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Theories

of Human
Communication
Second Edition

Stephen W. Littlejohn
.

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Theories
of Human
Communi-
cation
SECOND EDITION
Theories
of Human
Communi-
cation
SECOND EDITION

Stephen W. Littlejohn
Humboldt State University

Wadsworth Publishing Company


Belmont, California
A Division of Wadsworth, Inc.
Communications Editor: Kristine Clerkin Blumer. Copyright© 1969. Reprinted by permission of Prentice-Hall, Inc.
60 — 65 , 71 : From Communication Rules: Theory and Research by Susan B.
Shimanoff. Copyright© 1980 by Sage Publications. Reprinted by permission
Production: Del Mar Associates of Sage Publications. 66- 67, 69 - 70 , 72 From Communication Action and Meaning
:

by W. Barnett Pearce and Vernon Cronen. Copyright 1980 by Praeger ©


Publishers. Reprintedby permission of Praeger Publishers. 69 From Genetic :

Designer: John Odam Psychology Monographs, “The Development of Listener Adapted Communica-
tion in Grade-School Children from Different Social-Class Backgrounds,” by
Kerby T. Alvy. Copyright ©1973. Reprinted by permission of The Journal
Copy Editor: Jerilyn Emori Press. 78 84 From The Psychology of Language byj. A. Fodor, et al. Copyright
, :

© 1974 by McGraw-Hill, Inc. Used with permission of McGraw-Hill Book


Company. 87- 88 From Kinesics and Context by Ray Birdwhistell. Copyright©
:

Technical Illustrator: Stephen Harrison 1970 by the University of Pennsylvania Press. Reprinted by permission of the
University of Pennsylvania Press. 96- 97 From Philosophy in a New Key by
:

Susanne Langer. Copyright ©


1942 by Harvard University Press. Reprinted by
permission of Harvard University Press. 99 From American Psychologist, “On
:

© 1983 by Wadsworth, Inc. All rights reserved. No Understanding and Creating Sentences,” by Charles Osgood. Copyright ©
1963. Reprinted by permission of The American Psychological Association and
part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a
the author. 101 From The Measurement of Meaning by C. Osgood, G. Suci, and
:

retrieval system, or transcribed, in any form or by P. Tannenbaum. Copyright ©


1957 by the Board of Trustees of the University

any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, of Illinois. Reprinted by permission of the University of Illinois Press. 116 118 , :

From The Mathematical Theory of Communication by Claude Shannon and War-


recording, or otherwise, without the prior written ren Weaver. Copyright© 1949 by the Board of Trustees of the University of
-
permission of the publisher, Wadsworth Publishing Illinois. Reprinted by permission of the University of Illinois Press. 123 124 :

From Communication: The Study of Human Interaction, “Human Information


Company, Belmont, California 94002, a division of Processing,” by C. David Mortensen. Copyright© 1972 by McGraw-Hill.
Wadsworth, Inc. Reprinted by permission of McGraw-Hill Book Company. 135 From Studies : of
Rhetoric and Public Speaking in Honor ofJames Albert Winans, “The Literary
Criticism of Oratory”, by Herbert Wichelns. Copyright© 1925 by
Appleton-Century-Crofts. Reprinted by permission of Prentice-Hall, Inc. 168 ,
170 , 172From Explorations in Interpersonal Communication, “A Relational Ap-
:

proach to Interpersonal Communication,” by Frank E. Millar and L. Edna


Printed in the United States of America Rogers. Copyright ©1976. Reprinted by permission of Sage Publications 171 :

From Human Communication Research, by Malcolm Parks. Copyright© 1977.


Reprinted by permission of International Communication Association and the
7 8 9 10—87 author. 174 : From Leaders of Schools: FIRO Theory Applied to Administrators by
Will Schutz. Copyright© 1977. Reprinted by permission of University As-
sociates. 174 , 175 177 From Firo: A Three-Dimensional Theory of Interpersonal
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Behavior by William Schutz. Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1958. Reprinted as


The Interpersonal Underworld. Copyright© 1966, Science and Behavior Books.
ISBN —
Reprinted by permission of Science and Behavior Books. 178 179 From Frame :

Analysis:An Essay on the Organization of Experience by Erving Goffman.


Copyright© 1959 by Erving Goffman. Reprinted by permission of Doubleday
and Company. 179 - 180 From The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life by Erving
:

Goffman. Copyright© 1959 by Erving Goffman. Reprinted by permission of


Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data Doubleday and Company. 182- 184 From Self and Others by R. D. Laing.
:

Copyright© 1969. Reprinted by permission of Tavistock Publications. 185-


187 From The Psychology of Interpersonal Relations by Fritz Heider. Copyright
:

Littlejohn, Stephen W. © -
1958. Reprinted by permission of the author. 187 190 From American :

Psychologist, “The Process of Causal Attribution,” by Harold Kelley. Copyright


Theories of human communication.
©1973. Reprinted by permission of The American Psychological Association
and the author. 193 - 195 From Of Human Interaction by Joseph Luft. Copyright
:

Bibliography: p. © 1969 by the National Press. Reprinted by permission of Mayfield Publishing


Company (formerly National Press Books). 202—203 From The Acquaintance :

Includes index. Process by Theodore M. Newcomb. Copyright© 1961. Reprinted by permis-


1. Communication I. Title. P90.L48 sion of Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 211 -213 From
CBS College Publishing. :

Perspectives on Communication “A Transactional Paradigm of Ver-


001.5 82-21938 ISBN 0-543-01280-9 in Conflict,

balized Social Conflict”, by C. David Mortensen. Copyright© 1974. Reprinted


by permission of Prentice-Hall, Inc. 217— 218 222— 227 From Group Dynamics:
,
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The Psychology of Small Group Behavior by Marvin E. Shaw. Copyright© 1981.


Reprinted by permission of McGraw-Hill Book Company. 232—235 From :

Small Group Decision Making by B. Aubrey Fisher. Copyright© 1980. Re-


-
printed by permission of McGraw-Hill Book Company,. 237 239 From Vic- :

tims of Groupthink by Irving L. Janis. Copyright 1972. Reprinted by permis- ©


Acknowledgments sion of Houghlin Mifflin Company. 255- 256 258 From Communicating and , :

13 15- 16 From The Conduct of Inquiry by Abraham


: Kaplan. Copyright© Organizing by Farace, Monge, and Russell. Copyright© 1977. Reprinted by
,
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1964. Reprinted by permission of Harper & Row Publishers. 41 42 , 71 : From permission of Addison-Wesley. 266- 268 From The Medium is the Massage by
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Communication Quarterly, “Alternative Perspectives for the Study of Human Marshall McLuhan and Quentin Fiore, produced by Jerome Agel. Copyright©
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1967. Reprinted by permission of Bantam Books. 266 269 From Understanding
Communication: Critique and Response,” by Jesse Delia. Copyright© 1977. :

Reprinted by permission of Communication Quarterly. 30 - 32 : From The Ghost in Media by Marshall McLuhan. Copyright© 1964. Reprinted by permission of
the Machine by Arthur Koestler. Copyright © 1968 by Arthur Koestler. Re- McGraw-Hill Book Company. 291 -293 From Communication Research, “A
:

printed by permission of Macmillan Publishing Co. and A. D. Peters and Co. Dependency Model of Mass Media Effects”, by S. J. Ball-Rokeach and M. L.
Ltd. 50 -52 : From Symbolic Interactionism: Perspective and Method by Herbert De Fleur. Copyright© 1976. Reprinted by permission of Sage Publications.
Contents

PARTI
INTRODUCTION |
1

Chapter 1
The Nature of Communication Theory 3 |

What Is Communication Theory? 3 |

Why Study Communication Theory? 4 |

The Academic Study of Communication 4 |

Defining Communication 5 |

An Organizing Framework 6 |

Chapter 2
Theory in the Process of Inquiry 9 |

The Process of Inquiry in Communication |


9
A Basic Model of Inquiry 9 |

Types of Scholarship 10 |

The Nature of Theory 12 |

The Functions of Theory 13 |

Theory Development and Change |


14
Concepts in Theories 16 |

Explanation in Theories 16 |

Philosophical Issues in the Study of Communication |


18
Communication Metatheory 18 |

Issues of Epistemology 19 |

Issues of Ontology 21 |

Issues of Perspective 22 |

How to Evaluate a Communication Theory 23 |

Theoretical Scope |
23
Appropriateness 24 |

Heuristic Value 24 |

Validity24 |

Parsimony 24 |

What Do We Know about Communication Theory? |


24
CONTENTS

PART II

GENERAL THEORIES 27 |

Chapter 3
General System Theory and Cybernetics |
29
Fundamental System Concepts 29 |

What Is 29
a System? |

What Is Cybernetics? 33 |

General System Theory as an Approach to Knowledge 37 |

Communication as a System 39 |

Criticism of System Theory 41 |

What Do We Know about Communication as a System? 43 |

Chapter 4
Symbolic Interactionism and Rules Theory 45 |

Symbolic Interactionism 45 |

Foundations: George Herbert Mead 47 |

Herbert Blumer and the Chicago School 50 |

Manford Kuhn and the Iowa School 53 |

The Dramatism of Kenneth Burke 55 |

Criticism of Symbolic Interactionism 58 |

The Rules Approach to Communication 60 |

Approaches to Rules 61 |

Shimanoff’s Integrative Approach 62 |

Coordinated Management of Meaning 66 |

Criticism of the Rules Approach 71 |

What Do We Know about Communication as Symbolic


Interaction? |
72

PART III
THEMATIC THEORIES |
75

Chapter 5
Theories of Language and Nonverbal Coding |
77
Theories of Language 77 |

78
Classical Linguistics |

Generative Grammar 80 |

Criticism of Generative Grammar 85 |

Theories of Nonverbal Communication 86 |

Structural Theories 87 |

Functional Theories 90 |

Criticism 93 |

What Do We Know about Language and Nonverbal Coding? |


93

vi
CONTENTS

Chapter 6
Theories of Meaning 95 |

Representational Theories of Meaning 95 |

The Approach of Richards 95 |

Langer’s Theory of Symbols 96 |

Osgood’s Theory of Meaning 99 |

Criticism of Representational Theories 103 |

Ordinary Language Philosophy 103 |

Foundations: Wittgenstein and Austin 104 |

Searle's Theory of Speech Acts 104 |

Criticism of Ordinary Language Philosophy 107 |

Language and Experience 107 |

Cassirer’s Philosophy of Symbolic Forms 108 |

Linguistic Relativity |
109
Criticism of Experiential Theory |
111
What Do We Know about Meaning? 111
|

Postscript |
112

Chapter 7
Theories of Information and Information Processing
Information Theory 115 |

Technical Information Theory 1 16


|

Semantic Information 119 |

An Effectiveness Approach to Information 120 |

Criticism 122|

Theories of Information Processing 123 |

“Standard Theory” 123 |

Criticism of Standard Theory 126 |

Cognitive Complexity 126 |

Criticism of Cognitive Complexity 131 |

What Do We Know about Information? 132 |

Chapter 8
Theories of Persuasion 133 |

Humanistic Foundations: Rhetorical Theory |


133
Aristotelian Rhetorical Theory 133 |

Contemporary Approaches 135 |

Criticism 136|

Contemporary Applications: The Yale Tradition |


136
An Organizing Model 136 |

The Persuasibility Problem 137 |

Criticism 141 |

Information-Processing Theories of Persuasion |


141
Information-Integration Theory 141 |

Social Judgment Theory |


144
CONTENTS

Theories of Cognitive Reorganization and Persuasion |


146
Social Learning Theory 147 |

Theories of Cognitive Consistency 148 |

What Do We Know about Persuasion? |


156

PART IV
CONTEXTUAL THEORIES |
159

Chapter 9
Interpersonal Contexts I: Theories of Relationship, Presentation,
and Perception |
161
Introduction |
161
Contexts of Communication 161 |

What Is Interpersonal Communication? 161 |

Functions of Interpersonal Communication 162 |

Relational Communication 164 |

Origins of Relational Theory 165 |

Extensions: The Palo Alto Group 166 |

Recent Developments 168 |

Criticism 172
|

Theories of Self- Presentation 173 |

Schutz’s Psychological Approach |


177
Goffman’s Social Approach |
177
Criticism 180 |

Interpersonal Perception and Attribution |


181
Perception and Metaperception 182 |

Heider’s Attribution Theory |


185
Kelley’s Attribution Theory |
187
Criticism [
190
What Do We Know about Relational Communication? |
191

Chapter 10
Interpersonal Contexts II: Theories of Disclosure, Attraction, and
Conflict |
193
Theories of Disclosure and Understanding |
193
Johari Window 193 |

Rogers's Theory of Congruence 195 |

Self-disclosure |
196
Criticism |
198
Rhetorical Sensitivity as an Alternative View |
199

viii
CONTENTS

Interpersonal Attraction and Relational Maintenance 201


|

Mehrabian's Concept of Immediacy |


201
Newcomb’s Approach 202
Cognitive |

Byrne’s Reinforcement Approach 204 |

Thibaut and Kelley’s Theory of Exchange |


205
Criticism |
207
Social Conflict 209
|

Game Theory 209 |

Transactional Approach 211 |

Persuasion and Conflict 213 |

Criticism |
214
What Do We Know about Factors of Interpersonal
Communication? 215 |

Chapter 11
Interpersonal Contexts III: Theories of Groups and
Organizations 217 |

Theories of Group Communication 217 |

Group Dynamics 218 |

Theories of Group Interaction |


227
Theories of Interpersonal Effects in Groups 236 |

Theories of Organizational Communication 240 |

Weber’s Classical Bureaucratic Theory 241 |

Human Relations School 243 |

The Systems Approach 252 |

What Do We Know about Communication in Groups and


Organizations? |
261

Chapter 12
The Mediated Context: Theories of Mass Communication |
263
Theories of Audience and Diffusion 264 |

Theories of Mass Society 264 |

Theories of Diffusion 274 |

Communication Effects and Functions 280 |

The Reinforcement Approach 281 |

The Agenda-setting Function 284 |

Early Functional Theories 284 |

Uses andGratifications Approach 285 |

Dependency Theory 291 |

What Do We Know about Mass Communication? |


294

IX
CONTENTS

PART V
CAPSTONE |
297

Chapter 13
The Status of Human Communication Theory 299 |

The Study of Human Communication 299 |

The Multitheoretical Tradition 299 |

Multidisciplinary Roots 300 |

The Emergence of Communication as a Field 301 |

The Status of Communication Theory 301 |

Types of Theory 301 |

Philosophical Issues 302 |

Definitions of Communication 302 |

Strengths and Weaknesses 303 |

Major Issues in Communication Theory 304 |

General System Theory and Cybernetics 304 |

Symbolic Interaction and Rules 304 |

Language 305 |

Meaning 305
|

Information 306 |

Persuasion 306 |

Interpersonal Contexts: Dyadic Communication 306 |

Interpersonal Communication: Groups and Organizations |


307
Mass Communication 308 |

The Future of Communication Theory 308 |

Bibliography |
310

Author Index |
335

Subject Index |
338

X
Preface

study of human communication involves philosophical issues, which sets the stage for
copious and diverse scholarship. This is both a analysis of theories.
blessing and a curse. It is a blessing because it Perhaps the most important addition is the
has provided a rich source of ideas and insights evaluation of the theories. Evaluative criteria
into an elusive theme of human life. It is a curse are developed in Chapter and these are
2,
because it has led to disarray and confusion applied directly or indirectly to the theories in
about what is known. The field of communica- each chapter. For the most part I attempted to
tion badly needs integration. This book is the capture the spirit of published criticism, but in
resultof a project begun about ten years ago to cases where such criticism was not readily
bring together in a single volume many of the available, I took the role of critic to develop
major theories of communication from various original evaluation.
fields. The aim of the project is to make the At the end of each chapter is a new section
insights of these theories more accessible to the summarizing what we know about the chap-
student of communication and to provide a ter’s theme. These sections are not intended as
framework in which theoretical contributions point-by-point summaries. Nor are they de-
can be compared, evaluated, and integrated. tailed lists of facts or suppositions about aspects
The first edition of Theories of Human Com- of communication. Rather, these brief sections
munication was an initial step in this direction. are intended to present in general form the con-
The first summarized and organized
edition sensus of most knowledgeable scholars about
many theories related to various themes of the theme of the chapter. In other words these
communication. Two major weaknesses were sections present points of general agreement or
apparent in that edition. First, although theories abstractions supported by the majority of
were organized according to topic, little inte- theories in an area.
gration resulted. Second, theories were sum- In addition, the capstone chapter has been
marized, but no evaluation was presented. This completely revised. Its new aim is to present an
edition seeks to overcome these difficulties. assesssment of the status of communication
This second edition retains the essential fea- theory at this time. It is a very personal state-
tures of the first. It summarizes a large number ment with which others may or may not agree.
of theories from several disciplines. Each theory Here I present my analysis of the field of com-
is treated separately, so that the student can munication, the status of communication
clearly see the focus and contribution of each. theory at this time including its strengths and
Extensive footnotes and references provide weaknesses, and a projection for the future of
tools for further exploration of the theories and communication theory.
topics included. You will notice in this edition that most of
Several new features have been added to the the topics of the earlier version remain intact,
text to enhance its usefulness. After looking presented in roughly the same order. However,
through the present edition, you will not doubt there is considerable shift in emphasis from one
that it constitutes a major reworking of the theme to another. For example, theories of
original.The discussion of theory in the first interpersonal communication, relevant to
two chapters has been expanded and updated; dyadic interaction, have been expanded into
an important addition is the discussion of two chapters to reflect the relative increase in

xi
I

PREFACE

the amount of theory building in that area. In Kevin Howat for his faith in the value of the
fact the conceptualization of communication project; toSandra Craig and Nancy Sjoberg for
contexts has been reworked slightly, as reflected theirbook sense and managerial skills; to Jerilyn
in chapter titles, because of what I believe are Emori for her tireless editorial eagle eye; to
changing perspectives in the field. John Odam and Steve Harrison for their design
Theories of Human Communication is a highly and artistic talents; to Karen Massetti-Miller
selective effort. wish to present enough mate-
I and Sammy Reist for their keen attention to
rial to depict the breadthof the field and to documentary detail; and to Charlotte Brown
allow the student to see similarities and differ- for a beautiful manuscript.

ences among theories, but to include all major I am especially indebted to Richard N.
theories related to communication would have Armstrong, State University of New York,
been impossible. The need to remain current Brockport; Fred L. Casmir, Pepperdine Uni-
required that several new theories be added. versity; Kenneth N. Cissna, University of

