of media choices and reveals new gratifications we hadn’t considered before.
  1. Critique: Heavy on description and light on prediction?
    1. One criticism of uses & grats is that its major contributions have avoided explanation and prediction in favor of merely describing how people use media.
    2. Sundar bemoans how uses & grats scholars have generated what seems like a never-ending list of descriptive typologies. Instead of thinking that people use media to satisfy a need that arises from within them, he believes that users are guided by the affordances of technology—the characteristics of technology design that encourage and discourage certain uses. He refers to this affordance-centered approach as version 2.0 of uses and gratifications.
    3. Some scholars adhere to Sundar’s 2.0 revision, while others continue to work from the original formulation of the theory.
    4. The propositions that people use media to gratify particular needs and that those needs can be succinctly described using eight categories seem relatively simple.
    5. Scholars question the theory’s testability based on whether or not people can accurately report the reasons for their media use.
    6. Uses & grats has generated a large body of quantitative research.

Chapter 36Cultivation Theory


  1. Introduction.
  1. George Gerbner claimed that because TV contains so much violence, people who spend the most time watching it develop an exaggerated belief in a mean and scary world.
  2. The violence they see on the screen can cultivate a social paranoia that counters notions of trustworthy people or safe surroundings.
  3. Gerbner was convinced that TV’s power comes from the symbolic content of the shows watched, binged, and rewatched.
  4. Video content dominates the environment of symbols, telling most of the stories, most of the time.
  5. Violence is a staple of the TV world.   
  6. Gerbner was concerned that violence affects viewers’ beliefs about the world around them and the feelings connected to those beliefs.
  7. Even if you avoid violent shows on the Netflix menu, that doesn’t mean you’re free from the effects of cultivation.
  8. Scholars have also used cultivation theory to examine how TV affects perceptions of the health risks of smoking, the popularity of various political positions, and beliefs about gender roles.  
  9. Although television has changed a lot since Gerbner began studying it, cultivation theory remains one of the most popular—yet controversial—theories of mass communication.
  1. Television then, television now.
  1. Television today is different in three key ways: it is recordable, mobile, and there many choices.
  2. As Gerbner surveyed the television industry of the twentieth century, he saw people watching the same shows, with the same people, at the same time.
  3. He created cultivation theory to explain a media world designed to “attract the largest possible audience by celebrating the moderation of the mainstream.”
  4. TV remains the most popular leisure time activity for Americans and, according to cultivation researchers, another key similarity is this: in both the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, much TV content revolves around violence.
  5. Think of cultivation as a three-prong plug, each is associated with a particular type of analysis that Gerbner considered a critical component in understanding the effects of television on viewers.
  1. “What’s on TV?”—The first prong.
  1. If television cultivates perceptions of social reality among viewers, it becomes essential to know exactly what messages TV transmits.
  2. Gerbner’s research involved quantitative content analysis which he referred to as message system analysis.
  3. From the late 1960s to the early 1990s, Gerbner’s Cultural Indicators Project analyzed the content of television shows. More recently, scholars at the Annenberg Public Policy Center extended and expanded this type of research with their Coding of Heath and Media Project (CHAMP), analyzing more than a half-century of television programming.
  4. Both Gerbner’s analysis and later CHAMP research were designed to uncover exactly how violence is depicted on TV.
  1. CHAMP’s definition of violence is “any intentional infliction of physical pain or harm on a character by another or the implication of intent to harm.”
  2. The definition includes cartoon violence but excludes verbal abuse, idle threats, slapstick, natural disasters, accidents, or sports.
  1. Researchers could determine the overall prevalence of violence on television.
  1. During Gerbner’s research, the annual index was remarkable stable and alarmingly high.
  2. CHAMP’s research has found that the prevalence of overall violence continued to increase until 2000, levelled off in 2011, and decreased afterward.
  1. Gerbner found inequality regarding the age, race, and gender of those on the receiving end of violence.
  1. Elderly people and children, ethnic minorities, and women were common targets.
  2. When in the script, they were made visible in order to be victims.
  3. But the trends are changing. Amy Bleakley used CHAMP data to analyze popular shows in the mid 2010s and found that involvement in violence didn’t differ by the character’s age, gender, or race.
  4. Instead, violence was common overall, with 54 percent of characters participating. 
  1. “How much does TV influence us?”-- The second prong.
  1. Most devotees of cultivation theory subscribe to the notion that message system analysis is the prerequisite to the next prong: cultivation analysis.
  2. Message system analysis deals with the content of TV; cultivation analysis deals with how TV’s content might influence viewers—particularly the viewers who spend lots of time glued to the screen.
  3. This is the part of the paradigm where most of the action takes place.
  4. Cultivation works like a magnetic field.
  1. Although the magnitude of TV’s influence is not the same for every viewer, all are affected by it.
  2. L. J. Shrum relies on the accessibility principle in explaining TV’s cultivating impact.
  3. This principle states that when people make judgments about the world around them, they rely on the smallest bits of information that come to mind most quickly—the information that is most accessible.
  4. For those who consume a lot of television, the most accessible information for making judgments is more likely to come from TV shows than from anywhere else.
  1. Mainstreaming: Blurring, blending, and bending of attitudes.
  1. Mainstreaming is Gerbner’s term for the process of “blurring, blending, and bending” that those with heavy viewing habits undergo.
  2. Gerbner illustrated the mainstreaming effect by showing how heavy TV viewers blur economic and political distinctions.
  3. TV glorifies the middle class, and those with heavy viewing habits assume the label, no matter what their income, and label themselves as political moderates.
  4. Even though those with heavy viewing habits call themselves moderates, Gerbner and his associates noted that their positions on social issues were decidedly conservative.
  5. The mainstream is not middle of the road— it’s skewed to the right.
  6. Resonance: The TV world looks like my world.  
  1. Gerbner thought the cultivating power of TV’s message would be especially strong over viewers who perceived that the world depicted on television was very much like their own.
  2. He described this resonance process as these viewers getting a “double dose” of the TV message.
  1. Surveys to measure the cultivational differential.
  1. Gerbner viewed the process as one that unfolds gradually through the steady accumulation of TV’s messages. Cultivation takes time.
  2. Gerbner turned to survey research, seeking to discover evidence of a cultivation differential, the “difference in the percent giving the ‘television answer’ within comparable groups of light and heavy viewers.”
  3. Two hours a day of television watching was the upper limit for a light viewer while he labeled heavy viewers as those who watched four hours or more.
  4. Gerbner’s comparisons between light and heavy viewers revealed some provocative findings.
  1. People with heavy TV viewing habits drastically overestimated criminal activity, believing it was 10 times worse that it really is.
  2. Heavy television viewers perceived higher activity of police.
  3. Those with heavy viewing habits were suspicious of other people’s motives.
  1. He called this cynical mindset the mean word syndrome.
  1. Cultivation effects are small and ambiguous.
  1. Most cultivation research today continues in the mold Gerbner established.
  2. In cultivation analysis, researchers have found a reusable tool for explaining a seemingly endless list of media effects.
  3. Cultivation analysis research suffers from two common problems.
  1. The first is small effect sizes. One meta-analysis on Gerbner’s work calculated the average correlation over 82 different studies to be significant but very small—less than 1 percent.
  2. The second problem with survey research is that it doesn’t provide definitive evidence that viewing TV causes fear of violence.  All we know is that TV viewing and fear go up and down together, but we can’t say why.
  1. “Who makes TV this way and why?”—The third prong.
  1. The third prong of the theory, institutional process analysis, tries to get behind the scenes of media organizations in an effort to understand what policies or practices might be lurking there.
  2. The centralized control of media content remains a reality in the twenty-first century.
  3. Media producers aren’t chiefly concerned with ethics, morality, diversity, or the greater good; they are interested in connecting audiences to advertisers and consumer products.
  4. Gerbner believed that media companies want to export content globally for maximum profit at minimal cost.
  5. Violence speaks a visual language that is universally understood.
  6. The third prong was deeply important to Gerbner, but it has inspired far less research than the other two prongs have.
  7. Traditionally, such questions of power have been the province of critical interpretive theories rather than objective theories.
  1. Critique: A simple idea that may need revision or retirement.
  1. Gerbner assumed that most heavy viewers watch similar content, that people consume TV passively, and that they view with other people in their household, often during prime time. He also assumed that TV content ignores minority groups in favor of the mainstream majority.
  2. Both assumptions many not hold up in the twenty-first century.
  3. If the theory’s assumptions no longer hold, that raises questions about its ability to predict and explain media use today.
  4. Some critics’ concerns about the theory’s testability may mean that further research will not clarify things.
  5. When both differences and lack of differences are interpreted as supporting the theory, the theory isn’t falsifiable.
  6. The theory’s relatively simple claims have generated much quantitative research.
  7. But when the theory is reduced to a basic association between viewing and attitudes, it loses the grand scope and potential for social change that Gerbner championed.
  8. Some critics point out that cultivation analysis would be stronger with experimental and longitudinal studies that provide clearer evidence for the cultivation differential.
  9. We would benefit from more recent message system analysis studies that examine what content appears on the internet and streaming services.
  10. The time is ripe for a revision of cultivation theory that provides a more practically useful account of the role of media in shaping the thoughts, emotions, and behaviors of twenty-first century audiences.    

Chapter 37Agenda-Setting Theory


  1. Most of us can’t pay equal attention to more than a dozen issues. Time and mental energy are scarce resources.
  1. The typical person can only focus on about five issues at any one time.
  2. The small set of issues that’s most important to you at the moment is your personal agenda.
  3. Taking the average of those concerns across an entire community, state, or nation is the public agenda—the set of issues most salient (in other words, that capture attention) across a group of people at a given time.
  4. The degree of importance that the news media assigns to issues at a given moment is the media agenda.
  5. The basic hypothesis of the theory is this: over time, the media agenda shapes the public agenda.
  6. McCombs, Shaw, and others have amassed decades of evidence that documents the power of the press to shape our reality.
  7. They've found that agenda-setting occurs in three ways, or levels.
  1. Level 1: The media tell us what to think about.
  1. McCombs wondered if, over time, the public agenda came to reflect the media agenda, such that “we judge as important what the media judge as important.”
  2. In opposition to then-current wisdom that mass communication had limited effects upon its audience, Theodore White came to the conclusion that the media shaped election campaigns
  3. Walter Lippmann claimed that the media act as a mediator between “the world outside and the pictures in our heads.”
  4. What set McCombs and Shaw apart is that they put these hunches to empirical test.
  5. McCombs and Shaw first tested their theory with undecided voters in Chapel Hill, NC.
  1. McCombs and Shaw’s first task was to measure the media agenda.
  2. They established position and length of story as the two main criteria of prominence of stories in local print and broadcast news.
  3. With the media agenda measured, their next task was to assess the public agenda. McCombs and Shaw asked undecided voters to outline what each one considered the key issue of the campaign, regardless of what the candidates might be saying.
  4. The initial Chapel Hill study only demonstrated that the media and public agendas are correlated.
  5. A true test must be able to show that public priorities lag behind the media agenda.
  6. It took a tightly controlled experiment run by Yale researchers to establish a cause-and-effect chain of influence from the media agenda to the public agenda.
  7. Iyengar, Peters, and Kinder’s study was the first of many studies to offer strong evidence that the media agenda causes which stories are salient in the public agenda—the first level of agenda-setting.
  1. Level 2: The media tell us which attributes of issues are most important.
  1. The first level of agenda-setting demonstrates that media tells us what to think about, but do they also tell us how to think about it?
  2. For the first two decades of agenda-setting research, the accepted answer was no.
  1. For a long time, almost every article about the theory included this mantra: the media aren’t very successful in telling us what to think, but they are stunningly successful in telling us what to think about.
  2. But then scholars realized that, by emphasizing certain attributes of issues over other attributes, the media do more than just make topics salient.
  1. The second level of agenda-setting is the transfer of salience of a dominant set of attributes that the media associate with an attitude object to the specific features of the image projected on the walls of our minds.
  1. Some scholars call this selection process framing.
  2. James Tankard, one of the leading writers on mass communication theory, defines a media frame as “the central organizing idea for news content that supplies a context and suggests what the issue is through the use of selection, emphasis, exclusion, and elaboration.
  1. The media frame issues sometimes in shocking and nonsensical ways.
  2. The press frame people, too, especially political figures.
  3. It’s impossible to report stories without emphasizing certain attributes over others.
  1. For better or worse, framing isn’t optional.
  2. In most studies, the voters’ agenda mirrors the media’s agenda in substance (the first level) and in tone (the second level).
  1. But object salience and attribute framing aren’t the end of the story.
  1. Level 3: The media tell us which issues go together.
  1. The media communicates issues as though they are an interconnected web, with some connections stronger than others.
  2. Like framing, these kinds of connections aren’t optional.
  3. By the content of the story and the placement on the web page, the media send signals about which issues go together.
  4. The third level of agenda-setting examines how the media’s issue map influences the public’s issue map.
  1. Beyond opinion: The behavioral effect of the media’s agenda.
  1. Most of the research studies on agenda-setting have measured the effect of media agendas on public opinion.
  2. Evidence from research indicates that media priorities also influence people’s behavior.
  3. Areas of practical application include coverage of the flu and vaccinations, university enrollment when high crimes are reported, and decreased plane ticket sales after skyjacking reports.
  4. Savvy marketers can also use agenda-setting effects to promote their business products.
  1. Who sets the agenda for the agenda setters?
  1. Agenda-setting research has gathered strong evidence that the media agenda influences the public agenda. But what shapes the media agenda?
  2. So far, research has identified several sources journalists rely on to decide what counts as news.
  1. Other news organizations: When one news source influences the agenda of another one, that’s intermedia agenda-setting.
  2. Emerging media can break a story that then gets picked up by mainstream sources.
  3. Partisan media such as political talk radio and Internet sites hold influence.
  4. Candidates and office-holders can sometimes single-handedly set the agenda.
  5. Press releases from public relations professionals get repackaged as news.
  6. Interest aggregations refers to a cluster of people who demand center stage for their issue.
  7. Gatekeepers can be editors who ultimately determine what gets published.
  1. Disturbingly, fake news appeared to exert at least some influence on the agenda of more credible news organizations.
  1. Need for orientation influences agenda-setting effects.
  1. McCombs and Shaw suspected that some viewers might be more resistant to the media’s priorities than others.
  2. The key factor they’ve discovered is our need for orientation.
  3. It represents a drive to make sense of the world around us, to orient our understanding of it.
  4. For some people, need for orientation is an internal drive that motivates them no matter the issue.
  5. McCombs believes both relevance and uncertainty lead us to have a need for orientation on a particular issue.
  1. Melding agendas into communities
  1. McCombs and Shaw’s agenda-setting theory has found an appreciative audience among mass communication researchers because it offers two attractive features: it reaffirms the power of the press while maintaining that individuals are free to choose.
  2. More than ever before, there isn’t one dominant media agenda that descends from the boardrooms of East Coast media establishments.
  3. Multiple media agendas exist and we can choose from among them.
  4. McCombs and Shaw suggest that we can make sense of the media landscape if we sort outlets into two types.
  1. One type is vertical media.
    1. They try to appeal to a broad, diverse audience.
    2. Examples of such vertical media in the United States include the newspaper USA Today, Time, and nightly news broadcasts on ABC, NBC, and CBS.
    1. In contrast, horizontal media “usually connect us via valued special interest and personal interest communities.”
    1. They appeal to audiences with particular interests or hobbies.
    2. These include Fox News, MSNBC, partisan talk shows, special interest magazines, and many sources of news on social media.
  1. Agenda-setting theorists believe that we assemble our view of current events from these media and our own experiences.
  2. They call this agendamelding, or “the social process by which we meld agendas from various sources, including other people, to create pictures of the world that fit our experiences and preferences.”
  3. It’s a social process because agendamelding creates communities. People like to spend time with people who think like they do.
  1. An advantage of the digital news environment is that diverse people can speak about public issues and, perhaps, have their voices heard.
  2. Yet the very technology that connects us can also allow us to separate into our own isolated agendamelding communities.
  1. Ethical reflections: Christians’ communitarian ethics.
  1. Christians believes that discovering the truth is still possible if we are willing to examine the nature of our humanity.
  2. The human nature he perceives is, at root, personhood in community.
  3. Mutuality is the essence of humanness.
  4. His communitarian ethics establish civic transformation rather than objective information as the primary goal of the press.
  5. He insists that media criticism must be willing to reestablish the idea of moral right and wrong.
  6. Journalists have a social responsibility to promote the sacredness of life by respecting human dignity, telling the truth, and doing no harm to innocents.
  7. Christians ultimately judges journalists on the basis of how well they use the media’s power to champion the goal of social justice.
  1. Critique: Who sets the agenda in the digital era?
  1. When compared to the standards for evaluating an objective theory, agenda-setting theory fares well.
  1. Study after study has demonstrated the theory’s ability to explain the data about agendas, and not only in the United States, but elsewhere as well.
  2. It’s particularly strong at predicting future events.
  3. That’s because carefully-constructed quantitative research on the theory’s testable hypotheses, conducted over time and through experiments, has built a strong case for the order of causation.
  4. The theory remains relatively simple.
  5. To any company, candidate, or celebrity who cares what the media are saying about them, the theory is practically useful.
  6. Agenda-setting theory is a good model for what an objective theory should be.
  1. The greatest challenge to the theory’s longevity may be the digital era foreseen by McLuhan and other scholars.
  1. McCombs doesn’t seem to think the digital age changes agenda-setting all that much.
  2. But studies in the traditional mold of agenda-setting research may miss the point.
  3. Every time you visit social media or use a search engine, an algorithmic gatekeeper filters the information and decides what you’ll see.
    1. This filtering often occurs on the basis of a number of personal factors.
    2. What exactly does the social media agenda mean when it’s tailored so specifically to the user, precisely because it arises from the user’s own preferences?

Chapter 38Common Threads in Comm Theories


  1. Introduction.
  1. This chapter seeks to integrate the theories in this book with each other and with major communication concepts.
  2. The chapter identifies 10 recurring principles that in one form or another appear in multiple theories.
  3. A thread must be a significant feature in at least six different theories.
  4. Consistent with the critique sections that close each theory chapter of the text, discussion of each thread ends with a cause-for-pause reservation that those who warmly embrace the thread might ponder.
  1. Motivation.
  1. Communication is motivated by our basic social need for affiliation, achievement, and control as well as our strong desire to reduce our uncertainty and anxiety.
  1. Social exchange theory holds that relationships develop based upon the perceived benefits and costs of interaction (and this logic is used by social penetration theory).
  2. Uses and grats points out that people use media to gratify their felt needs, but these needs vary from person to person.
  1. Need for affiliation: In media multiplexity theory, Haythornthwaite makes a distinction between weak ties and strong ties in our relationships, claiming that the more types of media both parties use to connect with each other, the stronger and closer their bond will be.
  2. Need for achievement: Functional perspective on group decision-making claims that groups must accomplish the requisite functions to reach a high-quality decision. 
  3. Need for control: Cultural studies argues that corporately-controlled media shape the dominant discourse of the day, which frames the interpretation of events.
  4. Need to reduce uncertainty: Uncertainty reduction theory suggests that the motive of most communication is to gain knowledge and create understanding in order to increase our ability to predict how future interaction with others will go.
  5. Need to reduce anxiety: Dramatism claims the only way to get rid of the noxious feeling of guilt is through mortification or victimage.
  6. Cause for pause: If it’s true that all of my communication—including this book—is undertaken solely to meet my own personal needs and interests, then I am a totally selfish person. There are times when I could (or should) say no to the pull of these needs out of concern for others or a sense of ethical responsibility.
  1. Self-image.
  1. Communication affects and is affected by our sense of identity, which is strongly shaped within the context of our culture.
  2. Symbolic interactionism claims that our concept of self is formed through communication.
  3. According to Aronson and Cooper’s revisions of cognitive dissonance theory, dissonance negatively impacts our self-image until we find a way to dissipate this distressing feeling.
  4. In face-negotiation theory, face is defined as our public self-image.
  5. Context collapse centers on the difficulty of performing your identity on social media where you have multiple unseen audiences.
  6. Cause for pause: humans naturally commit a fundamental attribution error by being less stringent on themselves and more judgmental of others. As a corrective to this biased perception, perhaps we should consider giving others the benefit of the doubt while holding ourselves to a more rigorous standard of accountability.
  1. Credibility.
  1. Our verbal and nonverbal messages are validated or discounted by others’ perception of our competence and character.
  2. Aristotle used the term source credibility (ethical proof) to describe the credibility of a speaker that increases the probability of a speech being persuasive.
  3. The second level of agenda-setting theory involves noting the affective tone of references to candidates made in the media.
  4. Feminist standpoint theory suggests that women, racial minorities, and others on the margins of society may have low credibility but a less false view of social reality.
  5. Cause for pause: Focus on the source of a message may cause us to lose sight of the intrinsic value of what’s being said.
  1. Expectation.
  1. What we expect to hear or see will affect our perception, interpretation, and response during an interaction.
  2. Burgoon’s expectancy violations theory suggests we respond to a violation of our expectations depending on the violation valence and communicator reward valence.
  3. Expectation of future interaction heightens the motivation to reduce uncertainty in Berger’s uncertainty reduction theory, and is also central to Walther’s hyperpersonal perspective regarding online interpersonal communication.
  4. Cultivation theory maintains that a steady diet of symbolic violence on television creates an exaggerated fear that the viewer will be physically threatened, mugged, raped, or killed.
  5. Cause for pause: It is easy to confuse expectations (projections of past perceptions into the future) with perceptions (interpretations of sensory experiences occurring in the present).
  1. Audience adaption.
  1. By mindfully creating a person-centered message specific to the situation, we increase the possibility of achieving our communication goals.
  2. Social judgment theory suggests influencers are most effective if they first figure out the other’s latitude of acceptance and craft their message accordingly.
  3. The elaboration likelihood model suggests that the persuader first assesses whether the target audience is ready and able to think through issue-relevant arguments that support the advocate’s position.
  4. Dramatism is concerned with the speaker’s ability to successfully identify with the audience; without it, there is no persuasion.
  5. Communication accommodation theory focuses on parties’ adjustment of their speech styles.
  6. Audience adaptation is much harder when communicating on social media. Context collapse addresses the struggle of adjusting to multiple audiences.
  7. Cause for pause: Too much adaptation may mean we lose the authenticity of our message or the integrity of our own beliefs.
  1. Social construction.
  1. Persons-in-conversation co-construct their own social realities and are simultaneously shaped by the worlds they create.
  2. McPhee’s communicative constitution of organizations clearly indicates that an organization is what it is because communication has brought it into existence—a particular type of social construction.
  3. Mead’s symbolic interactionism denies that there is a real “me” that I can know through introspection. He insists that my self-concept is constituted by how others look at me, what they say to me, and how they act toward me.
  4. McLuhan’s media ecology describes a more subtle construction process summed up in his statement that we shape the tools and they in turn shape us.
  5. Afrocentricity states that Black people live in a world that’s been socially constructed in a way that excludes their African history, culture, and customs.
  6. Cause for pause: Is there a foundational reality that language can describe, however poorly?
  1. Shared meaning.
  1. Our communication is successful to the extent that we share a common interpretation of the signs we use.
  2. Geetz and Pacanowsky’s cultural approach to organizations describes culture as webs of significance, or systems of shared meaning.
  3. Symbolic convergence theory says shared group fantasies create symbolic convergence--shared meaning.
  4. Family communication patterns theory is based on the well-supported assumption that families create shared interpretations of the world.
  5. Barthes described how the mass media are powerful ideological tools that frame interpretation of events for the benefit of the haves over the have-nots.
  6. Cause for pause: Shared interpretation is an accomplishment of the audience rather than the intent or clarity of the message.
  1. Narrative.
  1. We respond favorably to stories and dramatic imagery with which we can identify.
  2. According to Fisher, almost all communication is story that we judge by its narrative coherence and fidelity.
  3. Bormann’s symbolic convergence theory predicts then when group fantasies are shared, the result is symbolic convergence—a common group consciousness and often a greater cohesiveness.
  4. Gerbner’s cultivation theory says that television is dominant because it tells most of the stories, most of the time.
  5. Afrocentricity seeks to liberate the African diaspora from Eurocentric ways of thinking by replacing inauthentic narratives of their culture with mythoforms—genuine histories, stories, and myths around which people organize their lives.
  6. Cause for pause: There are bad stories that can effectively lead people astray or destroy others; well-told tales are inherently attractive, but they might not all be good.
  1. Conflict.
  1. Unjust communication stifles needed conflict; healthy communication can make conflict productive.
  2. Deetz’s critical theory of communication in organizations believes that organizations would be well served by more conflict rather than less.
  3. A core principle of Petronio’s communication privacy management theory warns that when co-owners of private information don’t effectively negotiate and follow mutually held privacy rules, boundary turbulence is the likely result.
  4. Cause for pause: Although honest straight talk is an effective way to reduce conflict in an individualistic society, it may be counterproductive in collectivistic cultures.
  1. Dialogue.
  1. Dialogue is transparent conversation that often creates unanticipated relational outcomes due to parties’ profound respect for disparate voices.
  2. Baxter’s relational dialectics theory describes dialogue as an aesthetic accomplishment that produces fleeting moments of unity through a profound respect for disparate voices.
  3. In muted group theory, Kramarae suggests that it’s difficult for women to take part as equal partners in a dialogue while speaking in a man-made language and where the rules for its use are controlled by men.
  4. Co-cultural theory extends this idea to all groups of marginalized people. He claims the entrenched power disparity between members of co-cultural groups and members of the dominant culture make dialogue between them almost impossible.
  5. Family communication patterns that are high in conversation orientation and low in conformity orientation spawn open discussion and debate of ideas.
  6. Cause for pause: Dialogue is hard to describe and even more difficult to achieve.
  1. Unraveling the threads.
  1. At this point the 10 threads may be tangled together in your mind like pieces of string jumbled together in a drawer.
  2. Figure 38-1 shows each thread and the associated theories.
  3. The sense of discovery that comes from figuring out where to place additional knots can be quite satisfying and has practical benefits.


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Chapter  1Launching Your Study of Communication Theory


  1. What is communication?
    1. No singular definition of communication is agreed upon by communication scholars.
    2. Frank Dance, who published the first comprehensive book on communication theory, concluded that we’re “trying to make the concept of communication do too much work for us.” 
    3. Michigan Tech professor Jennifer Slack declares, “there is no single, absolute essence of communication that adequately explains the phenomena we study. Such a definition does not exist; neither is it merely waiting for the next brightest communication scholar to nail it down once and for all.”
    4. Communication is the relational process of creating and interpreting messages that elicit a response.
      1. The Creation of messages is central as well as the things that shape our choices.
        1. The word creation implies that the content and form of messages are usually constructed, invented, planned, crafted, selected or adopted by the communicator.
        2. But we aren’t always mindful of the nature and impact of our messages. 
      2. The intense focus on messages is what sets the communication major apart from related disciplines.
        1. Every message has two levels: content and relational.
        2. The content message is the topic addressed by the message.
        3. The relational level communicates how each person thinks and feels about the other.
      3. No matter how carefully you craft a message, you cannot control how other people interpret and respond to it.
      4. Communication is an ongoing relational process between two or more people, which both affects their interpretation of the messages as well as the nature of the connection between the people.  Messages are polysemic and subject to different interpretations.
  2. What is a theory and what does it do?
    1. Judee Burgoon suggested that a theory is nothing more than “a set of systematic informed hunches about the way things work.”
      1. Set of hunches.
        1. If a theory is a set of hunches, it means we aren’t yet sure we have the answer.
        2. Theories always involve an element of speculation or conjecture.
        3. A theory is not just one inspired thought or an isolated idea.
        4. Good theories define their key terms.
      2. Informed hunches.
        1. Good theory and good research go hand in hand.
        2. A theorist’s hunches should be informed.
        3. A theorist has a responsibility to check it out.
      3. Hunches that are systematic.
        1. A theory is an integrated system of concepts, laying out both relevant terms and their relationship to one another. 
        2. A theory ties together ideas into a unified whole.
      4. Images of theory.
        1. Theory might also be understood using some concrete images.
        2. Karl Popper described theories as nets, a tool used to grasp an elusive concept.
        3. Theories can be seen as lenses which help focus attention.
        4. A communication theory is a kind of map that’s designed to help you navigate some part of the topography of human relationships.
  3. What to expect as you read this book
    1. The arrangement of the book’s chapters is explained.
    2. The theory chapters are divided into six major divisions: interpersonal communication, social influence, group and public communication, cultural context, and mass communication.
  4. Resources to help you learn communication theory
    1. Try to read consistently.
    2. Think about the big picture.
    3. In every chapter we include a cartoon for your learning and enjoyment.
    4. The website is a valuable resource.

Chapter  2Objective and Interpretive Approaches to Communication Theory


  1. Introduction.
  1. Objective communication theories assume we live in a world where we can understand truth through unbiased observations.
  2. Interpretive communication theories assume we live in a world where truth is subjective, depending on a person’s lived experiences.
  1. Two communication scholars view a heartwarming ad.
  1. Travis: An objective approach.
  1. Social scientists wonder why the commercial produced such a positive sentiment and whether it changes human behavior.
  2. Social scientists test positive and negative influences of media by relying on theory.
  3. Social scientists seek an objective test of whether the theory’s claims are true.
  1. Kristina: An interpretive approach.
  1. Interpretive scholars focus on the ways language constructs realities that emerge in and across people’s accounts.
  2. Recognizing one’s own stance illuminates how experiences are intrinsically tried to interpretation.
  3. Interpretive scholars reveal meanings that may initially be hidden within a text.
  1. Ways of knowing: Discovering truth or creating multiple realities?
  1. Epistemology is the study of the nature of knowledge.
  2. Objective scholars assume that Truth is singular.
  1. Reality is accessible through our senses.
  2. No one person can know it all, so individual researchers pool their findings and build a collective body of knowledge about how the world works.
  3. Good theories are mirrors of nature, true as long as conditions remain the same.
  1. Interpretive scholars regard truth as socially constructed through communication.
  1. Language creates social realities that are always in flux.
  2. Knowledge is always viewed from a particular perspective.
  3. Texts never interpret themselves.
  1. Human nature: Determinism or free will?
  1. Objective scholars stress the forces that shape human behavior; interpretive scholars focus on conscious choices made by individuals
  2. Objective scholars usually describe human conduct as occurring “because of” forces outside the individual’s awareness, the response to a prior stimulus.
  3. In contrast, interpretive scholars tend to use explanatory phrases such as “so that” or “in order to” because they attribute a person’s action to conscious intent.
  1. They focus on conscious choices of individuals, not on why choices are made.
  2. They believe that significant decisions are value laden. 
  1. As individual freedom increases, predictability of behavior decreases.
  1. The purpose of theory: Universal laws or guides for interpretation?
  1. Objective scholars seek universal laws while interpretive scholars strive to understand individual texts.
  2. The basic activity of behavioral scientists is testing theory; interpretive scholars explore the web of meaning constituting human existence.
  1. The highest value: Objectivity or emancipation?
  1. When we talk about values, we are discussing priorities, questions of relative worth.
  2. Objective scholars believe we benefit from having an unbiased account of communication based on observable evidence.
  3. Interpretive scholars believe we benefit from insight into communication that emancipates people from oppression.
  4. Objective scholars hold a distinction between the “knower” and the “known.”
  5. Interpretive scholars value socially relevant research that gives us deeper insight into how people assign meaning.
  6. Stan Deetz says that every communication theory has two priorities: effectiveness and participation.
  1. Objective or interpretive: Why is it important?
  1. You cannot fully understand a theory without knowing its assumptions about truth, human nature, the purpose of theory, and its values.
  2. It is helpful when thinking through theories to have a way of organizing them into objective and interpretive worldviews.
  3. Understanding objective and interpretive points can help you decide what direction to take your coursework.
  4. Theorists in both camps believe their area of work will improve relationships and society.
  1. Plotting theories on an objective-interpretive scale: A metatheoretical way of comparing theories featured in the book. Objective and interpretive labels anchor the ends of a continuum, with many theories in between.