The addition of this new material along with South Florida, Tampa; Forrest Conklin, Uni-
analysis and evaluation required that other versity of Northern Iowa; John E. Crawford,
theories be dropped for space reasons. I felt that Arizona State University, Tempe; Frank Dance,
certain old theories should be retained, because University of Denver; Loren Dickinson, Walla
they were either highly influential or foun- Walla College; Robert Emmery, California
dational. Even though such theories are no State University, Fullerton; Lawrence Frey,
longer in vogue, they provide a sense of tradi- Wayne State University; Blaine Goss, Uni-
tion and theory development. In the main, versity of Oklahoma; Mark Hickson, Missis-
however, I have kept the book as up to date as sippi State University; Stephen King, San
possible. I made heavy use of anthologies, sur- Diego State University; Rebecca Rubin, Cleve-
veys of literature,and other secondary treat- land State University; R. C. Ruechelle, Cali-
ments to guide my selections and summaries, fornia State College, Stanislaus; Roger Smitter,

deferring as much as possible to experts in each Albion College; John Sutterhoff, California
area. State University, Chico; and Gordon Whiting,
In summary, I see the second edition as a Brigham Young University.
logical and necessary step in the development of Mostly, I would like to thank my best friend,
a long-term project on the integration of human colleague, and wife Karen Foss for her encour-
communication theory. agement and concern, urging and respite, criti-

I would like to express my appreciation to cism and confidence.


the people who helped create this book: to

xii
PART

I
INTRODUCTION

Chapter 1
The Nature of Communication Theory

Chapter 2
Theory in the Process of Inquiry
CHAPTER

The Nature
of Communication
I Theory

As long as people have wondered about the munication professors often ask their students
world, they have been intrigued by the myster- to devise explanations of certain aspects of
ies of their own nature. The most common- communication. This task is a theory-building
place activities of our lives — those realms of exercise because it involves stating clearly what
human nature we take for granted — become is believed to be happening in communication.
puzzles of the largest magnitude when we try to Indeed, everybody operates by theory much of
conceptualize them. The study of how people the time. Our theories consist of ideas that
relate to one another has occupied a major por- guide us in making decisions and taking ac-
tion of the world’s mental energy. tions. Sometimes we are wrong; our theories
Communication is intertwined with all of are flawed. At these times we may modify what
human life. Any study of human activity must we think the world is like.
touch on communication processes in one form Although the word theory can be used to
or another. Some scholars treat communication describe the educated guesswork of laypersons,
while others take communication for
as central, academics use the word somewhat differently.
granted without making it the focus of their Scholars make it their work to study a particu-
study. In this book we are concerned with the lar kind of experience with a keen eye. A theory
idea of communication as central to human life. is the scholar’s construction of what an experi-
Our guiding question is how scholars in a wide ence is like, based on systematic observation.
variety of traditions have conceptualized, de- Theory in this sense is the scholar’s best repre-
scribed, and explained human communication. sentation of the state of affairs at any given
In a sense this book describes a part of our time. As you will see in the next chapter, theory
quest to understand ourselves. Specifically, it is building is not an easy task. A great deal of

a synthesis of many contemporary theories of focused observing, hypothesizing, and revising


communication. The book does not provide the is required.
answer to questions we ask about communica- The term communication theory usually refers
tion, butdoes present several answers that
it to thebody of theories that makes up our un-
have been proposed. In other words this book derstanding of the communication process.
does not complete the puzzle of communication Much disagreement exists about what consti-
but illustrates how some of the pieces have been tutes an adequate theory of communication. In
shaped and joined. this book you will read about a wide variety of
theories. These theories are discussed in terms
of their philosophical assumptions, their claims
What Is Communication Theory? about what communication involves, and their
In one sense any attempt to explain or represent strengths and weaknesses. You will find a basis
a phenomenon is a theory. As discussed in the for making your own decisions about which
next chapter, a theory is someone’s concep- theories should and. should not be included in
tualization of an observed set of events. Com- our body of knowledge about communication.

3

INTRODUCTION

on paper, the cartographer a picture of a ter-


Why Study Communication Theory? rain. Looking at a bubble-chamber photograph,
Besides fulfilling the student’s curiosity about the student sees confused and broken lines,

communication meeting the need to know the physicist a record of familiar subnuclear
the study of communication theory is valuable events .” 2 The basic justification for studying
on other grounds. Communication is one of theories of communication is that they provide
our most pervasive, important, and complex a set of useful conceptual tools.
clusters of behavior. The ability to communi-
cate on a higher level separates human beings
from other animals. Our daily lives are strongly The Academic Study of Communication
affected by our own communication with Communication theory is diverse because
others as well as by messages from distant and communication itself is always present and
unknown persons. If there is a need to know complex. Looking for the best theory of com-
about our world, that need extends to all munication not particularly useful inasmuch
is

aspects of human behavior, especially commu- as communication is not a single, unified act but

nication. a process consisting of numerous clusters of


Specifically, an understanding of systematic behavior. Each theory looks at the process from
theories of communication is an important step a different angle, and each theory provides in-
toward becoming a more competent, adaptive sights of its own. Of course, all theories are not
individual. Often when the student asks how to equally valid or useful, and any particular inves-
become communicator, the teacher
a better tigator may find a specific theory or theories
provides a list of recipes. This approach is a more useful for the work to be undertaken. We
beginning, but the communication process is should welcome rather than avoid a multi-
too complex to be approached entirely on the theoretical approach to the complex process of
3
level of simplistic guidelines. Although recipes communication .

may help, what the student needs to learn about An obstacle to a multitheoretical approach is

sending and receiving messages and relating to the tendency to view communication from the
others
1. is an understanding of what happens dur- narrow confines of specific academic disci-
ing communication and an ability to adapt to plines. Because disciplines are somewhat arbi-

circumstances. The study of communication trary, disciplinary divisions do not necessarily

theory is a way to obtain this understanding. provide the best method of packaging knowl-
A colleague of mine used to say that the edge. This statement is not meant to suggest
study of communication theory will cause the that one should avoid identification with a tra-

student to see things never seen before. N. R. ditional discipline but only that interdiscipli-
Hanson “The paradigm observer is not
writes: nary cooperation is essential. University
the man who sees and reports what all normal courses related to communication are found in
observers see and report, but the man who sees many departments, just as the theories de-
in familiar objects what no one else has seen scribed in this book represent a wide array of
before .” 1 This widening of perception, the un-
2. Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions
hitching of blinders, helps one transcend habits (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970), p. 111.
and become increasingly adaptable and flexible. 3. For an excellent case in favor of multiple approaches to

To borrow some analogies from Kuhn: “Look- communication, see John Waite Bowers and James J.
Bradac, “Issues in Communication Theory: A Metatheoret-
ing at a contour map, the student sees lines
ical Analysis,” in Communication Yearbook 5, ed. Michael
N. R. Hanson, Patterns of Discovery (Cambridge: At the Burgoon (New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Books,
University Press, 1961), p. 30. 1982), pp. 1-28.

4
THE NATURE OF COMMUNICATION THEORY

disciplines. As Dean Barnlund indicates: the scholarly coin to make traditional themes
“While many disciplines have undoubtedly support rather than dominate the study of
benefited from adopting a communication communication. The field of communication is
model, it is equally true that they, in turn, have characterized not only by its focus on commu-
added greatly to our understanding of human nication per se but also by its interest in the
interaction .” 4 Remember that when people tell entire breadth of communication concerns. The
you they communication experts, they are
are work of the International Communication As-
saying Their primary interests may be in
little. sociation and the Speech Communication
the sciences or the arts, mathematics or litera- Association typifies what is happening in this
ture, biology or politics 5
. field.
Although scholars from a number of disci- Although many theories relate to aspects of
plines share an interest in communication, the communication, only a few deal with commu-
scholar’s first loyalty is usually to the general nication itself. Most of our understanding of
concepts of the discipline itself. Communica- communication arises from theories produced
tion is generally considered subordinate. For in the traditional disciplines. This book includes
example, psychologists study individual be- theories that relate directly to communication
havior and view communication as a particular as a process and those that contribute to our
kind of behavior. Sociologists focus on society understanding of communication less directly.
and social process, seeing communication as The field of communication is so young that it
one of several social factors. Anthropologists has not produced much theory, so our knowl-
are interested primarily in culture, and if they edge of communication still relies primarily on
investigate communication they treat it as an an eclectic approach. This situation is changing,
aspect of a broader theme. Do we conclude however, and in a few years we will see more
from this that communication is less significant direct theorizing about communication. In dis-
as an academic study than behavior, society, cussions of theories in this book, the relevance
6.
and culture? Of course we do not. of each theory to the broader study of human
In recent years scholars have recognized the communication is explained.
centrality of communication and have empha-
sized it in their researchand theory. Some of
these scholars were trained in traditional disci- Defining Communication
plines. Others learned in academic departments Because of its complex, multidisciplinary na-
calledcommunication or speech communica- ture, communication is difficult to define. The
tion. Regardless of their original academic word communication is abstract and, like all
homes, these scholars have come together in the words, possesses multiple meanings 6 Scholars .

new field of communication. They have flipped have made many attempts to define communi-
cation, but seeking a single working definition
4. Dean Barnlund, Interpersonal Communication: Survey and
Studies (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1968), p. v. may not be as fruitful as probing the various
5. Themultidisciplinary nature of the study of communi- concepts behind the term. The term communica-
cation is emphasized in numerous sources, including
George Gordon, The Languages of Communication (New For discussions of the multiple meanings of the term
York: Hastings House, 1969), p. ix; Franklin Knower, “The communication, see as example Gordon, Languages-, Morten-
Development of a Sound Communicology” (unpublished sen, Human Interaction ; Thomas R. Nilsen, “On Defining
manuscript); C. David Mortensen, Communication: The Communication,” Speech Teacher 6 (1957): 10-17. One hun-
Study of Human Interaction (New York: McGraw-Hill, dred twenty-six different definitions of communication can
1972), p. 22; Kenneth Sereno and C. David Mortensen, “A be found in Frank E. X. Dance and Carl E. Larson, The
Framework for Communication Theory,” in Foundations of Functions of Human Communication (New York: Holt, Rine-
Communication Theory (New York: Harper & Row, 1970). hart &
Winston, 1976), Appendix A.

5
. . .

INTRODUCTION

tioncan be used legitimately in a number of the different theories, moving systematically

ways. Frank Dance takes a major step toward from one aspect of communication to another.
clarifying this muddy concept. He discovered
7 After all, the goal of this book is not merely
fifteen distinct conceptual components in the to summarize a number of theories but to build

various definitions. Table 1.1 summarizes the an understanding of communication in the


components and provides an example for each. process.

In addition Dance found three points of “criti- The theories in this book are divided into
cal conceptual differentiation,” which form the three types of domains. The first type includes
basic dimensions along which the various general theories of communication, theories de-
The first is level of observation
definitions differ. signed to capture the general nature or essence
Definitions vary in level of abstractness. Some of communication. The second type includes
definitions are broad and inclusive; others are thematic theories, those that deal with certain
restrictive. The second dimension is the inclu- pervasive themes present in most communica-
sion or exclusion of intentionality Some defi- tion events regardless of the setting.The third
nitions include only intentional message send- type consists of context theories, theories that

ing and receiving; others preclude intention. apply specifically to a particular setting of
Third is the factor of normative judgment. Some communication
definitions include a statement of evaluation; General theories appear in Part II of this
other definitions do not contain such implicit book. Three classes of general theories are
judgments of quality. covered: system theory, symbolic interaction-
Dance’s conclusion is important: “We are try- ism, and rules theory. System theory captures
ing to make the concept of ‘communication’ do the holistic, relational nature of the communica-
too much work for us.” 8 He calls for a family of tion process, emphasizing ways inwhich ele-
concepts. The theories included in the following ments interrelate to establish an indivisible

chapters, seen collectively, represent a step in whole. Symbolic interactionism stresses the
the direction of specifying the members of this ways in which humans define themselves,
family of concepts. others, and situations by exchanging messages.
Rules theory deals with socially derived guide-
lines for communication behavior.
An Organizing Framework Part IIIpresents four broad themes of com-

Communication theories can be classified in a munication that apply to all contexts: language,

number of ways. We could, for example, divide meaning, information, and persuasion. Lan-
theories according to the disciplines in which guage includes verbal and nonverbal signs.
they were developed. However, such an or- Meaning involves the human response to sym-
ganizing pattern would probably not be benefi- bols. Information consists of how messages are
cial, as discussed earlier. Instead, in this book
theories are organized according to domain. Mass
A domain is its topic or subject, or
theory’s communication
the aspect of communication covered by the Organizational
theory. This method of organizing theories is communication
advantageous because it allows us to employ Small group
communication
elements of communication as guides for using
Dyadic
communication
7. Frank E. X. Dance, “The ‘Concept’ of Communica-
20 (1970): 201—10; also Dance
tion,” Journal of Communication
and Larson, Functions.
8. Dance, “Concept,” p. 210.
Figure 1.1. Hierarchy of contexts.

6
THE NATURE OF COMMUNICATION THEORY

TABLE 1.1
Conceptual components in communication

1. Symbols/Verbal/Speech “Communication is the verbal interchange of thought or idea” (Ho-


ben, 1954).
2. Understanding “Communication is by which we understand others and in
the process
turn endeavor to be understood by them. It is dynamic, constantly
changing and shifting in response to the total situation” (Anderson,
1959).
3. Interaction/Relationship/ “Interaction, even on the biological level,is a kind of communica-
Social Process tion; otherwise common acts could not occur” (Mead, reprinted
1963).
4. Reduction of Uncertainty “Communication arises out of the need to reduce uncertainty, to act
effectively, to defend or strengthen the ego” (Bamlund, 1964).
5. Process “Communication: the transmission of information, idea, emotion,
skills, etc., by the use of symbols —
words, pictures, figures, graphs,
etc. It is the act or process of transmission that is usually called
communication” (Berelson and Steiner, 1964).
6. Transfer/Transmission/ “The connecting thread appears to be the idea of something’s being
Interchange transferred from one thing, or person, to another. We use the word
‘communication’ sometimes to refer to what is so transferred, some-
times to the means by which it is transferred, sometimes to the whole
process. In many cases, what is transferred in this way continues to be
shared; if I convey information to another person, it does not leave my
own possession through coming into his. Accordingly, the word
‘communication’ acquires also the sense of participation. It is in this
sense, for example, that religious worshipers are said to communi-
cate” (Ayer, 1955).
7. Linking/Binding “Communication is the process that links discontinuous parts of the
living world to one another” (Ruesch, 1957).
8. Commonality “It is a process that makes common to two or
(communication)
what was the monopoly of one or some” (Gode, 1959).
several
9. Channel/Carrier/Means/ “The means of sending military messages, orders, etc., as by tele-
Route phone, telegraph, radio, couriers” ( American College Dictionary).
10. Replicating Memories “Communication is the process of conducting the attention of another

person for the purpose of replicating memories” (Cartier and Har-


wood, 1953).
11. Discriminative Response/ “Communication is the discriminatory response of an organism to a
Behavior Modifying Response stimulus” (Stevens, 1950).
12. Stimuli “Every communication act is viewed as a transmission of information,
consisting of a discriminative stimuli, from a source to a recipient”
(Newcomb, reprinted 1966).
13. Intentional “In the main, communication has as its central interest those be-
havioral situations in which a source transmits a message to a re-
ceiver^) with conscious intent to affect the latter’s behaviors” (Miller, 1966).
14. Time/Situation “The communication process is one of transition from one structured

situation-as-a-whole to another, in preferred design” (Sondel, 1956).


15. Power “Communication is the mechanism by which power is exerted”
(Schacter, 1951).

7
,

INTRODUCTION

used to reduce uncertainty and to make predic- communication within the self. Certainly, this
tions and decisions. Persuasion encompasses the addition is valid, but it is not included here for
ways in which individuals change in trans- two reasons. First, few theories address this

actions with others. level directly. Second, intrapersonal communi-


Part IV deals with contextual theories, cation is so pervasive that it cuts across all other
theories that aim to explain aspects of commu- contexts,making it a universal theme. Com-
nication appearing in particular settings. Four munication theories most relevant to intraper-
contextual domains are included: dyadic, sonal communication deal with language,
group, organizational, and mass communica- meaning, information, and persuasion. Part III
tion. Dyadic, group, and organizational con- of the book itself might be considered a sum-
texts are basically interpersonal, while the mass mary of intrapersonal communication theories.
context is mediated; that is, conducted through To further visualize the contextual model of
an intervening channel. Communication con- domain, consider the two dimensions of do-
texts are conceived of as a hierarchy. Each main illustrated in Figure 1.2. The vertical di-
higher level includes important aspects of lower mension consists of themes that cut across con-
levels within it. Mass communication, for texts, and the horizontal dimension includes

example, necessarily involves organizational contexts in which all the themes operate.

communication, group communication, and Thematic theories cover topics relevant to the
dyadic communication. Figure 1.1 illustrates rows, and context theories cover topics rele-
the hierarchy of contexts. vant to the columns. General theories attempt
Many communication scholars would add a to capture the general nature of the process,
fifth context to this analysis: intrapersonal or cutting across both columns and rows.

Contextual theories

Language

Meaning

Thematic theories

Information

Persuasion

Figure 1.2. Theoretical domains.

8
CHAPTER

Theory

2 in the Process
of Inquiry

I n the study of human communication, as in all to inquiry that involves three stages .
1
The first
branches of knowledge, it is appropriate, even and guiding stage of all inquiry is asking ques-
compelling, to ask ourselves: How did we Gerald Miller and Henry Nicholson, in
tions.
come to profess what we know or think we inquiry is “nothing more
fact, believe that . . .

know? The questions of truth, discovery, and than the process of asking interesting, sig-
inquiry is a particularly important place to nificant questions and providing disci-
. . .

begin this book because each of the chapters plined, systematic answers to them .” 2 These
presents a kind of truth. Every theorist repre- authors outline common types of questions
sented here has taken a stab at truth. asked by the scholar. Questions of definition call
This chapter discusses the pro .ess of devel- for concepts as answers, seeking to identify
oping knowledge. Knowledge does not just what observed or inferred (What is it? What
is

spring into being. Rather, it is the product of shall we


call it?). Questions of fact ask about
hard work, with scholarship taking a central properties and relations in what is observed
role in its generation. First we will discuss in- (What does it consist of? How does it relate to
quiry as a general process, including the nature other phenomena?). Questions of value probe
of scholarship. Then we will take a closer look aesthetic, pragmatic, and ethical qualities of the
at theory as a part of inquiry. Later we will observed. Such questions result in value judg-
examine central philosophical issues related to ments about phenomena (Is it beautiful? Is it

communication theory, concluding with a dis- effective? Is it proper?).


cussion of the criteria for evaluating theories. The second stage of inquiry is observation.
Here the scholar experiences the object of in-
quiry. Methods of observation vary signifi-
The Process of Inquiry in Communication cantly from one tradition to another. Some
scholars observe by examining records and ar-
A Basic Model of Inquiry tifacts, others by personal involvement, others
Inquiry involves processes of systematic, disci- by using instruments and controlled experi-
plined ordering of experience that lead to the ment, others by taking testimony. Whatever
development of understanding and knowledge. form is used, the investigator employs some
Inquiry is what scholars do to “find out.” In- planned method for answering the questions.
quiry is not just one process, of course. Many The third stage of inquiry is constructing an-
modes are used, but all are distinguished from swers. Here the scholar attempts to define, to
mundane or common experience. Inquiry is fo- describe and explain, to make judgments. This
cused; itinvolves a planned means or method stage, which is the focus of this book, is usually
and it has an expected outcome. The investi- referred to as theory.
gator never sure of the exact outcome of
is

inquiry and can anticipate only the general form 1. The process of inquiry is described in Gerald E. Miller
and Henry Nicholson, Communication Inquiry (Reading,
or nature of the results. Mass.: Addison-Wesley, 1976).
These scholars also share a general approach 2. Ibid, p. ix.

9
INTRODUCTION

Students naturally tend to think of the stages Replications of a study will yield identical re-
of inquiry as linear, occurring one step at a sults. Remember that such objectivity is the

time, but inquiry does not proceed in this fash- goal-ideal of science but that it is not always
ion. Each stage affects and is affected by the achieved.
others. Observations often stimulate new ques- Science is consistent with the philosophical
tions, and theories are challenged both by ob- position that the world has form and structure
servations and questions. Theories lead to new apart from differences between individual ob-
questions, and observations are structured in servers. The world sits in wait of discovery.

part by existing theories. Figure 2.1 illustrates Where the scholar has reason to believe that a
the interaction among the stages of inquiry. phenomenon exists in the world, the goal is to
observe that phenomenon as accurately as pos-
Types of Scholarship sible. Since no divinely revealed way exists for

The preceding section discusses inquiry in gen- knowing how accurate one’s observations are,
eral terms, ignoring the distinctions between the scientist must rely on agreement among
the many types of inquiry. These types stem observers. This reliance is why objectivity or

from methods of observation and lead


different replicability is so important in science. If all

to different forms of theory. Methods of in- trained observers report the same results, we
quiry often are grouped into three broad forms can be assured that the phenomenon has been
of scholarship: scientific, humanistic, and social accurately observed. Because of the emphasis
scientific. 3 Although all of these forms of schol- on discovering a knowable world, scientific
arship share the common elements discussed methods are especially well suited to problems
in the previous section, they also have major of nature.
differences.
Humanistic Scholarship. While science is as-
Scientific Scholarship. Science often is associated sociated with objectivity, the humanities are
with objectivity. This association is valid or associated with subjectivity. Science aims to
not, depending on how you view objectivity. If standardize observation; the humanities seek

by objectivity you mean suspension of values, creative individuality. If the aim of science is to

then science definitely is not objective. How- reduce human differences in whit is observed,
ever, if by objectivity you mean standardiza- the aim of the humanities is to understand indi-

tion, is indeed objective; or, more


then science vidual subjective response.
accurately, aims to be objective. The scientist
it While science is an “out there” activity,
attempts to look at the world in such a way that humanities stress the “in here.” Science focuses
all other observers, using the same methods, on the discovered world; humanities focus on
will see the same thing in a given observation.

3. An excellent, though somewhat different, discussion of Questions


scholarship can be found in Ernest G. Bormann, Theory and
Research in the Communicative Arts (New York: Holt,
Rinehart& Winston, 1965). For more detailed discussions
of the forms of scholarship presented in Bormann, see
Nathan Glazer, “The Social Sciences in Liberal Education,”
in The Philosophy of the Curriculum, ed. Sidney Hook (Buf-
falo: Prometheus Books, 1975), pp. 145-58; James L. Jar-
rett, The Humanities and Humanistic Education (Reading,

Mass.: Addison-Wesley, 1973); Gerald Holton, “Science,


Theory -» Observation
Science Teaching, and Rationality,” in The Philosophy of the
Curriculum, ed. Sidney Hook (Buffalo: Prometheus Books,
1975), pp. 101-18. Figure 2.1. The stages of inquiry.

10
THEORY IN THE PROCESS OF INQUIRY

the discovering person. Science seeks consen- havioral science and social science, the former
sus; humanities seek alternative interpretations. referring to individual behavior and the latter to
Humanists often are suspicious of the claim that human interaction. For our purposes these two
there is an immutable world to be discovered. branches are combined.
The humanities scholar tends not to separate the In order to understand human behavior, the
knower from the known. The classical human- scholar must observe it. If behavioral patterns
istic position is that who one is determines what do in fact exist, then observation must be as
one Because of its emphasis on the subjec-
sees. objective as possible. In other words, the be-
tive response, humanistic scholarship is espe- havioral scientist, like the natural scientist, must
cially well suited to problems of art, personal establish consensus on what is observed. Once
experience, and values. the behavioral phenomena are accurately ob-
This discussion is not intended to lead you to served, they must be explained or interpreted.
believe that science and humanities are so far Interpreting may be confounded by the fact that
apart that they never come together. Almost the object of observation, the human subject, is
any program of research and theory building itself an active, knowing being. Unlike objects
includessome aspects of both scientific and in the natural world, the human subject is capa-
humanistic scholarship. The differences men- ble of having knowledge, of possessing values
tioned relate to the primary thrust of the two and making interpretations. Can “scientific”
groups of scholarship; points of cross-over also explanation of human behavior take place
exist between them. At times the scientist is a without consideration of the “humanistic”
humanist, using intuition, creativity, interpreta- knowledge of the observed person? This ques-
tion, and insight. Ironically, the scientist must tion is the central philosophical issue of social
be subjective in creating the mechanisms that science.
will eventually lead to objective observation. Controversy about the nature of inquiry into
Research design is a creative process. At times human life is common in social science. In pre-
the humanist, in turn, must be scientific, seek- vious years the majority of social scientists be-
ing facts that enable scholars to understand the lieved that scientific methods alone would
experiences to which ultimately they will re- suffice to uncover the mysteries of human expe-
spond subjectively. As we shall see in the next rience. Today most social scientists realize that
section, where science leaves off and humanities while scientific methods are an important aspect
begin is not always clear. of their scholarship, a strong humanistic ele-
ment is present as well. Specifically, the indi-

The Special Case of the Social Sciences. A third vidual subjective response must be consid-
form of scholarship is social science. Many so- ered in understanding how people think and
would not separate this type of
cial scientists evaluate.
scholarship from science, seeing it instead as an The study of communication is a social sci-
extension of natural science. In fact, numerous ence. It involves understanding how people be-
methods used by social scientists are borrowed have exchanging, and interpreting
in creating,
from physics. Social science, however, is a messages. Consequently, communication in-
world apart. Paradoxically, it includes elements quiry combines both scientific and humanistic
of both science and humanities, but it is differ- methods. The theories covered in this book, as
ent from both. examples of social science, vary significantly in
Social scholars attempt to understand human their use of the languages of science and
beings as objects of study. They seek to observe humanities. Traditionally in the field of speech
and interpret patterns of human behavior. In communication, humanistic theories of com-
practice scholars distinguish between be- munication have been referred to as rhetorical

11
. .

INTRODUCTION

theory and scientific theories as communication distinctions between the concepts of model and
theory. This distinction is not particularly use- theory. 5 Most distinctions actually are miscon-
ful. All of the theories we will discuss deal with ceptions, he believes. He defines a theory as an
human communication; both humanistic and explanation and a model as a representation
scientific theories worthy of inclusion in
are For him, models merely represent aspects of
our body of knowledge about human commu- the phenomenon without explaining the inter-
nication. relationships among the parts of the modeled
In the field of communication there is no process.
universal agreement on the limits of science and In this book we will not pursue the dis-
humanities. We are far from consensus on the tinctions between theories and models of com-
6
questions that can and should be approached munication The purpose of the book is to
.

scientificallyand those that should be the focus represent a wide range of thought about the
of humanistic methods. In the final analysis communication process. Therefore the term
scholars defend the traditions in which they are theory is used in its broadest sense as any con-
trained and which they enjoy the most. These ceptual representation or explanation of the commu-
issues of scholarship are taken up in more detail nication process. The intent is not to distinguish
later in the chapter under the heading of between those representations called models
philosophical issues. and those called theories, though technical dif-
ferences may exist.
As you will see in the following pages, many
The Nature of Theory conceptual representations are available. In their
What is theory? Uses of the term range from most general form, however, all are attempts of
farmer Jones’s theory about when his pullets various scholars to represent what is conceived
will start laying eggs to Einstein’s theory of as important in the process of communication.
People sometimes use the term theory
relativity. Two generalizations can be made about
to mean any unsubstantiated guess about some- theories.
thing. Too, theory often is contrasted with fact. First, all theories are abstractions. Theories
Even among scientists, writers, and philoso- of communication are not themselves the pro-
phers
4. the term is used differently. cess being conceptualized. As a result every
Theory is often distinguished from model In theory is partial; every theory leaves something
a broad sense the term model can apply to any out. Theories focus on certain aspects of the
symbolic representation of a thing, process, or process at the expense of other aspects. This
idea. We thus encounter models of the human truism about theory is important because it re-
figure, trains,and planes. On the conceptual 5. Leonard Hawes, Pragmatics of Analoguing: Theory and
level are models that represent ideas and pro- Model Construction in Communication (Reading, Mass.:
cesses. Such models may be graphic, verbal, or Addison-Wesley, 1975), pp. 122-23.
6. For definitions of the terms theory and model, see Dean
mathematical. In any case a model is usually
C. Barnlund, Interpersonal Communication: Survey and
viewed as an analogy to some real-world Studies(New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1 968) p. 18; Bor- ,

phenomenon. Thus models are interpreted mann, Communicative Arts, p. 96; Karl W. Deutsch, “On
metaphorically so that the model builder at- Communication Models in the Social Sciences,” Public
Opinion Quarterly 16 (1952): 357; Calvin S. Hall and Gard-
tempts to draw symbolic parallels between ner Lindzey, Theories of Personality (New York: Wiley,
structures and relationships in the model and 1970), pp. 9—10; Gerald R. Miller, Speech Communication: A
Behavioral Approach (New York: Bobbs-Merrill, 1966), pp.
those in the modeled event or process 4 .

52—53; C. David Mortensen, Communication: The Study of


Leonard Hawes reviews several common Human Interaction (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1972), p. 29;
Frank E. X. Dance and Carl E. Larson, The Functions of
Max Black, Models and Metaphors (Ithaca: Cornell Uni- Human Communication (New York: Holt, Rinehart &
versity Press, 1962), chap. 13. Winston, 1976), p. 3; Hawes, Pragmatics, pp. 28-29.

12
.

THEORY IN THE PROCESS OF INQUIRY

veals the basic inadequacy of theory. No single but that any given “truth” can be repre-
reality,
theory will ever reveal Truth. The creator of a sented in a variety of ways, depending on the
theory attempts to point out and explain what is theorist’s orientation.
believed to be important, nothing more. 7
Second, must be viewed as con-
all theories The Functions of Theory
structions. Theories are created by people, not Eight important and overlapping functions of
ordained by God. Theories represent various theory can be identified: (1) the organizing and
ways in which observers see their environ- summarizing function, (2) the focus function,
ments, but theories themselves are not reality. (3) the clarifying function, (4) the observational
Many readers and theorists forget this principle, function, (5) the predictive function, (6) the
and students often are trapped by the concep- jreyr.istic function, (7) the communicative func-
tion that reality can be seen in this or that and 11
tion, (8) the control function.
theory. Abraham Kaplan writes: “The forma- The function of theory is to organize
first
tion of a theory is not just the discovery of a and summarize knowledge. We do not see the
hidden fact; the theory is a way of looking at the world in bits of data. Humans need to organize
facts, of organizing and representing them. . . . and synthesize the world. Patterns must be
A theory must somehow fit God’s world, but sought and connections discovered. Theories
in an important sense it creates a world of and models are one way of accomplishing this
its own.” 8 organization of knowledge. An added benefit of
Let us take an analogy from biology. Two this function is theory’s contribution to cumula-
observers using microscopes may see different tion in knowledge. The student, practitioner, or
things in an amoeba, depending on their theo- scientist does not have to start anew with each
retical points of view. One observer sees a investigation. Knowledge is organized into a
one-celled animal; the other sees an organism body of theories, and the investigator begins a
without cells. The first viewer stresses the study with the organized knowledge of genera-
properties of an amoeba that resemble prop- tions of previous scholars.
erties of all other cells — the wall, the nucleus, The second function is that of focusing.
the cytoplasm. The second observer concen- Theories, in addition to organizing data, focus
trates on the analogy between the amoeba and attention on important variables and relation-
other whole animals. This observer sees inges- ships, as a map depicts terrain. From the overall
tion of food, excretion, reproduction, mobility. surface a map points out recreation spots,
Neither observer is wrong. Their theoretical communities, picnic grounds, and shopping
frameworks simply stress different aspects of centers. To the persistent question of “What
the
10. observed object. 9 Because of the fact that will I look at?” the theory points out areas for
theories and models are constructions, ques- investigation.
tioning a theory’s usefulness is wiser than ques- Third, theories provide the advantage of
tioning its truthfulness 10. This statement is not clarifying what is observed. The clarification
intended to imply that theories do not represent not only helps the observer to understand rela-
tionships in communication but to interpret
7. For discussions of the partial nature of theories, see specific events. Theories provide guideposts for
Miller, Speech p. 52; Lee Thayer, “On Theory-Building in
,

Communication: Some Conceptual Problems,” Journal of


interpreting, explaining, and understanding the
Communication 13 (1963): 217-35. complexity of human relations.
8. Abraham Kaplan, The Conduct of Inquiry (San Fran- Fourth, theories offer an observational aid.
cisco: Chandler, 1964), p. 309.
1 1 This listing is a synthesis of functions gathered from a
9. Examples from N. R. Hanson, Patterns of Discovery
varietyof sources. See Bamlund, Interpersonal Communica-
(Cambridge: At the University Press, 1961), pp. 4-5. tion,p. 18; Irwin B. J. Bross, Design for Decision (New
See Hall and Lindzey, Theories pp. 10—11. ,
York: Macmillan, 1953).

13
INTRODUCTION

Closely related to the focus function, the obser- communicative function. Most investigators
vational function points out not only what to want and need to publish their observations and
observe but how to observe. Especially for speculations for other interested persons.
those theories that provide operational defini- Theory provides a framework for this commu-
tions, the theorist gives the most precise indica- nication and provides an open forum for discus-
tion possible about what is meant by a particu- and criticism. Through the com-
sion, debate,
lar concept. Thus by following directions the munication of numerous explanations of the
reader is led to observe details elaborated by the phenomena we study, comparison and theory
theory. improvement become possible.
The fifth function of theories, to predict, is The eighth function of theories is control.
one of the most widely discussed areas of scien- This function grows out of value questions, in
tific inquiry. Many theories allow the inquirer which the theorist seeks to judge the effective-
to make predictions about outcomes and effects ness and propriety of certain behavior. Such
in the data. This ability to predict is important theory is often referred to as normative in that ,
it

in the applied communication areas such as per- seeks to establish norms of performance. Much
suasion and attitude change, psychotherapy, theory, of course, does not seek to fulfill this

small group dynamics, and organizational function at all, remaining on the descriptive
communication. Teachers work toward devel- level.

oping and abilities to improve communi-


skills

cation competence. Various communication Theory Development and Change


theories aid this process by enabling the student Although it is important to understand that the
to substitute well-founded predictions for good theory is an abstraction from reality, realizing

guesses. the functional relationship between the two is

The sixth theoretical function, the heuristic also necessary. Theory is not a purely abstract
function, is also frequently discussed. A famil- entity with little relationship to actual experi-
iar axiom is that a good theory generates re- ence. In fact, theory and experience interact
search. The speculation forwarded in theories continually for the ultimate improvement of
of communication often provides a guide as to both. Irwin Brass’s excellent model of this
the direction the research will take and thus aids theory-experience relationship is shown in
in furthering the investigation. This heuristic Figure 2.2. 12
function of aiding discovery is vital to the From original experiences (including re-
growth of knowledge and is in a sense an out- search), we formulate our symbolic models. We
growth of each of the other functions of theory.
Seventh, theories serve an indispensable 12. Bross, Design, pp. 161—77.

From Design for Decision by Irwin Bross. Copyright © 1953 by the Free Press, a corporation. Reprinted with permission of
the publisher.

Figure 2.2.

14
THEORY IN THE PROCESS OF INQUIRY

are able to think through and manipulate vari- lutions, describes the third processof change,
ables in our heads, while at the same time focus- revolution. 15
Over time researchers in an area of
ing on specified parameters in the real world. study increase their knowledge through exten-
From the interaction of these two, predictions sion and intension. At some point an extraordi-
aremade, tested, and verified. Over time the nary case is discovered that runs counter to
models change, grow, and improve, as illus- prevailing assumptions of the theory in use. At
trated in Bross’s more extended diagram shown this point a crisis develops, leading to the de-
in Figure 2.3. Thus good theory development is velopment of a new theoretical approach. The
a constant process of testing, formulating, and new theory represents a different way of look-
retesting. ing at the world, a way that competes with the
This testing-retesting process stresses the original theory. Gradually, the revolutionary
need for research, which is vital to theory de- theory is accepted by more and more members
velopment in three interconnected ways. Re- of the field until it becomes the primary theoret-
search allows for (1) specific investigating of ical approach. Often during the years when a
facts that are singled out as important,
(2) test- new theoretical approach is being formulated,
ing the theory’s predictive usefulness on real theorists who support the old approach become
events, and (3) further developing and articulat- defensive, protecting their many years or entire
ing the theory. 13 lifetimes of work that may be at stake.
Theories may change in three important The scientific revolution described by Kuhn
ways. The first is growth by extension. Here often requires redefinition of an entire field of
knowledge is expanded piece by piece, moving knowledge. Previous areas of study may die;
from an understanding of one bit of reality to an others may be born; new weddings may occur.
adjoining bit. This is the process of adding new “What were ducks in the scientist’s world be-
concepts to the old. On the other hand, the fore the revolution are rabbits afterwards. The
second way, growth by intension is the process of
, man who saw the exterior of the box from
developing an increasingly precise understand- above later sees its interior from below.” 16
ing of concepts or single bits of knowledge. 14 Theory in any field, including communication,
Kuhn, in a monograph on scientific revo- is crucial for the formal investigation of

phenomena. Kaplan states this idea: “What is


13. Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolution
(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970), pp. 25-27. 15. Kuhn, Structure.
14. Kaplan, Conduct , p. 305. 16. Ibid., p. 111.

From Design for Decision by Irwin Bross. Copyright © 1953 by the Free Press, a corporation. Reprinted with permission of
the publisher.

Figure 2.3.