Chapter  3Weighing the Words


  1. Introduction.
  1. Not all theories are equally effective.
  2. The utility of a theory may be judged by applying the appropriate criteria used by social scientists and a wide range of interpretive scholars to weigh the theories of their colleagues.
  1. What makes an objective theory good?
  1. Scientific standard 1: Prediction of future events. Prediction in physical science is more accurate than in social science, where it is based on probability.
  2. Scientific standard 2: Explanation of the data.
  1. A good theory makes sense out of disturbing situations or draws order out of chaos.
  2. It focuses attention on crucial variables and away from irrelevant data.
  3. It explains what is happening and why.
  4. It explains both the process and the results.
  1. Scientific standard 3: Relative simplicity.  The rule of parsimony dictates that all things being equal, we accept the simpler explanation over the more complex.
  2. Scientific standard 4: Hypotheses that can be tested.  If there is no way to prove a theory false, then any claim that it’s true seems hollow.
  1. They shy away from the put-up-or-shut-up standard—they aren’t testable.
  2. They are never-miss shots.
  1. Scientific standard 5: Practical utility. 
  1. This requirement is consistent with social psychologist Kurt Lewin’s claim that there is nothing as practical as a good theory.
  2. Don't dismiss a theory as impractical unless you understand it.
  3. The wider the scope of a theory’s application, the greater its practical utility.
  1. Scientific standard 6: Quantitative Research
  1. Scientists favor quantifiable experiments and surveys.
  2. The idea that numbers are more reliable than words runs deep in the scientific community.
  3. Through experiments, scientists seek to establish a cause-and-effect relationship by manipulating an independent variable in a tightly controlled situation in order to determine its effect on a dependent variable. 
  4. Surveys rely on self-report data to discover who people are and what they think, feel, and intend to do—the key components of our attitudes.
  1. What makes an interpretive theory good?
  1. Interpretive standard 1: Clarification of values.
  1. Theorists acknowledge their own values.
  2. They seek to unmask the ideology behind messages.
  3. Of course, not all interpretive scholars occupy the same moral ground, but there are core values most of them share.
  4. Many theorists value individual liberty and equality. Krippendorff's Ethical Imperative argues that we should grant others that occur in our construction the same autonomy we practice constructing them.
  5. Many interpretive scholars value equality as highly as they do freedom.
  6. Critical theorists, in particular, insist that scholars can no longer remain ethically detached from the people they are studying, or from the political and economic implications of their work
  1. Interpretive standard 2: New understanding of people.
  1. Interpretive scholarship is good when it offers fresh insight into the human condition.
  2. Rhetorical critics, ethnographers, and other humanistic researchers seek to gain new understanding by analyzing the activity that they regard as uniquely human—symbolic interaction.
  3. Whereas science wants objective explanation, humanism desires subjective understanding. 
  4. Klaus Krippendorff's Self-Referential Imperative states that, as theorists, we are both the cause and the consequence of what we observe.
  1. Interpretive standard 3: Aesthetic appeal.
  1. A theory's form can be as captivating as its content.
  2. Although the elegance of a theory is in the eye of the beholder, clarity and artistry seem to be the two qualities needed to satisfy this aesthetic requirement.
  1. Interpretive standard 4: A community of agreement.  A theory must have widespread scrutiny and usage.
  1. We can identify a good interpretive theory by the amount of support it generates within a community of scholars who are interested and knowledgeable about the same type of communication.
  2. Interpretation of meaning is subjective, but whether the interpreter’s case is reasonable or totally off the wall is ultimately decided by others in the field.
  1. Interpretive standard 5: Reform of society. 
  1. They want to expose and publicly resist the ideology that permeates the accepted wisdom of a culture.
  2. Theory challenges cultural assumptions.
  3. The aim of critical scholarship is to unmask communication practices that create or perpetuate power imbalances in an attempt to stimulate change.
  4. To the extent that the theory stimulates students to rethink, respond, and react to this “free-market” process, it is a good interpretive theory.
  1. Interpretive standard 6: Qualitative research
  1. While scientists use numbers to support their theories, interpretive scholars use words.
  2. Textual analysis and ethnography are the two methods most often used to study how humans use signs and symbols to create and infer meaning.
  3. Textual analysis describes and interprets the characteristics of messages.
  4. Through ethnography, participant-observers experience a culture's web of meaning. 
  1. Contested turf and common ground among theorists.
  1. Although the differences that separate objective and interpretive theorists are meaningful, they can interact as friends across their lines of difference.
  1. It requires mutual respect for each other’s interest and recognition of their intellect.
  2. It requires a mutual appreciation that scientific theorists are comparing multiple messages or groups while interpretive theorists are analyzing a single message or group.
  3. The two sets of six criteria are not as different as they might seem.
  1. Both prediction and value clarification look to the future.
  2. An explanation can further understanding of motive.
  3. Simplicity has aesthetic appeal.
  4. Hypothesis testing is a way of achieving a community of agreement.
  5. Theories that reform are practical.
  6. Qualitative and quantitative research both reflect a commitment to learning more about communication.
  1. It is important for the two communities to at least be familiar with the other’s work.
  2. Although all theories featured in this book have merit, they also have weaknesses revealed by the standards set forth in this chapter.

Chapter  4Mapping the Territory


  1. Introduction.
  1. Communication scholars hold widely divergent views as to what communication is.
  2. Robert Craig thinks practical application is a great starting point for developing a tool to help discriminate between theories.
  3. Communication theory is the systematic and thoughtful response of communication scholars to questions posed as humans interact with one another—the best thinking within a practical discipline.
  4. Craig identifies seven established traditions of communication theory.
  1. The socio-psychological tradition: Communication as interaction and influence.
  1. This tradition epitomizes the scientific perspective.
  2. Scholars believe that communication truths can be discovered by careful, systematic observation that predicts cause-and-effect relationships.
  3. Researchers focus on what is without their personal bias of what ought to be.
  4. Theorists check data through surveys or controlled experiments, often calling for longitudinal empirical studies.
  5. Griffin, Ledbetter, and Sparks wondered if there’s a way to predict which college friendships would survive and thrive after graduation.
  1. The practical question the authors sought to answer was, "What predicts friendship that lasts over time?"
  2. They approached this question from the socio-psychological tradition because it’s designed to identify cause-and-effect patterns.
  1. The cybernetic tradition: Communication as a system of information processing.
  1. Norbert Wiener coined the term cybernetics to describe the field of artificial intelligence.
  1. Wiener’s concept of feedback anchored the cybernetic tradition.
  2. Communication is the link separating the separate parts of any system.
  1. Theorists seek to answer the questions: How does the system work? What could change it? How can we get the bugs out?
  2. University of Washington communication professor Malcolm Parks studies personal relationships by asking both partners to describe their social network.
  1. The practical question Parks sought to answer was, "How are friendships shaped by other people that the friends know?"
  2. He approached this question from the cybernetic tradition because it’s designed to understand how information flows through social networks.
  1. The rhetorical tradition: Communication as artful public address.
  1. Greco-Roman rhetoric was the main communication theory until the twentieth century.
  2. Six features characterize the tradition.
  1. A conviction that speech distinguishes humans from other animals.
  2. A confidence in the efficacy and supremacy of public address.
  3. A setting of one speaker addressing a large audience with the intention to persuade.
  4. Oratorical training as the cornerstone of a leader’s education.
  5. An emphasis on the power and beauty of language to move people emotionally and stir them to action.
  6. Rhetoric was the province of males.
  1. Readers of Aristotle’s The Rhetoric may be surprised to find a systematic analysis of friendship.
  2. Rochester Institute of Technology rhetorician Keith Jenkins examined how Obama appealed to friendship in his 2008 campaign rhetoric.
  1. The practical question Jenkins sought to answer was, "How did Obama persuade people by appealing to close relationships?"
  2. He approached this question from the rhetorical tradition because it’s designed to understand how language changes the minds of others.
  1. The semiotic tradition: Communication as the process of sharing meaning through signs.
  1. Semiotics is the study of signs.
  2. Words are a special kind of sign known as a symbol.
  3. I. A. Richards was an early scholar of semiotics.
  1. His “proper meaning superstition” identifies the mistaken belief that words have a precise meaning.
  2. Meanings don’t reside in words or other symbols, but in people.
  1. Communication professor Michael Monsour (Metropolitan State University of Denver) recognized that the word intimacy used in the context of friendship might mean different things to different people, and the disparity could lead to confusion.
  1. The practical question Monsour sought to answer was, "What does the word intimacy mean to people in the context of friendship?"
  2. He approached this question from the semiotic tradition because it’s designed to understand how the meanings of symbols change between people and across time.
  1. The socio-cultural tradition: Communication as the creation and enactment of social reality.
  1. Communication produces and reproduces culture.
  2. Edward Sapir and Benjamin Lee Whorf pioneered this tradition.
  1. The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis of linguistic relativity states that the structure of a culture’s language shapes what people think and do.
  2. Their theory counters the notion that languages are neutral conduits of meaning.
  1. It is through language that reality is produced, maintained, repaired, and transformed.
  2. Patricia Sias, a communication professor at the University of Arizona, takes a socio-cultural approach when studying friendships that form and dissolve in organizational settings.
  1. The practical question Sias sought to answer was, "What communication practices shape deteriorating workplace friendships?"
  2. She approached this question from the socio-cultural tradition because it’s designed to understand how communication creates social realities.
  1. The critical tradition: Communication as a reflective challenge of unjust discourse.
  1. Critical theory derives from the German Frankfurt School.
  2. The Frankfurt School rejected Karl Marx’s economic determinism, but embraced the Marxist tradition of critiquing society.
  3. Critical theorists challenge three features of contemporary society.
  1. The control of language to perpetuate power imbalances.
  2. Critical theorists are suspicious of empirical work that scientists say is ideologically free, because science is not the value-free pursuit of knowledge that it claims to be.
  3. Critical theorists see the “culture industries” of television, film, music, and print media as reproducing the dominant ideology of a culture and distracting people from recognizing the unjust distribution of power within society.
  1. Southwestern University communication professor Davi Johnson Thornton investigated the image of an interracial friendship on the TV show Psych.
  1. Her critical analysis of the show argues that its particular portrayal of black/white friendship might actually reinforce racism rather than work against it.
  2. The practical question Thornton sought to answer was, "What ideologies of interracial friendship are produced through the TV show Psych?"
  3. She approached this question from the critical tradition because it’s designed to critique how language and the mass media perpetuate unjust differences in power.
  1. The phenomenological tradition: Communication as the experience of self and others through dialogue.
  1. Phenomenology refers to the intentional analysis of everyday life from the standpoint of the person who is living it.
  2. The phenomenological tradition places great emphasis on people’s perceptions and interpretations of their own subjective experiences. 
  3. The phenomenological tradition answers two questions: Why is it so hard to establish and sustain authentic human relationships? How can this problem be overcome?
  4. Ohio University professor emeritus Bill Rawlins works within this tradition as he studies friendship by taking an in-depth look at the actual conversations between friends.
  1. The practical question Rawlins sought to answer was, "How do people create mutual understanding in their friendships?"
  2. He approached this question from the phenomenological tradition because it’s designed to probe how people develop authentic human relationships.
  1. Charting the field of communication theory.
  1. These seven traditions have deep roots in communication theory.
  2. They have been mapped with respect to the objective/interpretive dichotomy.
  3. Some theories are hybrids that arise from multiple traditions.
  4. They might not cover every approach to communication theory—thus the addition of the ethical tradition.
  1. The ethical tradition: Communication as people of character interacting in just and beneficial ways.
  1. Since ancient Greece, scholars have grappled with the obligations of the communicator.
  2. The NCA adopted a “Credo for Communication Ethics,” which tackles difficult questions about communication and ethics: Is it always our duty to be honest? What limits, if any, should exist on freedom of expression? When does persuasion cross the line into intimidation and coercion?
  3. Craig has responded to our proposed ethical tradition by noting that, to define it fully, we'd have to explain how it compares to every other tradition.
  4. Concern for ethics spreads across the objective-interpretive landscape.
  5. The ethical tradition encourages every other tradition to consider what is right or wrong, what is good or bad, and who is virtuous or evil.
  6. Craig’s framework of seven traditions helps us make sense of the great diversity in the field of communication.

Chapter  5Symbolic Interactionism


  1. Introduction.
  1. Social constructionists believe that our thoughts, self-concept, and the wider community we live in are created through communication—symbolic interaction.
  2. Symbolic interaction refers to language and gestures a person used in anticipation of the way others will respond.
  3. George Herbert Mead, an early social constructionist, was an influential philosophy professor at the University of Chicago, but didn’t publish ideas in a book or treatise.
  4. After his death, his students published his teachings in Mind, Self, and Society.
  5. Mead's chief disciple, Herbert Blumer, further developed his theory.
  1. Blumer coined the term symbolic interactionism and claimed that the most human and humanizing activity in which people are engaged is talking to each other.
  2. The three core principles of symbolic interactionism are concerned with meaning, language, and thinking.
  3. These principles lead to conclusions about the formation of self and socialization into a larger society.
  1. Meaning: The construction of social reality.
  1. First principle: Humans act toward people or things on the basis of the meanings they assign to those people or things.
  2. Meaning-making isn’t an individual undertaking.
  3. Once people define a situation as real, it’s very real in its consequences.
  4. Where a behavioral scientist would see causality as stimulus à response, for an interactionist it would look like stimulusà interpretation à response.
  1. Language: The source of meaning.
  1. Second principle: Meaning arises out of the social interaction people have with each other.
  2. Meaning is not inherent in objects.
  3. Meaning is negotiated through the use of language, hence the term symbolic interactionism.
  4. As human beings, we have the ability to name things.
  1. Symbols, including names, are arbitrary signs.
  2. By talking with others, we ascribe meaning to words and develop a universe of discourse.
  1. Symbolic naming is the basis for society—the extent of knowing is dependent on the extent of naming.
  2. Symbolic interactionism is the way we learn to interpret the world.
  1. A symbol is a stimulus that has a learned meaning and a value for people.
  2. Our words have default assumptions.
  3. Significant symbols can be nonverbal as well as linguistic.
  1. Thinking: The process of taking the role of the other.
  1. Third principle: An individual's interpretation of symbols is modified by his or her own thought process.
  2. Symbolic interactionists describe thinking as an inner conversation, or minding.
  1. Minding is a reflective pause. 
  2. We naturally talk to ourselves in order to sort out meaning.
  1. Whereas animals act instinctively and without deliberation, humans are hardwired for thought.
  1. Humans require social stimulation and exposure to abstract symbol systems to have conceptual thought.
  2. Language is the software that activates the mind.
  1. Humans have the unique capacity to take the role of the other.
  1. The self: Reflections in a looking glass.
  1. Self cannot be found through introspection, but instead through taking the role of the other and imagining how we look from the other’s perspective.  This mental image is called the looking-glass self and is socially constructed, or as the Mead-Cooley hypothesis claims, “individuals’ self-conceptions result from assimilating the judgments of significant others.”
  2. Self is a function of language.
  1. One has to be a member of a community before consciousness of self sets in.
  2. The self is always in flux.
  1. Self is an ongoing process combining the “I” and the “me.”
  1. The “I”—the subjective self—sponsors what is novel, unpredictable, and unorganized about the self.
  2. The “me”—the objective self—is the image of self seen through the looking glass of other people's reactions.
  3. Once your “I” is known, it becomes your “me.”
  1. Society: The socializing effect of others' expectations.
  1. The composite mental image of others in a community, their expectations, and possible responses is referred to as the generalized other.
  2. The generalized other shapes how we think and interact with the community.
  3. The “me” is formed through continual symbolic interaction.
  4. The “me” is the organized community within the individual.
  1. A sampler of applied symbolic interaction.
  1. Creating reality.
  1. Erving Goffman develops the metaphor of social interaction as a dramaturgical performance.
  2. The impression of reality fostered by performance is fragile.
  1. Meaning-ful research.
  1. Mead advocated study through participant observation, a form of ethnography.
  2. Experimental and survey research are void of the meaning of the experience.
  1. Generalized other—the tragic potential of symbolic interaction: Negative responses can consequently reduce a person to nothing.
  2. Naming.
  1. Name-calling can be devastating because it forces us to view ourselves through a warped mirror.
  2. These grotesque images are not easily dispelled.
  1. Self-fulfilling prophecy.
  1. Each of us affects how others view themselves.
  2. Our expectations evoke responses that confirm what we originally anticipated, resulting in a self-fulfilling prophecy.
  1. Symbol manipulation—symbols can galvanize people into united action.
  1. Ethical reflection: Levinas’ responsive “I”.
  1. Levinas insists that the identity of our “I” is formed by the way we respond to others, not how others respond to me as Mead contends.
  2. We all have an ethical echo of responsibility to take care of each other that has existed since the beginning of history.
  3. To not recognize our human responsibility when we look at the face of the Other is to put our identity at risk.
  1. Critique: Setting the gold standard for four interpretive criteria.
  1. Mead meets clarification of values, offers a new understanding of people, uses    ethnographic research, and has generated a community of agreement.
  2. Mead does not call for a reform of society. In fact, he says little about power, domination, or emotion. The theory also suffers from a lack of clarity.
  3. Mead overstates his case when he maintains that language is the distinguishing factor between humans and other animals.

Chapter  6Expectancy Violations Theory


  1. Personal space expectations: conform or deviate?
  1. Judee Burgoon defines personal space as the invisible, variable volume of space surrounding an individual that defines that individual’s preferred distance from others.
  1. The size and shape of our personal space depends upon cultural norms and individual preferences.
  2. Personal space is always a compromise between the conflicting approach-avoidance needs that we as humans have for affiliation and privacy.
  1. Edward Hall coined the term proxemics to refer to the study of people’s use of space as a special elaboration of culture.
  1. He believed that most spatial interpretation is outside our awareness.
  2. He believed that Americans have four proxemic zones.
  1. Intimate distance: 0 to 18 inches.
  2. Personal distance: 18 inches to 4 feet.
  3. Social distance: 4 to 12 feet.
  4. Public distance: 12 to 25 feet to infinity.
  1. He maintained that effective communicators adjust their nonverbal behavior to conform to the communicative rules of their partners.
  1. Burgoon suggests that under some circumstances, violating social norms and personal expectations is a superior strategy to conformity.
  1. An applied test of the original model.
  1. According to Burgoon’s early model, crossing over the “threat threshold” that forms the boundary of the intimate distance causes physical and psychological discomfort.
  2. Noticeable deviations from what we expect cause a heightened state of arousal and spur us to review the nature of our relationship with a person.
  3. A person with “punishing” power should observe proxemic conventions or stand slightly farther away than expected.
  4. An attractive communicator benefits from a close approach.
  5. Burgoon’s original experiments failed to confirm her theory, but she has continued to refine her approach to expectancy violations.
  6. The current version is an excellent example of ideas continually revised as a result of empirical disconfirmation.
  1. A convoluted model becomes an elegant theory.
  1. Burgoon dropped the concept of the threat threshold.
  2. She has substituted “an orienting response” or a mental “alertness” for “arousal.”
  3. Arousal is no longer a necessary link between expectancy violation and communication outcomes such as attraction, credibility, persuasion, and involvement, but rather a side effect of a partner’s deviation.
  4. She has dropped the qualifier “nonverbal” because she believes the principles of EVT apply to verbal interaction as well.
  1. Core concepts of EVT (expectancy violations theory).
  1. EVT offers a soft determinism rather than hard-core universal laws.
  2. Burgoon does, however, hope to link surprising interpersonal behavior and attraction, credibility, influence, and involvement.
  3. Expectancy.
  1. Expectancy is what is predicted to occur rather than what is desired.
  2. Expectancy is based on context, relationship, and communicator characteristics.
  3. Burgoon believes that all cultures have a similar structure of expected communication behavior, but that the content of those expectations differs from culture to culture.
  1. Violation valence.
  1. The violation valence is the positive or negative value we place on the unexpected behavior, regardless of who does it.
  2. If the valence is negative, do less than expected.
  3. If the valence is positive, do more than expected.
  4. Although the meanings of most violations can be determined from context, some nonverbal expectancy violations are equivocal.
  5. For equivocal violations, one must refer to the communicator reward valence.
  1. Communicator reward valence.
  1. The communicator reward valence is the sum of the positive and negative attributes that the person brings to the encounter plus the potential he or she has to reward or punish in the future.
  2. Puzzling violations force victims to search the social context for clues to their meaning and that’s when communication reward valence comes into play.
  3. Burgoon says that all things being equal, the nature of the violation will influence the response it triggers more than the reward potential of the one who did it. 
  4. Communicator reward valence may loom large when it's especially strong either way (exceptionally positive or negative).
  1. Critique: A well-regarded work in progress.
  1. While we might wish for predictions that prove more reliable than a long-range weather forecast, a review of expectancy violations research suggests that EVT may have reached that point and be more accurate than other theories that predict responses to nonverbal communication.
  2. Despite problems, Burgoon’s theory meets five criteria for a good scientific theory (explanation, relative simplicity, testable, quantitative research, and practical advice) and recent research suggests improvement in the sixth criterion—prediction.

Chapter  7Family Communication Patterns Theory


  1. Early family experiences shape how we think, act, and communicate throughout our lives.
    1. Koerner and Fitzpatrick believe that family’s talk exerts great power over how its members experience life.
    2. They refer to this talk as family communication patterns, or repeated communication beliefs and behaviors that orient family members towards a shared reality.
  1. Communication that creates a shared reality
    1. The theory builds upon the work of mass communication scholars Jack McLeod and Steven Chaffee.
    2. McLeod looked at how families talked about political messages using either conformity or conversation.
    3. Families that exhibit high conformity orientation create a shared reality by emphasizing parental authority.
    4. High conversational orientation doesn’t emphasize parental authority or knowledge; instead a shared reality emerges from open discussion and debate of ideas.
    5. Each orientation represents a distinct way of creating a shared social reality.
    6. They call this coorientation or “a situation where two or more individuals focus their cognitive attention on the same object in their social or physical environment and form beliefs and attitudes about the object.”
    7. Coorientation doesn’t mean that family members always agree with each other, but most families experience pressure to achieve at least some level of agreement.
    8. Conversation and conformity are two different means of achieving such coorientation.
  1. Conversation and conformity form four family types
    1. Almost all families contain some mixture of conformity and conversation orientation, though they are inversely related.
      1. Pluralistic families exhibit high conversation and low conformity orientations.
      2. Protective families stress high conformity with low conversation orientation.
      3. Laissez-faire families—meaning “hands-off”—are low in both conversation and conformity.
      4. Consensual families report highs in both conversation and conformity orientations.
    2. Families might look very different from each other, and research suggests that certain types may be healthier than others.
  1. Family communication patterns and the first year of college
    1. In protective families, parents invade their children’s privacy.
      1. Students from protective families were much more likely to report that their parents did things like ask personal questions, read their emails, or check on social media feeds.
      2. This didn’t occur in either laissez—faire or pluralistic families, which makes sense given a low conformity orientation.
      3. But in consensual families—despite high conformity orientations—parents don’t snoop.
    2. For students, privacy invasions were tolerable at first but got worse later on.
      1. Early on, privacy invasions didn’t impact well-being.
      2. Both high conversation and low conformity orientations were helpful to mitigate negative effects.
    3. Consensual families are at risk too.
      1. Consensual parents were less likely to pry; however, their children were less likely to defend their parents’ actions.
      2. Consensual families may also risk generating too much dependence on parents and when that happens, it may threaten the mental health of young adult children.
  1. Schemas with long-lasting effects
    1. In the workplace, employees who were raised in high conformity households as children are much more likely to keep their on-the-job concerns to themselves.
    2. Elizabeth Graham found that adults raised in consensual families were more likely to discuss and participate in political activities compared to those raised in other forms of families. Children from laissez-faire households were the least politically engaged as adults.
    3. Emily Rauscher found that family communication patterns span generations though are capable of change with deliberate choices.
    4. Koerner and Fitzpatrick argue that communication patterns are schema or mental representations of knowledge.
    5. Through these communication patterns, families equip children with schema for understanding all social relationships.
  1. Critique: More conversations are needed about conformity
    1. There is one key reason why family communication patterns theory reigns as the leading family communication theory: relative simplicity.
    2. The theory’s testable hypotheses have enabled scholars to predict how family communication patterns are associated with many diverse outcomes.
    3. Quantitative research suggests that there may be no area of human life untouched by family communication patterns.
    4. The theory’s weakness lies in the ability of conformity orientation to explain the data.
    5. Given family’s formative role in life and foundational place in culture, few things in relational life are more practically useful than understanding it.

Chapter  8Social Penetration Theory


  1. Introduction.
  1. Developed by social psychologists Irwin Altman and Dalmas Taylor, social penetration theory explains how relational closeness develops.
  2. Closeness develops only if individuals proceed in a gradual and orderly fashion from superficial to intimate levels of exchange as a function of both immediate and forecast outcomes.
  1. Personality structure: a multilayered onion.
  1. The outer layer is the public self.
  2. The inner core is one’s private domain.
  1. Closeness through self-disclosure.
  1. The main route to deep social penetration is through verbal self-disclosure.
  2. With the onion-wedge model, the depth of penetration represents the degree of personal disclosure.
  3. The layers of the onion are tougher and more tightly wrapped near the center.
  1. The depth and breadth of self-disclosure.
  1. Peripheral items are exchanged more frequently and sooner than private information.
  2. Self-disclosure is reciprocal, especially in early stages of relationship development.
  3. Penetration is rapid at the start but slows down quickly as the tightly wrapped inner layers are reached.
  1. Societal norms prevent too much early self-disclosure.
  2. Most relationships stall before a stable intimate exchange is established.
  3. Genuine intimate exchange is rare but when it is achieved, relationships become meaningful and enduring.
  4. Sharing personal narratives, which tend to contain a carefully structured story, deeper emotion, and greater detail than other shared information, is a quick path to stronger bonds.
  1. Depenetration is a gradual process of layer-by-layer withdrawal.
  2. For true intimacy, depth and breadth of penetration are equally important.
  1. Regulating closeness on the basis of rewards and costs.
  1. Social penetration theory draws heavily on the social exchange theory of John Thibaut and Harold Kelley.
  2. If perceived mutual benefits outweigh the costs of greater vulnerability, the process of social penetration will proceed.
  3. Three important concepts are: relational outcome; relational satisfaction; and relational stability.
  1. Relational outcome: Rewards minus costs.
  1. Thibaut and Kelley suggest that people try to predict the outcome of an interaction before it takes place.
  1. The economic approach to determining behavior dates from John Stuart Mill’s principle of utility.
  2. The minimax principle of human behavior claims that people seek to maximize benefits and minimize costs.
  3. The higher we index a relational outcome, the more attractive the behavior that might make it happen.
  1. Social exchange theory assumes that people can accurately gauge the benefits of their actions and make sensible choices based on their predictions.
  2. As relationships develop, the nature of interaction that friends find rewarding evolves.
  1. The comparison level (CL): Gauging relational satisfaction.
  1. A person’s CL is the threshold above which an outcome appears attractive.
  2. Our relational history establishes our CL for friendship, romance, or family ties.
  3. Sequence and trends play large roles in evaluating a relationship.
  1. The comparison level of alternatives (CLalt): Gauging relational stability.
  1. The CLalt is the best relational outcomes currently available outside the relationship.
  2. While one’s CL is relatively stable over time, CLalt compares the options at the current moment.
  3. When current outcomes slide below an established CLalt,, relational instability increases.
  4. Social exchange theories have an economic orientation.
  5. The CLalt explains why people sometimes stay in unsatisfying relationships.
  1. Some women endure abuse because Outcome > CLalt.
  2. They will leave only when CLalt > Outcome.
  1. The relative values of Outcome, CL, and CLalt help determine one’s willingness to disclose.
  1. Optimum disclosure will occur when both parties believe that Outcome > CLalt > CL.
  2. A relationship can be more than satisfying if it is stable, but other satisfying options are also available (in case this relationship turns sour).
  1. Ethical reflection: Epicurus’ ethical egoism.
  1. Psychological egoism reflects many social scientists’ conviction that all of us are motivated by self-interest.
  2. Ethical egoism claims we should act selfishly.
  3. Epicurus emphasized the passive pleasures of friendship, good digestion, and above all, the absence of pain.
  4. Other philosophers (Thomas Hobbes, Adam Smith, Friedrich Nietzsche, Ayn Rand) echo the Epicurean call for selfish concern.
  1. Dialectics and the environment.
  1. Altman originally thought that openness is the predominant quality of relationship changes.  The desire for privacy may counteract a unidirectional quest for intimacy.
  2. A dialectical model suggests that human social relationships are characterized by openness or contact and closedness or separateness between participants.
  3. Altman also identified the environment as a heuristic cue that might guide our decisions to disclose.
  4. Disclosing of one’s self may include both our cognitive space (our minds, thoughts) and our physical space or territory. 
  5. Sandra Petronio’s communication privacy management theory (ch. 12) maps out the intricate ways people manage boundaries around their personal information.
  1. Critique: Pulling back from social penetration.
  1. Petronio thinks it’s simplistic to equate self-disclosure with relational closeness.
  2. She also challenges the theorists’ view of disclosure boundaries as being fixed and increasingly less permeable.
  3. Natalie Pennington suggests that much of “what is discovered is passively consumed and rarely discussed” when learning about others through social media. The theory may need to be updated to account for newer communication technology.
  4. Can a complex blend of advantages and disadvantages be reliably reduced to a single index?
  5. Are people so consistently selfish that they always opt to act strictly in their own best interest?
  6. Paul Wright believes that friendships often reach a point of such closeness that self-centered concerns are no longer salient.
  7. Nevertheless, the theory has withstood the test of time with testable hypotheses and quantitative research. 

 


Chapter  9Uncertainty Reduction Theory


  1. Introduction.
  1. No matter how close two people eventually become, they always begin as strangers.
  2. Charles Berger noted that the beginnings of personal relationships are fraught with uncertainties.
  3. Uncertainty reduction theory focuses on how human communication is used to gain knowledge and create understanding.
  4. Any of three prior conditions—anticipation of future interaction, incentive value, or deviance—can boost our drive to reduce uncertainty.
  1. Uncertainty reduction: To predict and explain.
  1. Berger’s emphasis on explanation (our inferences about why people do what they do) comes from the attribution theory of Fritz Heider.
  2. There are at least two types of uncertainty.
  1. Behavioral questions, which are often reduced by following accepted procedural protocols.
  2. Cognitive questions, which are reduced by acquiring information. Cognitive uncertainty is what Berger is addressing.
  1. An axiomatic theory: Certainty about uncertainty.
  1. Berger proposed a series of axioms to explain the connection between uncertainty and eight key variables.
  2. Axioms are traditionally regarded as self-evident truths that require no additional proof.
  1. Axiom 1, verbal communication: As the amount of verbal communication between strangers increases, the level of uncertainty decreases, and as a result, verbal communication increases.
  2. Axiom 2, nonverbal warmth: As nonverbal affiliative expressiveness increases, uncertainty levels will decrease.  Decreases in uncertainty level will cause increases in nonverbal warmth.
  3. Axiom 3, information seeking: High levels of uncertainty cause increases in information-seeking behavior.  As uncertainty levels decline, information-seeking behavior decreases.
  4. Axiom 4, self-disclosure: High levels of uncertainty in a relationship cause decreases in the intimacy level of communication content.  Low levels of uncertainty produce high levels of intimacy.
  5. Axiom 5, reciprocity: High levels of uncertainty produce high rates of reciprocity.  Low levels of uncertainty produce low levels of reciprocity.
  6. Axiom 6, similarity: Similarities between persons reduce uncertainty, while dissimilarities produce increases in uncertainty.
  7. Axiom 7, liking:  Increases in uncertainty level produce decreases in liking; decreases in uncertainty produce increases in liking.
  8. Axiom 8, shared networks: Shared communication networks reduce uncertainty, while a lack of shared networks increases uncertainty.
  1. Theorems: The logical force of uncertainty axioms.
  1. Through pairing axioms, Berger creates 28 theorems.
  2. These 28 theorems suggest a comprehensive theory of interpersonal development based on the importance of reducing uncertainty in human interaction.
  1. Three intriguing issues raised by URT
  1. The restricted scope (initial encounters) and axiomatic form of his theory stimulated other communication scholars to explore three questions that might have also occurred to you.
  2. Does uncertainty reduction work the same way in intercultural situations?
  1. The greater the cultural gap, the greater the complexity and initial uncertainty for both parties.
  2. William Gudykunst proposed 47 axioms that describe the factors that impact uncertainty in intercultural encounters including motivation, expectations, empathy, self-esteem, tolerance for ambiguity, and ability to process complex information.
  3. Gudykunst’s most important contribution to interaction with strangers is to address reduction of anxiety as well as uncertainty.
  1. Can uncertainty wreak havoc in ongoing relationships?
  1. After the initial phase, Leanne Knobloch suggests that uncertainty in close relationships arises from whether we’re sure about our own thoughts, the other person’s thoughts, and our future.
  2. Partner interference (where we feel hindered in our goals by our partner) can increase uncertainty, 
  3. Uncertainty in ongoing relationships leads to relational turbulence, addressed through direct attempts to reduce it.
  1. When emotions run high, how do people manage uncertainty?
  1. Walid Afifi says that when an interpersonal issue is really important, most people first consider the gap between what they know and what they want to know.
  2. The emotions stimulated by this uncertainty gap force us to contemplate three questions of efficacy (coping, communication, and target).
  1. Seeking information to reduce uncertainty
  1. Theorists have outlined four approaches we can use to reduce uncertainty.
  2. Using a passive strategy, we unobtrusively observe others from a distance.
  3. In an active strategy, we ask a third party for information.
  4. With an interactive strategy, we talk face-to-face with the other person and ask specific questions.
  5. The extractive strategy involves searching for information online.
  1. Critique: Nagging doubts about uncertainty.
  1. Berger’s uncertainty reduction theory was an early prototype of what an objective theory should be and it continues to inspire a new generation of scholars today.
  2. Though numerous, the axioms and theorems offer specific, testable hypotheses, are simple to understand, and offer a pragmatic approach based on quantitative research.
  3. As Berger himself admitted, his original statement contained some propositions of dubious validity.
  4. Critics such as Kathy Kellermann consider theorem 17 particularly flawed.
  1. The tight logical structure of the theory doesn't allow us to reject one theorem without questioning the axioms behind it.
  2. In the case of theorem 17, axioms 3 and 7 must also be suspect.
  3. Kellermann and Rodney Reynolds challenge the motivational assumption of axiom 3.
  4. They also have undermined the claim that motivation to search for information is increased by anticipation of future interaction, incentive value, and deviance.
  1. Michael Sunnafrank challenges Berger’s claim that uncertainty reduction is the key to understanding early encounters.
  1. He believes that predicted outcome value more accurately explains communication in early encounters.
  2. Berger insists that you can't predict outcome values until you reduce uncertainty.
  3. Walid Afifi thinks both theories are too narrow. In his theory of motivated information management, he suggests we’re most motivated to reduce anxiety rather than uncertainty.
  1. Despite these problems, Berger's theory has stimulated considerable discussion within the discipline.

Chapter 10Social Information Processing Theory


  1. Introduction.
    1. Social information processing theory’s chief claim is this: People can build interpersonal relationships despite the limitations imposed by mediated channels.
    2. Rapid changes in communication technology over the past several decades have frustrated communication scholars seeking to understand what all of this means for interpersonal relationships.
    3. Walther proposed that under the right conditions, people can conduct satisfying interpersonal and group communication online.
    4. SIP addresses any form of mediated communication that limits the nonverbal cues people can express.
  1. Online versus face-to-face: A sip instead of a gulp.
    1. Walther labeled his theory social information processing (SIP) because he believes relationships grow only to the extent that parties first gain information about each other and use that information to form impressions.
    2. It’s a chain of events that occurs regardless of the medium used to communicate: we get information, we form an impression, and then the relationship grows.
    3. SIP focuses on how the first link of the chain looks a bit different when communicating online.
    4. Before SIP, many communication theorists shared a cues filtered out interpretation of online messages. They believed the lack of nonverbal cues would disrupt the process of gaining information and forming an impression.
    5. Flaming is use of hostile language that zings its target, creating a toxic climate for relationship development and growth.
    6. Walther doesn’t think the loss of nonverbal cues is necessarily fatal or even injurious to a well-defined impression of the other or the relational development it triggers.
    7. Two features of online communication provide a rationale for SIP theory.
      1. Verbal cues: CMC users can create fully formed impressions of others based solely on linguistic content of messages.
      2. Extended time: Though the exchange of social information is slower online versus face-to-face, over time the relationships formed are not weaker or more fragile.
  1. Verbal cues of affinity replace nonverbal cues.
    1. Based on Mehrabian’s foundational research on inconsistent messages, people gave nonverbal cues more weight when interpreting messages where verbal and nonverbal channels clash.
    2. Nonverbal cues become less powerful when they don’t conflict with the verbal message or when we’re conveying facts.
    3. Walther claims we can replace nonverbal cues with verbal messages that convey the same meaning.
    4. This ability to convert nonverbal cues into verbal meaning isn’t new; earlier examples include pen-pal relationships.
  1. Experimental support for a counter-intuitive idea
    1. Walther and his colleagues ran studies to test how online communicators pursue their social goals and if affinity can be expressed through a digital medium.
      1. In their study, the participants discussed a moral dilemma with a stranger via either online or face-to-face communication.  The stranger was actually a research confederate told to pursue a specific communication goal.  Half the confederates were told to interact in a friendly manner and the remaining pairs were told to interact in an unfriendly manner.
      2. The medium of communication made no difference in the emotional tone perceived by the participants.
      3. Self-disclosure, praise, and explicit statements of affection successfully communicated warmth.
      4. In face-to-face interactions, participants relied on facial expression, eye contact, tone of voice, body position, and other nonverbal cues to communicate affiliation.
    2. Compared to visually-oriented channels, building warmth over text might take longer.
  1. Extended time: The crucial variable in online communication.
    1. According to Walther, online communicators need extended time to build close connections.
    2. Rather than drinking a glass by taking big gulps, smaller sips will take more time.
    3. Over an extended period, the issue is not the amount of social information that can be conveyed online; rather, it’s the rate at which that information mounts up.
    4. Email and Twitter allow us to send messages, but still mostly text. Even more visual media (Zoom, Instagram) still provide less social information than would be available face-to-face.
    5. Messages spoken in person take at least four times as long to communicate online. This differential may explain why online interactions are perceived as impersonal and task-oriented.
    6. Anticipated future interaction and chronemic cues may also contribute to intimacy on the Internet.
      1. People will trade more relational messages if they think they may meet again and this anticipated future interaction motivates them to develop the relationship.
      2. Walther believes that chronemic cues, or nonverbal indicators of how people perceive, use, or respond to issues of time, are never filtered out completely when communicating online. 
    7. Walther claims that, sometimes, online exchanges actually surpass the quality of relational communication that’s available when parties talk face-to-face.
  1. Hyperpersonal perspective: Closer online than in person.
    1. Walther uses the term hyperpersonal to label online relationships that are more intimate than if partners were physically together.
    2. He classifies four types of media effects that occur precisely because communicators aren’t face-to-face and have limited nonverbal cues.
      1. Sender: Selective self-presentation
        1. Through selective self-presentation, people who meet online have an opportunity to make and sustain an overwhelmingly positive impression.
        2. As a relationship develops, they can carefully edit the breadth and depth of their self-disclosure to conform to their cyber image, without worrying that nonverbal leakage will shatter their projected persona.
      2. Receiver: Overattribution of similarity
        1. Attribution is a perceptual process where we observe people’s actions and try to figure out what they’re really like.
        2. In the absence of other cues, we are likely to overattribute the information we have and create an idealized image of the sender.
      3. Channel: Communicating on your own time
        1. Many forms of online communication are asynchronous channels of communication, meaning that parties can use them nonsimultaneously— at different times.
        2. A benefit is the ability to edit when dealing with touchy issues, misunderstandings, or conflict between parties.
      4. Feedback: Self-fulfilling prophecy
        1. A self-fulfilling prophecy is the tendency for a person’s expectation of others to evoke a response from them that confirms what was anticipated.
        2. Self-fulfilling prophecy is triggered when the hyperpositive image is intentionally or inadvertently fed back to the other person.
        3. Beyond online dating, Walther suggests hyperpersonal communication may improve relationships between groups with a strong history of tension and conflict, such as Israeli Jews and Palestinian Muslims.
        4. Based on his research, Walther suggests that in order to ease tensions, communicators should focus on common tasks rather than group differences, allowing plenty of time for communication, and exclusively using text-only channels.
  1. The warranting value of information: What to trust?
    1. Hyperpersonal effects aren’t likely to occur when people don’t trust each other.
    2. Walther and his colleagues have examined how people evaluate the credibility of others through social media.
    3. Social media sites display two types of information—that controlled by the profile owner and that beyond the owner’s direct control.
    4. Walther’s investigated the warranting value of personal information, or “the degree to which a target… is perceived to have manipulated, controlled, or shaped information that is abut the target.”  
    5. Information is believed if it has warranting value. Does their online profile match their offline characteristics?
      1. Like email messages, whose content is under the sole control of the sender, information posted by a profile owner is low warrant information because he or she can manipulate it with ease.
      2. Since the profile owner can’t as easily manipulate what’s posted by friends, we’re more likely to accept such high warrant information as true.
    6. Walther believes this happens offline too where we weigh differently the words of others.
    7. Walther’s experiments confirm that people trust high warrant information.
  1. Critique: Does it work outside the lab?
    1. The hyperpersonal model is over 20 years old and was created to describe an online environment that no longer exists. Yet it remains one of the most important and most useful conceptual perspectives for understanding technology-mediated communication.
    2. The theory’s relative simplicity, grounded with testable hypotheses, has performed well in the controlled conditions of quantitative research labs.
    3. It consistently explains the data and predicts outcomes.
    4. But what about outside the lab, where social life is so complex?
    5. Moving beyond the lab, researchers hope for ecological validity.
    6. The work of Erin Ruppel and Bree McEwan questions if the theory’s predictions hold up in real-world relationships.
    7. SIP does not explain how people use multiple media to maintain their relationships.
    8. By focusing on the fundamentals of the communication process, Walther and other SIP researchers have laid a solid foundation.

Chapter 11Relational Dialectics Theory


  1. Introduction
  1. Leslie Baxter’s theory of relational dialectics treats talk as the essence of close ties.
  2. Baxter found people are caught in “a dynamic knot of contradictions, a ceaseless interplay between contrary and opposing tendencies.
  3. Baxter’s work has generated two versions of RDT, the original statement and premises (RDT 1.0) and the more recent RDT 2.0 with discourse as the core concept.
  1. Discourses that create meaning
  1. The central concept of relational dialectics theory is the discourse, or streams of talk that “cohere around a given object of meaning.”
  2. Baxter thinks discourses constitute or construct what things mean.
  3. We can see the constitutive nature of discourse in how relational partners talk about their similarities and differences. Much traditional scholarship values similarities as a positive glue causing closing.
  4. Baxter’s constitutive approach disagrees. Differences are just as important as similarities.
  5. We tend to think of how we use talk. It’s strange to think about how talk shapes us.  
  1. Dialogue versus monologue
  1. To help make sense of the world of discourse, Baxter draws heavily on the thinking of 20th century Russian intellectual Mikhail Bakhtin.
  2. Bakhtin’s philosophy criticized monologue—a mode of talking that emphasizes one official discourse and silences all others.
  3. Bakhtin embraced dialogue as “a process in which unity and difference, in some form, are at play, both with and against one another.”
  4. Baxter thinks that dialogue animates interpersonal relationships, with our talk reverberating with words spoken before, words yet to come, and words we may never dare voice. She refers to this as an utterance chain. 
  5. Although Baxter believes discourses create any interpersonal connection, most of the recent research on the theory has investigated the family.
  1. Three common dialectics that shape relationships
  1. Across hundreds of interviews about close ties, Baxter heard people voice three recurring themes: integration–separation, stability–change, and expression–nonexpression.
  2. In her first iteration of the theory (RDT 1.0), she called these contradictions. She no longer prefers that word, since it may tempt people to think she’s talking about psychological conflict between different desires.
  3. Baxter thinks we have such internal motivations, but because she takes communication seriously, she thinks cultural discourses create and shape them.
  4. Baxter refers to these themes as discursive struggles or competing discourses.
  5. The Internal Dialectic describes the three dialectics as they shape the relationship between two people.
  6. The External Dialectic describes the dialectics as they create the relationship between two people and the community around them.
  1. Integration and separation.
  1. Within any given relationship, Baxter regards the discursive struggle between connection and autonomy as foundational.
  2. If one side prevails, the relationship loses.
  3. The discourses of integration and separation also address a pair’s inclusion with and seclusion from other people in their social network
  1. Stability and change.
  1. Without the spice of variety to season our time together, relationships become bland, boring, and, ultimately, emotionally dead.
  2. The external version of certainty/uncertainty is conventionality/uniqueness.
  3. Discourses of conventionality consider how a relationship is similar to other relationships, while discourses of uniqueness emphasize difference.
  1. Expression and nonexpression.
  1. The discourse of expression clashes with the discourse of nonexpression.
  2. Just as the openness-closedness dialectic is an ongoing discursive struggle within a relationship, couples and families also face choices about what information to reveal or conceal from third parties.
  1. How meaning emerges from struggles between discourses
  1. Not all discourses are equal: it’s common for some discourses to possess more prominence than others.
  2. Baxter chooses not to focus on the management of discourses because saying that people “manage” discourses “implies that contradictions, or discursive struggles, exist outside of communication.”
  3. She’d rather consider how patterns of talk position certain discourses as dominant or marginalized.
  4. Her work has identified two such overarching patterns, differentiated by time.
    1. In one pattern, competing discourses ebb and flow but never appear together, called diachronic separation.
    2. In contrast, synchronic interplay voices multiple discourses in the same time and place.
  1. Separation: Different discourses at different times.
  1. According to Baxter, separation isn’t unusual.
  2. Simultaneous expression of opposing voices is the exception rather than the rule.
  3. Baxter has identified two typical patterns of separation:
  1. Spiraling inversion involves switching back and forth across time between two contrasting discourses, voicing one and then the other.
  2. Segmentation compartmentalizes different aspects of the relationship.
  1. Compared to the monologue of one dominant discourse, Baxter thinks separation is a step in the right direction.
  1. Interplay: Different discourses at the same time
  1. Baxter’s findings describe four forms of interplay, starting with those that are more like a monologue and moving to those that are more dialogic.
  1. Negating mentions a marginalized discourse in order to dismiss it as unimportant.
  2. Countering replaces an expected discourse with an alternative discourse.
  3. Entertaining recognizes that every discourse has alternatives
  4. Transforming combines two or more discourses, changing them into something new.
  1. Perhaps the highest form of transformation is the aesthetic moment: “a momentary sense of unity through a profound respect for the disparate voices in dialogue.”
  1. Ethical reflection: Martin Buber’s dialogic ethics
  1. Baxter notes that Martin Buber’s ethical approach is particularly compatible with relational dialectics theory.
  2. His ethical approach focus on relationships between people rather than moral codes of conduct.
  3. Buber contrasts two types of relationships: I-It (where others are treated as things to be used) versus I-Thou (where partners are regarded as the very one we are).
  4. Buber said we can only do this through dialogue, though his use of the term is closer in meaning to Bakhtin’s aesthetic moment.
  5. In dialogue, we create a between through which we help each other become more human.
  6. A narrow ridge exists that separates relativism from absolutism. 
  1. Critique: Aesthetic moments, yes; Aesthetic appeal, perhaps not.
  1. Relational dialectics theory stacks up quite well as an interpretive theory.
  1. The theory offers a new way to make sense out of close relationships.
  2. Leslie Baxter’s work has inspired a generation of relational dialectics scholars, and they’re continuing her work. But she does so by excluding objective scholarship and promoting qualitative work almost exclusively.
  3. By encouraging a diverse group of people to talk about their relationships, and taking what they say seriously, Baxter models the high value that Bakhtin placed on hearing multiple voices.
  4. Not only does Baxter listen to multiple voices, but her theory seeks to carve out a space where marginalized voices can be heard.
  5. The theory emphasizes the importance of qualitative work when using the theory.
  6. Baxter’s work deserves praise for its complexity but the richness of ideas and nuanced philosophical terms make it a tough sell on aesthetic merits.
  1. In describing fleeting moments of wholeness, Baxter holds out an attractive ideal to which we can aspire, where the pull of opposing discourses may actually be fun.

Chapter 12Communication Privacy Management Theory


  1. Introduction.
  1. Petronio sees communication privacy management theory as a description of how people handle their private information.
  2. Instead of talking about self-disclosure as many relational theorists do, Petronio refers to the disclosure of private information.
  1. A lot of private information we tell others is not about ourselves.
  2. Self-disclosure is usually associated with intimacy, but there can be other motives for disclosure.
  3. It has a neutral connotation, whereas self-disclosure has a positive feel.
  4. It draws attention to the content of what is said and how the confidant responds.
  1. Ownership and control of private information: People believe they own and have a right to control their private information.
  1. We regard private information as something we own.
  1. Petronio defines privacy as “the feeling one has the right to own private information.”
  2. It doesn’t matter if the perception of ownership is accurate.
  1. Ownership conveys rights and obligations.        
  1. Privacy boosts our sense of autonomy and makes us feel less vulnerable.
  2. Our sense of ownership motivates us to create boundaries that will control the spread of what we know.
  1. Rules for concealing and revealing: People control their private information through the use of personal privacy rules.
  1. An easy way to grasp what she means is to remember that people usually have rules for managing their private information.
  2. Five factors play into the development of a person’s unique privacy rules including culture, gender, motivation, context, and risk/benefit ratio.
  1. Cultures differ on the value of openness and disclosure.
  2. With regards to gender, popular wisdom suggests that women disclose more than men, yet research on this issue is mixed at best. Both men and women would more easily reveal private information to a woman.
  3. Petronio emphasizes attraction and liking as interpersonal motives that can loosen privacy boundaries that could not otherwise be breached.
  4. Traumatic events can temporarily or permanently disrupt the influence of culture, gender, and motivation when people craft their rules for privacy.
  5. Risk/benefit ratios do the math for revealing as well as concealing private information.
  1. Disclosure creates a confidant and co-owner: When others are told or discover a person’s private information, they become co-owners of that information.
  1. The act of disclosing private information creates a confidant and draws that person into a collective privacy boundary whether willingly or reluctantly.
  2. Disclosing information to another person results in co-ownership.
  1. The discloser must realize the personal privacy boundary has morphed into a collective boundary that seldom shrinks back to being solely personal.
  2. As co-owners, people tend to feel responsibility for the information, though not always equally.
  3. Those who had the information foisted upon them may be more casual about protecting it.
  1. Coordinating mutual privacy boundaries: Co-owners of private information need to negotiate mutually agreeable privacy rules about telling others.
  1. This pivotal fourth principle of CPM is where Petronio moves from being descriptive to prescriptive.
  2. Assuming the privacy boundaries co-owners place around the information are different, co-owners must negotiate mutual privacy boundaries—collective boundaries that people shape together.
  3. Boundary ownership is the rights and responsibilities that co-owners of private information have to control its spread.
  1. Not all boundary ownership is 50-50.
  2. A deliberate confidant is someone who intentionally seeks private information, and often the more eager they are to be confided in, the less control they have over what they hear.
  3. A reluctant confidant doesn’t want the disclosure, doesn’t expect it, may find the revealed information an unwelcome burden, and often feels only a vague sense of responsibility to disclosed information, resulting in less of an obligation to follow the privacy guidelines of the discloser.
  4. A shareholder is someone fully vested in keeping the information according to the original owner’s rules.
  5. A stakeholder is someone deemed to deserve access and control.
  1. Boundary linkage is the process of the confidant being linked into the privacy boundary of the person who revealed the information.
  1. When the revealer and recipient have a close relationship, the recipient is more likely to deal with the new information the way the revealer wants.
  2. One motive to create further boundary linkages is a desire for social support to cope with difficult information.
  1. Boundary permeability—How much information can flow?
  1. Informational barriers can be closed, thick, or stretched tight allowing little information to pass through, or boundaries can be open, thin, or loosely held allowing information to easily pass through.
  2. Permeability is a matter of degree.
  1. Boundary turbulence - Relationships at risk: When co-owners of private information don’t effectively negotiate and follow jointly held privacy rules, boundary turbulence is the likely result.
  1. Boundary turbulence is “disruptions in the way that co-owners control and regulate the flow of private information to third parties.”
  2. Turbulence can radically alter our relationships by the way it affects our thoughts, feelings, and actions.
  3. Petronio predicts that people react to turbulence in attempts to regulate the disturbed relationships that it creates. 
  4. Fuzzy boundaries occur when there are no recognized mutual boundaries, in which case a confidant resorts to using their own privacy rules to guide what they say to others.
  5. Intentional breaches occur when a confidant purposefully reveals a secret they know the original owner does not want shared.
  1. They may do so to intentionally hurt the original owner or simply because to do so works to their personal advantage.
  2. A confidentiality dilemma occurs when a confidant must breach a collective privacy boundary in order to promote the original owner’s welfare
  1. Not all boundary and relational turbulence comes from privacy rules out of sync or the intentional breach of boundaries.
  1. Sometimes people create turmoil by making mistakes, such as letting secrets slip out when their guard is down or simply forgetting who might have access to the information.
  2. Errors of judgment occur when someone discusses private cases in public places.
  3. A miscalculation in timing can cause turbulence when information is revealed at a bad time.
  1. Critique: Keen diagnosis, good prescription, cure in process?
  1. CPM nicely meets five of the six criteria for a good interpretive theory.
  2. It scores well on providing a new understanding of people, backing that up by sound qualitative research, the support of a community of agreement, clarifying privacy as a value, and calling for reform (though that is a bit of a stretch). 
  3. CPM lacks aesthetic appeal, in both style and clarity.
  4. A gap in the theory is that Petronio does not offer insight on how to conduct negotiations or offer solutions for when boundary turbulence occurs.
  5. Over the 35 years in working with the theory, she’s acknowledged the theory’s ambiguities and repackaged things for improved clarity.

Chapter 13Media Multiplexity Theory


  1. Introduction.
  1. Caroline Haythornthwaite found that the number of media we use in a relationship often reveals the kind of bond we have with that person.
  2. Media multiplexity theory rests on a consistent empirical finding: the stronger the relational tie we have with a person, the more media we use with that person.
  3. Haythornthwaite took a cybernetic approach to understanding how and why we use different communication channels
  1. Mapping our social networks.
  1. Scholars in the cybernetic tradition think we can map out what our relationships look like in a social network.
  2. Social network scholars call bonds weak ties if they don’t consume much time or energy, like acquaintances, classmates, and distant relatives.
  3. In contrast, strong ties such as romantic partners, immediate family, and deep friends demand that we make a significant investment in the relationship.
  4. Sociologist Mark Granovetter offered a more formal definition of tie strength, claiming it is a “combination of the amount of time, the emotional intensity, the intimacy (mutual confidence), and the reciprocal services” exchanged in the relationship.
  5. Cybernetic theorists want to understand how the structure of a network shapes the flow of information and resources between people.
  1. When are strong ties weak, and when are weak ties strong?
  1. With strong ties, we experience acceptance, intimacy, and enjoyment.
  2. Stanford sociologist Mark Granovetter claimed he wasn’t so sure that strong ties are always better than weak ties.
  3. He affirmed the importance of close relationships for understanding our identity, but noted that strong ties feature a major weakness: They’re redundant when it comes to accessing information and resources.
  4. According to Granovetter, quick access to diverse information is one strength of weak ties.
  5. Among weak ties, bridging ties serve a particularly powerful role. They’re the ties that connect one strong tie group to another.
  6. Granovetter’s treatise on weak ties has inspired many scholars, including Haythornthwaite, who found his explanation of strong and weak ties particularly helpful for understanding the channels that sustain them.
  1. The five propositions of media multiplexity theory.
  1. Proposition #1: Tie strength is positively associated with media multiplexity.
  1. At first, Haythornthwaite wanted to understand how online learners adapt to the computer-mediated environment: “What happens to such relationships when face-to-face contact is unavailable or severely limited?”
  2. But Haythornthwaite’s findings soon drove her into unexplored terrain: “Asking ‘who talks to whom about what and via which media’ revealed the unexpected result that more strongly tied pairs make use of more of the available media, a phenomenon I have termed media multiplexity.”
  3. What differentiated strong ties from weak ties was the number of media the pair employed. Greater tie strength seemed to drive greater numbers of media used.
  4. Although Haythornthwaite initially observed media multiplexity in educational and organizational groups, scholars in the socio-psychological tradition soon took her ideas and applied them to interpersonal contexts.
  1. Proposition #2: Communication content differs by tie strength, not by medium.
  1. SIP researchers have been most interested in the getting-to-know-you phase of relationship initiation, and they’ve pointed to the need for extended time during it.
  2. Media multiplexity theorists have been more interested in the maintenance of ongoing relationships, and they’ve pointed to the nature of the interpersonal tie itself.
  3. Earlier in her research, Haythornthwaite has found that the medium partners use doesn’t change the topic of their talk.
  4. With many more and varied channels, some scholars think this proposition may not always hold true.
  5. Samuel Hardman Taylor speculates this allocation may occur due to the affordances of the channel, or the properties of the channel that enable or constrain certain actions.
  1. Proposition #3: Tie strength and media use cause one another over time.
  1. According to media multiplexity theory, media use and tie strength cause each other.
  2. Weak ties are uncomplicated and don’t need many channels to sustain them. Stronger ties require more media to orchestrate their varied and interdependent connections.
  1. Proposition #4: Changes in the media landscape particularly influence weak ties.
  1. Media multiplexity thory recognizes that sometimes we lose the ability to communicate through a channel.
  2. Overall, then, “a central thesis of MMT is that… changes to the media landscape alter strong ties only minimally but may change the nature of weak ties considerably.”
  1. Proposition #5: Groups have hierarchies of media use expectations.
  1. Allocation of different channels for different kinds of times creates a hierarchy of media use expectations.
  2. To Haythornthwaite, there is nothing sacred about the hierarchy of media use.
  3. Andrew Ledbetter and Samuel Hardman Taylor found that changes in media channel usage is viewed as a violation by family members.
  1. Ethical reflection: Turkle’s reclaiming conversation
  1. Media multiplexity theory treats channels as interchangeable—what we can communicate across one medium, we can find a way to communicate in another.
  2. What matters is the number of channels used, not the nature of those channels.
  3. Sherry Turkle is concerned that the connectivity provided by mobile technologies has unanticipated negative consequences for the health of interpersonal relationships.
  4. She is convinced the continuous distraction of mobile technology deflects from that which makes us truly human—conversation, intimacy, and empathy.
  5. The devices that allow us to talk to people everywhere may hinder our ability to connect with those who are right here, right now.
  1. Critique: Strong on simplicity, weak on explanation and prediction.
  1. Media multiplexity theory is the youngest theory in this book, yet it has gained a sizable following among scholars within and outside the communication discipline.
  2. “To date, [the theory] represents the most comprehensive and systematic attempt to explain how the multimodality of social life influences, and is influenced by, the characteristics of interpersonal relationships.”
  3. One of the theory’s greatest strengths is its relative simplicity.
  4. These hypotheses are testable, and as scholars have conducted quantitative research, the numbers have tended to support the theory’s claims.
  5. Where the theory falters is its explanation of the data.
  6. Haythornthwaite seems to emphasize that tie strength drives channel expansion. Yet at other times, she acknowledges that increased communication probably strengthens the tie.
  7. Another concern about explanation of the data involves the theory’s boundary conditions. Media multiplexity might not occur in certain types of relationships.
  8. Additional research on the theory’s causality claims could enhance the theory’s ability to predict future events.
  9. Despite the need for better prediction and explanation, the theory has demonstrated its practical utility.