15
INTRODUCTION

rooted in the particularity of fact comes to viding only a list of concepts and definitions
flower in the generalization of theory or else it — without explaining how the concepts interrelate
fails to seed.” 17 or affect one another. Such theories are known
as taxonomies. (Note that many scholars believe
Concepts Theories
in that taxonomies are not theories.) Introductory
The first and most basic aspect of a theory is its communication texts often include basic mod-
set of concepts. We as persons are by nature els that list the “parts” of the communication

concept-processing beings. Our entire sym- process, including such concepts as source,
bolic world — everything known — stems from message, receiver, feedback, and so forth. The
concept formation. Kuhn writes: “Neither sci- best theories, however, go beyond concepts to
entists nor laymen learn to see the world provide explanations, statements about how
piecemeal or item by item; both scientists . . . concepts interrelate. These explanations tell us
and laymen sort out whole areas together from why variables are connected. Theories that stop
the flux of experience.” 18 Although the process at the concept level are primitive at best, since
of conceptualizing is complex, basically it the goal of theory building is to provide an
consists of grouping things and events into understanding of how a phenomenon operates.
categories according to observed commonali-
ties. The communication theorist observes Explanation in Theories
many variables in communication and classifies The Principle of Necessity. A phenomenon is ex-
and labels them according to perceived pat- plained to the extent that regularities in the
terns. The goal of theory is to increase the use- relationships among concepts are identified. An
fulness of its concepts. Kaplan describes the explanation designates some force among vari-

process: ables that makes particular outcomes necessary.

Explanations vary according to the type of


As knowledge of a particular subject-matter grows, There are three
necessity believed to exist.
our conception of that subject-matter changes; as our
types. 20
concepts become more fitting, we can learn more
and more. Like all existential dilemmas in science, of
Causal necessity occurs in a causal relation-
which this is an instance, the paradox is resolved by a ship. Here the theory states that an antecedent
process of approximation: the better our concepts, event determines the behavior of a subsequent
the better the theory we can formulate with them, event: A is believed to cause B. This kind of
and in turn, the better the concepts for the next 20.
explanation involves if-then reasoning. Sup-
improved theory. It is only through such succes-
. . .

sions that the scientist can hope ultimately to achieve


pose, for example, that you wished to explain

success. 19 why people sometimes perceive statements that


actually are similar to their own beliefs as quite
An
important part of conceptualizing is different from what they believe. One theory
labeling. We mark our concepts by symbols, explains that this occurrence is caused by high
usually words. Hence, an integral part of any ego involvement. In other words, when an in-
theory is the set of terms that captures the dividual’s central ego beliefs are threatened, that
theory’s concepts. Concepts and definitions person will accept only a very small range of
cannot be separated. Together they tell us what statements by others. (This theory is discussed
the theorist is looking at and what is considered in detail in Chapter 8.)
important.
Based on P. Achinstein, Laws and Explanation (New
Some theories stop at the concept level, pro-
York: Oxford University Press, 1971); see also Donald P.
Cushman and W. Barnett Pearce, “Generality and Neces-
Kaplan, Conduct, p. 119.
sity in Three Types of Theory about Human Communica-
17.

18. Kuhn, Structure, p. 28. tion, with Special Attention to Rules Theory,” Human
19. Kaplan, Conduct, p. 53. Communication Research 3 (1977): 344-53.

16
THEORY IN THE PROCESS OF INQUIRY

The second type of explanation employs 4. One-up behavior asserts control over the re-
practical necessity. Because this form of expla- lational rules.
nation applies primarily to human social in-
often used in
5. One-down behavior accepts control by the
teraction, it is communication
other in a relationship.
theories. It suggests that a person may choose
to behave in a particular way to meet goals. 6. In a complementary relationship the person
One’s choice is affected by a variety of pressures who consistently behaves in a one-up fashion
from self, others, and situation. In causal neces- has the power.
sity behavior is determined by previous condi-
tions, with the person responding passively. In In the above example each statement is neces-
practical necessity the person actively selects sary if you believe the other statements in the

courses of action to achieve some future state. series; a logical, necessary relationship exists
In causal explanation the subsequent event is among statements. Further, this series of state-

explained by the antecedent event. In practical ments leads us to accept a positive correlation
explanation the antecedent event is explained by
between power, one-up behavior, and control.
the subsequent event. For example, is made to seem necessary not
This correlation
you would
be using practical necessity if you explained that because of an established consistent link be-
people construct messages in particular ways tween one event and another in time but be-
because they wish to achieve identification cause of the logic of the whole system of defini-

with an audience. (This theory is discussed in tions. (This theory is presented in more detail in

Chapter 4.) Chapter 9.)

The third form of explanation relies on logi-


cal necessity. This form of explanation is more Laws, Rules, and Systems. Traditionally in the
difficult to understand. A theory using logical of communication, theories have been sep-
field

necessity as a basis for explanation consists of on their pri-


arated into three types, depending

a of interlocked statements about a


series mary method of explanation. Although such a
phenomenon. One state of affairs is seen as a typology is neat, it has been criticized in recent
logical consequence of the acceptance of other years for presenting a false picture of theoretical

statements. In the other two forms of explana- differences. 21 Because the laws-rules-system
tion, a linear link in time is assumed: A causes
trichotomy is prevalent in the literature, we will
discuss it briefly. However, the next section, on
B, or A leads to B. In logical necessity such is
not the case. Logical necessity relies on a series theory typology, covers a system that is supe-
of internally consistent definitions and a set of rior for analyzing theory based on modes of

correlations or correspondences among events. explanation.

As an example consider the following series of Law theories are believed to rely primarily on
theoretical statements: causal necessity, embodying the spirit of sci-
ence. They make use of covering laws that spec-

A complementary relationship ify universal causal relations among variables. 22


1. exists when
the behavior of one person follows naturally Rules theories, which rely on practical necessity,

from the behavior of another. are believed to be more humanistic, claiming

2. This condition exists when the relational 21. This controversyis well summarized in Ernest Bor-

mann, Communication Theory (New York: Holt, Rinehart &


rules are both understood and accepted by the
Winston, 1980), chap. 7.
partners.
22. For discussion of this approach, see Charles R. Berger,
“The Covering Law Perspective as a Theoretical Basis for
3. Power is the ability to control relational
the Study of Human Communication,” Communication
rules. Quarterly 25 (1977): 7-18.

17
INTRODUCTION

that people actively choose and change rules. understood as a composite of finely screened

Rules theorists are seen as doubting the viability elements. The aim of such theory is to reduce
of covering laws in communication. 23 In be- the whole down to its knowable parts. Synthetic
tween lies the systems approach ,
which purport- theories are more abstract, focusing on general
edly relies on logical necessity. This type of patterns and interrelationships 25 Analytic and
theory is believed to center on the logical rela- synthetic theories can be further divided into
tions among elements of a holistic system. Such different types, depending on the method of
theories stress the intercorrelation among explanation used. Although analytic theories
events. 24 tend to be causal and synthetic theories tend to
be practical, crossovers often occur, as we shall
A Theory Typology. Doubt has been cast on the see momentarily. Figure 2.4 outlines eight re-
utility of this laws-rules-systems trichotomy. sulting types of theory, including two types
Differences may not be as clear as suggested by that are nonexplanatory.
its advocates. Although the covering law ap-
proach clearly embodies a scientific epistemol-
ogy, the difference between systems and rules Philosophical Issues in the Study of
appears to be more a matter of generality or Communication
abstractness than method of explanation. Be-
sides, there are important differences in expla- Communication Metatheory
nation even among theories that are classed as Metatheory, as the prefix meta- suggests, is a

systems or those classed as rules. For example, body of speculation on the nature of inquiry
rules theorists disagree among themselves as to that goes beyond the specific content of given

how much power rules exert over people’s ac- theories. It addresses such questions as what

tions,and system theorists equivocate about should be observed, how observation should
whether systems relations are causal, correla- take place, and what form theory should take.

tional, or both. Keep in mind that we are not Metatheoretical debates are a natural conse-
discarding the terms laws, and systems. (In
rules, quence of uncertainty over the status of knowl-
fact, this book has chapters on both rules and edge in a field. In the last decade or so,
systems.) The problem lies in using these labels metatheory has dominated the communication
together as a trichotomy to designate particular field. Communication scholars have come to

forms of explanation. question the adequacy of their methods, pre-


Therefore, this book does not discuss theo- cisely because of the problems of social science
retical differences in terms of laws, rules, and summarized earlier in this chapter. 26

systems. Rather, two dimensions are used: as a discipline deals with prob-
Philosophy
differences in method of explanation and differ- lems of knowledge and reality. Philosophy
ences in generality. On the generality dimen- questions the basic assumptions and methods of
sion, two types of theory are presented. Analyt- proof used in generating knowledge in all walks
ic theories assume that any phenomenon is best 25. This analysis adapted from Vernon E. Cronen and
Leslie K. Davis, “Alternative Approaches for the Commu-
23. For a discussion of this approach, see Donald P. nication Theorist: Problems in the Laws-Rules-Systems
Cushman, “The Rules Perspective as a Theoretical Basis for Trichotomy,” Human Communication Research 4 (1978):
the Study of Human Communication,” Communication 120-28.
Quarterly 25 (1977): 30-45. 26. For another discussion of metatheory, see John Waite
24. For a discussion of this approach, see Peter R. Monge, Bowers and James J. Bradac, “Issues in Communication
“The Systems Perspective as a Theoretical Basis for the Theory: A Metatheoretical Analysis,” in Communication
Study of Human Communication,” Communication Quar- Yearbook 5, ed. Michael Burgoon (New Brunswick, N.J.:
terly 25 (1977): 19-29. Transaction Books, 1982), pp. 1—28.

18
THEORY IN THE PROCESS OF INQUIRY

of life. Thus the kind of metatheoretical discus- Because of the diversity of disciplines in-
sion that has occurred in communication in re- volved in the study of communication and the
cent years constitutes an important philosophi- resultant divergence of thought about research
cal analysis of communication research and and theory, epistemological issues are impor-
theory. This philosophical examination is tant in this field. Some of the most basic of
somewhat complex, yet it can be grouped into these issues can be expressed as questions 27 .

three major themes: epistemology, ontology, To what extent can knowledge exist before expe-
and perspective. These areas are discussed rience? Many theorists believe that all knowl-
below. edge arises from experience. We observe the
world and thereby come to know about it. Yet
Issues of Epistemology
27. This analysis from Stephen W. Littlejohn, “Epistemol-
Epistemology is the branch of philosophy that ogy and the Study of Human Communication” (Paper
studies knowledge. Epistemologists ask how delivered at the Speech Communication Association, New
humans know what they claim to know. Epis- York City, November 1980). See also Littlejohn, “An
Overview of Contributions to Human Communication
temologists question observations and claims as Theory from Other Disciplines,” in Human Communication
a way of understanding the nature of knowl- Theory: Comparative Essays ed. Frank E. X. Dance (New
,

edge and the processes by which it is gained. York: Harper & Row, 1982), 247-49. For a somewhat
different approach, see W. Bennett Pearce, “Metatheoretical
Any good discussion of inquiry and theory will Concerns in Communication,” Communication Quarterly 25
inevitably come back to epistemological issues. (1977): 3-6.

Generality dimension

Analytic theories Synthetic theories

Type 1 Type 2
Causal Theories low in level Theories high in level
explanation of abstraction using of abstraction using
causal explanation causal explanation

Type 3 Type 4
Logical Theories low in level Theories high in level
explanation of abstraction using of abstraction using
logical explanation logical explanation
Explanation
dimension
Type 5 Type 6
Practical Theories low in level Theories high in level
explanation of abstraction using of abstraction using
practical explanation practical explanation

Type 7 Type 8
Nonexplanatory Taxonomies low in level Taxonomies high in level
of abstraction of abstraction

Figure 2.4. Types of theory.

19
INTRODUCTION

isthere something in our basic nature that pro- and operate as a system. Analysts, on the other
vides a kind of knowledge even before we expe- hand, believe that knowledge consists of under-
rience the world? Many philosophers believe standing how parts operate separately.
so. This kind of “knowledge” would consist of To what extent is knowledge explicit? Many
inherent mechanisms of thinking and perceiv- philosophers and scholars believe that you can-
ing. For example, strong evidence exists that not know something unless you can state it.
children do not learn language entirely from Knowledge is thus seen as explicit. Others
hearing it spoken. Rather, they may acquire claim that much of knowledge is hidden, that

language by using innate models to testwhat people operate on the basis of sensibilities that
they hear. (We will discuss this idea more in are not conscious and that they may not even be

Chapter 5.) able to express. Such knowledge is said to be


28
To what extent is knowledge universal? Is tacit.

knowledge certain, there for the taking by The way in which scholars conduct inquiry
whoever is able to ascertain it? Or is knowledge and construct theories depends largely on their
relative and changing? The debate over this epistemological assumptions. Many basic posi-
issue has persisted for hundreds of years. tions arise from the issues just described. These

Communication theorists vary in terms of as- positions can be called world views. Numerous
sumptions about the certainty of truth. Those fine distinctions can be made among these posi-

who take a universal stance will admit to errors tions, but our discussion groups them into two
broad opposing world views that affect think-
in their theories, but they believe that these
29
errors are merely a result of not yet having ing about communication.
discovered the complete truth. Relativists
would have us believe that knowledge will World View I. This tradition is based on empiri-
never be certain because there is no universal cist and rationalist ideas. It treats reality as dis-

reality that can be comprehended. tinct from the human being, something that

process does knowledge arise? This


By what people discover outside themselves. It assumes
question extremely complex, and the debate
is a physical, knowable reality that is self-evident

on the issue lies at the heart of epistemology. to the trained observer.

There are at least three positions on the issue. Discovery is important in this position; the
Mentalism or rationalism suggests that knowl- world is waiting for the scientist to find it. Since
edge arises out of the sheer power of the human
28. See Michael Polanyi, Personal Knowledge (London:
mind. This position places ultimate faith in Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1958).
human reasoning. Empiricism states that knowl- 29. This particular two-fold analysisis supported in part by

edge arises in perception. We experience the Georg H. von Wright, Explanation and Understanding
(Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1971) and Joseph Houna,
world and literally “see” what is going on. Communication
“Two Ideals of Scientific Theorizing,” in
Constructivism believes that people create Yearbook 5, ed. Michael Burgoon (New Brunswick, N.J.:

knowledge in order to function pragmatically Transaction Books, 1982), pp. 29-48. Many other schemes
have been devised to classify epistemological approaches.
in life. People project themselves into what
See for example Stephen Pepper, World Hypotheses (Berke-
they experience. Constructivists believe that ley: University of California Pres?, 1942); B. Aubrey Fisher,

phenomena in the world can be fruitfully con- Perspectives on Human Communication (New York: Macmil-
lan, 1978); Kenneth Williams, “Reflections on a Human
ceptualized many different ways, knowledge
Science of Communication,” Journal of Communication 23
being what the person has made of the world. (1973): 239-50; Barry Brummett, “Some Implications of

Is knowledge best conceived in parts or wholes? ‘Process’ or ‘Intersubjectivity’: Postmodern Rhetoric,”


Philosophy and Rhetoric 9 (1976): 21—51; Gerald Miller,
Gestaltists teach that true knowledge consists of
The Current Status of Theory and Research in Inter-
general, indivisible understandings. They be- personal Communication,” Human Communication Research

lieve that phenomena are highly interrelated 4 (1978): 175.

20
THEORY IN THE PROCESS OF INQUIRY

knowledge is viewed as something acquired this reason perceptual and interpretive processes
from outside oneself, World View I is often of the individuals are important objects for
called the received view. Objectivity is all impor- study.
tant,with investigators being required to define World View II attempts not to uncover uni-
the exact operations to be used in observing versal laws but to describe the rich context in
events. Most mainstream physical science is which individuals operate. It is humanistic in
World View I, and much behavioral and social that it stresses the individual subjective re-
science follow suit. The method used involves sponse. Knowing is interpreting, an activity
hypothesizing a state of affairs and carefully everybody is believed to engage in. Many

testing the hypothesis through observation. theories of communication take a World View
Further hypotheses are then deduced. Bit by bit II stance, being based on the assumption that

theory is developed and knowledge grows. communication itself is a vital vehicle in the
World View 1 aims to make lawful state- social construction of reality. 30
ments about phenomena, developing generali- In sum, the following qualities characterize
zations that hold true across situations and over the communication theory and research of
time. Scholars in this tradition try to reveal how World View II. First, interpretation is stressed,
phenomena appear and how they work. In so rather than objective observation. Second, tacit
doing the scholar is highly analytical, attempt- processes as well as overt behavior are un-
ing to define each part and subpart of the object covered. Third, research and theory in this tra-
of interest. dition emphasize social knowledge via sym-
What, then, characterizes communication bolic interaction. In other words, knowledge is
theory and research in World View I? First, seen as arising from the use of symbols in
such research tends to use behavioristic communication with other people. Further, this
methods cultured in psychology. Researchers research and theory tends to be humanistic,
follow strict operations so that actual behavior stressing individual differences. Finally, this
can be observed. Second, World View I com- view attempts to capture communication as
munication theory seeks covering laws. It at- process.
tempts to come up with universal statements
about communication. Third, communication Issues of Ontology
research and theory in this tradition tend to be While epistemology is the study of knowledge,
analytic, breaking down the process into small ontology is the branch of philosophy that deals
pieces. Fourth, thiskind of theory and research with the nature of being, or more narrowly, the
seek causal, mechanistic explanations of com- nature of the phenomena we seek to know. 31
munication events. Fifth, this research and Actually, epistemology and ontology go hand
theory images the human being as a reactive in hand, since our conception of knowledge
object. depends in part on our notions about the nature
of the knowable. In the social sciences ontology
World View II. This tradition takes a different deals largely with the nature of human exis-
turn by relying heavily on constructivism, tence. Thus ontological issues in the study of
viewing the world in process. In this view
30. See for example Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann,
people take an active role in creating knowl-
The Social Construction of Reality (Garden City, N.Y.:
edge. A world of things exists outside the per- Doubleday, 1966); Alfred Schutz, The Phenomenology of the
son, but the individual can conceptualize these Social World trans. George Walsh and Frederick Lehnert
,

(Evanston, 111.: Northwestern University Press, 1967).


things in a variety of useful ways.Knowledge
31. For a discussion of ontology, see Alasdair MacIntyre,
therefore arises not out of discovery but
from “Ontology,” in The Encyclopedia of Philosophy ed. Paul
,

interaction between knower and known. For Edwards (New York: Macmillan, 1967), vol. 5, pp. 542-43.