Chapter 14Social Judgment Theory


  1. Three latitudes: Acceptance, rejection, and noncommitment.
  1. Social judgment theory says that at the instant of perception, people compare messages to their present point of view.
  2. Individuals’ opinions are not adequately represented as a point along a continuum because degrees of tolerance around their positions must also be considered.
  3. Muzafer and Carolyn Sherif established three zones of attitudes.
  1. The latitude of acceptance represents ideas that are reasonable or acceptable.
  2. The latitude of rejection includes items that are unreasonable or objectionable.
  3. The latitude of noncommitment represents ideas that are neither acceptable nor objectionable.
  1. A description of a person’s attitude structure must include the location and width of each interrelated latitude.
  2. In order to craft a more persuasive message, social judgment theory recommends that a communicator try to figure out the location and breadth of the other person’s three latitudes before further discussion.
  1. Ego-involvement: How much do you care?
  1. Ego-involvement refers to how central or important an issue is in our lives.
  2. The favored position anchors all other thoughts about the topic.
  3. People who hold extreme views on either side almost always care deeply.
  4. Messages are compared or judged against one’s own position.
  1. Judging the message: Contrast and assimilation errors.
  1. The Sherifs claimed that we use our own anchored attitude as a comparison point when we hear a discrepant message.
  2. Contrast occurs when one perceives a message within the latitude of rejection as being more discrepant than it actually is from the anchor point.  This perceptual distortion leads to polarization of ideas.
  3. Assimilation, the opposite of contrast, occurs when one perceives a message within the latitude of acceptance as being less discrepant than it actually is from the anchor point.
  4. Although Sherif is unclear as to how people judge messages that fall within the latitude of noncommitment, most interpreters believe the message will be perceived as intended.
  1. Discrepancy and attitude change.
  1. Judging a message relative to our own position and shifting our anchor accordingly usually takes place below the level of consciousness.
  2. If individuals judge a new message to fall within their latitude of acceptance, they adjust their attitude to accommodate it.
  1. The persuasive effect will be positive but partial.
  2. The greater the discrepancy, the more individuals adjust their attitudes.
  3. The most persuasive message is the one that is most discrepant from the listener’s position, yet still falls within his or her latitude of acceptance or latitude of noncommitment.
  1. If individuals judge a new message to be within their latitude of rejection, they will adjust their attitude away from it.
  1. For individuals with high ego-involvement and broad latitudes of rejection, most messages that are aimed to persuade them that fall within a latitude of rejection have an effect opposite of what the communicator intended.
  2. This boomerang effect suggests that individuals are often driven, rather than drawn, to the positions they occupy.
  1. Sherif’s approach is quite automatic.
  1. He reduced interpersonal influence to the issue of the distance between the message and the hearer’s position.
  2. Volition exists only in choosing the message the persuader presents.
  1. Practical advice for the persuader.
  1. For maximum influence, select a message right on the edge of the audience’s latitude of acceptance or noncommitment.
  2. Ambiguous messages can sometimes serve better than clarity.
  3. Persuasion is a gradual process consisting of small movements.
  4. The most dramatic, widespread, and enduring attitude changes involve changes within reference groups where members have differing values.
  1. Empirical and anecdotal support for SJT
  1. Research on the predictions of social judgment theory requires highly ego-involved issues where strong resistance to some messages is likely.
  2. Sufficient sleep
  1. People will be swayed until they begin to regard a message as patently ridiculous.
  2. A highly credible speaker can shrink the listener’s latitude of rejection.
  1. Asking for money
  1. Application of the theory raises ethical problems.
  2. Is it okay to adapt your message based on the recipient’s latitude of acceptance?
  1. Ethical Reflections: Kant’s categorical imperative.
  1. Social judgment theory focuses on what is effective. But, before we adjust what we say so that it serves our ends and seems reasonable to others, we should consider what’s ethical.
  2. German philosopher Immanuel Kant believed that any time we speak or act, we have a moral obligation to be truthful.
  3. He held an absolutist position, based on his categorical imperative, which is “act only on that maxim which you can will to become a universal law.”
  4. There are no mitigating circumstances. Lying is wrong—always. So is breaking a promise.
  5. Kant would have us look at the difference between what we plan to say to influence others and what we truly believe.
  6. We should then ask, What if everybody did that all the time? If we don’t like the answer, we have a solemn duty not to do the deed.
  7. The categorical imperative is a method for determining right from wrong by thinking through the ethical valence of an act, regardless of motive.
  1. Critique: A useful theory with unanswered questions.
  1. The theory offers specific predictions and explanations about what happens in the mind when a message falls within someone’s latitude of acceptance or rejection.
  2. It is a relatively simply prescription that guides practitioners.
  3. It’s well supported with quantitative research.
  4. But the theory’s explanation of why this works is not as compelling.
  5. Like all cognitive explanations, social judgment theory assumes a mental structure and process that are beyond sensory observation.
  6. Testing the theory’s hypotheses about cause and effect will be somewhat problematic.
  7. Despite these questions, social judgment theory is an elegant, intuitively appealing approach to persuasion.

Chapter 15Elaboration Likelihood Model


  1. The central route and the peripheral route to persuasion. 
  1. Richard Petty and John Cacioppo posit two basic mental routes for attitude change.
  2. The central route involves message elaboration, defined as the extent to which a person carefully thinks about issue-relevant arguments contained in a persuasive communication.
  3. The peripheral route processes the message without any active thinking about the attributes of the issue or the object of consideration.
  1. Recipients rely on a variety of cues to make quick decisions.
  2. Robert Cialdini has identified six such cues:
  1. Reciprocation
  2. Consistency
  3. Social proof
  4. Liking
  5. Authority
  6. Scarcity
  1. Although Petty and Cacioppo’s model seems to suggest that the routes are mutually exclusive, the theorists stress the central route and the peripheral route are poles on a cognitive processing continuum that show the degree of mental effort a person exerts when evaluating a message.
  2. Most messages receive middle-ground attention between these poles.
  3. The more listeners work to evaluate a message, the less they will be influenced by content-irrelevant factors; the greater the effect of content-irrelevant factors, the less impact the message carries.
  1. Motivation for elaboration: Is it worth the effort?
  1. People are motivated to hold correct attitudes.
  2. Yet the number of ideas a person can scrutinize is limited, so we tend to focus on issues that are personally relevant.
  3. As long as people have a personal stake in accepting or rejecting an idea, they will be much more influenced by what a message says than by the characteristics of the person who is saying it.
  4. Without the motivation of personal relevance, there probably will be little elaboration.
  5. Certain individuals have a need for cognitive clarity, regardless of the issue; these people will work through many of the ideas and arguments they hear.
  1. Ability for elaboration: Can they do it?
  1. Elaboration requires intelligence and concentration.
  2. Distraction disrupts elaboration.
  3. Repetition may increase the possibility of elaboration, but too much repetition causes people to resort to the peripheral route.
  1. Type of elaboration: Objective vs. biased thinking.
  1. Biased elaboration (top-down thinking) occurs when predetermined conclusions color the supporting data underneath.
  2. Objective evaluation (bottom-up thinking) lets the facts speak for themselves.
  1. Elaborated messages: Strong, weak, and neutral.
  1. Objective elaboration examines the perceived strength of an argument.
  1. Petty and Cacioppo have no absolute standard for differentiating between cogent and specious arguments.
  2. They define a strong message as one that generates favorable thoughts.
  1. Thoughtful consideration of strong arguments will produce positive shifts in attitude.
  1. The change is persistent over time.
  2. It resists counterpersuasion.
  3. It predicts future behavior.
  1. Thoughtful consideration of weak arguments can lead to negative boomerang effects paralleling the positive effects of strong arguments (but in the opposite direction).
  2. Mixed or neutral messages won’t change attitudes and in fact reinforce original attitudes. 
  1. Peripheral cues: An alternative route of influence.
  1. Most messages are processed through the peripheral route, bringing attitude changes without issue-relevant thinking.
  2. The most obvious cues for the peripheral route are tangible rewards.
  3. Source credibility is also important.
  1. The principal components of source credibility are likability and expertise.
  2. Source credibility is salient for those unmotivated or unable to elaborate.
  1. Peripheral route change can be either positive or negative, but it won’t have the impact of message elaboration.
  1. Pushing the limits of peripheral power.
  1. Petty and Cacioppo emphasize that it’s impossible to compile a list of cues that are strictly peripheral.
  2. Lee and Koo argue that there are times when source credibility is processed through the central route rather than functioning as a peripheral cue.
  3. This is particularly true when there's a close match between an advertised product that consumers really care about and the expertise of the star presenter.
  4. Many variables like perceived credibility or the mood of the listener can act as peripheral cues. Yet if one of them motivates listeners to scrutinize the message or affects their evaluation of arguments, it no longer serves as a no-brainer.
  1. Choosing a route: Practical advice for the persuader.
  1. If listeners are motivated and able to elaborate a message, rely on factual arguments—i.e., appeal through the central route.
  2. When listeners are willing and able to elaborate a message, avoid using weak arguments; they will backfire.
  3. If listeners are unable or unwilling to elaborate a message, rely on packaging rather than content; appeal by using cues be processed on the peripheral route.
  4. When using the peripheral route, however, the effects will probably be fragile.
  1. Ethical reflection: Nilsen’s significant choice.
  1. Thomas Nilsen proposes that persuasive speech is ethical to the extent that it maximizes people’s ability to exercise free choice.
  2. Philosophers and rhetoricians have compared persuasion to a lover making fervent appeals to his beloved—wooing an audience, for example.
  3. For Nilsen, true love can’t be coerced; it must be freely given.
  4. Nilsen would regard persuasive appeals that encourage message elaboration through ELM’s central route as ethical.
  1. Critique: Elaborating the model.
  1. ELM has been a leading theory of persuasion and attitude change for the last twenty-five years, and Petty and Cacioppo’s initial model has been very influential.
  2. These theorists have elaborated ELM to make it more complex, less predictive, and less practical, which makes it problematic as a scientific theory.
  3. As Paul Mongeau and James Stiff have charged, the theory cannot be adequately tested and falsified, particularly in terms of what makes a strong or weak argument.
  4. ELM focuses only on arguments within advocacy messages. Melanie Green and Timothy Brock argued that the model totally ignores the persuasiveness of a compelling story.   
  5. Despite these limitations, the theory synthesizes many diverse aspects of persuasion.

Chapter 16Cognitive Dissonance


  1. Dissonance: Discord between behavior and belief.
  1. Identified by Leon Festinger, cognitive dissonance is the distressing mental state that people feel when they find themselves doing things that don’t fit with what they know, or having opinions that do not fit with other opinions they hold.
  2. It is an aversive drive; humans have a basic need to avoid dissonance and establish consistency.
  3. The tension of dissonance motivates the person to change either the behavior or the belief.
  4. The more important the issue and the greater the discrepancy, the higher the magnitude of dissonance.
  1. Health-conscious smokers: Dealing with dissonance.
  1. When Festinger first published his theory, he chose the topic of smoking to illustrate the concept of dissonance.
  2. Today, those that vape face a similar dilemma.
  3. Perhaps the most typical way to avoid anguish is to trivialize or simply deny the link between vaping and lung disease.
  4. Festinger noted that almost all of our actions are more entrenched than the thoughts we have about them.
  1. Reducing dissonance between attitudes and actions.
  1. Hypothesis #1:  Selective exposure prevents dissonance.
  1. We avoid information that is likely to increase dissonance.
  2. People select information that lined up with what they already believed and ignored facts or ideas that ran counter to those beliefs.
  3. Dieter Frey concluded that selective exposure exists only when information is known to be a threat.
  4. Warm personal relationships are the best environment for considering discrepant views.
  1. Hypothesis #2: Postdecision dissonance creates a need for reassurance.
  1. The more important the issue, the more dissonance.
  2. The longer an individual delays a choice between two equally attractive options, the more dissonance.
  3. The greater the difficulty in reversing the decision once it has been made, the more dissonance.
  1. Hypothesis #3:  Minimal justification for action induces attitude change.
  1. Conventional wisdom suggests that to change behavior, you must first alter attitude.
  2. Festinger reverses the sequence.
  3. In addition, he predicts that attitude change and dissonance reduction depend on providing only a minimum justification for the change in behavior.
  1. A classic experiment: “Would I lie for a dollar?”
  1. Festinger’s minimal justification hypothesis is counterintuitive.
  2. The Stanford $1/$20 experiment supported the minimal justification hypothesis because subjects who received a very small reward demonstrated a change in attitude.
  1. Three revisions to clarify the cause and effect of dissonance.
  1. Most persuasion researchers today subscribe to one of three revisions of Festinger’s original theory.
  2. Festinger believed that we experience dissonance when we face logical inconsistency or beliefs and behaviors that don’t quite add up. 
  3. Reducing dissonance is done by removing the inconsistency through a change of behavior or attitude. Other scholars provide a different account.
  4. Self-consistency: the rationalizing animal.
  1. Elliot Aronson argued that dissonance is caused by psychological rather than logical inconsistency.
  2. Inconsistency between a cognition and self-concept causes dissonance.
  3. Humans aren’t rational, they are rationalizing.
  4. Research such as the $1/$20 experiment provides evidence of self-esteem maintenance.
  1. Personal responsibility for bad outcomes (the New Look).
  1. Joel Cooper argues that we experience dissonance when we believe our actions have unnecessarily hurt another person.
  2. Cooper concludes that dissonance is a state of arousal caused by behaving in such a way as to feel personally responsible for bringing about an aversive event.
  1. Self-affirmation to dissipate dissonance.
  1. Claude Steele focuses on dissonance reduction.
  2. He believes that high self-esteem is a resource for dissonance reduction.
  3. Steele asserts that most people are motivated to maintain a self-image of moral and adaptive adequacy. 
  1. These three revisions of Festinger’s theory are not mutually exclusive.
  1. Theory into practice: Persuasion through dissonance.
  1. Festinger’s theory offers practical advice for those who wish to affect attitude change as a product of dissonance.
  2. Don’t promise lavish benefits or warn of dire consequences.
  3. By cultivating friendship, you can bypass selective exposure screens.
  4. Offer reassurance to counter postdecision dissonance.
  5. As long as counterattitudinal actions are freely chosen and publicly taken, people are more likely to adopt beliefs that support what they’ve done. 
  6. Personal responsibility for negative outcomes should be taken into account.
  1. Critique: Dissonance over dissonance.
  1. Cognitive dissonance is one of the few theories in this book that has achieved name recognition within popular culture as people have found it practically useful.
  2. Where the theory falls short is relative simplicity.
  3. Daryl Bem claims that self-perception is a much simpler explanation than cognitive dissonance.
  4. The theory has also received knocks for how difficult it is to actually observe dissonance.
  5. If researchers can’t observe dissonance, then the theory’s core hypotheses aren’t testable—a big problem for a scientific theory.
  6. Patricia Devine applauds researchers who have attempted to gauge the arousal component of dissonance.
  7. The most promising attempts to develop a dissonance thermometer have used neuroimaging.
  1. It has provided initial hard evidence that the experience of cognitive dissonance is, indeed, real.
  2. Even so, actually observing it is difficult and expensive, so even if the theory is testable, it certainly isn’t simple.
  1. Despite detractors, cognitive dissonance theory has energized objective scholars of communication for 60 years.

Chapter 17The Rhetoric


  1. Introduction.
  1. Aristotle was a student of Plato who disagreed with his mentor over the place of public speaking in Athenian life.
  2. Plato’s negative view of public speaking was based on his assessment of the Sophists.
  3. Aristotle, like Plato, deplored the demagoguery of speakers using their skill to move an audience while showing a casual indifference to the truth.
  4. Aristotle saw rhetoric as a neutral tool with which one could accomplish either noble ends or further fraud.
  1. Truth is inherently more acceptable than falsehood.
  2. Nonetheless, unscrupulous persuaders may fool an audience unless an ethical speaker uses all possible means of persuasion to counter the error.
  3. Speakers who neglect the art of rhetoric have only themselves to blame for failure.
  4. Success requires wisdom and eloquence.
  1. Although Aristotle’s Politics and Ethics are polished, well-organized texts, the Rhetoric is a collection of lecture notes.
  2. Aristotle raised rhetoric to a science by systematically exploring the effects of the speaker, the speech, and the audience.
  1. Rhetoric: Making persuasion probable.
  1. Aristotle saw the function of rhetoric as the discovery in each case of “the available means of persuasion.”
  2. In terms of speech situations, he focused on affairs of state.
  1. Courtroom (forensic) speaking renders just decisions considering actions of the past.
  2. Ceremonial (epideictic) speaking heaps praise or blame for the benefit of present day audiences.
  3. Political (deliberative) speaking attempts to influence those who consider future policy.
  1. Aristotle classified rhetoric as the counterpart of dialectic.
  1. Dialectic is one-on-one conversation; rhetoric is one person addressing the many.
  2. Dialectic answers general philosophical questions; rhetoric addresses specific, practical ones.
  3. Dialectic deals with certainty; rhetoric considers probability.
  4. Dialectic searches for truth; rhetoric demonstrates truth that is already found.
  1. Rhetorical proof: Logos, ethos, and pathos.
  1. Persuasion can be artistic or inartistic.
  1. Inartistic or external proofs are those that the speaker does not create.
  2. Artistic or internal proofs are those that the speaker creates.
  1. The available means of persuasion are based on three kinds of proof.
  1. Logical proof (logos) is an appeal to listeners’ rationality.
  2. Emotional proof (pathos) is the feeling the speech draws out of the hearers.
  3. Source credibility (ethos) is the way the speaker’s character is revealed through the message.
  1. Case study: Barack Obama’s commencement address at Notre Dame.
  1. A few months into his first term of office, President Obama accepted an invitation to address the 2009 graduating class at the University of Notre Dame and receive an honorary Doctor of Laws degree.
  2. Based on Obama’s approval of abortion and stem-cell research, the announcement that Obama would be the commencement speaker triggered angry protests from many alumni, some students, and Roman Catholic church leaders.
  3. Despite the pro-and-con arguments about abortion that created a highly charged atmosphere surrounding the event, Obama’s speech was not judicial.
  4. This was a deliberative speech—not about any specific government policy, but one in which he urged listeners to be mindful of the way they interact with those who hold opposing views.
  5. The three types of proof Aristotle discussed demonstrate how President Obama might speak in a way that makes reaching his goal possible, maybe even probable, but never with absolute certainty.
  1. Logos: Quasi-logical arguments that make sense.
  1. Aristotle focused on two forms of logical proof—enthymeme and example.
  2. Enthymeme is the strongest of the proofs.
  1. An enthymeme is an incomplete version of a formal deductive syllogism.
  2. Typical enthymemes leave out the premise that is already accepted by the audience.
  3. Lloyd Bitzer notes that the audience helps construct the proof by supplying the missing premise.
  1. The example uses inductive reasoning—drawing a final conclusion from specific examples.
  1. If an illustration strikes a responsive chord in the listener, the truth it suggests seems evident.
  2. Aristotle said that both forms of logos are persuasive, but examples are especially so when they illustrate a premise or the conclusion of an enthymeme that’s already been stated.
  3. Aristotle noted that examples drawn from the past are more compelling than made-up illustrations.
  1. Pathos: Emotional appeals that strike a responsive chord.
  1. Aristotle was skeptical of the emotion-laden public oratory typical of his era.
  2. Yet he understood that public rhetoric, if practiced ethically, benefits society.
  3. Aristotle catalogued a series of opposite feelings, explained the conditions under which each mood is experienced, and then described how the speaker can get an audience to feel that way.
  1. Anger vs. calmness.
  2. Friendliness vs. enmity.
  3. Fear vs. confidence.
  4. Indignation vs. pity.
  5. Admiration vs. envy.
  1. Aristotle scholar and translator George Kennedy claims that this analysis of pathos is “the earliest systematic discussion of human psychology.”
  1. Ethos: Perceived source credibility.  
  1. According to Aristotle, it’s not enough for a speech to contain plausible arguments. The speaker must seem credible as well.
  2. Aristotle was primarily interested in how the speaker’s ethos is created in a speech.
  3. In the Rhetoric, he identified three qualities that build high source credibility—intelligence, character, and goodwill.
  1. The assessment of intelligence is based more on practical wisdom and shared values than training or education.
  2. Virtuous character has to do with the speaker’s image as a good and honest person.
  3. Goodwill is a positive judgment of the speaker’s intention toward the audience.
  4. Aristotle’s explication of ethos has held up well under scientific scrutiny.
  1. The five canons of rhetoric.
  1. Invention—in order to generate effective enthymemes and examples, speakers draw upon both specialized knowledge about the subject and general lines of reasoning common to all kinds of speeches.
  1. Aristotle called stock arguments topoi, a Greek term that can be translated as “topics” or “places.”
  2. As Cornell University literature professor Lane Cooper explained, “In these special regions the orator hunts for arguments as a hunter hunts for game.”
  1. Arrangement—Aristotle recommended a basic structure.
  1. He wrote that “there are two parts to a speech; for it is necessary first to state the subject and then to demonstrate it.”
  2. First the thesis, then the proof.
  1. Style—Aristotle emphasized the pedagogical effectiveness of metaphor.
  1. But for Aristotle, metaphors were more than aids for comprehension or aesthetic appreciation.
  2. Metaphors help an audience visualize—a “bringing-before-the-eyes” process that energizes listeners and moves them to action.
  1. Delivery—naturalness is persuasive.
  1. Audiences reject delivery that seems planned or staged. Naturalness is persuasive, artifice just the opposite.
  2. Any form of presentation that calls attention to itself takes away from the speaker’s proofs.
  1. Memory—this component was emphasized by Roman teachers.
  1. In our present age of instant information on the Internet and teleprompters that guarantee a speaker will never be at a loss for words, memory seems to be a lost art.
  2. Perhaps for us, the modern equivalent of memory is rehearsal.
  1. Ethical reflection: Aristotle’s golden mean.
  1. He took the Greek admiration for moderation and elevated it to a theory of virtue.
  2. Aristotle assumed virtue stands between two vices.
  3. Moderation is best; virtue develops habits that seek to walk an intermediate path.
  4. This middle way is known as the golden mean.
  5. The golden mean is the path that embraces winsome straight talk, gentle assertiveness, and adaptation.
  6. Aristotle advocated the middle way because it is the well-worn path taken by virtuous people.
  1. Critique: A theory that stands the test of time.
  1. Aristotle’s Rhetoric can be classified as both an objective and interpretive theory.
  1. As a good objective theory, Aristotle’s rhetoric predicts future audience responses, explains why they will respond this way, and has practical utility. 
  2. As a good interpretive theory, Aristotle’s Rhetoric offers a new understanding of people, clarifies the values they are likely to hold, and generated a wide community of agreement that has spanned 24 centuries so far.
  3. Nonetheless, clarity is often a problem with Aristotle’s theory that affects its relative simplicity and aesthetic appeal.

Chapter 18Dramatism


  1. Introduction.
  1. For Kenneth Burke, words are first and foremost action—symbolic action.
  2. For Burke and other rhetorical critics, a critic is one who carefully analyzes the language that speakers and authors use.
  3. They try to discern the motivations behind their messages—and often these motivations aren’t obvious.
  4. Burke devoted his career to developing vocabulary and methods that help theorists understand the connection between the symbols speakers use and their motives for speaking in the first place.
  5. Burke rejected the notion that communication is primarily a process of message transmission.
  6. The transmission approach treats communication as just one part of the realm of motion, where things move according to cause-and-effect laws without meaning or purpose.
  7. Unlike animals, humans possess the capacity to engage in intentional action.
  8. This ability to plan and act arises from our ability to use symbols. Thus, when we speak, we’re engaging in symbolic action—using words to give life to particular motives and pursue particular goals.
  9. Burke coined the umbrella term dramatism to describe “a technique of analysis of language and thought as basically modes of action rather than as means of conveying information.”
  10. The nature of language itself leads us to believe that something is wrong with the world. And if something is wrong, somebody or something needs to pay the price to make things right.
  1. Language as the genesis of guilt
  1. Burke regarded our capacity for language as the source of our downfall. That’s because language introduced the negative.
  2. We couldn’t have laws without the negative.
  3. Man-made language gives us the capacity to create rules and standards for behavior that Burke called the “thou shalt nots” of life.
  4. Burke uses guilt as his catchall term to cover every form of tension, anxiety, embarrassment, shame, disgust, and other noxious feelings he believed inherent in human symbol-using activity.
  5. Burke reiterates that it’s only through man-made language that the possibility of choice comes into being.
  6. Burke suggests that our inventions—language and all the tools developed with language—cause us grief.
  7. The final phrase of Burke’s “Definition of Man,” which is “rotten with perfection,” is an example of what Burke called perspective by incongruity, or the linking of two dissonant ideas in order to provide shocking new insight.
  8. Perspective by incongruity shocks our sensibilities but helps us see things from a different angle.
  1. The guilt-redemption cycle: A universal motive for rhetoric
  1. The ultimate motivation of all public speaking is to purge ourselves of guilt.
  2. Rhetoric is the public search for someone or something to blame, the quest for a perfect scapegoat.
  3. The “devil term” sums up all that the speaker regards as bad, wrong, or evil.
  4. The “god terms” are the words that sum up all that the speaker regards as righteous and good.
  5. Devil- and god-terms reveal another aspect of Burke’s theory: his frequent use of spiritual language.
  6. He regarded theology as a field that has fine-tuned its use of language, and he urged the social critic to look for secular equivalents of the major religious themes of guilt, purification, and redemption.
  7. Burke said that the speaker or author has two possible ways of offloading guilt.
  1. The first option is to purge guilt through self-blame.
  2. Described theologically as mortification, this route requires confession of sin and a request for forgiveness.
  3. Since self-blame (or mortification) is difficult to admit publicly, it’s easier to blame someone else.
  4. Victimage is the process of designating an external enemy as the source of all our ills.
  1. Identification: Without it, there is no persuasion.
  1. Identification is the common ground that exists between speaker and audience.
  1. Substance describes a person’s physical characteristics, talents, occupation, friends, experiences, personality, beliefs, and attitudes.
  2. The more overlap between the substance of the speaker and the substance of the audience, the greater the identification.
  3. Although social scientists use the term homophily to describe perceived similarity between speaker and listener, Burke preferred religious language—identification is consubstantiation.
  1. One of the most common ways for speakers to identify with audiences is to lash out at whatever or whomever people fear.
  2. Audiences sense a joining of interests through style as much as through content.
  3. He was more interested in examining rhetoric after the fact to discover what motivates the speaker.
  1. The dramatistic pentad: A lens for interpreting symbolic action.
  1. Burke’s dramatistic pentad enables the critic to dig beneath surface impressions in order to identify the complex motives of a speaker or writer.
  1. The act is the most important element of the pentad, “foremost among the equals.” The act is what was done.
  2. The agent is the person or kind of person who performed the act.
  3. The agency is the procedure, means, or instruments used to perform the act.
  4. The scene is the background of the act, the environment in which it occurred.
  5. The purpose is the implied or stated motive of the act.
  1. The five elements of the pentad usually refer to the act described within the speech rather than the act of giving the speech.
  2. If we identify with the drama, then we’re persuaded, and the symbolic action worked
  1. Ratio: The relative importance of each part of the pentad.
  1. Burke associated each part of the pentad with a corresponding philosophy.
  1. An emphasis on act demonstrates a commitment to realism.
  2. An emphasis on agent is consistent with idealism.
  3. An emphasis on agency springs from the mind-set of pragmatism.
  4. An emphasis on scene downplays free will and reflects an attitude of situational determinism.
  5. An emphasis on purpose suggests the concerns of mysticism.
  6. The ratio of importance between individual pairs of terms in the dramatistic pentad indicates which element provides the best clue to the speaker’s motivation.
  7. The critic can start by identifying the two elements of the pentad most heavily emphasized in the speech. These two elements create the dominant ratio that provides the most insight into the speaker’s motivations.
  1. Critique: Evaluating the critic’s analysis.
  1. Burke was perhaps the foremost twentieth-century rhetorician.
  2. His ideas are tested through qualitative research from a strong community of agreement.
  3. He provided a creative and new understanding of people.
  4. But some scholars don’t think he did enough to clarify values or reform society.
  5. Perhaps the greatest weakness of dramatism is this: Burke isn’t an easy read.
  6. Although Burke’s followers think he was brilliant, it’s hard to argue that his writings have aesthetic appeal.
  7. Burke has done us all a favor by celebrating the life-giving quality of language.

Chapter 19Narrative Paradigm


  1. Introduction.
  1. For Walter Fisher, storytelling epitomizes human nature.
  2. All forms of human communication that seek to affect belief, attitude or action need to be seen fundamentally as stories.
  3. Offering good reasons has more to do with telling a compelling story than it does with piling up evidence or constructing a tight argument.
  4. Fisher’s narrative paradigm emphasizes that no communication is purely descriptive or didactic.
  1. A disturbing tale to help understand and apply the theory
  1. In late 2018, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford sat before members of the Senate Judiciary Committee as they weighed the nomination of federal judge Brett Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court.
  2. She recounted her experience, claiming that as a teenager, Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her.
  3. A transcription of her testimony is given and used as an example of the theory.
  1. Narration and paradigm: Defining the terms.
  1. Fisher defines narration as symbolic actions—words and/or deeds—that have sequence and meaning for those who live, create, and interpret them.
  2. Fisher’s definition of narration is broad.
  1. Narration is rooted in time and space.
  2. It covers every aspect of life with regard to character, motive, and action.
  3. It refers to verbal and nonverbal messages.
  4. Even abstract communication is included.
  1. A paradigm is a conceptual framework —a widely shared perceptual filter.
  2. A paradigm is a universal model that calls for people to view events through a common interpretive lens.
  3. Fisher’s narrative paradigm is offered as “the foundation on which a complete rhetoric needs to be built.”
  1. Paradigm shift: From a rational-world paradigm to a narrative one.
  1. According to Fisher, the writings of Plato and Aristotle reflect the early evolution from a generic to a specific use of logos—from story to statement.
  2. As opposed to the abstract discourse of philosophy, rhetoric is practical speech—the secular combination of pure logic on the one hand and emotional stories that stir up passions on the other.
  3. Fisher sees philosophical and technical discussion as scholars’ standard approach to knowledge.
  4. The rational-world paradigm is the mind-set of the reigning technical experts.
  1. People are essentially rational.
  2. We make decisions on the basis of arguments.
  3. The type of speaking situation (legal, scientific, legislative) determines the course of our argument.
  4. Rationality is determined by how much we know and how well we argue.
  5. The world is a set of logical puzzles that we can solve through rational analysis.
  1. The narrative paradigm is built on parallel, yet contrasting, premises.
  1. People are essentially storytellers.
  2. We make decisions on the basis of good reasons, which vary depending on the communication situation, media, and genre (philosophical, technical, rhetorical, or artistic).
  3. History, biography, culture, and character determine what we consider good reasons.
  4. Narrative rationality is determined by the coherence and fidelity of our stories.
  5. The world is a set of stories from which we choose, and thus constantly re-create, our lives.
  1. Unlike the rational-world paradigm, the narrative paradigm privileges values, aesthetic criteria, and commonsense interpretation.
  2. Perhaps the biggest shift in thinking has to do with who is qualified to access the quality of communication.
  3. We all judge stories based on narrative rationality.
  1. Narrative rationality: Coherence and fidelity.
  1. Fisher believes that everyone applies the same standards of narrative rationality to stories.
  2. The operative principle of narrative rationality is identification rather than deliberation.
  3. The twin tests of a story are narrative coherence and narrative fidelity.
  4. Narrative coherence:  Does the story hang together?
  1. How probable is the story to the hearer?
  2. Fisher suggests a number of ways we judge whether a story hangs together.
  3. Narrative consistency parallels lines of argument in the rational-world paradigm. 
  4. The test of reason, however, is only one factor affecting narrative coherence.
  5. Stories hang together when we’re convinced that the narrator hasn’t left out important details, fudged the facts, or ignored other plausible interpretations. 
  6. The ultimate test of narrative coherence is whether or not we can count on the characters to act in a reliable manner.
  7. Each element is applicable in the testimony of Blasey Ford.
  1. Narrative fidelity: Does the story ring true and humane?
  1. Does the story square with the hearer’s experiences?
  2. A story has fidelity when it provides good reasons to guide our future actions.
  3. Values set the narrative paradigm’s logic of good reasons apart from the rational-world paradigm’s logic of reasons.
  4. The logic of good reasons centers on five value-related issues. 
  1. The values embedded in the message.
  2. The relevance of those values to decisions made.
  3. The consequence of adhering to those values.
  4. The overlap with the worldview of the audience.
  5. Conformity with what audience members believe is an ideal basis of conduct.
  1. People tend to prefer accounts that fit with what they view as truthful and humane.
  2. There is an ideal audience that identifies the humane values that a good story embodies.
  3. These stories include the timeless “values of truth, the good, beauty, health, wisdom, courage, temperance, justice, harmony, order, communion, friendship, and oneness with the Cosmos.”
  4. Communities not based on humane virtues are possible, but Fisher believes these less idealistic value systems lack true coherence.
  5. Fisher believes the humane virtues of the ideal audience shape our logic of good reasons.
  6. Four of Fisher’s core values (health, temperance, justice, courage) stand out in Blasey Ford’s words.
  7. But do the values embedded in her narrative guarantee that it will ring true?
  8. Almost all communication is narrative, and we evaluate it on that basis.
  1. Critique: Does Fisher’s story have coherence and fidelity?
  1. Fisher’s theory excels in fulfilling most of the requirements of a good interpretive theory.
  2. He expands our understanding of human nature, is specific about the values we prefer, and supports his new paradigm with intriguing rhetorical criticism of significant texts—a classic method of qualitative research.
  3. If Fisher is right, when it comes to evaluating coherence and fidelity, people with ordinary common sense are competent rhetorical critics.
  4. Fisher’s narrative paradigm offers a fresh reworking to Aristotelian analysis.
  5. Critics charge that Fisher is overly optimistic when, like Aristotle, he argues that people have a natural tendency to prefer the true and the just.
  1. Fisher grants that evil can overwhelm our tendency to adopt good stories, but argues that’s all the more reason to identify and promote the humane values described by the narrative paradigm.
  2. Others suggest that narrative rationality implies that good stories cannot go beyond what people already believe and value, thus denying the rhetoric of possibility.

 


Chapter 20Functional Perspective on Group Decision Making


  1. Introduction.
  1. Randy Hirokawa and Dennis Gouran believe that group interaction has a positive effect on decision making.
  2. Hirokawa seeks quality solutions; Gouran desires appropriate decisions.
  3. The functional perspective specifies what communication must accomplish for jointly made decisions to be wise.
  1. Four functions for effective decision making.
  1. Hirokawa and Gouran draw on the analogy between biological systems and small groups.
  1. Group decision making must fulfill four task requirements to reach a high-quality decision.
  2. These tasks are requisite functions of effective decision making—hence the functional perspective label.
  1. Function #1: Analysis of the problem.
  1. Group members must take a realistic look at current conditions.
  2. Misunderstandings of situations are compounded when group members make their final decision.
  3. The clearest example of faulty analysis is a failure to recognize a potential threat.
  4. Group members must determine the nature, extent, and probable cause(s) of the problem.
  1. Function #2: Goal setting.
  1. A group needs to establish criteria for judging proposed solutions. If the group fails to meet these, the decision will likely be driven by power or passion rather than reason.
  2. With no definitive goals to focus their discussion, it’s difficult for group members to know whether they’re making an appropriate decision.
  1. Function #3: Identification of alternatives.
  1. Hirokawa and Gouran stress the importance of marshalling a number of different viable options from which to choose.
  2. Groups need to identify courses of action.
  1. Function #4: Evaluation of positive and negative characteristics. 
  1. Group members must test the relative merits of each alternative they identified against the criteria that emerged in the goal setting function.
  2. Some group tasks have a positive bias—spotting the favorable characteristics of alternative choices is more important than identifying negative qualities.
  3. Other group tasks have a negative bias—the downside of options is more important than identifying their positive qualities.
  1. Prioritizing the four functions.
  1. Originally, they thought that no single function was inherently more central than the others.
  2. Hirokawa discovered the groups that successfully resolve especially difficult problems usually take a common decision-making path.
  3. Research suggests that the evaluation of negative consequences of alternative solutions was by far the most crucial to ensure a quality decision.
  4. Hirokawa now splits evaluation of positive and negative consequences and speaks of five requisite functions rather than four.
  5. As long as a group covers all of the functions, the route taken is not the key issue.
  6. Nonetheless, groups that successfully resolve particularly tough problems often take a common decision-making path: problem analysis, goal setting, identifying alternatives, and evaluating the positive and negative characteristics.
  1. The role of communication in fulfilling the functions.
  1. Traditional wisdom suggests that talk is the channel or conduit through which information travels between participants. 
  1. Verbal interaction makes it possible for members to distribute and pool information, catch and remedy errors, and influence each other.
  2. Ivan Steiner claimed that actual group productivity equals potential productivity minus losses due to processes.
  3. Communication is best when it does not obstruct or distort the free flow of ideas.
  1. In contrast, Hirokawa believes that group discussion creates the social reality for decision making.
  2. Hirokawa and Gouran outline three types of communication in decision-making groups.
  1. Promotive—interaction that calls attention to one of the four decision-making functions.
  2. Disruptive—interaction that detracts from the group’s ability to achieve the four task functions.
  3. Counteractive—interaction that refocuses the group.
  1. Since most communication disrupts, effective group decision making depends upon counteractive influence.
  1. Using member narratives to field-test group processes.
  1. Hirokawa and Gouran acknowledge their intellectual debt to early-twentieth-century American philosopher John Dewey.
  2. Dewey advanced a six-step process of reflective thinking to solve problems which mirrors a doctor’s approach:
  1. Recognize symptoms.
  2. Diagnose the cause.
  3. Establish the criteria for wellness.
  4. Consider all possible remedies.
  5. Test to determine the best solution.
  6. Implement the best solution.
  1. Hirokawa and Gouran’s four requisite functions replicate steps two through five of Dewey’s reflective thinking.
  2. Hirokawa studied four-person health care teams to analyze their decision making.
  1. Thoughtful advice for those who are certain they’re right.
  1. Start with a healthy dose of humility concerning the wisdom of our own opinions.
  2. Be skeptical of personal opinions.
  1. Groups often abandon the rational path due to the persuasive efforts of other self-assured group members.
  2. Unsupported intuition is untrustworthy.
  1. To counteract faulty logic, insist on a careful process.
  1. Ethical reflection: Habermas’ discourse ethics.
  1. Jürgen Habermas suggests a rational group process through which people can determine right from wrong.
  2. Being ethical means being accountable.
  3. People in a given culture or community can agree on the good they want to accomplish and over time build up wisdom on how to achieve it.
  4. Habermas’ discourse ethics sets up a discursive test for the validity of any moral claim.
  5. The person who performed an act must be prepared to discuss what he or she did and why he or she did it in an open forum.
  6. He imagined an ideal speech situation where participants were free to listen to reason and speak their minds without fear of constraint or control.
  7. Three requirements must be met to have an ideal speech situation:
  1. Requirement of access for all affected parties.
  2. Requirement of argument to figure out the common good.
  3. Requirement of justification or universal application.
  1. Critique: Valid only if new functions are added or scope is narrowed.
  1. Although the functional perspective is one of the three leading theories in small group communication, its exclusive focus on rationality may cause the mixed experimental results when testing prediction.
  2. Stohl and Homes suggest that unless the theorists adopt a bona fide group approach, the theory is irrelevant for most real-life group decisions.
  3. In these authentic situations, many members have roles in overlapping groups that have a stake in the decision they make and are typically responsible to a leader or manager outside the group.
  4. Stohl and Holmes emphasize that most real-life groups have a prior decision-making history and are embedded within a larger organization.
  1. They advocate adding a historical function requiring the group to talk about how past decisions were made.
  2. They also advocate an institutional function that is satisfied when members discuss relevant parties who are absent from the decision-making process.
  1. Recently, Gouran has raised doubts about the usefulness of the functional perspective for all small groups.
  1. It’s beneficial for members to fulfill the four requisite functions only when they are addressing questions of policy.
  2. Groups addressing questions of fact, conjecture, or value may not find the requisite functions relevant.
  3. The scope of the functional perspective is more limited than first believed.

Chapter 21Symbolic Convergence Theory


  1. Central explanatory principle of SCT: sharing group fantasies creates symbolic convergence.
  1. 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.
  2. When the drama was enhanced in this way, members developed a common group consciousness and drew closer together.
  1. Dramatizing messages: Creative interpretations of there-and-then.
  1. According to SCT, conversations about things outside of what’s going on right now can often serve the group well.
  2. Dramatizing messages contain imaginative language that describes events occurring somewhere else or at some other time than the here/now.
  3. The dramatizing message must paint a picture or call to mind an image.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  1. Fantasy chain reactions: Unpredictable symbolic explosions.
  1. Bormann uses fantasy for dramatizing messages that are enthusiastically embraced by the whole group.
  2. Most dramatizing messages don’t get that kind of reaction.
  3. 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.
  4. A fantasy chain occurs when there is a common response to the dramatizing message.
  5. 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.
  1. Fantasy themes: Content, motives, cues, types.
  1. A fantasy theme is the content of the dramatizing message that sparks a fantasy chain.
  2. A fantasy theme is the basic unit of analysis for SCT.
  3. Bormann suggested that group members’ meanings, emotions, motives, and actions are apparent in their fantasy themes.
  4. Many fantasy themes are indexed by a symbolic cue.
  5. A symbolic cue is an “agreed upon trigger that sets off the group members to respond as they did when they first shared the fantasy” such as a code word, gesture, or inside joke.
  6. Clusters of related fantasy themes sometimes surface repeatedly in different groups and are labeled with a fantasy type.
  1. Symbolic convergence: Group consciousness and often cohesiveness.
  1. Symbolic convergence results from sharing group fantasies.
  1. Symbolic convergence is the way in which two or more private symbol worlds incline toward each other, come more closely together, or even overlap.
  2. Symbolic convergence causes group members to develop a unique group consciousness.
  3. 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.
  1. Symbolic convergence usually, but not always, results in heightened group cohesiveness.
  1. Rhetorical vision: A composite drama shared by a rhetorical community.
  1. Fantasies that begin in small groups often are worked into public speeches, become picked up by mass media and ‘spread out across larger publics.’
  1. Rhetorical vision refers to a composite drama that catches up large groups of people into a common symbolic reality.
  2. Rhetorical community is the wide ranging body of people who share a reality.
  1. Fantasy theme analysis discovers fantasy themes and rhetorical visions that have already been created.
  2. Fantasy theme analysis is a specific type of rhetorical criticism that’s built on two basic assumptions
  1. People create their social reality.
  2. People’s meanings, motives, and emotions can be seen in their rhetoric.
  3. Four features should be present in the shared fantasies: characters, plot lines, scene, and sanctioning agent.
  1. 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.
  1. Theory into practice: Advice to improve your college experience.
  1. Bormann offers advice on how to use SCT as it applies to a group.
  1. 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.
  2. If the fantasies are destructive, creating group paranoia or depression, cut the chain off whenever possible.
  3. To build cohesiveness, use personification to identify your group.
  4. Be sure to encourage the sharing of dramas depicting your group history.
  5. 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.
  1. Most rhetorical visions embrace either a righteous vision, a social vision, or a pragmatic vision.
  1. Critique: Judging SCT as both a scientific and interpretive theory.
  1. 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.
  2. But the methodology of determining fantasy themes, fantasy types, and rhetorical visions is rhetorical criticism—a humanistic approach that’s undeniably interpretive.
  3. SCT holds up well against both the criteria for an objective theory and an interpretive theory.
  4. Despite this success, SCT fails to meet at least two benchmarks of a good theory (one objective benchmark and one interpretive benchmark).
  1. SCT researchers adequately predict the benefits of convergence (cohesiveness) but have little success predicting when a dramatizing message will trigger a chain reaction.
  2. 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.
  3. There’s no doubt that fantasy theme analysis uncovers the values of a rhetorical community. One concern is an ideology of convergence.
  4. SCT vocabulary shows the theory’s pro-social bias, but ignores issues of power.

 


Chapter 22Cultural Approach to Organizations


  1. Introduction.
  1. Anthropologist Clifford Geertz views cultures as webs of shared meaning, shared understanding, and shared sensemaking.
  2. Geertz' work has focused on Third World cultures, but his ethnographic approach has been applied by other scholars to organizations.
  3. In the field of speech communication, Michael Pacanowsky has applied Geertz's approach in his research of organizations.
  4. Pacanowsky asserts that communication creates and constitutes the taken-for-granted reality of the world.
  1. Culture as a metaphor of organizational life.
  1. Initial interest in culture as a metaphor for organizations stems from initial American fascination with Japanese corporations.
  2. Corporate culture has several meanings.
  1. The surrounding environment that constrains a company’s freedom of action.
  2. An image, character, or climate that a corporation has.
  3. Pacanowsky argues that culture is not something an organization has but is something an organization is.
  1. What culture is; what culture is not.
  1. Culture as a system of shared meaning is somewhat vague and hard to grasp.
  2. Geertz and his colleagues do not distinguish between high and low culture.
  3. Culture is not whole or undivided.
  4. Pacanowsky argues that the web of organizational culture is the residue of employees' performances. Geertz called these cultural performances an ensemble of texts.
  5. The elusive nature of culture prompted Geertz to label its study a “soft science,” an interpretive approach in search of meaning.
  1. Thick description: What ethnographers do.
  1. Participant observation, the research methodology of ethnographers, is a time-consuming process.
  2. Pacanowsky spent over a year imbedded in Gore & Associates to understand how members experienced the organization.
  3. He advised other researches to assume an attitude of “radical naivete” to experience the organization as a “stranger.”
  4. An ethnographer has five tasks.
  1. Accurately describe talk and actions and the context in which they occur.
  2. Capture the thoughts, emotions, and the web of social interactions.
  3. Assign motivation, intention, or purpose for what people said and did.
  4. Artfully write this up so readers feel they’ve experienced the events.
  5. Interpret what happened; explain what it means within this culture.
  1. Thick description refers to the intertwined layers of common meaning that underlie what people say and do.
  1. Thick description involves tracing the many strands of a cultural web and tracking evolving meaning.
  2. Thick description begins with a state of bewilderment.
  3. The puzzlement is reduced by observing as a stranger in a foreign land.
  1. Ethnographers approach their research very differently from behaviorists.
  1. They are more interested in the significance of behavior than in statistical analysis.
  2. Pacanowsky warns that statistical analysis and classification across organizations yields superficial results. 
  1. As an ethnographer, Pacanowsky is particularly interested in imaginative language, stories, and nonverbal rites and rituals.
  1. Metaphors: Taking language seriously.
  1. Widely used metaphors offer a starting place for assessing the shared meaning of a corporate culture.
  2. Metaphors are valuable tools for both the discovery and communication of organizational culture.
  1. The symbolic interpretation of story.
  1. Stories provide windows into organizational culture.
  2. Pacanowsky focuses on the script-like qualities of narratives that outline roles in the company play.
  3. Pacanowsky posits three types of organizational narratives.
  1. Corporate stories reinforce management ideology and policies.
  2. Personal stories define how individuals would like to be seen within an organization.
  3. Collegial stories—usually unsanctioned by management—are positive or negative anecdotes about others within the organization that pass on how the organization “really works.”
  1. Both Geertz and Pacanowsky caution against simplistic interpretations of stories.
  1. Ritual: This is the way it's always been, and always will be.
  1. Many rituals are “texts” that articulate multiple aspects of cultural life.
  2. Some rituals are nearly sacred and difficult to change.
  3. Because it is ”their” ritual, researchers should be guided by employees’ interpretation of what it means.
  1. Can the manager be an agent of cultural change?
  1. Geertz regarded shared interpretations as naturally emerging from all members of a group rather than consciously engineered by leaders.
  2. But even if a culture could be changed, there still remains the question of whether it should be.
  3. Linda Smircich notes that communication consultants may violate the ethnographer's rule of nonintervention, and may even extend management’s control within an organization.
  1. Critique: Is the cultural approach useful?
  1. The cultural approach adopts and refines the qualitative research methodology of ethnography to gain a new understanding of a specific group of people, particularly in clarifying values of the culture under study.
  2. The cultural approach is criticized by corporate consultants who believe that knowledge should be used to influence organizational culture.
  3. Critical theorists attack the cultural approach because it does not evaluate the customs it portrays.
  4. The goal of symbolic analysis is to create a better understanding of what it takes to function effectively within the culture, not to pass moral judgment or reform society.
  5. Adam Kuper is critical of Geertz for his emphasis on interpretation rather than behavioral observation.
  6. There isn’t as much excitement about the cultural approach among organizational scholars today as there was when it was first introduced. That may be because few interpretive scholars write in the compelling and quotable prose produced by Geertz.  

Chapter 23Communicative Constitution of Organizations


  1. Introduction
    1. Robert McPhee and other communicative constitution of organizations (CCO) theorists believe that communication is not just a process that happens within organizations; it creates the organization itself.
    2. CCO isn’t a single theory but rather a family of theoretical approaches to thinking about how organizations are co-constructed.
    3. McPhee believes that communication creates, or constitutes, an organization.
  1. Communication: The essence of organization
    1. Employees are not a set of lifeless parts; people create an organization.
    2. Communication calls organization into being.
    3. For CCO theorists, communication is the primary means of constructing social reality.
    4. McPhee’s answer to the big CCO question [how does communication create organization?] is four specific forms of communication, or flows.
      1. Membership negotiation.
      2. Self-structuring.
      3. Activity coordination.
      4. Institutional positioning.
    5. McPhee thinks each flow literally creates the company as members talk. These flows aren’t something an organization does but rather what an organization is.
  1. The four flows of CCO.
    1. CCO theorists believe organizations are like a river—always moving and changing.
    2. McPhee believes the communication must occur in four flows, or “circulating systems or fields of messages.”
    3. Specifically, these four flows concern who is a member of the organization, how these members structure their working relationships, how they coordinate their work, and how the organization positions itself with other people and organizations.
    4. It’s worth noting that not all communication between organization members involves the four flows.
    5. What sets the four flows apart is that they are necessary for creating the organization itself.
    6. Chapter illustrations are drawn from Habitat for Humanity and Greek organizations on campuses.
  1. Membership negotiation: Joining and learning the ropes.
    1. All organizations regulate who is a member and who is not.
    2. You become an organizational member through a communicative process.
    3. Membership negotiation doesn’t end after accepting a job offer.
    4. The next step of membership negotiation is socialization, or learning what it means to be a member of the organization.
  1. Self-structuring: Figuring out who’s who in the organization.
    1. Self-structuring refers to the formal communication acts that create the organization.
    2. After the organization’s founding, self-structuring continues through the writing of procedures manuals, memos, and sometimes a chart that specifies the relationships among employees.
    3. How can members align their activities when they’re geographically far apart? Cooren and Fairhurst point out that we seek closure, or a sense of shared understanding that emerges in back-and-forth interaction.
    4. McPhee reminds us that the official chart isn’t the final word on structure.
  1. Activity coordination: Getting the job done.
    1. McPhee believes all organizations have goals.
    2. A defined purpose, such as a mission statement, separates an organization from a crowd of people. Most important to CCO theorists, members communicate to accomplish the organization’s day-to-day work toward their goals—a flow McPhee terms activity coordination.
    3. Activity coordination becomes quite complex at any organization with more than a handful of employees.
  1. Institutional positioning: Dealing with other people and organizations.
    1. Institutional positioning is communication between an organization and external entities—other organizations and people.
    2. No organization survives on its own.
  1. Four principles of the four flows.
    1. McPhee claims that communication constitutes organization through the four flows of membership negotiation, self-structuring, activity coordination, and institutional positioning.
    2. It’s the intersection of the four flows, mixing and blending together, that constitutes organization.
    3. Four principles direct the four flows of communication.
      1. All four flows are necessary for organization.
      2. Different flows happen in different places.
      3. The same message can address multiple flows.
      4. Different flows address different audiences.
        1. Self-structuring is of little interest to those outside an organization.
        2. Membership negotiation targets new members or those who may be leaving.
        3. Activity coordination addresses specific groups within an organization.
        4. Institutional positioning focuses on external organizations.
  1. Diverting the flow: Crafting solutions to organizational problems.
    1. Some CCO scholars are pragmatists who try to use such insights to fix organizational problems.
    2. Recall that one goal of an interpretive theory is to foster new understanding of people.
    3. It is likely that improvements to an organization must address more than just one flow.
  1. Critique: Are the four flows the best approach to communicative constitution?  
    1. The idea that communication creates organizations provides a compelling explanation for the value of organizational communication.
    2. McPhee provides a degree of relative simplicity and aesthetic appeal by suggesting the four flows, but that simplicity doesn’t appeal to everybody.
    3. CCO researcher James Taylor is critical of McPhee’s simplicity and its top-down approach and instead prefers a ground-up theory that starts with everyday conversation.
    4. Taylor is critical of McPhee’s vague definitions, particularly of the term “flow.”
    5. With such imprecision, Taylor doubts CCO can provide a new understanding of people.
    6. Taylor counters that conversations organize when members engage in co-orientation, or communication “wherein two or more actors are entwined in relation to an object.”
    7. Some researchers suggest that this focus on materiality is the reason the Montreal School approach has generated more extensions of theory and research than McPhee’s CCO.
    8. According to Bishop and Bisel, both approaches are valuable.
    9. Both may be necessary conditions rather than sufficient conditions.
    10. Although they may disagree on the details, CCO theorists share a broad community of agreement.

Chapter 24Critical Theory of Communication in Organizations


  1. Introduction.
  1. Stanley Deetz views multinational corporations as the dominant force in society.
  2. Deetz’ critical communication theory seeks to unmask what he considers unjust and unwise communication practices within organizations.
  3. His theory advocates “stakeholder participation.” He believes that everyone who will be significantly affected by a corporate policy should have a meaningful voice in the decision-making process.
  1. Corporate colonization and control of everyday life.
  1. Corporate-speak increasingly creeps into our personal lives, and can become more meaningless as the words stand in for what we really mean to say.
  2. Corporate influence also extends into employees’ home life.
  3. That pervasive influence isn't necessarily all bad—they can use their clout for good.
  4. But corporate control has sharply diminished the quality of life for most citizens.
  5. Deetz’ theory of communication is critical in that he questions whether corporate practices that have now become commonplace have downsides for the corporation itself, as well as the broader communities in which we live.
  6. Deetz wants to examine communication practices in organizations that undermine fully representative decision making and thus reduce the quality, innovation, and fairness of business decisions.
  1. Information or communication; Transmission or the creation of meaning.
  1. Deetz challenges the view that communication is the transmission of information, a view that perpetuates corporate dominance.
  2. He contends that each line item in an annual report is constitutive—created by corporate decision makers who have the power to make their decisions stick.
  3. Deetz offers a communication model that emphasizes the role of language in shaping social reality.
  1. Language does not represent things that already exist; it produces what we believe to be “self-evident” or “natural.”
  2. Corporations subtly produce meanings and values.
  1. Deetz offers a 2 x 2 model that contrasts communication as information vs. communication as creating reality, and managerial control vs. codetermination.
  2. Managerial control often takes precedence over representation of conflicting interests or long-term company and community health.
  3. Co-determination, on the other hand, epitomizes participatory democracy.
  4. Public decisions can be formed through strategy, consent, involvement, and participation—the four cells depicted in the model.
  1. Strategy—overt managerial moves to extend control.
  1. Deetz contends that managers are not the problem—the real culprit is managerialism.
  2. Managerialism is a discourse that values control above all else.
  3. Any focus on individuals diverts attention from a failed managerial system based on control.
  4. Forms of control based in communication systems impede any real worker voice in structuring their work.
  5. The desire for control can even exceed the desire for corporate performance.
  6. The quest for control is evident in the corporate aversion to public conflict.
  7. Strategic control does not benefit the corporation, and it alienates employees and causes rebellion.
  8. Because of these drawbacks, most managers prefer to maintain control through workers’ voluntary consent.
  1. Consent: Unwitting allegiance to covert control.
  1. Through the process that Deetz calls consent, most employees willingly give their loyalty without getting much in return.
  2. Consent describes a variety of situations and processes in which someone actively, though unknowingly, accomplishes the interests of others in the faulty attempt to fulfill his or her own interests.
  3. Discursive closure suppresses potential conflict.
  1. Certain groups of people may be classified as disqualified to speak on certain issues.
  2. Arbitrary definitions may be labeled “natural.”
  3. Values behind decisions may be kept hidden to appear objective.
  1. Involvement: Free expression of ideas, but no voice.
  1. Truth emerges from the free flow of information in an open marketplace of ideas, and an information transfer model of communication worked well when people shared values.
  1. Freedom of speech guaranteed equitable participation in decision making.
  2. Persuasion and advocacy were the best ways to reach a good decision.
  3. Autonomous individuals could then make up their own minds.
  1. The information transfer model does not work well in today’s pluralistic, interconnected world.
  2. Free expression is not the same as having a “voice” in corporate decisions, and knowledge of this difference creates worker cynicism.
  3. Deetz suggests that in present-day corporate practices, “the right of expression appears more central than the right to be informed or to have an effect.” 
  4. Voice means expressing interests that are freely and openly formed, and then having those interests reflected in a joint decision.
  1. Participation: Stakeholder democracy in action.
  1. Deetz’ theory of communication is critical, but not just negative.
  2. Meaningful democratic participation creates better citizens and social choices while providing economic benefits.
  3. The first move Deetz makes is to expand the list of people who should have a say in how a corporation is run.
  4. Deetz advocates open negotiations of power among those who have a stake in what an organization does.
  5. There are at least six classes of stakeholders, each with unique needs: Investors, workers, consumers, suppliers, host communities, and greater society and the world community.
  6. Since some stakeholders have taken greater risks and made longer-term investments than stockholders and top-level managers, Deetz believes these stakeholders should have a say in corporate decisions.
  7. Managers should coordinate the conflicting interests of all parties—be mediators rather than persuaders.
  8. He stresses that diversity among stakeholders generates productive interaction and creativity instead of merely reproducing what’s always been.
  9. Deetz offers nine conditions that must be met in order for diverse stakeholders to successfully negotiate their needs and interests.
  1. Avoiding meltdown—Putting theory into practice
  1. Given entrenched managerial power and privilege in corporations, most economic observers are skeptical that the workplace participation Deetz advocates will become reality.
  2. But Deetz’ recent work with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) might give naysayers cause for pause.
  3. Deetz’ ultimate goal is to reach a point where all stakeholders voluntarily do the right thing because they see it’s in their own interest or the interests of those they love.
  1. Critique: A quality critical theory, but is workplace democracy just a dream?
  1. Applied to organizational life, Deetz’ critical approach is an exemplar of what this type of interpretive theory should be.
  2. He clarifies the harmful values of managerialism, provides a new understanding of managerial control, sets a reform agenda, offers rich qualitative data to support his theory, has generated a wide community of agreement, and presents it with wit and humor that makes the theory aesthetically pleasing.
  3. However, many organizational scholars regard the possibility of managers voluntarily giving up power as unrealistic.
  4. As CCO theorist Robert McPhee (ch. 23) puts it in his ironic summary of Deetz’ theory, “If we just didn’t find it natural and right and unavoidable to hand power over to managers, everything would be different and all our problems would be solved.”
  5. Deetz understands the difficulty in altering entrenched power, but the number of problems like those faced in nuclear power plants may put the forces of a changing world on the side of collaboration between management and workers. 
  6. Deetz’ summary of his life work emphasizes his desire to remove “structural and systemic features of life” that hinder “creative mutually beneficial choices.”

Chapter 25Communication Accommodation Theory


  1. Introduction.
  1. Howard Giles built communication accommodation theory (CAT) as an answer to questions regarding intent and perception of changing speech patterns, cultural group membership, and social consequences.
  2. Giles refers to his speech adjustments as accommodation or changing communication behavior in a way that reduces social distance.
  3. In contrast, failing to alter one’s style (or any other communication adjustment that maintains or increases social distance) is nonaccommodation.
  4. The core of CAT is this: communicative differences and similarities are deeply intertwined with our group identities. 
  5. The early research of Giles and his colleagues centered on interethnic communication, often between two bilingual groups in the same country.
  6. In the last three decades, however, CAT researchers have also shown consistent interest in exploring accommodation in an intergenerational context.
  7. Whether differences between people are generational, cultural, or from any other source, Giles thinks an understanding of CAT can help members of different groups communicate effectively with each other.
  1. How we accommodate (or how we don’t)
  1. Giles contrasts convergence and divergence, two strategic forms of communication used to interact with diverse others.
  2. Convergence.
  1. Convergence is a strategy by which you adapt your communication behavior in such a way as to become more similar to the other person.
  2. Most of the time, we do it because we want to accommodate the other person.
  3. It is a form of audience adaptation to reduce nonverbal differences.
  4. Discourse management, another way of adapting, is the sensitive selection of topics to discuss.
  1. Divergence.
  1. Divergence is a communication strategy of accentuating the differences between yourself and another.
  2. Most of the time, the goal of divergence is nonaccommodation.
  3. Divergence may include counteraccommodation—direct, intentional, and even hostile ways of maximizing the differences between speakers.
  4. The elderly often increase social distance through the process of self- handicapping —a defensive, face-saving strategy that uses age as a reason for not performing well.
  5. Giles and his colleagues describe two other strategies similar to divergence that are a bit more subtle, but function as nonaccommodation.
  1. Maintenance is the strategy of persisting in your original communication style regardless of the communication behavior of the other.
  2. The other strategy that’s similar to divergence is overaccommodation, which may be well-intended, but has the effect of making the recipient feel worse.
  1. Different motivations for convergence and divergence.
  1. CAT theorists have always maintained that desire for approval was the main motivation for convergence
  2. But this doesn’t account for divergence, nor for when speakers act as representatives of a group.
  3. Social identity theory.
  1. When communicators are aware of their group differences, that’s intergroup contact. Henri Tajfel and John Turner believed intergroup contact is common, and that our social identity is based upon it.
  2. We often communicate not as individuals but as representatives of groups that define us.
  3. Communication may be used to reinforce and defend ties to reference groups.
  4. When groups are salient at the start of an interaction with someone different, CAT claims that communication will diverge away from a partner’s speech rather than converge toward it.
  5. Tajfel and Turner pictured a motivational continuum with personal identity on one end of the scale and social identity on the other.
  6. If communicators feel the need for distinctiveness, then divergence is often the result.
  7. They hold out the possibility that a person could seek approval and distinctiveness within the same conversation when personal and social identities are both salient.
  8. There’s no hard-and-fast rule but a person’s initial orientation is a somewhat reliable predictor.
  1. Initial orientation.
  1. Initial orientation is the predisposition a person has toward focusing on either individual identity or group identity.
  2. Five factors impact the perception of a conversation as an intergroup encounter.
  1. Collectivistic cultural context.
    1. The we-centered focus of collectivism emphasizes similarity and mutual concern within the culture—definitely oriented toward social identity.
    2. The I-centered focus of individualistic cultures valorizes the individual actor—definitely oriented toward individual identity.
  1. If previous interactions were uncomfortable, competitive, or hostile, both interactants will tend to ascribe that outcome to the other person’s social identity.
  2. The more specific and negative stereotypes people have of an out-group, the more likely they are to think of the other in terms of social identity and then resort to divergent communication.
  3. Expectations of group norms can shape whether a member of one group regards a person from another group as an individual or as “one of them.”
  4. High group solidarity and high group dependence would predict that we have initial intergroup orientation.
  1. No single factor determines a person’s initial orientation, yet if all five factors line up in the direction of social identity, they make it almost certain that a communicator will approach it as an intergroup encounter.
  1. Recipient evaluation of convergence and divergence.
  1. People converge when they want social approval and diverge when they want to emphasize their distinctiveness.
  2. Giles and his colleagues still believe that listeners regard convergence as positive and divergence as negative.
  3. Convergent speakers are evaluated as more competent, attractive, warm, and cooperative compared to divergent communicators who are seen as insulting, impolite, and hostile.
  4. What is ultimately important is how the communicator is perceived.
  1. Objective versus subjective accommodation.
  1. A disconnect may exist between what is actually happening and what a listener perceives is happening.
  2. Speakers who converge may also misperceive the other’s style.
  1. Attribution theory.
  1. Heider and Kelley suggest that we attribute an internal disposition to the behavior we see another enact.
  2. Our default assumption is that people who do things like that are like that.
  3. Listeners’ evaluation is based on the other’s ability, external constraints, and expended effort.
  4. Overall, listeners who interpret convergence as a speaker’s desire to break down cultural barriers react quite favorably.
  1. There are benefits and costs to both convergent and divergent strategies.
  2. CAT research continues to document the positive interpersonal relationship development that can result from appropriate convergence.
  3. The interpersonal tension created by divergence or maintenance can certainly block the formation of intergroup or intercultural relationships and understanding.
  4. But the upside for the communicator is the reaffirmed social identity and solidarity that comes from enacting a divergent strategy.
  1. Applying CAT to police officer-civilian interaction.
  1. CAT can be applied to any intercultural or intergroup situation where the differences between people are apparent and significant.
  2. Giles and Travis Dixon have employed CAT to analyze routine traffic stops for issues of accommodation and race.
  3. Based on CAT, Dixon and Giles predicted that interracial interactions would be less accommodating than those where the officer and driver were of the same race.
  4. They predicted this outcome because an interracial interaction in this high-pressure context would make each party’s racial identity significant for them.
  5. Although Dixon and Giles stopped short of accusing the police of overt racism, they believe the nonaccommodation of officers is a barrier to good relations.
  1. Critique: Enormous scope at the cost of clarity.
  1. CAT not only describes communication behavior, it explains why it happens.
  2. The theory has consistently predicted what will happen in specific situations.
  3. CAT is an extraordinarily complex theory presented in multiple versions that are sometimes offered simultaneously.
  4. The structure and underlying terminology are not always represented consistently with even the meaning of “accommodation” slippery.
  5. The complexity problem spills over into the possibility of being able to demonstrate that the theory is false.
  6. Tests of the theory have admirably used a mix of qualitative and quantitative methods.
  7. The theory provides practical insight into many situations where people from different groups or cultures come into contact.