21
INTRODUCTION

communication deal with the nature of human people create meanings and use these meanings
social interaction. to interpret and understand situations in which
Ontological issues are important because the they find themselves.
way a theorist conceptualizes communication Although numerous ontological positions
depends in large measure on how the commu- can be seen in communication theory, this book
nicator is viewed. All communication theories groups them into two basic opposing positions:
begin with assumptions about being. Issues in actional and nonactional. Actional theory as-
this area reflect disagreements about the na- sumes that individuals create meanings, they
ture of human experience. Three issues are have intentions, they make real choices. The
important 32 actional view on which
. rests a teleological base,
To what extent do humans make real choices? says that people make decisions that are de-
Although all investigators probably would signed to achieve goals. Theorists of the ac-
agree that people perceive choice, there is a tional tradition are reluctant to seek covering
long-standing philosophical debate on whether laws because they assume that individual be-
real choice is possible. On one side of the issue havior is not governed by universal prior
are the determinists, who state that people’s events. Instead, they assume that people behave
behavior is caused by a multitude of prior con- differently in different situations because rules
ditions and that humans are basically reactive change from one situation to another.
and passive. On the other side of the debate are Nonactional theory assumes that behavior ba-
the teleologists, who claim that people plan sically is determined by and responsive to past
their behavior to meet future goals. This school pressures. Covering laws are usually viewed as
sees people as decision-making, active beings appropriate in this tradition; active interpreta-
who affect their own destinies. Middle posi- tion by the individual is downplayed.
tions also exist, suggesting either that people
make choices within a restricted range or that Issues of Perspective
some behavior is determined while other be- Perspective involves the proper substantive
havior is a matter of free will. coverage of theories of communication. In
To what extent is communication contextualized? other words, the perspective of a theory is its
The question whether behavior is governed
is angle or focus. Perspectives to a large extent are
by universal principles or whether it depends on correlated with epistemology and ontology be-
situational factors. Some philosophers believe cause how the theorist views knowledge and
that human life and action are best understood being affects the perspective of the theory. Any
by looking at universal factors; others believe theory of communication provides a particular
that behavior is and cannot be
richly contextual perspective from which the process can be
generalized beyond the immediate situation. viewed. A perspective is a point of view, a way
The middle ground on this issue is that be- of conceptualizing an area of study 33 Earlier in .

havior is affected by both general and situ- this chapter you learned that all theories are
ational factors. abstractions and constructions. The configura-
To what extent are humans interpreting beings? tion of a theory depends on the perspective of
This issue relates to problems of meaning. the theorist. This perspective guides the theorist
Some theorists believe that humans behave in in choosing what to focus on and what to leave
accordance with stimulus-response principles, out, how to explain the process, and how to
strictly reacting to pressures from the environ- conceptualize what is observed. Aubrey Fisher
ment. Others believe that people are thinking states the idea: “Clearly, a concept that is trivial
interpreters. According to the second view, or irrelevant or even ignored in one perspective
32. For an ontological discussion of communication 33. For a discussion of perspective, see Fisher, Perspectives ,

theory, see Bowers and Bradac, “Issues.” pp. 57-85.

22
THEORY IN THE PROCESS OF INQUIRY

may suddenly leap into importance when one Theories of the transactional perspective stress
applies an alternative perspective .” 34 In fact, a context, process, and function. In other words
fuller, more complete picture of the process can communication is viewed as highly situational
be obtained by switching perspectives, which is and as a dynamic process that fulfills individual
one of the methods of this book. Al-
certainly and social functions. This perspective empha-
though theoretical perspectives can be con- sizes holism, imagining communication to be a
ceptualized in a number of ways, the following process of sharing meaning. Transactional
four labels best describe the major divisions of theories tend to espouse World View II assump-
the field 35
. tions, and they use actional explanations .
36

Behavioristic Perspective.This perspective,


which comes from the behavioral school of How to Evaluate a Communication Theory
psychology, stresses stimulus and response. As you encounter theories of communication,
Communication theories that use this perspec- you will need a basis for judging one against
tive tend to emphasize the ways that individuals another. Here is a list of some criteria that can
are affected by messages. Such theories tend to be applied to the evaluation of any theory .
37

conform to World View I assumptions, and Remember that no theory is perfect; all can be
they are usually nonactional. faulted. Therefore the following criteria are
goal-ideals.
Transmissional Perspective. Transmissional
theories view communication as the transfer of Theoretical Scope
information from source to receiver. They use a A theory’s scope is its comprehensiveness or

linear model of movement from one location to inclusiveness. Theoretical scope relies on the
another. This perspective stresses communica- principle of generality 38 This principle states
tion media, time, and sequential elements. Gen- that a theory’s explanation must be sufficiently
erally it is based on World View I and nonac- general to cover a range of events beyond a
tional assumptions. single observation. People continually provide
explanations for events, but their explanations
Interactional Perspective. This perspective rec- are not always theoretical. When an explanation
ognizes that communicators respond recipro- is a mere speculation about a single event, it is

cally to one another. While the metaphor of the not a theoretical explanation. However, when
transmissional perspective is^the line, the circle amexplanation goes beyond a single instance to
captures the interactional approach. Feedback cover a range of events, it is theoretical. Nor-
and mutual effects are key concepts. Such mally, the more general a theory, the better it is.

World View II; they may


theories typically are Two types of generality exist. The first is the
be actional or nonactional, depending on the coverage of a broad domain. Theories that meet
degree to which communicators are thought to the test of generality in this way deal with many
be active choice makers. phenomena. A communication theory that
meets this test would explain a variety of
Transactional Perspective. This perspective stress- communication-related behaviors. A theory
es sharing. It sees communication as some-
36. Perhaps the most thorough discussion of this perspec-
thing in which all participants actively engage. tive can be found in Mortensen, Communication.
37. Evaluation discussed in greater depth in Bross, De-
is

34. Ibid., 61. sign pp. 161-77;Deutsch, “On Communication Models,”


35. Adapted from David M. Jabusch and Stephen Little- 362-63; Hall and Lindzey, Theories, chap. 1; Kaplan, Con-
john, Elements of Speech Communication (Boston: Houghton duct,pp. 312-22; Kuhn, Structure, pp. 100-101, 152-56;
Mifflin, 1981), pp. 12-24. Fisher’s ( Perspectives ) model is Mortensen, pp. 30-34.
somewhat different. 38. Achinstein, Laws; Cushman and Pearce, “Generality.”

23
INTRODUCTION

need not cover a large number of phenomena to has spawned much research and further theoriz-
be judged as good, however. Indeed, many fine ing about group communication. Even Bales’s
theories are narrow Such theories
in coverage. critics find his ideas useful as springboards to
possess the second type of generality. Although develop new concepts.
they deal with a narrow range of events, their
explanations of these events apply to a large Validity
number of situations. Such theories are said to Validity often implies truthfulness. In evaluat-
be powerful. ing theories, however, validity is better con-

Consider two contrasting examples. The ceived of as consistency, since the truthfulness
theory of Kenneth Burke, (discussed in Chapter of a theory may never be known. Two forms of
4) as a theory that covers a broad range of consistency can be evaluated in a theory. Inter-
phenomena, is a good example of the first type nal consistency is the degree to which the tenets

of generality. Many aspects of communication of a theory are consistent with the researcher’s
can be explained by the categories of Burke’s observations. External consistency is the degree
theory. His categories, however, rely on under- to which the theory’s claims are supported by
standing specific aspects of particular situations. other theories in the same domain. External
Although theory follows the principle of
this consistency also may be called concurrent or
generality in terms of breadth of coverage, it consensual validity. Milton Rokeach’s theory of
does little to explain specific behavior across attitudes, beliefs, and values is strong in both
situations. In contrast, information theory, as internal and external validity (see Chapter 8).
explained in Chapter 7, covers very few com- An intricate theory, it has many propositions,
munication-related themes, but its propositions forming a highly consistent web of claims. At
formeasuring the capacities of communication thesame time the theory receives much support
channels and the requirements of messages from other theories of cognition, attraction,
apply in a large number of transmission situ- self-concept, and attitude.
ations. As such, it is a good example of the
second kind of generality. Parsimony
The test of parsimony may be called logical
Appropriateness simplicity. If two theories are equally valid, the
Is the theory’s perspective appropriate for the theory with the simplest logical explanation is

theoretical questions the theory addresses? For said tobe the best. For example, although clas-
example, the behavioristic perspective is not information theory can be faulted on other
sical
appropriate for questions related to meaning. grounds, it is highly parsimonious. A few core
Some theories of meaning, which are indeed assumptions and premises lead logically to a
behavioristic (see Chapter 6), can be faulted for variety of claims about channels, signals, mes-
lackof appropriateness. Their epistemological sages, and transmission.
assumptions are inadequate for the domain they
purport to cover.
What Do We Know about Communication
Heuristic Value Theory?
Does the theory have potential for generating In summary, what can we say about communi-
research and additional theory? One of the pri- cation theory? Theory is an integral part of the
mary functions of theory is to help investigators process of inquiry, which also includes asking
decide what to observe and how to observe it. questions and making observations. These
For example, a major contribution of Bales’s three elements are strongly interconnected. In-
interaction process theory (Chapter 11) is that it quiry and theory vary depending on the type of

24
THEORY IN THE PROCESS OF INQUIRY

scholarship with which they are associated. Sci- tology, and perspective. Two general epis-
entific scholarship stresses objectivity. Human- temological positions are apparent in commu-
istic scholarship stresses subjectivity. Social sci- nication literature. World View I is basically
ence attempts to understand the human being as scientific in orientation, stressing theways in
an object of study; it includes elements of both which knowledge about communication can be
science and humanities. The chief problem of “received.” World View II is basically humanis-
social science inquiry is the degree to which tic, emphasizing the ways in which individuals

scientific methods are appropriate for revealing create knowledge for personal and social use.
human behavior. The two basic ontological positions in commu-
What is a theory? We know that a theory is nication are the actional and nonactional. Ac-
constructed by a human observer. A theory is tional theories stress humans as choice-making
always abstract and always leaves something beings; nonactional theories present people as
out of its observations. Theories function to passive and reactive. Four perspectives are ap-
organize and summarize knowledge, to focus parent in communication theory: (1) the be-
observation, to clarify what is seen, and to pro- havioristic perspective, which focuses on
vide methods for observation. They also help to stimulus and response; (2) the transmissional
predict, to generate research, to communicate perspective, which stresses linear sending and
ideas, and to control. Theories are not immuta- receiving of messages; (3) the interactional
ble: Because of research, theories change and perspective, which includes feedback and
grow by intension, extension, and revolution. mutual effect as central concepts; and (4) the
Theories are based on concepts and explana- transactional perspective, which centers on
tions. Concepts are groups of observations shared meaning.
sharing common elements and a common As you proceed through this book, keep in
name. Explanations point out the relationships mind the basic criteria for judging theories:
among concepts, relying on causal, practical, or scope or generality, appropriateness or suitabil-
logical necessity. Theories can be compared ac- ity, heuristic value or research-generating abili-
cording to their levels of generality and ty, validity or consistency, and parsimony or
methods of explanation. we begin
logical simplicity. In the next chapter,
Philosophical issues in the study of commu- our survey of theories by examining system
nication are reflected in metatheory. Meta- theory and cybernetics.
theory deals with issues of epistemology, on-

25
PART

n
GENERAL THEORIES

Chapter 3
General System Theory and Cybernetics

Chapter 4
Symbolic Interactionism and Rules Theory
.

CHAPTER

General

3 System Theory
and Cybernetics

1 his book is organized around three broad One of the most common distinctions is be-
domains of communication theory: general tween closed and open systems. 2 A closed system
theories, thematic theories, and contextual isone that has no interchange with its environ-
theories. Part II covers three general theoretical ment. It moves toward progressive internal
approaches that attempt to capture the commu- chaos (entropy), disintegration, and death. The
nication process as a whole. This chapter deals closed-system model most often applies to
with system theory and the next chapter dis- physical systems, which do not have life-
cusses symbolic interactionism and rules theory. sustaining qualities. An open system is one that
System “theory” is more a perspective or receives matter and energy from its environ-
general approach than a theory per se. It pro- ment and passes matter and energy to its envi-
vides a way of looking at the world that can ronment. The open system is oriented toward
help us better understand communication. 1 The life and growth. Biological, psychological, and
system approach is discussed in the domain of social systems follow an open model. General
general theory because it is especially useful in system theory deals with systems primarily
capturing the general nature of the communica- from this open perspective. When we speak of
tion process. It is useful in narrowerdomains as systems in this chapter, we are concerned only
well, such as information theory, which is dis- with the open model.
cussed as a theme ofits own in Chapter 7. From the simplest perspective a system can
Nearly every chapter that follows includes be said to consist of four things. 3 The first is
theories that use system concepts. Interperson- objects. The objects are the parts, elements, or
al, group, and organizational settings are espe- members of the set. These objects may be phys-
cially well served by system theory. ical or abstract or both, depending on the nature
In this chapter we will take a brief look at the of the system. Second, a system consists of
system concept, with particular focus on gen- attributes, or the qualities or properties of the
eral system theory and cybernetics. The latter
system and its objects. Third, a system must
portion of the chapter outlines some system possess internal relationships among its objects.
qualities of communication. Other system- This characteristic is a crucial defining quality
oriented theories are presented in upcoming
chapters.
“The Systems Perspective as a Theoretical Basis for the
Study of Human Communication,” Communication Quar-
terly 25 (1977): 19-29.
Fundamental System Concepts 2. A. D. Hall and R. E. Fagen, “Definition of System,” in
Modem Systems Research for the Behavioral Scientist ed. Wal-
,

ter Buckley (Chicago: Aldine, 1968),


What pp. 81-92; Anatol
Is a System? Rapoport, “Foreword,” in Hall and Fagen, “Definition,”
A system is of objects or entities that
a set pp. xiii— xxv. For an excellent short description of open
interrelate with one another to form a whole. versus closed systems, see Ludwig von Bertalanffy, General
System Theory: Foundations, Development, Applications (New
1 For excellent discussions of general system theory York: Braziller, 1968).
(GST) and other systems approaches, see Peter Monge, 3. Hall and Fagen, “Definition.”

29
GENERAL THEORIES

of systems and a primary theme in this chapter. inone part of the system will produce changes
A relationship between objects implies a mutual throughout the system.
4 The idea of interdependence is easily illus-
effect (interdependence) and constraint This .

idea will be elaborated later. Fourth, systems trated in a family situation. If a family is a

also possess an environment. They do not ex- system of interacting individuals, each member
ist in a vacuum but are affected by their sur- is constrained by the actions of the other mem-

roundings. bers. While each person has freedom, the mem-

The advocates of general system theory bers are also more or less dependent on one
maintain that biological, psychological, and so- another.The behaviors in a family are not inde-
cial systems possess certain common qualities. pendent, free, or random, they are patterned
In fundamental ways these signposts define the and structured. What one family member does
system concept. These qualities are not mutu- or says follows from or leads to an action of
ally exclusive; they obviously overlap and to a another.
large degree help to define one another.
Hierarchy.One of the most important qualities
Wholeness. A system by definition constitutes a of a system is hierarchy 6 This principle is the
.

unique whole 5
. Part and parcel of the system theme of Arthur Koestler’s The Ghost in the
concept is the attitude of holistic thinking. In Machine, as reflected in the following excerpt:
order to understand this idea, examine for a There were once two Swiss watchmakers named
moment the opposite view physical summa- — Bios and Mekhos, who made very fine and expensive
tivity. In the summative model the whole is watches. Their names may sound a little strange, but
merely a collection with no unique qualities of their fathers had a smattering of Greek and were fond
of riddles. Although their watches were in equal
its own, like a box of stones. But in a system
demand, Bios prospered, while Mekhos just strug-
the whole is an integration of parts.
gled along; in the end he had to close his shop and
take a job as a mechanic with Bios. The people in the
Interdependence. The reason we must view a town
6. argued for a long time over the reasons for this
system as a whole is that its parts interrelate and development and each had a different theory to offer,
until the true explanation leaked out and proved to be
affect one another. Elements A and B may be
both simple and surprising.
separate when viewed apart from the system,
The watches they made consisted of about one
but in combination a mutual interaction is pres- thousand parts each, but the two rivals had used
ent between them, the result of which is differ- different methods to put them together. Mekhos had

ent from each element individually. The parts —


assembled his watches bit by bit rather like making
a mosaic floor out of small coloured stones. Thus
of a system are correlated, and the correlation
each time when he was disturbed in his work and had
can be thought of as a constraint. An object,
to put down a partly assembled watch, it fell to
person, concept, or other part of a system is pieces and he had to start again from scratch.
always constrained by its interdependence with Bios, on the other hand, had designed a method
other parts. In a summative model this interde- of making watches by constructing, for a start, sub-
assemblies of about ten components, each of which
pendent relationship does not exist. Instead,
held together as an independent unit. Ten of these
parts are conceived of as independent elements. sub-assemblies could then be fitted together into a
(Dependence-independence actually should be
thought of as a continuum, with various parts For excellent discussions of hierarchy, see Donna Wil-
in the system having differing degrees of free- son, “Forms of Hierarchy: A Selected Bibliography,” Gen-
dom.) As a result of interdependence, a change eral Systems 14 (1969): 3-15; Arthur Koestler, The Ghost in
the Machine (New York: Macmillan, 1967); W. Ross Ashby,
4. Walter Buckley, “Society as a Complex Adaptive Sys- “Principles of the Self-Organizing System,” in Principles of
tem,” in Buckley, Modem Systems Research, pp. 490-513. Self-Organization, ed. Heinz von Foerster and George Zopf
5. Rapoport, “Foreword”; Hall and Fagen, “Definition.” (New York: Pergamon Press, 1962), pp. 255-78.

30
GENERAL SYSTEM THEORY AND CYBERNETICS

sub-system of a higher order; and ten of these sub- contained whole; the face turned upward to-
systems constituted the whole watch. . . .
ward the apex, that of a dependent part. One is
Now it is easy to show mathematically that if a
the face of the master, the other the face of the
watch consists of a thousand bits, and if some distur-
bance occurs at an average of once in every hundred servant.” 8
assembling operations —
then Mekhos will take four Koester’s coined term for a system (hierar-
thousand times longer to assemble a watch than chy) is holon. The individual in society is a
Bios. Instead of a single day, it will take him eleven
social holon, consisting hierarchically of cells,
years. And if for mechanical bits, we substitute
organs, organ systems, and body and is part of
amino acids, protein molecules, organelles, and so
on, the ratio between time-scales becomes astronom- the larger group, culture, and society.
ical; some calculations indicate that the whole life-
time of the earth would be insufficient for producing
Self-regulation and Control. System theory pro-

even an amoeba unless he [Mekhos] becomes con-
vides a teleological perspective. Teleology, as
verted to Bios’method and proceeds hierarchically,
from simple sub-assemblies to more complex ones 7 described in Chapter 2, is the philosophy that
.

attributes happenings to future goals or pur-


Every complex system consists of a number of poses. Systems are most often viewed as goal-
subsystems. The system therefore is a series of oriented organisms. They governed by their
are
levels of increasing complexity. The idea of sys- purposes. What happens system is con-
in a
tem hierarchy can be illustrated by the “tree” trolled by its aims, and the system regulates its
model in Figure 3.1. behavior to achieve the aims. The parts of a
Koestler describes system hierarchy as the system must behave in accordance with its rules
Janus effect: “The members of a hierarchy, like or canons and must adapt to the environment
the Roman god Janus, all have two faces on the basis of feedback. This aspect of system
looking in opposite directions: the face turned functioning, known as cybernetics, will be taken
toward the subordinate levels is that of a self- up in detail in the next section.