Chapter 26Face-Negotiation Theory


  1. Introduction.
  1. Stella Ting-Toomey’s face-negotiation theory helps to explain cultural differences in response to conflict.
  2. A basic assumption is that all people negotiate “face.”
  1. Face is a metaphor for our public self-image – the way we want others to see us and treat us.
  2. Facework refers to specific verbal and nonverbal messages that help to maintain and restore face loss, and to uphold and honor face gain.
  1. Our identity can always be called into question, which inevitably leads to conflict and vulnerability.
  2. Facework and corresponding styles of handling conflict vary from culture to culture.
  3. Face-negotiation theory postulates that the facework of people from individualistic cultures like the United States or Germany will be strikingly different from the facework of people from collectivistic cultures like Japan or China.
  1. Collectivistic and individualistic cultures.
  1. Harry Triandis says that there are three important distinctions between collectivistic and individualistic cultures—the different ways members perceive self, goals, and duty.
  2. Japan and the U.S. represent collectivistic and individualistic cultures, respectively.
  3. It is Ting-Toomey’s grouping of national cultures within the collectivistic and individualistic categories that distinguishes her theory of conflict management from a mere listing of the way a country’s citizens tend to respond to conflict.
  4. Whereas Japanese tend to value collective needs and goals (a we-identity), Americans tend to value individualistic needs and goals (an I-identity).
  5. Whereas Japanese tend to perceive others in us/them categories and attach little importance to pursuing outsiders’ attitudes or feelings, Americans assume that every person is unique and reduce uncertainty by asking questions.
  1. Self-construal: Varied self-images within a culture.
  1. Ting-Toomey recognizes that people within a culture differ on the relative emphasis they place on individual self-sufficiency or group solidarity.
  2. She discusses the dimension of self-construal (or self-image) in terms of the independent and interdependent self, or the degree to which people conceive of themselves as relatively autonomous from, or connected with, others. 
  1. The independent self is more self-face oriented. This view of self is most prevalent within individualistic cultures.
  2. Conversely, interdependent self is more concerned with other-face and is closely aligned with collectivistic cultures.
  1. The distinction between collectivistic and individualistic cultures is still important because culture has a strong effect on an individual’s self-construal.
  1. The multiple faces of face.
  1. Face is a universal concern because it is an extension of self-concept.
  1. Ting-Toomey defines face as “the projected image of one’s self in a relational situation.”
  2. Penelope Brown and Stephen Levinson define face as the public self-image that every member of society wants to claim for himself/herself.
  3. Taiwanese writer Lin Yutang called face “a psychological image that can be granted and lost and fought for and presented as a gift.”
  1. Face means different things to different people, depending on their culture.
  2. Face concern focuses on whose face a person wants to save.
  1. One can save one’s own face or the face of others.
  2. Those in individualistic cultures tend to be more concerned with preserving their own face, whereas people in collectivistic cultures value maintaining the face of the other person.
  1. Mutual face is where there’s an equal concern for both parties’ image, as well as the public image or their relationship.
  2. Face-restoration is the facework strategy used to stake out a unique place in life, preserve autonomy, and defend against loss of personal freedom and is the typical face strategy across individualistic cultures.
  3. Face-giving is the facework strategy used to defend and support another’s need for inclusion.
  1. It means taking care not to embarrass or humiliate the other in public.
  2. It is the characteristic face strategy across collectivistic cultures.
  1. Although cultural difference is not absolute, people from collectivistic and individualistic cultures tend to privilege other-face and self-face, respectively.
  1. Refining the relationship between face concern and conflict style
  1. Since the turn of the century, Ting-Toomey, Oetzel, and many other intercultural researchers have identified three primary conflict styles: dominance, avoidance, and integration.
  2. She and Oetzel now use them as umbrella terms to designate 3 clusters of 11 specific facework strategies.
  1. Dominance.
  1. Defend: Stand up for one’s opinion.
  2. Express emotion: Verbally express one’s feelings.
  3. Aggression: Make a direct or passive effort to hurt the other.
  1. Avoidance.
  1. Give in: Accommodate the other person.
  2. Pretend: Act like the conflict doesn’t exist.
  3. Third party: Seek outside help to resolve the conflict.
  1. Integration.
  1. Apologize: Say sorry for past behavior.
  2. Private talk: Avoid public confrontation.
  3. Remain calm: Stay composed during the conflict.
  4. Problem solve: Engage in behaviors to join perspectives.
  5. Respect: Demonstrate regard for the other by listening.
  1. The three clusters are important because Ting-Toomey and Oetzel claim that the type of face concern people have will best predict the type of facework they’ll employ in conflict situations. They found:
  1. Those most concerned with self-face will try to dominate.
  2. People with an other-face concern will attempt to avoid conflict.
  3. Parties with a mutual-face concern will favor integrating strategies.
  1. Oetzel and Ting-Toomey conducted a four-nation study to test their theory with Chinese, Japanese, German, and American students.
  1. As for the dominance tactics, self-face is linked with both defending and aggression, but not, as predicted, to emotional expression.
  2. As predicted, all three of the avoidance strategies—giving in, pretending, and seeking third-party help—are associated with high other-face concerns.
  3. What wasn’t anticipated is that three of the behaviors presumably fostered by mutual-face concern are shown to be associated with other-face concern alone.
  4. It is not total confirmation of the theory and the researchers did not measure self-construal but it is encouraging support of the theory.
  1. In a follow-up study, Ting-Toomey and Oetzel studied the role of apology in fostering forgiveness that might predict reconciliation.
  1. They wanted to confirm their prediction that interdependent self-construal has a positive effect on reconciliation in the US and China.
  2. They found a positive effect on apology and forgiveness was strikingly similar in China and US.
  3. In China, a much greater proportion of people have interdependent self-construal compared to the much more independent self-construal of Americans, making the chain of forgiveness much less likely to happen in the United States.  
  1. Application: Competent intercultural facework.
  1. Ting-Toomey’s ultimate goal for her theory goes beyond merely identifying the ways people in different cultures negotiate face or handle conflict.
  2. She wants the theory to help people manage intercultural conflict effectively.
  3. She says there are three requirements.
  1. Knowledge is the most important dimension of facework competence.
  2. Mindfulness shows a recognition that things are not always what they seem. It’s a conscious choice to seek multiple perspectives on the same event.
  3. Interaction skill is your ability to communicate appropriately, effectively, and adaptively in a given situation.
  1. Critique: Passing the objective test with a good grade.
  1. Ting-Toomey and Oetzel have conducted extensive quantitative survey research to craft and test an objective theory that predicts that members of collectivistic cultures will manage conflict differently than members of individualistic societies will.
  2. Then they use the constructs of self-construal and face concern to explain why that’s so. Ting-Toomey has laid out “conflict face-negotiation theory” (which she now calls it) in 24 testable hypotheses.
  3. One methodological shortcoming is the reliance on self-report data from participants who are often college age with more wealth and status than similarly-aged peers.
  4. Given the complex nature of culture, she has made the choice to sacrifice simplicity for validity, which makes the theory tougher to grasp.
  5. For more than two decades as a third-party neutral mediator, Em has found the theory has practical utility.

Chapter 27Co-Cultural Theory


  1. Members of co-cultural groups have less power than members of the dominant culture.
    1. Mark Orbe uses the term co-cultural to refer to marginalized groups of people who are typically labeled as minority, subcultural, subordinate, inferior, or nondominant.
    2. Co-cultural is a neutral term that designates significant differences from the dominant culture, but with no hint of contempt or condemnation.
    3. There are many varied co-cultural groups in the United States, such as women, people of color, the economically disadvantaged, people with physical disabilities, the LGBTQ community, the very old and very young, and religious minorities.
    4. Orbe sees co-cultural theory as an extension of both standpoint theory and muted group theory—two other theories concerned with unequal power.
    5. Orbe thinks it’s important to spend time and effort focusing on co-cultural communication—“communication between dominant group and co-cultural group members from the perspective of co-cultural group members.”
    6. Orbe has found that, to maneuver within the dominant culture and achieve some degree of success, co-cultural group members will adopt one or more specific communication orientations in their everyday interactions.
  1. Communication orientation: What they want and what they say to get it.
    1. Orbe claims there are nine communication orientations that different co-cultural group members adopt when trying to survive and thrive within the dominant group culture.
      1. Communication orientation is the term he uses to describe a co-cultural group member’s preferred outcome pursued through the communication approach they choose to achieve that goal.
      2. The three goals—assimilation, accommodation, separation—describe the preferred outcomes co-cultural members might seek when face-to-face with members of the dominant culture.
      3. The three communication approaches—nonassertive, assertive, aggressive—identify the verbal and nonverbal behavior co-cultural members might use to reach their chosen goal
      4. A three-by-three model (i.e., crossing preferred outcomes with communication approaches) yields nine communication orientations.
    2. Inside each of the nine communication orientation boxes are shorthand descriptors of communicative practices.
      1. These practices summarize the specific verbal and nonverbal actions that co-cultural group members take when interacting with members of the dominant culture.
      2. The cluster of terms labeling the practices in each box reflects how that orientation plays out in actual types of behavior.
    3. As Orbe listened to co-cultural group members talk about their interactions with the dominant culture, their words strongly influenced his recognition and interpretation of the three preferred outcomes, the three communication approaches, and the nine different communication orientations they form.
      1. A nonassertive approach is where “individuals are seemingly inhibited and nonconfrontational while putting the needs of others before their own.”
      2. An aggressive approach is behavior “perceived as hurtfully expressive, self-promoting, and assuming control over the choices of others.”
      3. Orbe pictures the nonassertive and aggressive approaches as anchoring opposite ends of a continuum on which an assertive approach (self-enhancing and expressive behavior that takes into account both self and others’ needs) falls roughly in between.
  1. Assimilation as a preferred outcome of communication.
    1. For co-cultural group members, assimilation means fitting into the dominant culture while at the same time shedding the speech and nonverbal markers of their group.
      1. Nonassertive assimilation: Co-cultural members attempt to meet their own needs as best they can by unobtrusively blending into the dominant society.
        1. Emphasizing commonalities—focusing on similarities; downplaying differences.
        2. Developing positive face—Being graciously attentive and considerate.
        3. Censoring self—Remaining silent to inappropriate or offensive comments.
        4. Averting controversy—Moving conversation away from risky or dangerous areas.
      2. Assertive assimilation: Co-cultural members with this orientation attempt to fit into dominant structures by “playing the game.”
        1. Extensive preparation—Preparing thoroughly prior to interaction.
        2. Overcompensating—Making a conscious and consistent effort to be a “superstar.”
        3. Manipulating stereotypes—Exploiting the dominant image of the group for personal gain.
        4. Bargaining—Making covert or overt arrangements to ignore co-cultural differences.
      3. Aggressive assimilation: This is a single-minded, sometimes belligerent approach, which seeks to be regarded as part of the dominant group and not as members of a co-cultural group.
        1. Dissociating—Trying hard to avoid the typical behavior of one’s co-cultural group.
        2. Mirroring—Adopting dominant communication codes to mask co-cultural identity.
        3. Strategic distancing—Stressing individuality by cutting ties with your own group.
        4. Ridiculing self—Taking part in discourse demeaning to one’s co-cultural group.
  1. Accommodation as a preferred outcome of communication.
    1. Rather than following the other guys’ rules as those trying to assimilate do, co-cultural members who seek accommodation work at changing the rules to take their own life experiences into account.
    2. As out-group members adapt their behavior to become more similar to that of the dominant in-group culture, they gain credibility for advocating at least incremental change.
      1. Nonassertive accommodation: By conforming to the norms of the dominant culture, co-cultural members desire to gain acceptance.
        1. Increasing visibility—Maintaining co-cultural presence within the dominant group.
        2. Dispelling stereotypes—Changing images of the group by just being yourself.
      2. Assertive accommodation: Co-cultural members whose abilities and interpersonal skills are valued work cooperatively within the dominant culture, advocating for the needs of both cultures.
        1. Communicating self—Interacting with the dominant group in an open, genuine manner.
        2. Intragroup networking—Talking with co-cultural people with a shared worldview.
        3. Utilizing liaisons—Seeking support from dominant group members you can trust.
        4. Educating others—Explaining co-cultural norms and values to the dominant group.
      3. Aggressive accommodation: Working within the dominant culture, these co-cultural advocates offer a prophetic voice calling for major transformation of structures and practices that hold co-cultural groups down.
        1. Confronting—Asserting one’s “voice” in a way that may violate others’ rights.
        2. Gaining advantage—Calling out dominant group oppression to get a response.
  1. Separation as a preferred outcome of communication.
    1. The co-cultural group members who desire separation work to create and maintain an identity distinct from the dominant culture.
    2. Separatist speech is akin to what Giles labeled divergent communication (see ch. 25) and is used to accentuate differences between the two cultures.
      1. Nonassertive separation: These co-cultural members have an inherent belief that their lives will be more tolerable when they “stick to their own kind.”
        1. Avoiding—Staying away from places and situations where interaction is likely.
        2. Maintaining personal barriers—Using verbal and nonverbal cues to stay aloof.
      2. Assertive separation: Co-cultural members with this orientation make a strategic decision to remain separate from an oppressive dominant culture.
        1. Exemplifying strengths—Making the group’s strength, success, and contribution known.
        2. Embracing stereotypes—Putting a positive spin on the dominant group’s biases.
      3. Aggressive separation: This is often employed by a powerful co-cultural group leader when segregation from the dominant culture seems imperative.
        1. Attacking—Inflicting psychological pain through personal attack.
        2. Sabotaging others—Undermining the benefits of dominant group membership.
  1. Phenomenology—Tapping into others’ conscious lived experience.
    1. Orbe is convinced that the goals of co-cultural group members and the different styles of communication they adopt are the key factors because he has great confidence in the research method that revealed them—phenomenology.
      1. Phenomenology is a research commitment to focus “on the conscious experience of a person as she or he relates to the lived world.”
      2. Orbe enlisted the help of nearly 100 marginalized people from a variety of co-cultural groups and listened to their stories of interactions with people in the dominant culture.
      3. This inductive type of qualitative research is akin to what Baxter did with relationship partners in developing relational dialectics theory (ch. 11), and how Deetz partnered with corporate employees to form his critical theory of communication in organizations (ch. 24).
    2. It’s a multiple-step process.
      1. First, Orbe invited his co-researchers (his phenomenological term for “participants”) to describe their experiences within the dominant culture, recorded everything they said, and later made a word-for-word transcript.
      2. Next, Orbe pored over this record, looking for repeated words, phrases, or themes that described and gave meaning to their communication.
      3. He conducted this phenomenological interpretation by finding meanings that weren’t immediately apparent in the first two steps.
      4. Through this process, he also identified four other factors that influence how members of co-cultural groups interact with members of the dominant society: Field of experience, situational context, ability, and perceived costs and rewards.
  1. Dominant group theory—an extension of co-cultural theory.
    1. Orbe and Robert Razzante address how dominant group members respond to the communicative practices of co-cultural group members in dominant group theory, which is an extension of Orbe’s co-cultural theory. 
    2. In many ways, dominant group theory (DGT) is the mirror image of his original work.
    3. It takes into account three possible outcomes the dominant group members may want to achieve vis-à-vis the oppressive structures co-cultural members face.
    4. They may want to reinforce the structures (maintain status quo), impede them (resist their spread), or dismantle them (work at systemic change).
    5. They may use the same three communication approaches: nonassertiveness, assertiveness, or aggression.
      1. Nonassertive/Reinforcement: Refusing to recognize one’s own privilege or keeping silent about it.
      2. Assertive/Reinforcement: Downplaying one’s own power and privilege; denying there’s a dominant group culture.
      3. Aggressive/Reinforcement: Blaming the co-cultural group’s plight on members’ lack of responsibility.
      4. Nonassertive/Impediment: Acknowledging social privilege as a member of the dominant group.
      5. Assertive/Impediment: Acknowledging the magnitude of co-cultural issues; modeling care for members of both groups.
      6. Aggressive/Impediment: Confronting oppressive rhetoric as ignorant and hurtful; affirming co-cultural group members.
      7. Nonassertive/Dismantling: Sacrificing self (money, social isolation, arrest) to prioritize the needs of co-cultural group members.
      8. Assertive/Dismantling: As a co-cultural ally, working against systems of privilege; focusing on institutional change.
      9. Aggressive/Dismantling: Pushing one’s own agenda for societal change with little regard for those who are hurt.
    6. Just like co-cultural theory, DGT suggests that the choices dominant group members make are strongly influenced by four factors: field of experience, situational context, ability, and perceived costs and rewards.
    7. Countering one of the original premises of co-cultural theory, DGT recognizes that some dominant group members use their power and privilege to assertively or aggressively challenge society’s oppressive structures instead of reinforcing them.
  1. Critique: An interpretive theory both ambitious and limited.
    1. Mark Orbe uses the criteria set forth in chapter 3 to favorably evaluate his interpretive theory.
    2. His phenomenological methodology is prototypical qualitative research.
    3. To read what his co-cultural researchers said is to gain a new understanding of people who are trying to survive and thrive in a dominant culture created by privileged men who at least tacitly work to maintain the status quo.
    4. Clarity and artistry are the two faces of aesthetic appeal.
      1. As for clarity, it’s hard to see how the four additional factors of field of experience, situational context, ability, and perceived costs and rewards fit into the framework of the theory.
      2. Many of the quotes from co-cultural group members could be viewed as found art.
    5. Orbe’s stated indebtedness to muted group theory and standpoint theory gives co-cultural theory a built-in community of agreement among communication scholars who take a critical approach.
    6. Orbe doesn’t call for reform of society or take on the role of advocate. Co-cultural theory seems descriptive rather than prescriptive.
    7. As for clarification of values, rather than show either pity or scorn for those who are marginalized in the United States, Orbe expresses admiration for how his co-researchers use or don’t use communication in order to cope as outsiders within a dominant culture.

Chapter 28Afrocentricity


  1. Introduction
    1. You likely operate with an understanding of what is “normal” in your social context.
    2. Often, we embrace social norms unconsciously, meaning we don’t think about them.
    3. Molefi Kete Asante argues that Western society fails to appreciate the role of culture in shaping its sense of normalcy.
    4. The tendency to look down on other cultures due to differences lies at the heart of Asante’s concern with Western society.
    5. Asante’s scholarship offers an important alternative to Eurocentrism, a worldview that centers Western norms and civilization over non-Western counterparts.
    6. He is convinced it is impossible to understand African and African American customs, rituals, and traditions without understanding the culture that produced them. This conviction serves as the foundation for Asante’s Afrocentricity, a worldview that centers African culture in the study of the African diaspora.
  1. The Dangers of Eurocentrism
    1. Eurocentrism threatens the African diaspora (the spread of African people beyond Africa) and other non-European people because it diminishes their value, intellect, and contributions to society.
    2. Asante sees this imposition of values as cultural hegemony, the invisible domination of one culture over others.
    3. Afrocentrism is concerned with the ways that Eurocentrism implicitly devalues other cultures by asserting the intellectual superiority of the West.
    4. Asante maintains a deep suspicion of any theory that claims to be objective; he believes cultural values and assumptions always inform our ideas.
    5. The claim of objectivity only serves to obscure those values, not to eliminate them.
    6. By positioning Western values as universal, Eurocentrism pressures people of African descent to affirm Western norms as a condition of approval, imprisoning people of African descent in cultural chains.
    7. At the heart of Afrocentricity lies the goal of liberating the African diaspora from Eurocentric ways of thinking.  
  1. Afrocentrism as liberation
    1. Liberation from Eurocentrism depends on reconnecting people of African descent to African culture.
    2. Afrocentrism is built on the premise that cultural artifacts, expressions, and customs can only be understood using theories that share the culture’s values, assumptions, and beliefs.
    3. Afrocentricity, on the other hand, positions “African people in the center of any analysis of African phenomena.”
    4. Asante is not primarily concerned with who studies African phenomena, but how they study it.
    5. Afrocentrism calls for anyone who studies African phenomena to do so in an Afrocentric manner.
    6. Criticisms may suggest, inaccurately, that Afrocentricity is against Western culture. It doesn’t deny the value of theories emerging from the Western tradition, but it rejects perspectives that see these theories as universally valid beyond a European context.   
  1. Three core assumptions of Afrocentrism
    1. Within an Afrocentric paradigm, knowledge must advance the goal of liberation.
    2. Knowledge must be useful.
    3. A second major assumption of the Afrocentric paradigm is that the nature of life is spiritual.
    4. Within the European tradition, scholars often prioritize the material or physical world; Afrocentricity rejects the primacy of the material world, emphasizing knowledge gained through the spiritual realm.
    5. Afrocentricity views culture as a crucial source for shaping identity.
    6. People thrive when their sense of identity is grounded in their culture, history, and biology.
    7. Afrocentricity holds that a dearth of historical, cultural, or biological perspectives can lead to dislocation, meaning that the person will lack the conceptual resources to enjoy a fully formed sense of self.
    8. The problem with Eurocentrism is that it forces the African diaspora to live through the eyes of another.
  1. Four principles of Afrocentric communication
    1. Afrocentricity’s potential application is far-reaching.
    2. Afrocentric scholar Maulana Karenga identifies four key principles of Afrocentric communication.
      1. Afrocentric communication must benefit African people.
        1. Karenga sees communal focus as an essential trait of Afrocentric communication.
        2. Asante shares this perspective, arguing that “the stability of the community is essential, and publicly speaking, when used in connection with conflict solution, must be directed toward maintaining community harmony.
      2. Afrocentric communication must resist racism and colonialism.
        1. Karenga points to a strong emphasis on resistance in African communication.
        2. The Civil Rights Movement provides one of the most visible examples of African communication’s commitment to resistance.
      3. Afrocentric communication must affirm the humanity of African people.
        1. Afrocentric communication must constantly (re)affirm the humanity and inherent dignity of Black people, which is constantly dismissed by the West.
        2. Hip-hop artists consistently celebrate Blackness in their music.
        3. Afrocentric communication should promote a sense of inherent dignity—of self-worth that transcends one’s immediate circumstances.
      4. Afrocentric communication must envision fresh possibilities for the future.
        1. Afrocentric communication refuses to accept the world as it is; rather, it continually explores what the world may be.
        2. It is committed to communication that “explore[s] possibilities in the social and human condition.”
  1. Nommo: The heart of African communication
    1. Afrocentricity sees the African diaspora as an oral culture rather than a written one.
    2. Afrocentricity’s approach to the study of African communication centers on the concept of Nommo—the generative and productive power of the spoken word.
    3. Drawn from the Dogon people of Mali, Nommo attaches spiritual power to the spoken word that is absent in the Western tradition and attributes tremendous spiritual significance to it.
    4. According to Asante, Nommo continues to operate in Black culture today, both consciously and unconsciously. 
  1. The tools of Afrocentric analysis
    1. Afrocentricity’s emphasis on oral communication leads scholars to study the ways that communication artifacts reflect (or fail to reflect) the values, traditions, and customs of African culture.
    2. Nommo manifests in numerous ways in communication.
      1. Nommo manifests in the improvisational styles that often define African communication.
        1. Speakers informed by African culture often rely on a style of delivery in which the message is only partially prepared.
        2. The unprepared portion of the message depends on the audience to co-create the message with the speaker.
        3. The speaker must be ready to respond to a variety of potential outcomes during the message.
      2. African communication often features a call-and-response style in which audience members offer verbal and nonverbal feedback on the speaker’s message.
        1. This call-and-response is commonplace in the Black church.
        2. This style allows the congregation to supply commentary on the message while it’s being delivered, allowing the primary speaker opportunities to adjust the message.
      3. African communication depends on mythoforms, which serve as a source of ideas and concepts around which people organize their lives.
        1. If you think of myths as stories we turn to—like those found in African or Greek mythology—then mythoforms capture families of similar myths.
        2. Collectively these different manifestations of the narrative operate as a mythoform, explaining and illuminating humanity’s past, present, and future.
    3. Myths offer a sense of control, contribute to the culture in deeper ways with insights on how to overcome oppression, and they establish connections among past, present, and future.  
  1. Critique: Evaluating Afrocentricity
    1. Afrocentricity endures as an important contribution to the study and liberation of the African diaspora.
    2. Asante’s contributions to rhetoric, media studies, and intercultural communication have shaped an entire generation of scholars who employ his Afrocentric paradigm to study communication artifacts produced by the African diaspora.
    3. His emphasis on culture has produced a new understanding of people.
    4. It represents an effort to reform society by liberating the African diaspora from Eurocentrism and clarifies values through its insistence that African communication be studied in a manner consistent with the values and assumptions of the culture.
    5. Asante understands any theory to be a tool or step towards emancipation.
    6. Afrocentric scholarship is not known for its aesthetic appeal, especially for readers unacquainted with Black culture.
    7. Afrocentric scholars use various forms of qualitative research in their scholarship, but they come short of totally embracing methodologies embedded with Western values.
    8. It carved out a new community of agreement that was previously hidden from the mainstream.
    9. If we take Afrocentricity seriously, then evaluating the theory according to these criteria may be problematic; Asante desires to break from the cultural hegemony of the West, which is where the criteria were developed.
    10. He would challenge us to develop new criteria for evaluating theories grounded in the cultural values, assumptions, and beliefs of African culture.

Chapter 29Feminist Standpoint Theory


  1. Introduction.
  1. Standpoint theorists suggest our view of the world depends on our social location.
  2. That social location is shaped by our demographic characteristics, including sex, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and economic status.
  3. As Julia Wood puts it, “the social groups within which we are located powerfully shape what we experience and know as well as how we understand and communicate with ourselves, others, and the world.”
  4. Standpoint theorists believe that knowledge starting from the social location of marginalized people “can provide a more objective view than the perspective from the lives of the more powerful.”
  5. We must start with a critique of epistemology—or, how do we know what we know?
  1. Philosophical foundations: A standpoint necessarily opposes the status quo.
  1. Georg Hegel revealed that what people “know” depends upon which group they are in and that the powerful control received knowledge.
  2. Early feminist standpoint theorists were influenced by Marx and Engels’ idea that the poor can be society’s “ideal knowers.”
  3. By substituting women for proletariat and gender discrimination for class struggle, early feminist standpoint theorists had a ready-made framework for advocating women’s way of knowing.
  4. Standpoint theory is also influenced by symbolic interactionism, which suggests that gender is socially constructed, and by the postmodernism of theorists such as Jean-Francois Lyotard, which suggests a critique of male-centered epistemologies.
  5. They warn that a standpoint is not the same thing as a social location, an opinion, or a perspective. A standpoint is more because it emerges from careful thought about why society privileges certain social locations.
  6. A standpoint opposes the status quo.
  7. Most critical scholars today demand that all concerns regarding sex and gender must take into account the intersectionality of identity.
  1. Intersectionality and Black feminist thought
  1. For critical scholars, intersectionality refers to how identities occur at the crossroads of gender, race, sexuality, age, occupation, ability, and many other characteristics.
  2. We can’t understand the social location of a person without having a complete picture of their identity.
  3. Patricia Collins claims that “intersecting oppressions” put Black women in a different marginalized social location than either white women or Black men.
  4. Collins refers to this social location as “outsider within.”
  5. Four ways that Black women validate knowledge.
  1. Lived experience as a criterion of meaning.
  2. The use of dialogue in assessing knowledge claims.
  3. The ethic of caring.
  4. The ethic of personal accountability.
  1. Shardé Davis appeals to Collins’ description of the strong Black woman controlling image, which is “a socially constructed ideal that oppresses Black women by celebrating our attempts to meet impossible expectations of strength at all times.”
  1. Women as a marginalized group.
    1. Standpoint theorists see important differences between men and women that affect their communication.
  1. These differences are a result of cultural expectations and the treatment that each group receives from the other.
  2. Culture is not experienced identically by all members of society because of inequities.
  1. An intersection of minority positions creates a highly looked down-upon location in the social hierarchy.
  2. Collins refers to these intersecting dimensions of privilege as a matrix of domination.
  1. Knowledge from nowhere versus local knowledge.
  1. People at the top of the societal hierarchy have the power to define others.
  2. Standpoint theorists believe that those who define a field shape the picture of the world that emerges from that field.
  3. This view contrasts sharply with the claim that “truth” is value-free and accessible to any objective observer.
  4. Harding and other standpoint theorists insist there is no possibility of an unbiased perspective that is disinterested, impartial, value-free, or detached from a particular historical situation.
  5. She does not want to abandon the search for reality; she simply believes that the search should begin from the lives of those in the underclass.
  1. Like all knowledge, the perspectives arising from the standpoint of women or any other minority are partial or situated knowledge.
  2. However, standpoint theorists believe that the perspectives of marginalized groups are more complete and thus better than those of privileged groups in a society.
  1. Strong objectivity: Less partial views from standpoints at the margins.
  1. Harding emphasizes that it’s the perspective generalized from women’s lives that provides a preferred standpoint from which to begin research.
  1. She calls this approach “strong objectivity.”
  2. By contrast, knowledge generated from the standpoint of dominant groups offers only “weak objectivity.”
  1. Wood offers two reasons why the standpoints of women and other marginalized groups are less partial, distorted, and false than those of men in dominant positions.
  1. Marginalized people have more motivation to understand the perspective of the powerful than vice versa.
  2. Marginalized people have little reason to defend the status quo.
  1. They believe a feminist standpoint is an achievement gained through critical reflection on power relations.
  1. Theory to practice: communication research based on women’s lives.
  1. Wood’s study of caregiving in the United States exemplifies research that starts from the lives of women.
  2. Davis contends that the opposing, gender-based privileges and restraints creates an even more acute struggle for Black women who are caregivers (as compared to white women).
  3. Wood suggests that a standpoint approach is practical to the extent that it generates an effective critique of unjust practices.
  1. Ethical reflection: Fricker’s Epistemic Injustice
  1. Society assigns greater worth to some knowers than it does to others.
  2. Miranda Fricker refers to epistemic injustice as the harm resulting from that bias, and believes it’s a serious ethical problem.
  3. Testimonial injustice occurs when prejudice on the hearer’s part causes them to give the speaker less credibility than they would otherwise have given.
  4. Hermeneutical injustice occurs when people participate unequally in the practices through which social meanings are generated.
  5. Epistemic injustice is tackled through reflecting on one’s biases and addressing broader social structures and systems.
  1. Critique: Can standpoint theory be misused?
  1. Communication scholars insist that our understanding of people will be incomplete unless we seriously consider social locations beyond the white, male, heterosexual, nondisabled, socioeconomically comfortable norm.
  2. They also believe serious reckoning with power differences must lead to societal reform to end oppression.
  3. John McWhorter, a Black professor of English at Columbia University, is concerned that some people use standpoint theory’s logic oppressively.
  4. Other critics see the concept of strong objectivity as inherently contradictory, since it seems to appeal to universal standards of judgment
  5. Standpoint theory energizes Idaho State University rhetorician Lynn Worsham and others in the theory’s broad community of agreement who believe that minority standpoints can be a partial corrective to the biased knowledge that now passes for truth.

Chapter 30Muted Group Theory


  1. Introduction.
  1. To Cheris Kramarae, language is a man-made construction.
  2. Women’s words and thoughts are discounted in our society.
  3. When women try to overcome this inequity, the masculine control of communication places them at a disadvantage.
  4. Women are a muted group because man-made language aids in defining, depreciating, and excluding them.
  1. Muted groups: Black holes in someone else’s universe.
  1. Anthropologist Edwin Ardener first proposed that women are a muted group.
  2. He noted that many ethnographers claimed to have “cracked the code” of a culture without referencing female speech.
  3. He and Shirley Ardener discovered that mutedness is caused by the lack of power that besets any group of low status.
  4. Mutedness doesn’t mean that low-power groups are completely silent. The issue is whether people can say what they want to say when and where they want to say it.
  5. He claimed that muted groups are “black holes” because they are overlooked, muffled, and rendered invisible.
  6. Kramarae argues that the ever-prevalent public/private distinction in language is a convenient way to exaggerate gender differences and pose separate sexual spheres of activity.
  1. The masculine power to name experience.
  1. Kramarae’s basic assumption is that women perceive the world differently from men because of women’s and men’s different experiences and activities rooted in the division of labor.
  2. Kramarae argues that because of their political dominance, men’s system of perception is dominant, impeding the free expression of women’s alternative models of the world.
  3. Men’s control of the dominant mode of expression has produced a vast stock of derogatory, gender-specific terms to refer to women’s speech.
  4. There are also more words to describe sexually promiscuous women than men.
  5. The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis suggests that muted women may come to doubt the validity of their experiences and the legitimacy of their feelings.
  1. Men as the gatekeepers of communication.
  1. Even if the public mode of expression contained a rich vocabulary to describe feminine experience, women would still be muted if their modes of expression were ignored or ridiculed.
  1. Kramarae points out that both the law and the conventions of proper etiquette have served men well.
  2. Kramarae observes that most gatekeepers are men—a “good ole boys” cultural establishment that historically has excluded women’s art, poetry, plays, film scripts, public address, and scholarly essays.
  3. Mainstream communication is “malestream” expression.
  1. Authors such as Virginia Woolf and Dorothy Smith have argued that women have not been given their rightful place in history. 
  2. Many women have suppressed their feminine identity to satisfy the demands of a male gatekeeper.
  3. To some extent, Kramarae thinks advances in technology create new spaces where women can make their voices heard.
  4. But tech executive Eli Pariser notes that these programs are likely to “simply reflect the social mores of the culture they’re processing.”
  5. Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg believes technology won’t reflect the interests of female users until we have more women in technology fields.
  6. Sufiya Umoja Noble calls attention to algorithmic oppression, i.e., the bias encoded in social media and search engines that favors dominant groups and oppresses marginalized groups.
  1. Speaking women’s truth in men’s talk: The problem of translation.
  1. Kramarae believes that in order to participate in society, women must transform their own models in terms of the received male system of expression.
  2. This translation process requires constant effort and leaves women wondering if they said it right.
  3. According to Kramarae, women have to choose their words carefully in public forums.
  1. Speaking out in private: Networking with women.
  1. Kramarae believes that females are likely to find ways to express themselves outside the dominant public modes of expression used by males.
  2. She labels women’s outlets the female “sub-version” that runs beneath the surface of male orthodoxy.
  3. She is convinced that “males have more difficulty than females understanding what members of the other gender mean” because they haven’t made the effort.
  4. Dale Spender hypothesizes that men realize that listening to women would involve a renunciation of their privileged position.
  1. Enriching the lexicon: A feminist dictionary.
  1. The ultimate goal of muted group theory is to change the man-made linguistic system that oppresses women including challenging sexist dictionaries.
  2. Traditional dictionaries pose as authoritative guides to proper language use, but because of their reliance on male literary sources, lexicographers systematically exclude words coined by women.
  3. Kramarae and Paula Treichler have compiled a feminist dictionary that offers definitions for women’s words that don’t appear in Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary and presents alternative feminine readings of words that do.
  1. Sexual harassment: Coining a term to label experience.
  1. The popularization of the term sexual harassment represents a great victory for feminist communication scholarship—encoding women’s experience into the received language of society.
  2. Although unwanted sexual attention is not new, until recently it went unnamed.
  3. The battle over sexual harassment is as much a struggle over language as it is over sexual conduct.
  1. Communication professor Ann Burnett (North Dakota State University) identifies similar confusion and powerlessness regarding date rape—an acute form of sexual harassment often directed at college women.
  2. Uncertainty favors men—and mutes women—before, during, and after date rape.
  1. Critique: Do men mean to mute?
  1. Feminist scholars insist that “the key communication activities of women’s experiences—their rituals, vocabularies, metaphors, and stories—are an important part of the data for study.”
  2. The theory has inspired many scholars to take the voices of women and other muted groups seriously.
  3. Few other interpretive theories in this book can claim such wide-ranging support and enthusiasm.
  4. Steeped in the critical tradition, muted group theory is exceedingly candid about trying to clarify values.
  5. So, can men be members of a muted group? Kramarae’s answer is yes, especially if those men identify with another marginalized group, such as the economically disadvantaged or an ethnic minority.
  6. Kramarae acknowledges that oppression is more complex than identification with any one group.
  7. Her perspective on men’s motives is contested by scholars such as Tannen.
  8. Kramarae thinks Tannen’s apology for men’s abuse of power is too simple.

Chapter 31Media Ecology


  1. Introduction.
  1. Ecologists study the environment, how people interact with it, and the way these interactions result in change.
  2. Media ecologists study media environments, seeking to understand how people interact with media and how those interactions shape our culture and our daily experiences.
  3. Marshall McLuhan believed that media should be understood ecologically.
  4. Dennis Cali defines media ecology as “the study of the interrelationship of people, media, culture, and consciousness, and of the changes that occur among them.”
  5. Media ecology aims to equip us with a new ability to step back and see our media environment in a different light.
  1. The medium is the message.
  1. McLuhan was thinking about a much bigger, grander picture than which channel you use to send a greeting; he focused on the overall environment created by the communication medium.
  2. When McLuhan said, "the medium is the message," he wanted us to see that media—regardless of content—reshape human experience and exert far more change in our world than the sum total of all the messages they contain.
  3. McLuhan was convinced that when we consider the cultural influence of media, we are usually misled by the illusion of content (or messages).
  4. We focus on the content and overlook the medium—even though content doesn’t exist outside of the way it’s mediated.
  5. “The medium is the message” isn’t a claim about whether you’d prefer to catch up with a friend through email or phone or whether you’d rather watch a movie than play a video game. It’s a claim about the pervasive, unavoidable effect of media on how we perceive the world—much greater than the effect of any message.
  1. Symbolic environments that alter the senses
  1. Any understanding of social and cultural change is impossible without a knowledge of the way media work as symbolic environments.
  2. That phrase refers to the socially constructed, sensory world of meanings that in turn shapes our perceptions, experiences, attitudes, and behavior.
  3. McLuhan believed communication technology extends our central nervous system—a complex network of nerves that transmits signals from the environment.
  4. Communication technology reconfigures our symbolic environment by enabling us to sense things we otherwise could not.
  5. All symbolic environments are inherently intangible and interrelated.
  1. Invisibility of environments.
  1. We have trouble recognizing “the way media work as environments’ because we’re so immersed in them.
  2. We need to focus on our everyday experience of technology—experiences that are so common we don’t think much about them.
  3. A medium shapes us because we partake of it over and over until it becomes an extension of ourselves.
  4. It’s the ordinariness of media that makes them invisible.
  5. When a new medium enters society, there is a period of time in which we are aware of its novelty. But when it fades into the background of our lives, we become vulnerable to its patterns—its environmental influence.
  1. Complexity of environments.
  1. Research on media ecology is rather sparse because it takes up the challenge of trying to understand the interplay between all of these things in a culture that changes at blazing speed.  
  2. McLuhan believed that it took a special ability to be able to stand back from the action and take in the big picture. 
  3. One way McLuhan tried to gain a broader perspective was by stepping outside the moment and considering all of human history.
  1. A media analysis of symbolic environments throughout human history.
  1. McLuhan divided all human history into four periods, or epochs—a tribal age, a literate age, a print age, and an electronic age.
  1. In each case the world was wrenched from one era into the next because new developments in media technology altered the nature of our senses.
  2. McLuhan believed the transitions (shaded in gray in Figure 31-1) took 300 to 400 years to complete.
  1. The tribal age: An acoustic place in history.
  1. The senses of hearing, touch, taste, and smell were more advanced than visualization. McLuhan wrote about the “sensory balance” of the tribal age—a delicate balance and harmony of all the senses despite the high importance of hearing in an age where most of the important information was acoustic and needed to be heard.
  2. McLuhan claimed that “primitive” people led richer and more complex lives than their literate descendants because the ear, unlike the eye, encourages a more holistic sense of the world.
  3. People acted with more passion and spontaneity.
  1. The age of literacy: A visual point of view.
  1. In an acoustic environment, taking something out of context is nearly impossible. In the age of literacy, it’s a reality. Both writer and reader are always separated from the text.
  2. Literacy moved people from collective tribal involvement into “civilized” private detachment.
  3. Even though the words may be the same, the act of reading a text is an individual one.
  4. Literacy encouraged logical, linear thinking, and fostered mathematics, science, and philosophy.
  5. When oppressed people learned to read, they became independent thinkers.
  1. The print age: Prototype of the Industrial Revolution.
  1. McLuhan argued that the most important aspect of movable type was its ability to reproduce the same text over and over again.
  2. Because the print revolution demonstrated mass production of identical products, McLuhan called it the forerunner of the industrial revolution.
  3. The development of fixed national languages produced nationalism.
  4. Concurring with this new sense of unification was a countering sense of separation and aloneness.
  1. The electronic age: The rise of the global village.
  1. McLuhan believed that the electronic media retribalized the human race.
  2. We now live in a symbolic environment of instant communication, which returns us to the pre-alphabetic oral tradition where sound and touch are more important than sight.
  3. Closed human systems no longer exist.
  4. Privacy is either a luxury or a curse of the past.
  1. The digital age? A wireless global village.
  1. The mass age of electronic media is becoming increasingly personalized.
  2. Instead of mass consciousness, which McLuhan viewed rather favorably, we have the emergence of a tribal warfare mentality.
  3. Media scholar Brian Ott claims Twitter has altered the nature of public discourse by demanding simplicity, promoting impulsivity, and fostering incivility.
  1. Ethical reflection: Postman’s Faustian bargain.
    1. Neil Postman believed that the forms of media regulate and even dictate what kind of content the form of a given medium can carry.
    2. Unlike McLuhan, Postman believed that the primary task of media ecology is to make moral judgments.
    3. New technology always presents us with a Faustian bargain—a potential deal with the devil.
    4. Postman believed whatever advantages TV offers are more than offset by the fact that it has led to the loss of serious public discourse.
    5. Postman feared that virtual interaction may sabotage the kind of intimacy that only comes by being in the physical presence of others.
  1. Critique: An unconventional thinker ahead of his time.
  1. In McLuhan’s intentional breaking of the rules, there is artistry; his writing contains pithy insights that challenge our assumptions about media and culture.
  2. The aesthetic appeal of his work captures the attention of both scholars and everyday people.
  3. Today, with several decades of hindsight, McLuhan sounds eerily prophetic.
  4. Both the criticism of his detractors and the praise of his fans demonstrate that McLuhan has shaken up our understanding of people.
  5. He didn’t clarify the values that undergird his theory.
  6. He also seemed uninterested in challenging the values that shape the development of communication technology.
  7. Just as there has been a community of disagreement that denounces McLuhan, there is also a widespread community of agreement that celebrates and continues his work.
  8. Passionate members of the Media Ecology Association use qualitative research to consider the possible cultural effects of new media technologies.

Chapter 32Context Collapse


  1. Introduction.
  1. Technology destroys the boundaries between contexts.
  2. The blurring of contextual boundaries especially happens on social networking platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
  3. Boyd and Marwick use the term “context collapse” to describe how technology flattens multiple audiences into one.
  4. Members of marginalized or stigmatized communities may especially struggle with performing an identity that is acceptable across all contexts reached by technology.
  5. In one sense, crossing contextual boundaries isn’t new, but context collapse via social media ramps that up to a much higher degree.
  6. Communication technology is more than a hammer that knocks a hole in the wall between two contexts; it’s a bomb that can turn all contextual walls to dust.
  7. boyd and Marwick’s theory explores how communication technology does this, explains why social media alters how we think about our identities, and describes strategies people use to navigate it all.
  1. Technological features that collapse contexts
  1. In describing context collapse, boyd and Marwick draw from the insights of communication scholar Joshua Meyrowitz.
  2. In 1985—before the creation of web browsers in the early 1990s and well before the social media revolution of the 2000s—Meyrowitz described the plight of public speakers in the television broadcast age.
  1. He pointed particularly to the example of Stokely Carmichael, a civil rights leader in the mid-twentieth century.
  2. When speaking in an auditorium, sanctuary, or lecture hall, Carmichael adapted his style to his audience, using either Caucasian American or African American language and mannerisms depending on who was in the crowd.
  3. Broadcast television brings vast, diverse audiences together through a medium that lacks immediate feedback.
  4. The television camera collapsed otherwise separate contexts into a single communicative space.
  5. It amplified the reach of Carmichael’s message, but also made his identity so much more difficult to perform.
  1. Today, many people have access to Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, or other technologies that connect us to far-flung audiences.
  2. boyd and Marwick are convinced social media makes context collapse much more common and powerful.
  3. They point to the affordances of the technology, or characteristics of technology design that encourage (and discourage) actions.
  4. boyd identifies six affordances of modern communication technology that roll our social groups into one big audience.
  1. Persistence. What’s posted online stays online—seemingly forever.
  2. Scalability. “Often the funny, the crude, the embarrassing, the mean, and the bizarre” tend to circulate rapidly through social media.
  3. Searchability. Wherever and whenever things happened, you can search for them.
  4. Profiles. To use many sites, you need to create a profile that contains information for other users to view.
  5. Networks. The ability to build visible connections with other users is the heart of platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
  6. Feeds. When you open many social media apps, you’re greeted with a stream of information.
  1. According to boyd and her colleague Nicole Ellison, those last three affordances are particularly crucial.
  2. In combination, they are the recipe for social networking sites—platforms with unique user profiles, publicly viewable connections between users, and streams of user-generated content.
  3. Scholars use the term social media as a more general phrase that refers not only to social networking sites, but also to any platform that shares user-generated content.
  4. Offline, boundaries of time and space tend to separate our social groups.
  5. The affordances of persistence, scalability, searchability, profiles, networks, and streams are the dynamite that demolishes the walls of those boxes.
  6. As context collapses, it becomes harder to perform your identity for all audiences at the same time.
  1. Performing identity frontstage and backstage
  1. Erving Goffman described social interaction as a dramaturgical performance, divided between the frontstage and the backstage.
  2. The frontstage is analogous to Mead’s me where performances are carefully managed to satisfy the audience.
  3. The backstage is analogous to Mead’s I where performances are less tidy and more authentic.
  1. Invisible and imagined audiences
  1. The theory of context collapse claims that a public post is a giant frontstage. What’s more, it’s a frontstage where the performer often can’t see who is viewing the performance.
  2. Someone might like, favorite, or comment on a post, revealing themselves as a member of the audience, while others will lurk in the background and not respond in any detectable way.
  3. boyd refers to this as the invisible audience.
  4. According to Marwick and boyd, when people can’t be certain who is in the audience, they imagine the audience.
  5. The imagined audience may not correspond to the actual invisible audience.
  6. Goffman warned, “the impression of reality fostered by a performance is a delicate, fragile thing that can be shattered by minor mishaps.”
  7. Context collapse scholars have devoted focused attention to how people with marginalized or stigmatized identities navigate social media.
  8. Stefanie Duguay identifies two overarching approaches to navigating the reality of context collapse. They are not exclusive; people can and do use several at the same time.
    1. Strategy 1: Tailoring performances to please the audience.
  1. When people engage in tailoring performances on social media, they seek to execute a performance suitable for all audiences.
  2. Self-censorship.     
  1. Some people handle context collapse by choosing their words very carefully.
  2. This is also referred to as the lowest common denominator approach.
  1. Monitoring and scrubbing information. 
  1. The very nature of social media is that it is social.
  2. That means our identity performance also depends on other people supporting the role we are trying to play.
  1. Balanced presentation.
  1. Because different audiences are interested in different things, some people make sure they post about a variety of topics.
  2. This is particularly important for those whose social media use mixes personal and business concerns.
  1. Encoded signals
  1. Some people communicate in a way that sends a subtle message recognizable to specific groups but goes over the heads of the general audience.
  2. A community could recognize it while others dismiss it. 
    1. Strategy 2: Segmenting audiences to avoid context collapse.
  1. Performing identity for a diverse and invisible audience can be tough. Some people avoid that challenge by trying to control the size and scope of the audience and rebuilding the walls between contexts.
  2. Privacy settings
  1. Social networking sites have extensive settings that allow savvy users to limit the audience for content.
  2. Jessica Vitak found that those with larger and more diverse Facebok networks made greater use of the site’s privacy settings.
  1. Limiting connections
  1. You may not need privacy settings if you never establish a social network tie with someone in the first place.
  2. If you regret forming a social media connection, unfriending or blocking cuts people out of the audience.
  1. Secondary profiles and alternate accounts
  1. Some people create a secondary account known only to close friends.
  2. In Goffman’s terms, it’s a backstage place for authentic identity performance in contrast to the frontstage Instagram account followed by a wider variety of people.
  1. Different audiences on different social media
  1. Some social media afford greater privacy than others.
  2. Because Snapchat involves quickly disappearing messages and Reddit involves anonymous user handles, they could facilitate backstage performances in a way that other platforms do not.
  1. Private messaging.
  1. Most major social media platforms afford users the ability to send a private message to a specific person.
  2. It’s like pulling them out of the frontstage crowd in order to have a backstage conversation in a side room.
  1. Critique: Whose interests does context collapse serve?
  1. A good interpretive theory pushes us to reconsider things we have taken for granted and context collapse does that.
  2. It offers new understanding of what people are doing when they post on social media; they’re performing their identity.
  3. The theory has earned a broad community of agreement among scholars in several disciplines.
  4. Although qualitative research forms the core of most context collapse studies, the community includes quantitative researchers who have gathered statistical evidence to support the theory’s claims.
  5. The aesthetic appeal of context collapse articles exceeds the norm for academic journals as scholars vividly describe the tensions, challenges, and opportunities of digitized life.
  6. Some of the most recent work considers reform of society by highlighting how members of co-cultural groups particularly struggle with online identity performance.
  7. Although context collapse provides novel insight into what’s happening online, it could go further in clarifying the values behind the development and refinement of these technologies.
  8. Brooke Erin Duffy critiques the ideological forces that glamorize social media, particularly for those who want to make a living from it.
  9. Aspirational labor involves the work of social media influencer hopefuls who produce media content for free in the hope of the future payoff.
  10. Duffy doesn’t think it’s an accident that many aspiring social media laborers are female.
  11. In addition to gendered labor expectations, social media facilitates a broader shift to a gig economy where people receive pay for one-time jobs rather than ongoing employment.
  12. Laborers experience unrelenting pressure to develop and refine self-branding which Marwick defines as “a series of marketing strategies applied to the individual… a way of thinking about the self as a salable commodity that can tempt a potential employer.”
  13. The affordances of communication technology can collapse many contexts into one.
  14. It would be a shame if they also collapsed our understanding of human value to the number of likes, comments, and retweets a person can generate.   

Chapter 33Semiotics


  1. Introduction.
  1. The goal of semiotics is interpreting both verbal and nonverbal signs.
  2. Roland Barthes held the Chair of Literary Semiology at the College of France.
  3. In Mythologies, he sought to decipher the cultural meaning of visual signs, particularly those perpetuating dominant social values.
  4. Semiology is concerned with anything that can stand for something else.
  5. Barthes is interested in signs that are seemingly straightforward, but subtly communicate ideological or connotative meaning.
  1. Wrestling with signs.
  1. Ferdinand de Saussure coined the term semiology to refer to the study of signs.
  2. A sign is the combination of its signifier and signified.
  1. The signifier is the image; the signified is the concept.
  2. In Barthes’ terms, the signifier isn’t the sign of the signified—rather the sign is the combination of signifier and signified, which are united in an inseparable bond.
  3. These distinctions come from Saussure.
  4. The relationship between the signifier and the signified in a verbal sign is arbitrary.
  5. The relationship between the signifier and the signified in a nonverbal sign is based on affinity and labelled a denotative sign.
  1. A sign does not stand on its own: it is part of a system.
  1. Barthes initially described his semiotic theory as an explanation of myth.
  2. He later substituted the term connotation to label ideological overtones that signs carry wherever they go.
  3. Significant semiotic systems create myths that affirm the status quo as natural, inevitable, and eternal.
  1. COVID-19 mask: From protection of community to threat to individual freedom.
  1. Not all sign systems are mythic.
  2. Mythic or connotative systems are second-order semiological systems built off preexisting denotative sign systems.
  3. Within mythic systems, the sign of the first system becomes the signifier of the second.
  4. The concrete example of mask wearing illustrates Barthes’ position.
  5. At first, a symbol for medical personal protective gear shifts to politicized statement.
  1. The making of myth: The sign of its history.
  1. The shift from “protection of community” to “a threat to individual freedom” followed a typical semiotic pattern.
  2. Every ideological sign is the result of two interconnected sign systems.
  3. The first system is strictly descriptive as the signifier image and the signified concept combine to produce the denotative sign.
  4. The second system appropriates the sign of the denotative system and makes it the signifier of the connotative system. 
  5. This lateral shift transforms a neutral sign into an ideological tool.
  1. The signifier of the denotative sign system is the image of COVID-19 mask in the mind of the person who sees it or puts it on.
  2. The content of the signifier includes the virus, the community of self and others at risk, and the protective fabric. The mask speaks for itself.
  3. The corresponding denotive sign is “protection of community.”
  4. Subsequent usage takes over the sign of the denotative system and makes it the signifier of a secondary connotative sign system.
  5. As a mask of protection is appropriated to support the deep-seated conviction of American individualism, the sign loses its historic grounding.
  1. In service of the mythic semiotic sign system, the mask becomes empty and timeless, form without substance.
  1. Unmasking the myth of absolute free choice
  1. Only those with semiotic savvy can spot the hollowness of connotative signs.
  2. Throughout his life, Roland Barthes deciphered and labeled the ideologies foisted upon naive consumers of images.
  1. Mythic signs don’t explain, defend, or raise questions.
  2. The connotative spin always ends up the same.
  3. Mythic signs always reinforce dominant cultural values.
  1. Ideological signs enlist support for the status quo by transferring history into nature—pretending that current conditions are the natural order of things.
  1. The semiotics of mass communication: “I’d like to be like Mike.”
  1. Because signs are integral to mass communication, Barthes’ semiotic analysis has become an essential media theory.
  2. Kyong Kim argues that “the mass signification arising in response to signs… is an artificial effect calculated to achieve something else.”
  3. Advertisements on television create layers of connotation that reaffirm the status quo.
  1. Critique: Do mythic signs always reaffirm the status quo?
  1. Roland Barthes’ semiotics fulfills five of the criteria of a good interpretive theory exceedingly well: New understanding of people, aesthetic appeal, qualitative analysis, proposal for reforming society, and clarification of values.
  2. While widely cited internationally, the majority of communication scholars in the United States ignore the field of semiotics and the work of its central theorists such as Barthes; thus it receives mixed reviews on the standard of community of agreement.
  3. There are questions about Barthes’ view that all connotative systems uphold the values of the dominant class; one example is the sign of taking a knee, using to protest racial injustice in the United States.
  4. Barthes’ semiotic approach to imagery remains a core theoretical perspective for communication scholars, particularly those who emphasize media and culture.

Chapter 34Cultural Studies


  1. Introduction - Critical theorists such as Stuart Hall question the narrow, quantitative, and scientific focus of mainstream communication research on media influence.
  1. Cultural studies versus media studies: An ideological difference.
  1. Hall believed that the mass media maintain the dominance of the powerful and exploit the poor and powerless.
  2. Empirical researchers represent their work as pure science with no presuppositions, but every media theory by its very nature has ideological content.
  3. Ideology is defined as “the mental frameworks – the languages, the concepts, categories, imagery of thought, and the representation – which different classes and social groups deploy in order to make sense of, define, figure out and render intelligible the way society works.”
  4. Most of us are unaware of our ideologies and the tremendous impact they can have on our lives.
  5. Mainstream U.S. mass communication research ignores the power struggle that the media mask.
  6. To avoid academic compartmentalization, Hall preferred the term cultural studies to media studies.
  7. Articulate means both speaking out against oppression and linking that subjugation with the communication media.
  8. He said the effort to jar people loose from their entrenched power positions often requires harsh words.
  9. Since one of Hall’s stated aims was to unmask the power imbalances within society, he said the cultural studies approach is valid if it “deconstructs” the current structure of a media research establishment that fails to deal with ideology.
  10. Hall was suspicious of any cultural analysis that ignores power relationships.
  11. Hall believed the purpose of theory and research is to empower people who are marginalized in order to change the world.
  1. Hegemony: Marxism without guarantees.
  1. Hall is strongly influenced by Marxist thought, though he sees the hard line of economic determinism as an oversimplification.
  2. He adopted a theoretical approached he referred to as “Marxism without guarantees.”
  3. Hall uses the term hegemony to refer to already accepted interpretations of reality that keep society’s haves in power over its have-nots.
  4. He emphasizes that media hegemony is not a conscious plot, it’s not overtly coercive, and its effects are not total.
  5. The broadcast and print media present a variety of ideas, but then they tend to prop up the status quo by privileging the already-accepted interpretation of reality.
  6. The result is that the role of mass media turns out to be production of consent rather than a reflection of consensus that already exists.
  7. Hall believed that the consent-making function of the mass media is to convince readers and viewers that they share the same interests as those who hold the reins of power.
  1. Encoding/ decoding: A model of hegemony’s subtle way.
  1. In a capitalistic society, the rich and powerful own and rule most media corporations.
  2. Hall has no doubt that production of news is immersed within the dominant culture.
  3. News producers (including reporters, photographers, writers, and editors) are active in encoding the media message and consumers of that message are active in decoding it.
  4. Since meanings can always be contested, Hall didn’t see a good fit between the intended or preferred meaning of the news shaped within the dominant culture and the acquired interpretations of consumers who aren’t members of the dominant class.
  5. Encoding the news.
  1. Hall saw corporate clout as only one reason broadcast and print journalism support the status quo.
  2. Over an eight year period, Herbert Gans of Columbia University conducted a content analysis of newscasts at CBS and NBC along with the coverage of two news magazines—Newsweek and Time.
  3. He discovered multiple values, procedures, and publishing realities that ensure their stories favor people who already have power, fame, and fortune. Those factors include sources of news, individualism, ethnocentrism, the democratic process, and objectivity.
  1. Sources of news: The bulk of broadcast and print news comes from those who already have power.
  2. Individualism: Americans value individual effort and news stories are usually framed around a single person who is powerful, wealthy, and has a vested interest in the status quo.
  3. Ethnocentrism: Like reporters in other nations, U.S. journalists value their own country over others. They don’t want the United States to look bad. 
  4. Democratic processes: Reporters are committed to democracy, so they frame every election in terms of a simplistic “who won or lost?” dichotomy rather than the complexity of the issues.
  5. Objectivity: Most journalists have a strong commitment to report the news without bias—objective reporting of facts without taking sides. This gives the impression that every position is equally valid.
  1. Decoding the media message.
  1. The fact that the media present a preferred interpretation of human events is no reason to assume that the audience will correctly “take in” the offered ideology.
  2. There are three ways to decode a message.
  1. Dominant-hegemonic practice. The media produces the message; the masses consume it.
  2. Negotiational practice. The audience assimilates the leading ideology in general but opposes its application in specific cases.            
  3. Oppositional practice. The audience sees through the establishment bias in the media presentation and mounts an organized effort to demythologize the news.
  1. Although Hall had trouble believing the powerless can change the system, he respects the ability of people to resist the dominant code.
  2. He was determined to do everything he could to expose and alter the media’s structuring of reality.
  3. James Anderson (University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign) and Amie Kincaid (University of Illinois, Springfield) point out the paradox of satire that is used by Stephen Colbert on his television show.
  4. His very exposure and reiteration of the dominant ideology may make it more acceptable.
  5. Without naming a viable alternative, the dominant ideology will have no rival and seem to be natural.
  6. All of this suggests that while hegemony is never total, effective resistance is never easy.
  1. Cultural studies research: Policing the crisis.
  1. Hall doubted social scientists’ ability to find useful answers to important questions about media influence.
  2. Hall’s qualitative research relied on ethnography, interviews, and especially the content analysis of how British newspapers covered a specific type of crime—“mugging.”
  1. Hegemony and counter-hegemony in popular culture.
  1. The scope of Hall’s cultural studies extends far beyond newspapers and television.
  2. He saw cultural industries such as art, architecture, music, movies, sports, fashion design, smartphones, fiction, video games and other producers of entertainment as having the power to either reproduce or resist the dominant ideology.
  3. Janelle Applequist recounts how Disney princess films have had a hegemonic influence on what the ideal woman should look like but notes that Disney’s Frozen changes the script.
  4. Although many intellectuals dismiss the study of popular culture as frivolous, Hall saw it as a key site where the struggle for power between the haves and the have-nots takes place.
  1. Ethical reflection: Larry Frey’s communication activism for social justice.
  1. Social justice activism is based on an identification and solidarity with oppressed, marginalized, and under-resourced communities.
  2. Larry Frey says action to address these wrongs starts with a social justice sensibility—the ethical conviction that “none of us is truly free while others of us are oppressed.”
  3. But according to Frey, most current cultural studies scholars have turned to merely gazing with interest at cultural phenomena. They ignore any attempt to meaningfully intervene to aid those trapped in the cultural systems that Hall described.
  4. The ethical mandate of communication activism for social justice insists we act to change structural conditions and attempt to make the world more just.
  5. Frey and Mara Adelman used their communication skills at the Bonaventure House, a residential home for people with AIDS.
  1. Critique: Your judgment may depend on your ideology.
  1. Although the label “cultural studies” describes the work of a wide range of communication and sociological scholars, Stuart Hall comes the closest to being the founder or godfather of this critical interpretive approach.
  2. Perhaps more than any other theorist covered in this book, he sought to change the world.
  3. Hall was critical of scholars who didn’t realize—or didn’t reveal—their value commitments.
  1. Many communications scholars question the wisdom of performing scholarship under an ideological banner.
  2. To some, the strong ideological component inherent in cultural studies limits its credibility.
  1. Students first reading a typical Stuart Hall monograph may find it daunting, both in clarity and in style. As for style, Cliff Christians is lavish in his praise. “His essay, like the Taj Mahal, is an artistic masterpiece inviting a pilgrimage.”
  2. His book, Policing the Crisis, is a classic piece of qualitative research.
  3. The field of cultural studies, where Stuart Hall was a prime mover, is a rich place to gain new understanding of what people think, do, and value.
  4. Hall enjoys a widespread community of agreement for his pioneering work.