7. Koestler, Ghost, 45-47. 8. Ibid., p. 48.

Figure 3.1. System hierarchy.

31
.

GENERAL THEORIES

Interchange with the Environment. An open sys- Fagen describe three kinds of structured change
tem by definition interacts with its environ- that might occur over time in the process of

ment. It takes in and lets out matter and energy. morphogenesis 13 The first is progressive segrega-
.

Thus systems are said to have inputs and outputs tion a process of movement from wholeness
,

This concept follows logically from the ideas of toward summativity, movement along the con-
hierarchy and cybernetics. A particular element tinuum of dependence-independence toward
can be included in the system or the environ- division among subsystems. This kind of
ment depending on the focus of the observer. change may lead to greater differentiation of
An element in the environment will affect the subsystem function. Progressive systemization is
elements of the system in the same way that a the opposite —
movement toward interdepen-
suprasystem would affect its subsystems and dence among parts. Both kinds of changes can
vice versa. The system affects the environment; occur in the same system simultaneously or
the environment affects the system .
9 sequentially. Progressive centralization (or decen-
tralization) may also occur in systems and may
Balance. Another quality of systems is balance take place simultaneously with segregation or

or homeostasis .
10
This quality is related to self- systemization. In progressive centralization a
regulation and system organization. In order to particular subsystem tends to become more and
avoid the fate of a closed system —
increasing more important in guiding the system; with

entropy — the open system must maintain itself, other subsystems thus becoming more depen-
stay in balance, hold its own. It must work to dent on this leading part. This quality of adapta-
do this. One of the primary tasks of many bility and change points up the dynamic nature

interacting subsystems is that of maintaining of the complex, open system.


balance in the system. The system must be cap-
able of sensing deviations from the “assigned” Equifinality. Finality is the goal achievement

norm and of correcting these tendencies. The or task accomplishment of a system. Equifinal-
section
9. on cybernetics covers this aspect of sys- ity means that a particular final state may be
tems in detail. accomplished in many ways and from many
different starting points. The adaptable system,
Change and Adaptability. Because it exists in a which has a final state as a goal, can achieve that
changing environment, the system must be final state in a variety of different environ-

adaptable 11 This adaptability often is accom-


.
mental conditions. Inputs never equal outputs.
plished by the homeostatic quality described The system is capable of processing inputted
14
above. In complex systems such as sociocul- data in different ways to produce its output In .

tural systems, adaptability involves more than classroom instruction, for example, an instruc-
homeostasis. Advanced systems must be able to tor may relate the same basic information (in-

change and reorder themselves on the basis of puts) in different ways to achieve the same
environmental pressures. Homeostasis desig- results (outputs).

nates the equilibrium maintenance feature of answer to our initial question, “What is a
In
systems; morphogenesis designates the struc- system?” we can now answer: An open system
ture-changing aspect 12 A. D. Hall and R. E.
. is a set of objects with attributes that interrelate

“The Open System in Personality in an environment. The system possesses qual-


Gordon Allport,
Theory,” in Buckley, Modem Systems Research, pp. 343-50; ities of wholeness, interdependence, hierarchy,
Hall and Fagen, “Definition.” self-regulation, environmental interchange,
10. Ashby, “Principles.” equilibrium, adaptability, and equifinality.
11. Hall and Fagen, “Definition,” Buckley, “Adaptive Sys-
tem”; Koestler, Ghost. 13. Hall and Fagen, “Definition,” pp. 85-86.

Buckley, “Adaptive System,” p. 493. 14. Bertalanffy, General System Theory, chap. 3.
12.

32
GENERAL SYSTEM THEORY AND CYBERNETICS

What Is Cybernetics? concerning these problems, and by the ab-


literature
Cybernetics is the study of regulation and con- sence of any common terminology, or even a single
trol insystems, with emphasis on the nature of name We have decided to call the
for the field. ...

feedback. 15 An important feature of open sys-


entire fieldof control and communication theory,
whether in the machine or in the animal, by the name
tems, as we have just seen, is that they are
of Cybernetics. 18
regulated, that they seek goals, and that they
therefore are purposeful. This special area of Obviously, feedback mechanisms specifi-
system functioning callyand behavior in general vary in their de-
is claimed as the territory of
cybernetics.
gree of control complexity. In an early article
Rosenbleuth, Wiener, and Bigelow provide a
Cybernetics deals with the ways systems
(along with their subsystems) use their own
model of this increasing complexity. 19 In the
output to gauge effect and make necessary ad- model (Figure 3.2) the most basic distinction is
justments. The between active and passive behavior. An orga-
simplest cybernetic device con-
sists of a sensor, nism displaying active behavior is the primary
a comparator, and an activator.
The sensor provides feedback source of the energy involved in the behavior.
to the com-
parator, which in turn
The active organism itself provides the stim-
provides guidance to the
ulus. In passive behavior the organism receives
activator. The activator in turn produces an
inputs or stimuli. Passive behavior is primarily
output that affects the environment in some
way. This fundamental process of output- a response to outside energy. Within the cate-

feedback-adjustment is the central theme of gory of active behavior, a further division can
cybernetics.
be made between purposeless, or random, and

The field of cybernetics was developed by purposeful behavior. Purposeful behavior is di-
rected toward an objective or aim; random be-
Norbert Wiener and his associates. 16 Wiener’s
primary discipline was mathematics, but he havior is not. As we have indicated, cybernetics

considers cybernetics to be an interdisciplinary


isinterested in purposeful levels of behavior in
systems. All purposeful behavior requires feed-
area: “The most fruitful areas for the growth of
back; the nature of the feedback may be more or
the sciences were those which had been ne-
glected as a no-man’s land between the various
less complex, as indicated in the model.
established fields.” 17 Wiener’s early work on Purposeful behavior may be further subdi-
vided into complex and simple feedback mech-
computers and neurology led him to see pat-
anisms. 20 In the simple condition the organism
terns of control behavior, which he believes to
uses feedback in a restricted sense but does not
be significant. Wiener discusses the beginnings
of cybernetics modify or adjust behavior in the course of act-
in the early 1940s:
ing. Complex systems, however, use positive
[We] had already become aware of the essential unity and negative feedbacks to adjust and adapt dur-
of the set of problems centering about communica-
ing the action itself. This dynamic level will be
tion, control, and statistical mechanics, whether
in
the machine or in living tissue. On the other hand we
explained in more detail in the discussion of
were seriously hampered by the lack of unity of the feedback loops and networks. Further, complex
systems may be predictive or nonpredictive. Pre-
15. Rollo Handy and Paul Kurtz, “A Current Appraisal of
the Behavioral Sciences: Communication Theory,” Ameri- dictive behavior is based on anticipated position
can Behavioral Scientist 7, no. 6 (1964). Supplementary in- 18. Ibid., p. 11.
formation is found in Gordon Pask, An Approach to
19. Arturo Rosenblueth, Norbert Wiener, and Julian
Cybernetics (New York: Harper & Row, 1961); G. T. Guil- Bigelow, “Behavior, Purpose, and Teleology,” Philosophy
baud, What Is Cybernetics? (New York: Grove Press, 1959).
of Science 10 (1943): 18-24 (reprinted in Buckley, Modern
16. For a historical review see Norbert Wiener, Cybernetics
Systems Research, pp. 221—25).
or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine
20. I have changed the original nomenclature here to avoid
(New York: MIT Press, 1961), pp. 1-29.
confusion and inconsistency with previous word usage in
17. Ibid., p. 2.
this chapter. The authors’ intent is unchanged.

33
.

GENERAL THEORIES

The next model illustrates a simple switch such


or response rather than actual position or re-
good hunter knows, you do not as a thermostat or circuit breaker. The third
sponse. As a
aim running animal; rather, you antici-
at the
model illustrates selection control in which A
pate where it will be when the bullet reaches it. chooses a channel or position on the basis of
more or less accurate, criteria. In a guided missile, for example, the
Finally, prediction itself is
as indicated by the final distinction in the guidance system may specify turning in one
direction or another, based on feedback from
model, orders of prediction
A simple model of feedback is represented in the target.

Figure 3.3. As previously indicated a part of the The process of system regulation through
output from the system is returned as feedback, feedback involves several facets. The regulated

and certain internal controls or adjustments take system must possess certain control guidelines.
place. In Figure 3.3, B is an energy source di- The control center must “know” what envi-
recting outputs to C. A is the control mechan- ronmental conditions to respond to and how. It
ism responding to feedback from C. Depending must possess a sensitivity to aspects of the envi-
ronment that are critical to its goalseeking. 22
on the complexity of the system and the nature
of the directedness of output, the control Feedback basically may be classified as posi-
mechanism itself is restricted in the kind of tive or negative, depending on the way the

control it can exert. Figure 3.4 illustrates some system responds to it.*Negative feedback is an
possibilities.
21 error message indicating deviation; the system

The first model in Figure 3.4 illustrates a adjusts by reducing or counteracting the devia-

signal itself is modified (for


where the tion. Negative feedback is the most important
situation
example, amplified) by A. The high-pitched type of feedback in homeostasis, for the princi-
squeal in a loudspeaker system is an example.
22. Walter Buckley, Sociology and Modem Systems Theory
(Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1967), pp. 52—53.
21. Adapted from Guilbaud, Cybernetics.

First, second,
Predictive > etc., orders
of prediction
Complex i

Purposeful * Nonpredictive

Active -< Simple


Nonpurposeful
Behavior * (random)

Passive

From Philosophy of Science, “Behavior, Purpose, and Teleology,” by Arturo Rosenblueth, Norbert Weiner, and Julian
Bigelow. Copyright © 1943 by The Williams & Wilkins Co. Reprinted by permission of the publisher.
Figure 3.2. Model of cybernetic complexity.

34
GENERAL SYSTEM THEORY AND CYBERNETICS

pie of deviation-counteracting is the focus of that subsystems respond to one another in


traditional cybernetics .• A system can also re- mutual interdependence. As a result the concept
spond by amplifying or maintaining deviation. of feedback is expanded for complex systems.
When this happens, the feedback is said to be In a complex system a series of feedback loops
positive. This kind of interaction is important exist within and among subsystems, forming
in morphogenesis, or system growth (for networks. At some points the feedback loops
example, learning). The inflationary cycle in are positive, at other points negative. But al-
economics is an example of positive feedback ways, consistent with the basic feedback princi-
effects. The growth of a city is another. In ple, system output returns as feedback input.
communication when a speaker receives nega- No matter how complicated the network, one
tive feedback from a listener, the speaker knows always comes back to the beginning.
he or she is missing the aim. Negative feedback
from a fellow communicator usually calls for a
shift in strategy to close the gap between how
the speaker wants the listener to respond and
the actual response. Whether in mechanical or
human systems, the response to negative feed-
back is “Cut back, slow down, discontinue.”

Response to positive feedback is “Increase,


maintain, keep going.”
Our discussion of feedback thus far has given
the impression that a system responds as a unit
to feedback from the outside. This impression
is realistic only for the simplest systems such as
a heater-thermostat arrangement. of As a series
hierarchically ordered subsystems, advanced
systems are more complex. A subsystem at any
moment may be part of the larger system or
part of the environment 23 Further, we know
.

23. Magoroh Maruyama, “The Second Cybernetics:


Deviation-Amplifying Mutual Causal Processes,” American
Scientist 51 (1963): 164-79 (reprinted in Buckley, Modem

Systems Research, pp. 304-138.

Selector

Figure 3.3. A simple feedback model. Figure 3.4. Illustrative control models.

35
.

GENERAL THEORIES

A simple illustration of a system network is cybernetics is a central concept in system


24 In theory. Feedback and control relate inextricably
the example of urbanization in Figure 3. 5.
this figure the pluses represent positive relation- to the essence of open-system theory. The
ships, the minuses negative relationships. In a cybernetic elements of control, regulation, and
positive relationship the variables increase or feedback provide a concrete explanation of such
decrease together. In a negative relationship as system qualities as wholeness (a portion of the
one increases, the other decreases. For example, system cannot be understood apart from its
as the number of people in the city (P) increases, loops between subsystems); interdependence
modernization also increases. With increased (subsystems are constrained by mutual feed-
modernization comes increased migration, backs); self-regulation (a system maintams bal-
which in turn further increases the population. ance and changes by responding appropriately
This relationship is an example of a positive to positive and negative feedbacks); interchange
feedback loop. A negative relationship is illus- with the environment (inputs and outputs can be
trated by the effect of the number of diseases of feedback loops).
largely explained in terms
(D) on population (P) Although these cybernetic concepts origi-
As our discussion up to this point indicates, nated in the fields of physiology, engineering,
24. Ibid. and mathematics, they have tremendous impli-

N umber of people +

From American Scientist, “The Second Cybernetics,” by Magorah Maruyama. Copyright© 1963. Reprinted by permission
of the publisher.

Figure 3.5. A simplified feedback network.

36
,

GENERAL SYSTEM THEORY AND CYBERNETICS

cations in the behavioral and social sciences as elements, not on the type of necessity em-
well. 25 As Wiener states, “This principle [feed- ployed. This idea is controversial, as we shall
back] in control applies not merely to the see in the criticism section of this chapter.
Panama locks, but to states, armies, and indi-
vidual human beings. . . . This matter of social
feedback is of very great sociological and an- ’’•^General Systems Theory as an Approach
thropological interest.” 26 to Knowledge
Principles of cybernetics lead to
one of the General system theory (GST) is a broad, mul-
purported advantages of system theory; tidisciplinary approach to knowledge based on
namely, that it is broad enough to allow various the system concept. GST was developed
alternative explanatory logics. 27 As Peter primarily by Ludwig von Bertalanffy, a well-
Monge “Systems theory provides an
puts it, known biologist 29 Basically, postulates GST
explanatory framework that is capable of in- concepts governing systems in general and
corporating both behavioral and action posi- applies these generaliations to numerous
tions. 28 He believes this incorporation is so phenomena. 30 Here how
is Bertalanffy de-
because the basic teleology of systems, made scribes GST:
possible by their cybernetic functions, may be
It seems legitimate to ask for a theory, not of systems
of two types.
of a more or less special kind, but of universal princi-
First, the system may achieve an end or goal ples applying to systems in general.
by responding automatically to negative feed- In this way we postulate a new discipline called
back, much as a heater responds to a thermo- General System Theory. . . .

stat. This off-on behavior displays causal neces- General System Theory, therefore, is a general
science of “wholeness” which up till now was con-
sity and follows nonactional ontology. Second,
sidered a vague, hazy, and semi-metaphysical con-
some systems or subsystems may behave with
cept. In elaborate form it would be a logico-
intention, actively choosing one of many possi- mathematical discipline, in itself purely formal but
ble courses of action to arrive at an end state. applicable to the various empirical sciences. 31
Human social systems, in contrast to physical
systems such as the thermostat or guided mis-
Bertalanffy first conceived of GST in the
early 1920s. 32
At that time he began to think
are viewed as purposeful in this way. This
sile,
about biology in organismic terms, but this
kind of explanation employs practical necessity
proved an unpopular approach. Not until after
and is highly actional in ontology. Hence, pur-
World War II did he feel comfortable about
pose ,may be explained by two alternative
publicizing his system ideas. After the war he
logics, and system theory is believed to ac-
promoted his view primarily through lectures
commodate either of these.
and symposia. Bertalanffy describes the criti-
Therefore what distinguishes system theory
cism he faced:
from other approaches is its high level of gener-
ality and emphasis on interrelationships among The proposal of system theory was received in-

25. See Karl Deutsch, “Toward a Cybernetic Model of


credulously as fantastic or presumptuous. Either it —
Man and Society,” in Buckley, Modem Systems Research pp. 29. For biographical and bibliographical sketch of Ber-
a
387-400. talanffy, see“Ludwig von Bertalanffy,” General Systems 17
26. Norbert Wiener, The Human Use of Human Beings: (1972): 219-28.
Cybernetics and Society (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1954), 30. For an example of formalized GST, see Masanao Toda
pp. 49-50. and Emir H. Shuford, “Logic of Systems: Introduction to a
27. For a listing of these logics, see Peter Monge, “The Formal Theory of Structure,” General Systems 10 (1965):
Systems Perspective as a Theoretical Basis for the Study of 3-27.
Human Communication,” Communication Quarterly 25 31. Bertalanffy, General System Theory, pp. 32-37.
(1977): 19-29.
32. For a brief survey of the history of GST, see Ber-
28. Ibid., p. 28. talanffy, General System Theory, chap. 1.

37
.

GENERAL THEORIES


was argued it was trivial because the so-called they are taken seriously and as amenable to
isomorphisms were merely examples of the truism scientific analysis.” 35
that mathematics can be applied to all sorts of things A
primary aim of GST is to integrate accu-
... or it was false and misleading because superficial
mulated knowledge into a clear and realistic
analogies camouflage actual difference.
. . . Or, . . .

again, it was philosophically and methodologically framework. General system theorists attempt
unsound because the alleged ‘irreducibility’ of higher to do this through the principle of isomorphism
levels to lower ones tended to impede analytical An isomorphism is a structural similarity be-
research 33 .

tween two models or between an abstract


Bertalanffy persisted, however, and in 1954 model and an observed phenomenon. Two sys-
the Society for General Systems Research was tems that are widely different are said to be
born. 34 Like most other movements, GST is
isomorphic if their behaviors are governed by
not a singular theory developed by one person. the same principles. A generalized model such

WhileGST itself was promoted by Bertalanffy, as GST attempts to elucidate these principles.
work in other fields.
others were doing similar Following is an example:
The two most important cognate areas, which
An exponential law of growth applies to certain cells,
were developed almost simultaneously with to populations of bacteria, of animals or humans, and
Bertalanffy’s work, were Norbert Wiener’s to progress of scientific research measured by the
cybernetics and Shannon and Weaver’s infor- number of publications in genetics or science in gen-
mation theory. In fact, these three approaches eral. The entities in question . . . are completely
different. . . . Nevertheless, the mathematical law is
so completely support one another that they are 36
the same .

like tributaries of the same river. Since informa-


tion theory is a narrower approach, we will The need
for greater integration of knowl-
consider it separately in Part III. Keep in mind, edge in many areas such as communication is
though, that it is part of the broader GST Kenneth Boulding provides a compel-
critical.

perspective. Cybernetics, on the other hand, is ling argument for the use of GST as an inte-
clearly a macro approach and is so closely tied grator of knowledge:
to system theory that we must consider it in this
chapter.
The need for general systems theory is accentu-
ated by the present sociological situation in science.
Another closely allied area is systems sci-
. . . The
crisis of science today arises because of the
ence. The systems sciences are applied tech- increasing difficulty of such profitable talk among
nological fields, including systems engineering scientists as a whole. Specialization has outrun Trade.
(development of people-machine systems), Communication between the disciplines becomes in-
creasingly difficult, and the Republic of Learning is
operations research (control of personnel, ma-
breaking up into isolated subcultures with only tenu-
chines, materials, and money), and human en-
ous lines of communication between them. One . . .

gineering (work-efficiency development). Ber- wonders sometimes if science will grind to a stop in
talanffy took these fields to be evidence for the an assemblage of walled-in hermits, each mumbling
viability of his more general perspective: “Con- to himself words in a private language that only he

cepts like wholeness, organization, teleology,


can understand. The spread of specialized deaf-
. . .

ness means that someone who ought to know some-


and directiveness appeared in mechanistic sci-
thing that someone else knows isn’t able to find it out
ence to be unscientific or metaphysical. Today for lack of generalized ears.
It is one of the main objectives of General System
33. Ibid., p. 14. For a thorough review of GST criticism
and rebuttal, see Ludwig Bertalanffy, “General System Theory to develop these generalized ears 37 .