Chapter 35Uses and Gratifications


  1. Introduction.
  1. Instead of asking, “What do media do to people?” Katz flipped the question around to ask, “What do people do with media?”
  2. The theory attempts to make sense of the fact that people consume an array of media messages for all sorts of reasons, and the effect of a given message is unlikely to be the same for everyone.
  3. The driving mechanism of media use is need gratification.
  4. Understanding the need(s) helps to explain the reasons and the effects of media usage.
  5. Five key assumptions underlie the theory of uses and gratifications.
  1. Assumption 1: People use media for their own particular purposes.
  1. The study of how media affect people must take account of the fact that people deliberately use media for particular purposes; this is Katz’s fundamental assumption.
  2. Audiences are not passive; they decide which media they want to use and what effects they want the media to have.
  3. Uses and gratifications theory emphasizes that media choices are personal and can change over time.
  4. Exposure to media messages do not affect everyone in the same way, but fulfill different purposes at different times.
    1. The uniform effects model of media proposes that media messages have the same effect on everyone in the audience.
    2. Uses and gratifications theory rejects this image and replaces it with one of free choice based on individual yearnings at particular times.
  1. Research by Robert Plomin discovered that genetics accounted for as much as 25% of the variance in media use.
  2. We may have a genetic predisposition to be attracted to given media but the active choice we make cannot be accounted for by DNA.
  1. Assumption 2: People seek to gratify needs.
  1. People have needs that they seek to gratify through media use.
  2. The deliberate choices people make in using media are presumably based on the gratifications they seek from those media.
  3. There is not a straight-line effect where a specific effect on behavior can be predicted from media content alone, with no consideration of the consumer.
  4. The key to understanding media depends on which needs a person satisfies when selecting a media message.
  1. Assumption 3: Media compete for our attention and time.
  1. Different media compete with each other for your time as well as other activities that don’t involve media exposure.
  2. The notion that media compete for attention and time is only an initial step in understanding the choices people make. The more interesting question is why they make their choice of one option over another.
  3. The need that motivates media consumption must be identified in an effort to understand why people make the choices they do.
  1. Assumption 4: Media affect different people differently.
  1. Audiences are made up of people who are not identical.
  2. These differences determine the outcome or gratification a consumer receives.
  1. Assumption 5: People can accurately report their media use and motivation.
  1. If uses & gratifications theory was to have any future, researchers had to find a way to uncover the media that people consumed and the reasons they consumed it.
  2. To discover why people consume media, they must be asked.
  3. The controversial aspect of this measurement strategy is whether or not people are truly capable of discerning the reasons for their media consumption.
  4. Scholars have attempted to show that people’s reports of the reasons for their media consumption can be trusted, but this continues to be debated.
  1. A typology of uses and gratifications.
  1. For many decades, uses & grats researchers have compiled various lists of the motives people report, constructing a typology of major reasons for exposure to media.
  2. A typology is simply a classification scheme that attempts to sort a large number of specific instances into a more manageable set of categories.
  3. Rubin claims that his typology of eight motivations can account for most explanations people give for why they watch television.
  1. Passing time.
  2. Companionship.
  3. Escape.
  4. Enjoyment.
  5. Social interaction.
  6. Relaxation.
  7. Information.
  8. Excitement.
  1. These broad categories may not be mutually exclusive.
  2. Each category is relatively simplistic but can be further subdivided.
  3. Rubin claims that his typology captures most of the explanations people give for their media consumption.
  4. Researchers have argued for including habitual watching as a possible motive for media use.
  1. Parasocial relationships: Using media to have a fantasy friend.
  1. A parasocial relationship is a sense of friendship or emotional attachment that develops between TV viewers and media personalities. 
  2. Public figures often want to build parasocial relationships with followers.
  3. When a media personality appears in TV or movie scenes with a specific product brand, viewers rate the brand more positively if they have a parasocial relationship with the celebrity.
  4. While users gratify their desire for entertainment, public figures gratify their desire for fame, influence, and profit.
  1. A sampler of modern applications of uses & grats.
    1. Uses & grats is inspiring more research than almost any other theory in this book.
    2. It is being applied to various technologies on the twenty-first century media landscape.
      1. Glebatis Perks and Turner claim that podcasts meet listeners’ desires for content that is “fresher,” “more engaging,” and more customizable than what’s available in local radio markets.
      2. Spinda and Puckette found four uses and gratifications for sports fans’ use of Snapchat: ease and convenience, ability to get “behind the scenes,” the “vicarious experience,” and the “unique point of view.”
      3. Lee and Cho looked at five gratifications of fitness apps: recordability, network connections with other users, credible health information, easy to understand, and trendiness.
      4. Pires and colleagues identified five gratifications of YouTube users: using it like a radio, using it like a TV, creating your own content, making social connections, and taking advantage of educational opportunities.
    3. Scholars’ application of uses & grats helps identify how a technology fits into our menu of media choices and reveals new gratifications we hadn’t considered before.
  1. Critique: Heavy on description and light on prediction?
    1. One criticism of uses & grats is that its major contributions have avoided explanation and prediction in favor of merely describing how people use media.
    2. Sundar bemoans how uses & grats scholars have generated what seems like a never-ending list of descriptive typologies. Instead of thinking that people use media to satisfy a need that arises from within them, he believes that users are guided by the affordances of technology—the characteristics of technology design that encourage and discourage certain uses. He refers to this affordance-centered approach as version 2.0 of uses and gratifications.
    3. Some scholars adhere to Sundar’s 2.0 revision, while others continue to work from the original formulation of the theory.
    4. The propositions that people use media to gratify particular needs and that those needs can be succinctly described using eight categories seem relatively simple.
    5. Scholars question the theory’s testability based on whether or not people can accurately report the reasons for their media use.
    6. Uses & grats has generated a large body of quantitative research.

Chapter 36Cultivation Theory


  1. Introduction.
  1. George Gerbner claimed that because TV contains so much violence, people who spend the most time watching it develop an exaggerated belief in a mean and scary world.
  2. The violence they see on the screen can cultivate a social paranoia that counters notions of trustworthy people or safe surroundings.
  3. Gerbner was convinced that TV’s power comes from the symbolic content of the shows watched, binged, and rewatched.
  4. Video content dominates the environment of symbols, telling most of the stories, most of the time.
  5. Violence is a staple of the TV world.   
  6. Gerbner was concerned that violence affects viewers’ beliefs about the world around them and the feelings connected to those beliefs.
  7. Even if you avoid violent shows on the Netflix menu, that doesn’t mean you’re free from the effects of cultivation.
  8. Scholars have also used cultivation theory to examine how TV affects perceptions of the health risks of smoking, the popularity of various political positions, and beliefs about gender roles.  
  9. Although television has changed a lot since Gerbner began studying it, cultivation theory remains one of the most popular—yet controversial—theories of mass communication.
  1. Television then, television now.
  1. Television today is different in three key ways: it is recordable, mobile, and there many choices.
  2. As Gerbner surveyed the television industry of the twentieth century, he saw people watching the same shows, with the same people, at the same time.
  3. He created cultivation theory to explain a media world designed to “attract the largest possible audience by celebrating the moderation of the mainstream.”
  4. TV remains the most popular leisure time activity for Americans and, according to cultivation researchers, another key similarity is this: in both the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, much TV content revolves around violence.
  5. Think of cultivation as a three-prong plug, each is associated with a particular type of analysis that Gerbner considered a critical component in understanding the effects of television on viewers.
  1. “What’s on TV?”—The first prong.
  1. If television cultivates perceptions of social reality among viewers, it becomes essential to know exactly what messages TV transmits.
  2. Gerbner’s research involved quantitative content analysis which he referred to as message system analysis.
  3. From the late 1960s to the early 1990s, Gerbner’s Cultural Indicators Project analyzed the content of television shows. More recently, scholars at the Annenberg Public Policy Center extended and expanded this type of research with their Coding of Heath and Media Project (CHAMP), analyzing more than a half-century of television programming.
  4. Both Gerbner’s analysis and later CHAMP research were designed to uncover exactly how violence is depicted on TV.
  1. CHAMP’s definition of violence is “any intentional infliction of physical pain or harm on a character by another or the implication of intent to harm.”
  2. The definition includes cartoon violence but excludes verbal abuse, idle threats, slapstick, natural disasters, accidents, or sports.
  1. Researchers could determine the overall prevalence of violence on television.
  1. During Gerbner’s research, the annual index was remarkable stable and alarmingly high.
  2. CHAMP’s research has found that the prevalence of overall violence continued to increase until 2000, levelled off in 2011, and decreased afterward.
  1. Gerbner found inequality regarding the age, race, and gender of those on the receiving end of violence.
  1. Elderly people and children, ethnic minorities, and women were common targets.
  2. When in the script, they were made visible in order to be victims.
  3. But the trends are changing. Amy Bleakley used CHAMP data to analyze popular shows in the mid 2010s and found that involvement in violence didn’t differ by the character’s age, gender, or race.
  4. Instead, violence was common overall, with 54 percent of characters participating. 
  1. “How much does TV influence us?”-- The second prong.
  1. Most devotees of cultivation theory subscribe to the notion that message system analysis is the prerequisite to the next prong: cultivation analysis.
  2. Message system analysis deals with the content of TV; cultivation analysis deals with how TV’s content might influence viewers—particularly the viewers who spend lots of time glued to the screen.
  3. This is the part of the paradigm where most of the action takes place.
  4. Cultivation works like a magnetic field.
  1. Although the magnitude of TV’s influence is not the same for every viewer, all are affected by it.
  2. L. J. Shrum relies on the accessibility principle in explaining TV’s cultivating impact.
  3. This principle states that when people make judgments about the world around them, they rely on the smallest bits of information that come to mind most quickly—the information that is most accessible.
  4. For those who consume a lot of television, the most accessible information for making judgments is more likely to come from TV shows than from anywhere else.
  1. Mainstreaming: Blurring, blending, and bending of attitudes.
  1. Mainstreaming is Gerbner’s term for the process of “blurring, blending, and bending” that those with heavy viewing habits undergo.
  2. Gerbner illustrated the mainstreaming effect by showing how heavy TV viewers blur economic and political distinctions.
  3. TV glorifies the middle class, and those with heavy viewing habits assume the label, no matter what their income, and label themselves as political moderates.
  4. Even though those with heavy viewing habits call themselves moderates, Gerbner and his associates noted that their positions on social issues were decidedly conservative.
  5. The mainstream is not middle of the road— it’s skewed to the right.
  6. Resonance: The TV world looks like my world.  
  1. Gerbner thought the cultivating power of TV’s message would be especially strong over viewers who perceived that the world depicted on television was very much like their own.
  2. He described this resonance process as these viewers getting a “double dose” of the TV message.
  1. Surveys to measure the cultivational differential.
  1. Gerbner viewed the process as one that unfolds gradually through the steady accumulation of TV’s messages. Cultivation takes time.
  2. Gerbner turned to survey research, seeking to discover evidence of a cultivation differential, the “difference in the percent giving the ‘television answer’ within comparable groups of light and heavy viewers.”
  3. Two hours a day of television watching was the upper limit for a light viewer while he labeled heavy viewers as those who watched four hours or more.
  4. Gerbner’s comparisons between light and heavy viewers revealed some provocative findings.
  1. People with heavy TV viewing habits drastically overestimated criminal activity, believing it was 10 times worse that it really is.
  2. Heavy television viewers perceived higher activity of police.
  3. Those with heavy viewing habits were suspicious of other people’s motives.
  1. He called this cynical mindset the mean word syndrome.
  1. Cultivation effects are small and ambiguous.
  1. Most cultivation research today continues in the mold Gerbner established.
  2. In cultivation analysis, researchers have found a reusable tool for explaining a seemingly endless list of media effects.
  3. Cultivation analysis research suffers from two common problems.
  1. The first is small effect sizes. One meta-analysis on Gerbner’s work calculated the average correlation over 82 different studies to be significant but very small—less than 1 percent.
  2. The second problem with survey research is that it doesn’t provide definitive evidence that viewing TV causes fear of violence.  All we know is that TV viewing and fear go up and down together, but we can’t say why.
  1. “Who makes TV this way and why?”—The third prong.
  1. The third prong of the theory, institutional process analysis, tries to get behind the scenes of media organizations in an effort to understand what policies or practices might be lurking there.
  2. The centralized control of media content remains a reality in the twenty-first century.
  3. Media producers aren’t chiefly concerned with ethics, morality, diversity, or the greater good; they are interested in connecting audiences to advertisers and consumer products.
  4. Gerbner believed that media companies want to export content globally for maximum profit at minimal cost.
  5. Violence speaks a visual language that is universally understood.
  6. The third prong was deeply important to Gerbner, but it has inspired far less research than the other two prongs have.
  7. Traditionally, such questions of power have been the province of critical interpretive theories rather than objective theories.
  1. Critique: A simple idea that may need revision or retirement.
  1. Gerbner assumed that most heavy viewers watch similar content, that people consume TV passively, and that they view with other people in their household, often during prime time. He also assumed that TV content ignores minority groups in favor of the mainstream majority.
  2. Both assumptions many not hold up in the twenty-first century.
  3. If the theory’s assumptions no longer hold, that raises questions about its ability to predict and explain media use today.
  4. Some critics’ concerns about the theory’s testability may mean that further research will not clarify things.
  5. When both differences and lack of differences are interpreted as supporting the theory, the theory isn’t falsifiable.
  6. The theory’s relatively simple claims have generated much quantitative research.
  7. But when the theory is reduced to a basic association between viewing and attitudes, it loses the grand scope and potential for social change that Gerbner championed.
  8. Some critics point out that cultivation analysis would be stronger with experimental and longitudinal studies that provide clearer evidence for the cultivation differential.
  9. We would benefit from more recent message system analysis studies that examine what content appears on the internet and streaming services.
  10. The time is ripe for a revision of cultivation theory that provides a more practically useful account of the role of media in shaping the thoughts, emotions, and behaviors of twenty-first century audiences.    

Chapter 37Agenda-Setting Theory


  1. Most of us can’t pay equal attention to more than a dozen issues. Time and mental energy are scarce resources.
  1. The typical person can only focus on about five issues at any one time.
  2. The small set of issues that’s most important to you at the moment is your personal agenda.
  3. Taking the average of those concerns across an entire community, state, or nation is the public agenda—the set of issues most salient (in other words, that capture attention) across a group of people at a given time.
  4. The degree of importance that the news media assigns to issues at a given moment is the media agenda.
  5. The basic hypothesis of the theory is this: over time, the media agenda shapes the public agenda.
  6. McCombs, Shaw, and others have amassed decades of evidence that documents the power of the press to shape our reality.
  7. They've found that agenda-setting occurs in three ways, or levels.
  1. Level 1: The media tell us what to think about.
  1. McCombs wondered if, over time, the public agenda came to reflect the media agenda, such that “we judge as important what the media judge as important.”
  2. In opposition to then-current wisdom that mass communication had limited effects upon its audience, Theodore White came to the conclusion that the media shaped election campaigns
  3. Walter Lippmann claimed that the media act as a mediator between “the world outside and the pictures in our heads.”
  4. What set McCombs and Shaw apart is that they put these hunches to empirical test.
  5. McCombs and Shaw first tested their theory with undecided voters in Chapel Hill, NC.
  1. McCombs and Shaw’s first task was to measure the media agenda.
  2. They established position and length of story as the two main criteria of prominence of stories in local print and broadcast news.
  3. With the media agenda measured, their next task was to assess the public agenda. McCombs and Shaw asked undecided voters to outline what each one considered the key issue of the campaign, regardless of what the candidates might be saying.
  4. The initial Chapel Hill study only demonstrated that the media and public agendas are correlated.
  5. A true test must be able to show that public priorities lag behind the media agenda.
  6. It took a tightly controlled experiment run by Yale researchers to establish a cause-and-effect chain of influence from the media agenda to the public agenda.
  7. Iyengar, Peters, and Kinder’s study was the first of many studies to offer strong evidence that the media agenda causes which stories are salient in the public agenda—the first level of agenda-setting.
  1. Level 2: The media tell us which attributes of issues are most important.
  1. The first level of agenda-setting demonstrates that media tells us what to think about, but do they also tell us how to think about it?
  2. For the first two decades of agenda-setting research, the accepted answer was no.
  1. For a long time, almost every article about the theory included this mantra: the media aren’t very successful in telling us what to think, but they are stunningly successful in telling us what to think about.
  2. But then scholars realized that, by emphasizing certain attributes of issues over other attributes, the media do more than just make topics salient.
  1. The second level of agenda-setting is the transfer of salience of a dominant set of attributes that the media associate with an attitude object to the specific features of the image projected on the walls of our minds.
  1. Some scholars call this selection process framing.
  2. James Tankard, one of the leading writers on mass communication theory, defines a media frame as “the central organizing idea for news content that supplies a context and suggests what the issue is through the use of selection, emphasis, exclusion, and elaboration.
  1. The media frame issues sometimes in shocking and nonsensical ways.
  2. The press frame people, too, especially political figures.
  3. It’s impossible to report stories without emphasizing certain attributes over others.
  1. For better or worse, framing isn’t optional.
  2. In most studies, the voters’ agenda mirrors the media’s agenda in substance (the first level) and in tone (the second level).
  1. But object salience and attribute framing aren’t the end of the story.
  1. Level 3: The media tell us which issues go together.
  1. The media communicates issues as though they are an interconnected web, with some connections stronger than others.
  2. Like framing, these kinds of connections aren’t optional.
  3. By the content of the story and the placement on the web page, the media send signals about which issues go together.
  4. The third level of agenda-setting examines how the media’s issue map influences the public’s issue map.
  1. Beyond opinion: The behavioral effect of the media’s agenda.
  1. Most of the research studies on agenda-setting have measured the effect of media agendas on public opinion.
  2. Evidence from research indicates that media priorities also influence people’s behavior.
  3. Areas of practical application include coverage of the flu and vaccinations, university enrollment when high crimes are reported, and decreased plane ticket sales after skyjacking reports.
  4. Savvy marketers can also use agenda-setting effects to promote their business products.
  1. Who sets the agenda for the agenda setters?
  1. Agenda-setting research has gathered strong evidence that the media agenda influences the public agenda. But what shapes the media agenda?
  2. So far, research has identified several sources journalists rely on to decide what counts as news.
  1. Other news organizations: When one news source influences the agenda of another one, that’s intermedia agenda-setting.
  2. Emerging media can break a story that then gets picked up by mainstream sources.
  3. Partisan media such as political talk radio and Internet sites hold influence.
  4. Candidates and office-holders can sometimes single-handedly set the agenda.
  5. Press releases from public relations professionals get repackaged as news.
  6. Interest aggregations refers to a cluster of people who demand center stage for their issue.
  7. Gatekeepers can be editors who ultimately determine what gets published.
  1. Disturbingly, fake news appeared to exert at least some influence on the agenda of more credible news organizations.
  1. Need for orientation influences agenda-setting effects.
  1. McCombs and Shaw suspected that some viewers might be more resistant to the media’s priorities than others.
  2. The key factor they’ve discovered is our need for orientation.
  3. It represents a drive to make sense of the world around us, to orient our understanding of it.
  4. For some people, need for orientation is an internal drive that motivates them no matter the issue.
  5. McCombs believes both relevance and uncertainty lead us to have a need for orientation on a particular issue.
  1. Melding agendas into communities
  1. McCombs and Shaw’s agenda-setting theory has found an appreciative audience among mass communication researchers because it offers two attractive features: it reaffirms the power of the press while maintaining that individuals are free to choose.
  2. More than ever before, there isn’t one dominant media agenda that descends from the boardrooms of East Coast media establishments.
  3. Multiple media agendas exist and we can choose from among them.
  4. McCombs and Shaw suggest that we can make sense of the media landscape if we sort outlets into two types.
  1. One type is vertical media.
    1. They try to appeal to a broad, diverse audience.
    2. Examples of such vertical media in the United States include the newspaper USA Today, Time, and nightly news broadcasts on ABC, NBC, and CBS.
    1. In contrast, horizontal media “usually connect us via valued special interest and personal interest communities.”
    1. They appeal to audiences with particular interests or hobbies.
    2. These include Fox News, MSNBC, partisan talk shows, special interest magazines, and many sources of news on social media.
  1. Agenda-setting theorists believe that we assemble our view of current events from these media and our own experiences.
  2. They call this agendamelding, or “the social process by which we meld agendas from various sources, including other people, to create pictures of the world that fit our experiences and preferences.”
  3. It’s a social process because agendamelding creates communities. People like to spend time with people who think like they do.
  1. An advantage of the digital news environment is that diverse people can speak about public issues and, perhaps, have their voices heard.
  2. Yet the very technology that connects us can also allow us to separate into our own isolated agendamelding communities.
  1. Ethical reflections: Christians’ communitarian ethics.
  1. Christians believes that discovering the truth is still possible if we are willing to examine the nature of our humanity.
  2. The human nature he perceives is, at root, personhood in community.
  3. Mutuality is the essence of humanness.
  4. His communitarian ethics establish civic transformation rather than objective information as the primary goal of the press.
  5. He insists that media criticism must be willing to reestablish the idea of moral right and wrong.
  6. Journalists have a social responsibility to promote the sacredness of life by respecting human dignity, telling the truth, and doing no harm to innocents.
  7. Christians ultimately judges journalists on the basis of how well they use the media’s power to champion the goal of social justice.
  1. Critique: Who sets the agenda in the digital era?
  1. When compared to the standards for evaluating an objective theory, agenda-setting theory fares well.
  1. Study after study has demonstrated the theory’s ability to explain the data about agendas, and not only in the United States, but elsewhere as well.
  2. It’s particularly strong at predicting future events.
  3. That’s because carefully-constructed quantitative research on the theory’s testable hypotheses, conducted over time and through experiments, has built a strong case for the order of causation.
  4. The theory remains relatively simple.
  5. To any company, candidate, or celebrity who cares what the media are saying about them, the theory is practically useful.
  6. Agenda-setting theory is a good model for what an objective theory should be.
  1. The greatest challenge to the theory’s longevity may be the digital era foreseen by McLuhan and other scholars.
  1. McCombs doesn’t seem to think the digital age changes agenda-setting all that much.
  2. But studies in the traditional mold of agenda-setting research may miss the point.
  3. Every time you visit social media or use a search engine, an algorithmic gatekeeper filters the information and decides what you’ll see.
    1. This filtering often occurs on the basis of a number of personal factors.
    2. What exactly does the social media agenda mean when it’s tailored so specifically to the user, precisely because it arises from the user’s own preferences?

Chapter 38Common Threads in Comm Theories


  1. Introduction.
  1. This chapter seeks to integrate the theories in this book with each other and with major communication concepts.
  2. The chapter identifies 10 recurring principles that in one form or another appear in multiple theories.
  3. A thread must be a significant feature in at least six different theories.
  4. Consistent with the critique sections that close each theory chapter of the text, discussion of each thread ends with a cause-for-pause reservation that those who warmly embrace the thread might ponder.
  1. Motivation.
  1. Communication is motivated by our basic social need for affiliation, achievement, and control as well as our strong desire to reduce our uncertainty and anxiety.
  1. Social exchange theory holds that relationships develop based upon the perceived benefits and costs of interaction (and this logic is used by social penetration theory).
  2. Uses and grats points out that people use media to gratify their felt needs, but these needs vary from person to person.
  1. Need for affiliation: In media multiplexity theory, Haythornthwaite makes a distinction between weak ties and strong ties in our relationships, claiming that the more types of media both parties use to connect with each other, the stronger and closer their bond will be.
  2. Need for achievement: Functional perspective on group decision-making claims that groups must accomplish the requisite functions to reach a high-quality decision. 
  3. Need for control: Cultural studies argues that corporately-controlled media shape the dominant discourse of the day, which frames the interpretation of events.
  4. Need to reduce uncertainty: Uncertainty reduction theory suggests that the motive of most communication is to gain knowledge and create understanding in order to increase our ability to predict how future interaction with others will go.
  5. Need to reduce anxiety: Dramatism claims the only way to get rid of the noxious feeling of guilt is through mortification or victimage.
  6. Cause for pause: If it’s true that all of my communication—including this book—is undertaken solely to meet my own personal needs and interests, then I am a totally selfish person. There are times when I could (or should) say no to the pull of these needs out of concern for others or a sense of ethical responsibility.
  1. Self-image.
  1. Communication affects and is affected by our sense of identity, which is strongly shaped within the context of our culture.
  2. Symbolic interactionism claims that our concept of self is formed through communication.
  3. According to Aronson and Cooper’s revisions of cognitive dissonance theory, dissonance negatively impacts our self-image until we find a way to dissipate this distressing feeling.
  4. In face-negotiation theory, face is defined as our public self-image.
  5. Context collapse centers on the difficulty of performing your identity on social media where you have multiple unseen audiences.
  6. Cause for pause: humans naturally commit a fundamental attribution error by being less stringent on themselves and more judgmental of others. As a corrective to this biased perception, perhaps we should consider giving others the benefit of the doubt while holding ourselves to a more rigorous standard of accountability.
  1. Credibility.
  1. Our verbal and nonverbal messages are validated or discounted by others’ perception of our competence and character.
  2. Aristotle used the term source credibility (ethical proof) to describe the credibility of a speaker that increases the probability of a speech being persuasive.
  3. The second level of agenda-setting theory involves noting the affective tone of references to candidates made in the media.
  4. Feminist standpoint theory suggests that women, racial minorities, and others on the margins of society may have low credibility but a less false view of social reality.
  5. Cause for pause: Focus on the source of a message may cause us to lose sight of the intrinsic value of what’s being said.
  1. Expectation.
  1. What we expect to hear or see will affect our perception, interpretation, and response during an interaction.
  2. Burgoon’s expectancy violations theory suggests we respond to a violation of our expectations depending on the violation valence and communicator reward valence.
  3. Expectation of future interaction heightens the motivation to reduce uncertainty in Berger’s uncertainty reduction theory, and is also central to Walther’s hyperpersonal perspective regarding online interpersonal communication.
  4. Cultivation theory maintains that a steady diet of symbolic violence on television creates an exaggerated fear that the viewer will be physically threatened, mugged, raped, or killed.
  5. Cause for pause: It is easy to confuse expectations (projections of past perceptions into the future) with perceptions (interpretations of sensory experiences occurring in the present).
  1. Audience adaption.
  1. By mindfully creating a person-centered message specific to the situation, we increase the possibility of achieving our communication goals.
  2. Social judgment theory suggests influencers are most effective if they first figure out the other’s latitude of acceptance and craft their message accordingly.
  3. The elaboration likelihood model suggests that the persuader first assesses whether the target audience is ready and able to think through issue-relevant arguments that support the advocate’s position.
  4. Dramatism is concerned with the speaker’s ability to successfully identify with the audience; without it, there is no persuasion.
  5. Communication accommodation theory focuses on parties’ adjustment of their speech styles.
  6. Audience adaptation is much harder when communicating on social media. Context collapse addresses the struggle of adjusting to multiple audiences.
  7. Cause for pause: Too much adaptation may mean we lose the authenticity of our message or the integrity of our own beliefs.
  1. Social construction.
  1. Persons-in-conversation co-construct their own social realities and are simultaneously shaped by the worlds they create.
  2. McPhee’s communicative constitution of organizations clearly indicates that an organization is what it is because communication has brought it into existence—a particular type of social construction.
  3. Mead’s symbolic interactionism denies that there is a real “me” that I can know through introspection. He insists that my self-concept is constituted by how others look at me, what they say to me, and how they act toward me.
  4. McLuhan’s media ecology describes a more subtle construction process summed up in his statement that we shape the tools and they in turn shape us.
  5. Afrocentricity states that Black people live in a world that’s been socially constructed in a way that excludes their African history, culture, and customs.
  6. Cause for pause: Is there a foundational reality that language can describe, however poorly?
  1. Shared meaning.
  1. Our communication is successful to the extent that we share a common interpretation of the signs we use.
  2. Geetz and Pacanowsky’s cultural approach to organizations describes culture as webs of significance, or systems of shared meaning.
  3. Symbolic convergence theory says shared group fantasies create symbolic convergence--shared meaning.
  4. Family communication patterns theory is based on the well-supported assumption that families create shared interpretations of the world.
  5. Barthes described how the mass media are powerful ideological tools that frame interpretation of events for the benefit of the haves over the have-nots.
  6. Cause for pause: Shared interpretation is an accomplishment of the audience rather than the intent or clarity of the message.
  1. Narrative.
  1. We respond favorably to stories and dramatic imagery with which we can identify.
  2. According to Fisher, almost all communication is story that we judge by its narrative coherence and fidelity.
  3. Bormann’s symbolic convergence theory predicts then when group fantasies are shared, the result is symbolic convergence—a common group consciousness and often a greater cohesiveness.
  4. Gerbner’s cultivation theory says that television is dominant because it tells most of the stories, most of the time.
  5. Afrocentricity seeks to liberate the African diaspora from Eurocentric ways of thinking by replacing inauthentic narratives of their culture with mythoforms—genuine histories, stories, and myths around which people organize their lives.
  6. Cause for pause: There are bad stories that can effectively lead people astray or destroy others; well-told tales are inherently attractive, but they might not all be good.
  1. Conflict.
  1. Unjust communication stifles needed conflict; healthy communication can make conflict productive.
  2. Deetz’s critical theory of communication in organizations believes that organizations would be well served by more conflict rather than less.
  3. A core principle of Petronio’s communication privacy management theory warns that when co-owners of private information don’t effectively negotiate and follow mutually held privacy rules, boundary turbulence is the likely result.
  4. Cause for pause: Although honest straight talk is an effective way to reduce conflict in an individualistic society, it may be counterproductive in collectivistic cultures.
  1. Dialogue.
  1. Dialogue is transparent conversation that often creates unanticipated relational outcomes due to parties’ profound respect for disparate voices.
  2. Baxter’s relational dialectics theory describes dialogue as an aesthetic accomplishment that produces fleeting moments of unity through a profound respect for disparate voices.
  3. In muted group theory, Kramarae suggests that it’s difficult for women to take part as equal partners in a dialogue while speaking in a man-made language and where the rules for its use are controlled by men.
  4. Co-cultural theory extends this idea to all groups of marginalized people. He claims the entrenched power disparity between members of co-cultural groups and members of the dominant culture make dialogue between them almost impossible.
  5. Family communication patterns that are high in conversation orientation and low in conformity orientation spawn open discussion and debate of ideas.
  6. Cause for pause: Dialogue is hard to describe and even more difficult to achieve.
  1. Unraveling the threads.
  1. At this point the 10 threads may be tangled together in your mind like pieces of string jumbled together in a drawer.
  2. Figure 38-1 shows each thread and the associated theories.
  3. The sense of discovery that comes from figuring out where to place additional knots can be quite satisfying and has practical benefits.


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