Theory —
A Critical Review,” General Systems 12 (1962):
I- 20 (reprinted in Buckley, Modem Systems Research, pp. 35. Bertalanffy, “A Critical Review,” p. 14.

II- 30). 36. Bertalanffy, General System Theory, p. 33.

34. The Society’s yearbook, General Systems, has been pub- 37. Kenneth Boulding, “General Systems Theory —The
lished annually since 1956. It is an excellent compilation of Skeleton of Science,” in Buckley, Modem Systems Research,
theoretical and applied work in GST. p. 4.

38
GENERAL SYSTEM THEORY AND CYBERNETICS

individual, are not considered to be basic in


Communication as a System person-to-person contact. Rather, external acts
System theory and cybernetics are abstract are the sole vehicles for linking individuals in
theories. In otherwords, they provide a set of the communication system. Fisher refers to this
logics about things in general without specify-
principle as externalization. He does not mean
ing what those things are. They do not become to imply that internal variables such as at-
communication theories until someone applies titudes, values, and emotions are not impor-
them to human interaction per se. Many tant. In large measure they shape how an indi-
have done precisely that. In this book
theorists vidual behaves. From a system point of view,
several system theoriesof communication are however, the behavior itself is what counts.
presented. Most of these, however, deal with Consider for example, an assembly line worker
particular communication settings. For exam- in a factory. This worker has many feelings,
ple, Chapter 9 on interpersonal communi-
in
thoughts, emotions, attitudes, and values that
cation, the work of the Palo Alto group is are important in determining her behavior.
discussed. Their theory, based on system prin- Coworkers and superiors, however, have no
ciples, lays the groundwork for much of our way to know what is happening inside this
thinking on communication in relationships. In person except by observing her actual be-
Chapter 11 on group and organizational com- haviors. Through observation other workers
munication, two important system approaches will assign meaning to some of what she does
are discussed. Fisher’s ideas on group commu- and says.
nication deal with the ways that interaction in The second focus of the pragmatic perspec-
groups follows system patterns and phases. The tive, according to Fisher, is sequential interaction
approach of Farace, Monge, and Russell deals Although individual behavior is the
patterns.
with organizations as systems of communica- most basic unit of analysis, observing individ-
tion networks. Clearly, system theory has had a ual behavior is not sufficient for understanding
major impact on the field of communication. the communication system. Instead, one must
One of the strongest advocates for the sys- consider sets of acts that are linked to one an-
tem approach to communication is B. Aubrey other in the stream of interaction. Two
Fisher. In his book Perspectives on Human Com- methods of analyzing behavior in communica-
munication he applies system concepts to com- tion situations have been employed. 39 The first
munication in what he calls the pragmatic is the human system model. Here one observes
perspective. 38 His work, summarized in this individual behaviors in an attempt to reveal an
section, constitutes a general system view of understanding of the person as a subsystem of
communication. From his pragmatic perspec- communication. Fisher prefers the second
tive Fisher emphasizes four aspects of commu- method, the interact system model, which takes
nication: individual behavior, sequential as the basic unitof analysis the interact, a set of
interaction patterns, content and relationship linked acts. Analysis of this kind is necessary for
dimensions, and the social system. understanding actual communication. The
Behavior is important as the smallest unit of of acts, is one person’s behavior
interact, or set
analysis in the communication system. Individ- followed by the behavior of another. Such be-
uals communicate by behaving in ways that havior usually is verbal; that is, one individual’s
have potential for eliciting meanings in others. statement is followed by another individual’s
Since communicators have no direct access to statement. Nonverbal acts also count. A double
the thoughts, feelings, and meanings of other interact is a set of three statements, a triple
people, these variables, which are internal in the
39. B.Aubrey Fisher and Leonard C. Hawes, “An Interact
38. B. Aubrey Fisher, Perspectives on Human Communication System Model: Generating a Grounded Theory of Small
(New York: Macmillan, 1978). Groups,” Quarterly Journal of Speech 57 444-53.
(1971):

39
.

GENERAL THEORIES

interact a set of four. Theoretically we could freedom to allow for adjustment or adaptation
look at any number of statements in a row as a to changing circumstances.
unit of analysis, although in practice single and Content and relationship dimensions, the third
double interacts generally are all a human ob- part of Fisher’s application, comes from the
server can process. early work of relationship Chap-
theorists (see

Fisher emphasizes two related elements of ter 9). Any communication two dimen-
act has

interaction analysis. The first is the idea of sions. The first relays information content; the
punctuation, the second is stochastic probability. second provides information about the relation-
Punctuation of interactional sequences is the ship between the participants. The latter kind of
natural grouping of interacts. Interaction is not information tells the participants how to inter-

just a string of acts. Rather, acts cluster into pret the content message. So when our factory
groupings that help the observer make sense worker begins to tell a joke, she not only is

out of the communication event. For example, preparing the others to hear a funny story but
suppose that our hypothetical factory worker she is projecting her own friendliness. Her
often tells jokes to the people working around coworkers’ facial expressions say on the content
her. Whenever she says, “Have you heard the level, “We are tired of your jokes,” but on the
one about ...” the others grimace. Her intro- relationship level they may be saying, “Yes, go
duction to the joke is followed by nonverbal ahead, we like to joke around.” This intriguing
facial expressions from the others that are taken element of interpersonal communication is dis-

to mean, “Oh, no, not another corny joke.” cussed in greater detail in Chapter 9.
These two acts are paired because they are a The final element in Fisher’s approach is the
meaningful whole; they constitute a natural social system That communication involves in-
interact in this situation. teraction among people should be amply clear
Stochastic probability refers to the patterned by this point. Communication is therefore so-
nature of interaction. Remember that one prin- cial.Although machines can assist in the com-
ciple of systems is that parts of a system are munication system, the human element is its
correlated or constrained in some way or an- essence. Further, a social system relies on in-
other. Events in a system are not random, but teraction between individuals; it does not rely
patterned. Thus the system has structure. One on their internal states. Thus our factory
of the ways of conceptualizing the patterned worker herself is not a communication system
nature of the communication system is to note in Fisher’s eyes. But when she interacts with

the ways in which acts are connected. A given others, a social system is created.
act has a particular probability of following an- Further, the social system can be viewed
other act. Or, to flip the coin, an antecedent act hierarchically. In other words, the system can
will be followed by a subsequent act with pre- be understood in terms of at least three levels:
dictable frequency. This antecedent-subsequent subsystem, system, and suprasystem. In Fish-
link is known as a stochastic relationship. In a er’s terms the subsystem is the individual

system certain acts are linked with greater fre- human being, the system is interacting group,
quency than others. In the preceding example and the suprasystem is the larger organization
the coworkers’ grimaces almost always follow or social context in which the interaction takes
the introduction of a joke. The communication place. The system can also be viewed in terms
system in the factory is structured or patterned of a hierarchy of repetitive interactions. Acts are
by a large and complex set of interacts that vary part of interacts; interacts proceed in phases
in their degree of predictability. Ideally the over time; and phases are repeated in cycles. For
communication system has enough structure or example, the factory workers proceed through
predictability to remain stable but sufficient various phases of interaction. When a new

40
GENERAL SYSTEM THEORY AND CYBERNETICS

worker joins the group, for instance, the group “General System Theory manifests a funda-
may go through a phase of friendly acceptance, mental ambiguity in that at points it seems to
followed by a checking-out phase. This period present a substantive perspective making
could be followed by a phase of testing the new specific theoretical claims and at other points to
employee, followed by the phase of full integra- present a general abstract language devoid of
tion into the work group. This series of phases specific theoretical substance for the unification
over time would be repeated in cycles as new of alternative theoretical views.” 41
employees entered the scene. The second issue relates to the first. Does the
theory’s openness provide flexibility of thought
or confusing equivocality? This concern relates
Criticism of System Theory to the criterion of theoretical appropriateness.
System theory has been attacked on several Detractors claim that the theory embodies what
fronts, although its supporters remain un- Delia calls “a fancy form of the fallacy of
daunted. 40 Six major issues have emerged: (1) equivocation.” In other words, by permitting a
Does the breadth and generality of system variety of substantive applications in different
theory provide the advantage of integration or theoretical domains, it cannot prevent incon-
the disadvantage of ambiguity? (2) Does the sistencies among these applications. Two
theory’s openness provide flexibility in applica- theories using a system framework may even
tion or confusing equivocality? (3) Is system contradict each other. Where, then, Delia asks,
theory merely a philosophical perspective, or isthe supposed unity brought about by system
does it provide useful explanation? (4) Has sys- theory? This problem is exacerbated by the fact
tem theory generated useful research? (5) Is the that system theories can employ various logics,
system paradigm an arbitrary convention, or which are not necessarily consistent with one
does it reflect reality in nature? (6) Does system another. 42 Supporters answer that this openness
theory help to simplify, or does it make things is one of the main advantages of system theory:
more complicated than they really are? It does not bias the researcher with an a priori

The first issue clearly relates to theoretical notion of what to expect. Consequently, it
scope. From the beginning supporters have promotes research that looks for things as they
claimed that system theory provides a common are without imposing arbitrary theoretical
vocabulary to integrate the sciences. It estab- categories 43
lishes useful logics that can be fruitfully applied The is also a matter of appropri-
third issue
to a broad range of phenomena. Others, how- ateness.Some critics question whether the sys-
40.
ever, claim that system theory merely confuses. tems approach is a theory at all, claiming that it
If it is everything, it is really nothing. If all has no explanatory power. While it gives us a
phenomena follow the same system principles, perspective or way of conceptualizing, it pro-
we have no basis for understanding anything vides little basis for knowing why things occur
apart from anything else. Along the same line, as they do. Fisher agrees:
some critics point out that system theory can-
not have its cake and eat it too. Either it must 41. Jesse Delia, “Alternative Perspectives for the Study of
remain a general framework without explaining
Human Communication: Critique and Response,” Commu-
nication Quarterly 25 (1977): 51. See also Edgan Tasch-
real-world events, or it must abandon general jan, “The Entropy of Complex Dynamic Systems,” Be-
integration in favor of making substantive havioral Science 19 (1975): 3.

claims. Jesse Delia expresses this concern: 42. Delia, “Alternative Perspectives,” pp. 51-52.

43. Wayne Beach, “Stocktaking Open-Systems Research


For arguments supporting system theory, see especially and Theory: A Critique and Proposals for Action” (Paper
Bertalanffy, “A Critical Review”; Buckley, Sociology, Fish- delivered at the meeting of the Western Speech Communi-
er, Perspectives' Monge, “Systems Perspective.” cation Association, Phoenix, Arizona, November 1977).

41
GENERAL THEORIES

These principles are quite abstract (that is to say, dilemma. If the theory attempts to describe
general). Consequently, they can be applied in nu- phenomena as they really are, it is invalid. It
merous ways by differing theorists with equally dif- posits similarities among events that are not
ferent results. In fact, system “theory” is probably a
really there. If, on the other hand, the theory
misnomer. ... In short, system theory is a loosely
organized and highly abstract set of principles, which provides merely a useful vocabulary for order-
serve to direct our thinking but which are subject to ing a complex world, attributed similarities
numerous interpretations. 44 among events are only semantic and are there-
fore useless for providing understanding of
System advocates probably would agree with
those events. As Delia points out: “[Events]
this assessment of general system theory but
have different referents; they require different
point out that any given substantive system
explanations; calling them the same thing . . .

theory could be highly explanatory.


does not make them the same.” 47 Bertalanffy
The fourth issue relates to system theory’s
calls this objection the “so what?” argument: If
heuristic value, questioning its ability to gener-
According to Donald Cushman,
ate research.
we find an analogy between two events, it is

meaningless. 48
“systems is which has produced
a perspective
The final system theory is par-
issue of
more staunch advocates than theoretical empir-
simony. Adherents claim that the world is so
icalresearch.” 45 Again, critics return to the ex-
complex that a sensible framework such as sys-
treme generality of the approach as the basis of
tem theory is necessary to sort out the elements
their criticism. They claim that the theory sim-
of world processes. Critics generally doubt that
ply does not suggest substantive questions for
events are that complex. They claim that sys-
investigation.
tem theory overcomplicates events that are es-
To the contrary advocates claim that the
sentially simple. Charles Berger states the case
fresh perspective provided by system theory
against overcomplication:
suggests new ways of looking at old problems
and thus is highly heuristic. Beach points out, In the behavioral sciences ... we may be the victims
for example, that a great deal of fruitful research of what I call irrelevant variety. Irrelevant variety is

followed Fisher and Hawes’s 1971 article on generated by the presence of attributes in a situation
which have do with the phenomenon we are
little to
small group systems. 46 Fisher himself has done
studying but which give the impression that what we
research on small group interaction. This work are studying is very complex. Merely because
. . .

is presented in Chapter 11. persons differ along a large number of physical,


The fifth issue relates to the validity of sys- psychological, and social dimensions, does not mean
tem theory. Critics question whether system that all of these differences will make a difference in
terms of the phenomena we are studying. ... It is
theory was developed to reflect what really
probably the case that relatively few variables ulti-
happens in nature or to represent a useful con- mately can account for most of the action. 49
vention for conceptualizing complex processes.
In fact, system advocates themselves differ in The criticism against system theory boils

their views of the function of the approach in down to two basic problems. First, system
this regard. Critics place system theory in a
47. Delia, “Alternative Perspectives,” p. 51.
44. Fisher, Perspectives, p. 196. See also Bertalanffy, “Criti- 48. Bertalanffy, “Critical Review.”
cal Review.”
49. Charles Berger, “The Covering Law Perspective as a
45. Donald Cushman, “The Rules Perspective as a Theo- Theoretical Basis for the Study of Human Communica-
retical Basis for the Study of Human Communication,” tion,” Communication Quarterly 75 (1977): 7-18. See also
Communication Quarterly 25 (1977): 30-45. Gerald R. Miller, “The Pervasiveness and Marvelous Com-
46. B. Aubrey Fisher and Leonard Hawes, “An Interact plexity of Human Communication: A Note of Skepticism”
System Model: Generating a Grounded Theory of Small (Keynote address delivered at the Fourth Annual Confer-
Group Decision-Making,” Quarterly Journal of Speech 58 ence in Communication, California State University,
(1971): 4430-53. See also Beach, “Stocktaking.” Fresno, May 1977). See also Beach, “Stocktaking.

42
GENERAL SYSTEM THEORY AND CYBERNETICS

theory is said to be so general as to be void of process nature of communication. The first of


theoretical value. Second, there is disagreement these is holism, which suggests that parts of the
and ambiguity about what the role of system communication process interrelate to form a
theory is or should be in communication in- whole that is not divisible into parts. System
quiry. This latter criticism is perhaps unfair, in theory states that to isolate any single part for
that system theory in the general sense is not study —which, ironically, we do all the
intended to represent the substance of particular time —
distorts the nature of the whole. The
objects of study. We should recognize system second major element of communication pro-
theory for what it is, a general approach to the cess is self-regulation, which is accomplished
world. Let the critics examine particular by feedback and adaptation. Third, communica-
theories of communication that have taken a tion is organized hierarchically. The principle of
system approach. The following chapters hierarchy states that whatever is observed is
summarize this second kind of criticism as ap- always part of a larger picture. Hierarchical or-
propriate. ganization has long been used to analyze com-
munication events, as we shall see repeatedly
throughout this text. Fourth, dynamism or
What Do We Know about Communication change is an important aspect of communica-
as a System? tion. Processual events move; they are not
In summary, system theory presents the most static. Any system, including a communication
directand complete discussion of communica- system, constantly works to maintain homeo-
tion from a general process point of view. Four stasis, but it also realizes morphogenesis or
key elements in system theory highlight the movement from one state to another.

43
CHAPTER

Symbolic

4 Interactionism and
Rules Theory

In the previous chapter we reviewed sys-


tem theory, which represents a popular tool Symbolic Interactionism
of communica-
for explaining the process nature Symbolic interactionism contains a core of
tion. This chapter covers two other general common premises about communication and
theoretical orientations:
symbolic interaction- society. Jerome Manis and Bernard Meltzer
ism and rules theory. These bodies of theory, published a compilation of articles within the
which capture the symbolic nature of commu- area in which they isolate seven basic theoretical
nication, are consistent with one another in and methodological propositions from sym-
many respects and thus are easily integrated bolic interactionism, each identifying a central
into a single chapter. concept of the tradition:
Symbolic interactionism, a formulation
primarily from the field of sociology, is the
1 . The meaning component in human conduct: Dis-
tinctly human behavior and interaction are carried on
broadest overview of the role of communica-
through the medium of symbols and their meanings.
tion in society. It provides an excellent launch
2. The social sources of humanness: The individual
pad for scores of other theories of interaction. becomes humanized through interaction with other
In fact, proponents of symbolic interactionism persons.
maintain that many of the more specific 3. Society as process: Human society is most use-
theories ofcommunication, language, and fully conceived as consisting of people in interaction.
subsumed under this broader
socialization are 4. The voluntaristic component in human
conduct:
framework. It will become apparent in this Human beings are active in shaping their own
behavior.
chapter that symbolic interactionism is really
not a theory but a theoretical perspective or 5. A dialectical conception of mind: Consciousness,
or thinking, involves interaction within oneself.
orientation under which numerous specific
theories may 6. The constructive, emergent nature of human
fall. This point is a transition from
conduct: Human beings construct their behavior in
the previous chapters, for it illustrates that
the course of its execution.
theories cannot be viewed as a series of inde-
7. The necessity of sympathetic introspection: An
pendent explanations of some phenomenon. understanding of human conduct requires study of
Theories interrelate, overlap, and fall into pat- the actors’ covert behavior. 1
terns. It is often hard to know where one theory
For purposes of discussion the symbolic in-
ends and another begins.
The rules perspective became popular in teraction movement can be divided into trends.
communication circles during the 1970s. Rules
First, we will look at the foundations of sym-
bolic interaction in the early oral tradition. Sec-
theorists have gone beyond symbolic interac-
tionism to discuss the specific mechanisms at
ond, we will cover the two competing schools
growing out of these earlier foundations. Fi-
work everyday interaction. They teach that
in
people generate rules for interaction and use
1. Jerome G. Manis and Bernard N. Meltzer, eds., Sym-
these rules to govern social behavior. bolic Interaction (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1978), p. 437.

45
GENERAL THEORIES

nally, we will list specific subareas of symbolic their social situation. They maintained that a
interactionism, one of which — the dramaturgi- person’s behavior could not be studied apart
cal movement — we will discuss later in the from the setting in which the behavior occurred
chapter. or apart from the individual’s perception of the
Manford Kuhn divides the time line of sym- environment. A result of this concern was that
bolic interactionism into two major portions. these early interactionists favored case histories
The first, which he calls the oral tradition, was as a research method .
3

when the primary foundations


the early period During the age of inquiry the years that —
of symbolic interaction developed. Following followed the publication of Mind, Self, and
the posthumous publication of George Herbert Society —
two divergent schools began to de-
Mead’s Mind, Self, and Society, the second peri- velop within the arena of symbolic interac-
od, which may be termed the age of inquiry, tionism. The original formulations of Mead
came to flower 2 Of course, the ideas of sym-
. were not altogether consistent, leaving room
bolic interaction did not emerge overnight from for divergent interpretation and extension. As a
the mind of a lone thinker. They can be traced result the Chicago and Iowa schools developed.
to the early psychology of William James. The Chicago School, led primarily by Herbert
The primary interactionists in the early tradi- Blumer, continued the humanistic tradition
tion were Charles Cooley, John Dewey, I. A. begun by Mead. Blumer above all believes that
Thomas, and George Herbert Mead. Before the study of humans cannot be conducted in the
Mead’s ideas on communication were pub- same manner as the study of things. The goals
lished, the interactionist perspective found life of the researcher must be to empathize with the
and sustenance primarily through oral trans- subject, to enter the subject’s realm of experi-
mission, especially in Mead’s classroom. Al- ence, and to attempt to understand the value of
though Mead did not publish his ideas during the person as an individual. Blumer and his
his lifetime, he is considered the prime mover followers avoid quantitative and scientific ap-
of symbolic interactionism. proaches to studying human behavior. They
During this early Meadian period, the im- stress life histories, autobiographies, case
portant ideas of the theory were developed. studies, diaries, letters, and nondirective inter-
Mead and other interactionists departed from views. Blumer particularly stresses the impor-
earlier sociological perspectives that had distin- tance of participant observation in the study of
guished between the person and the society. communication. Further, the Chicago tradition
Mead viewed individuals and society as insepa- sees people as creative, innovative, and free to
rable and interdependent. Early interactionism define each situation in individual and unpre-
stressed both the importance of social develop- dictable ways. Self and society are viewed as
ment and innate biological factors as well. Fur- process, not structure; to freeze the process
ther, the early symbolic interactionists were not would be to lose the essence of person-society
as concerned with how people communicated relationships.
as they were with the impact of this communi- The Iowa School more scientific ap-
takes a
cation on society and individuals. Above all, the proach to studying interaction. Manford Kuhn,
early interactionists stressed the role of the i
fs leader, believes that interactionist concepts
shared meaning of symbols as the binding fac- can be operationalized. While Kuhn admits the
tor in society. The early theorists were strongly process nature of behavior, he advocates that
concerned with studying people in relation to
3. Bernard N. Meltzer and John W. Petras, “The Chicago
2. Manford H. Kuhn, “Major Trends in Symbolic In- and Iowa Schools of Symbolic Interactionism," in Human
teraction Theory in the Past Twenty-Five Years,” The Nature and Collective behavior, ed. Tamotsu Shibutani (En-
Sociological Quarterly 5 (1964): 61-84. glewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1970).

46

SYMBOLIC INTERACTIONISM AND RULES THEORY

the objective structural approach is more fruit- All of Mead’s work was collected and edited
ful than the “soft” methods employed by after hisdeath in 1931. As a result his books
Blumer. As we will see later in the chapter, appear poorly organized. In fact, his best-
Kuhn is responsible for one of the primary mea- known work, Mind, Self, and Society, was col-
surement techniques used in symbolic interac- lected from students’ class notes. The Phi-
tion research. 4 losophy of the Present, published in 1932, is a
Largely because of the basic split that grew group of lectures on the philosophy of history.
out of the attempt to resolve ambiguities left by Mind, Self, and Society, the “bible” of symbolic
Mead, a number of tributaries have formed interactionism, followed in 1934. Movements of
since about 1940. Kuhnlists six major subareas: Thought in the 19th Century, lectures in the his-
role theory, reference group theory, social per- tory of ideas, followed in 1936. In 1938 Philoso-
ception and person perception, self-theory, phy of the Act was published.
interpersonal theory, and language and culture. 5 The three cardinal concepts in Mead’s
Whether all of the theorists in these subareas theory, captured in the title of his best-known
would pledge allegiance to symbolic interac- work, are society, self, and mind. These
tionism remains to be seen. All of these areas categories are not distinct, however. Rather,
likely have been influenced by the writings of they are different aspects of the same general
the major symbolic interactionists. In this chap- process, the social act. Basic to Mead’s thought
ter we will discuss Mead, Blumer, Kuhn, and is the notion that people are actors, not reactors.
Burke. The social act is an umbrella concept under
which nearly all other psychological and social
Foundations: George Herbert Mead processes fall. The act is a complete unit of
Although it would be a mistake to attribute all conduct, a gestalt, that cannot be analyzed into
of the basic ideas behind symbolic interac- specific subparts. An act may be short, such as
tionism to a single person, George Herbert
tying a shoe, or it may be the fulfillment of a life
Mead was no doubt the primary generator of plan. Acts interrelate and are built upon one
the movement. 6 Like nearly every theorist, another in hierarchical form throughout a life-
Mead was product of his time, following
a
time. Acts begin with an impulse; they involve
others in the predominant thought of the day.
perception and assignment of meaning, covert
Following Darwin’s theory of biological evolu- rehearsal, weighing of alternatives in one’s
tion, philosophers in related disciplines turned head, and consummation. In its most basic
their thinking toward the evolutionary perspec- form a social act involves a three-part relation-
tive. Mead attempted to
Pragmatists such as ship: an initial gesture from one individual, a
from biology, psychology,
pull together ideas
response to that gesture by another (covertly or
and sociology viewing the person as an evo-
in overtly), and a result of the is per-
act, which
lutionary being. Yet, in fundamental ways
ceived or imagined by both parties. In a holdup,
Mead departed from and added to the work of for example, the robber indicates to the victim
these predecessors.
what is intended. The victim responds by giv-
4. Ibid. ing money, and in the initial gesture and
5. Kuhn, “Major Trends.” response, the defined result (a holdup) has
6. Mead’s primary work in symbolic interactionism is
occurred.
Mind, Self, and Society (Chicago: University of Chicago
Press, 1934). For outstanding secondary sources on Mead, With mind, let us look more
this outline in
see Bernard N. Meltzer, “Mead’s Social Psychology,” in closely at the first facet of Meadian analysis
Symbolic Interaction, ed. Jerome Manis and Bernard Meltzer
society. Society, or group life, is a cluster of
(Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1972), pp. 4-22; and Charles
Morris, “George H. Mead as Social Psychologist and Social cooperative behaviors on the part of society’s
Philosopher,” in Mind, Self, and Society, “Introduction.” members. Lower animals have societies too,

47
GENERAL THEORIES

but they differ from human society in funda- tion (to strike him). He interprets the symbols,
mental ways. Animal societies, such as those of assigns meaning to them, and plans his own
the bee, are based on biological necessity; they reply. He responds, “Oh, don’t hit me. It was
are physiologically determined. As a result an an accident.” His adaptation prevents an embar-
animal society behaves in predictable, stable, and painful, experience. Of course, this
rassing,
and unchanging ways. What is it, then, that example is of a simple social act, but it illus-
distinguishes human cooperative behavior? trates the responsive, adaptive, cooperative na-
Human cooperation requires understanding ture of conscious, symbol-using behavior. If
the intentions of the other communicator. Since our two characters had been dogs and one had
“minding” or thinking is a process of figuring encroached on the other’s territory, the out-
out what actions one will undertake in the fu- come would have been more predictable.
ture, part of “feeling out” the other person is This idea of society as a series of cooperative,
assessing what that person will do next. Thus symbol-using interactions has another aspect.
cooperation consists of “reading” the other per- The symbols used must possess shared meaning
son’s actions and intentions and responding in for the individuals in society. In Mead’s ter-
an appropriate way. Such cooperation is the minology a gesture with shared meaning is a
heart of interpersonal communication. This no- significant symbol. In short, society arises in the
tion of mutual responding with the use of lan- significant symbols of the group. Because of the
guage makes symbolic interactionism a vital ability to vocalize symbols, we literally can hear
approach to communication theory. ourselves and thus can respond to the self, as
Animals may communicate in elementary others respond to us. We can imagine what it is

ways, but symbol-using behavior is what dis- like to receive our own messages, and we can
tinguishes human communication. Subhuman empathize with the listener and take the lis-
species are said to go through a conversation of tener’s role, mentally completing the other’s
gestures. These gestures, however, are only sig- response.
nals, for they elicit predictable, programmed, This interplay between responding to others
instinctive responses. For example, a mother and responding to self is an important concept
hen may cluck and her chicks will run to her. in Mead’s theory, and it provides an excel-
Or a dog will growl and lift the upper lip when lent transition to the second member of the
encountering another hostile dog. No internal troika — the self. To state that a person has a self
meaning is present in these acts for the animals implies that the individual can act toward self as
in question. Animals do not assign conscious toward others. A person may react favorably to
meaning to gestures; they do not “think the self and feel pride, happiness, encourage-
through” their responses. The signal type of ment; or one may become angry or disgusted
communication in animals takes place quickly, with the self. The primary way that a person
without interruption. Humans, on the other comes to see self as others see it (possess a
hand, use symbols in their communication. self-concept) is through role taking. Of course,
People consciously conduct a process of mental this act would not be possible without language
manipulation, delaying of response, and assign- (significant symbols), for through language the
ing meaning to the gestures of the other. The child learns the responses, intentions, and
symbol is interpreted by the receiver. Assume for definitions of others.
a moment that two men are sitting next to one Mead describes two explicit phases of self-
another at a bar. The first man accidentally development and an initial implicit phase. The
picks up the wrong The other man is
drink. first stage is the preparatory stage
7
Here the in-
.

incensed; he tightens his draws his arm


fist, fant imitates others by mirroring. The baby
back, and says, “Why you. .” The first man
. .
7. not Mead's. It is supplied by Meltzer in
This label is

sees the gesture; he perceives the other’s inten- “The Chicago and Iowa Schools.”

48
SYMBOLIC INTERACTIONISM AND RULES THEORY

may pick up the paper, or put on daddy’s shoes, adaptive behavior and the I to explain creative,
or stab at a piece of meat with a fork. This phase unpredictable impulses within the person.
ispurely preliminary, in which the child does The self, or the ability to act toward the self,
not possess meanings for the acts imitated. La- creates a situation not encountered by lower
ter, in the play stage ,
the child literally plays the animals. The symbols
ability to use significant
role of significant others in the environment. In to respond to oneself leads to the possibility of
playing mother and father or fire fighter or inner experience and thought that may or may
nurse, the child empathizes with the definitions not be consummated in overt conduct. This
of these others. Mead describes how a child in latter idea constitutes the third part of Mead’s
the play stage will pretend to be another person theory — the mind. The mind can be defined as
and will act toward a hypothetical receiver who the process of interacting with oneself. This
is really oneself. The play stage is sequential in ability, which develops along with the self, is
that each role is taken separately, much as an crucial to human life, for it is part of every act.
actor playing out prescribed parts.It is marked “Minding” involves hesitating (postponing
by disorganization and sporadic movement overt action) while one consciously assigns
from one role to another. No unitary viewpoint meaning to the stimuli. Mind often arises
is maintained, and the child does not develop a around problem situations in which the indi-
singular concept of self. In the game stage the vidual must think through future actions. The
individual responds in a generalized way to sev- person imagines various outcomes, selecting
eral others simultaneously. Mead uses the anal- and testing possible alternative actions.
ogy of the baseball game, in which each player The reason that mind is important for Mead
must envision simultaneously all nine roles and is that it provides the rationale for seeing per-
adapt accordingly. At this stage the person must sons as actors rather than reactors. Human
generalize a composite role of all others’ defini- beings literally construct the act before they
tions of self. consummate it. Responses can be designed and
The concept of the generalized other is one of controlled before they are enacted. The rat in
Mead’s main contributions. The generalized the maze goes through a trial-and-error pro-
other is the unified role from which the indi- cess, whereas in human beings this trial and
vidual sees the self. It is our individual percep- error can take place covertly through imagina-
tion of the overall way that others see us. The tion and reflection before the person ever begins
self-concept is unified and organized through to act.
internalization of this generalized other. Your Normally, in the animal world the organism
generalized other is your concept of how others is bombarded by stimuli from the environment,
in general perceive you. You have learned this but in human life the organism makes objects
self-picture from years of symbolic interaction out of the stimuli. Because people possess
with other people in your life. significant symbols that allow them to name
The self has two facets, each serving an es- their concepts, the person can transform mere
sential function in the human being’s life. The / stimuli into real objects. Objects do not exist
is the impulsive, unorganized, undirected, un- apart from people. The object is always defined
predictable part of the person. The me is the by the individual in terms of the kinds of acts
generalized other, made up of the organized and that a person might make toward the object. A
consistent patterns shared with others. Every pencil is a pencil if I can write with it. A sea-
act begins with an impulse from the I and scape is a seascape when I value looking at it. A
quickly becomes controlled by the me. The / is bottle of bourbon is a liquor when I conceive of
the driving force in action, while the me pro- drinking it, or not drinking it. Objects become
vides direction and guidance. Mead uses the the objects they are through the individual’s
concept of me to explain socially acceptable and symbolic minding process; when the individual

49
GENERAL THEORIES

envisions new or different actions toward an with one’s fellows”; (3) “these meanings are
object, the object is changed. handled in, and modified through, an interpre-
In summary Mead sees the person as a tive process used by the person in dealing with
biologically advanced organism with a brain the things he encounters.” 11
capable of rational thought. Through sig- As we will see, Blumer has been critical of
and
nificant gestures role taking, the person the mainstream of social science on a number
becomes an object to oneself; that is, one sees of counts, the first of which is the treatment of
the self as others see it. The person internalizes meaning. Blumer shows how most theories
this general self-view and behaves consistently of behavioral science undercut the importance
with it. Through the process of mind, the per- of the concept of meaning. Many theories ig-
son plans and rehearses symbolic behavior in nore meaning completely, and others place it in
preparation for interaction with others. the general subordinate category of antecedent
factors. In symbolic interactionism, though,
meaning takes a central role in the social process
Herbert Blumer and the Chicago School itself. Meaning is a product of social life. What-

Herbert Blumer undoubtedly was Mead’s fore- ever meaning a person possesses for a thing is
most apostle. In fact, Blumer coined the term the result of interaction with others about the
symbolic interactionism ,
Mead him-
an expression object being defined. A person has no meaning
self never used. Blumer refers to this label for something apart from the interaction with
as “a somewhat barbaric neologism that I other human beings.
coined in an offhand way. The term some-
. . . What is distinctive about the interactionist
how caught on.” 8 Although Blumer published view of meaning is its stresson conscious
articlesthroughout his career, not until his 1969 interpretation. An object has meaning for the
publication of Symbolic Interactionism: Perspective person at the point when
the individual
and Method did a unified view of his thought consciously thinks about or interprets the
become available. 9 In his first chapter Blumer object. This process of handling meanings
clearly states his debt to Mead and his devotion becomes an internal conversaton: “The actor
to furthering the interactionist perspective. suspends, regroups, and trans-
selects, checks,
Blumer’s formulations are consistent with those forms the meanings in light of the situation in
of his mentor, but he does not merely repeat which he is placed and the direction of his ac-
Mead: “I have been compelled to develop my tion.” 12 This internal process, as
you will recall,
own version, dealing explicitly with many is same as Mead’s concept of mind.
the
crucial matters thatwere only implicit in the Blumer stresses the importance of this defini-
10.
thought of Mead and others, and covering tion of meaning for the symbolic interactionist
critical topics with which they were not perspective. Blumer’s three premises on mean-
concerned.” 10 ing form the skeleton for his thought, and the
Blumer begins his writing on symbolic in- meat is provided by what he calls “root im-
teraction with three premises: (1) “Human be- ages.” The root images cover the topics of
ings act toward things of the mean-
on the basis group life, social interaction, the nature of ob-
ings that the things have for them”; (2) “the jects, persons as actors, the nature of human
meaning of such things is derived from, or action, and interlinkages of individual actions in
arises out of, the social interaction that one has society. Let us discuss each of these in turn.
Blumer reiterates Mead’s view that society
8. Herbert Blumer, Symbolic Interactionism: Perspective and
arises from individual interactions. No human
Method (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1969), p. 1.
9. Ibid. 1 1 . Ibid., p. 2.

Ibid. 12. Ibid., p. 5.

50
SYMBOLIC INTERACTIONISM AND RULES THEORY

action stands apart from interaction. Nearly all in individual acts. Hence it is incorrect to con-
that a person is and does is formed in the pro- sider group conduct as independent from the
cess of interacting symbolically with others. individual actions of the participants: “The par-
Society results from each person’s coordinating ticipants still have to guide their respective acts
one’s own
conduct with that of others. Thus by forming and using meanings .” 14
both group life and individual conduct are Blumer makes three basic observations
shaped through the ongoing process of sym- about linkages. First, he notes that the largest
bolic interaction. portion of group action in an advanced society
Blumer treats objects in essentially the same consists of highly recurrent and stable patterns.
way as does Mead. For Blumer objects are of These group actions possess common and pre-
three types: physical (things), social (people), established meanings in a society. Because of
and abstract (ideas). Objects come to have the high frequency of such patterns, scholars
meaning through symbolic interaction. Objects have tended to treat them as structures or en-
may hold different meanings for different tities. Blumer warns us not to forget that new
people, depending on the nature of others’ ac- situations present problems requiring adjust-
tions toward the person regarding the defined ment and redefinition. Even in highly repeti-
object. A police officer in a ghetto may mean tious group patterns nothing is permanent.
something different to the citizens of that area Each case must begin anew with individual ac-
than a police officer means to the inhabitants of tion. No matter how solid a group action ap-
a posh residential area because of the different pears to be, it is still rooted in individual human
interactions among the residents of these two selves: “It is the social process in group life that
vastly different geographical areas. creates and upholds the rules, not the rules that
Blumer’s treatment of action is essentially create and uphold group life .” 15
the same as Mead’s. Blumer sees persons as The second observation Blumer makes
actors, not reactors. People are able to act be- about groups is the pervasive and extended na-
cause they possess a self and, to reiterate Mead, ture of some interlinkages. Individual actions
an individual has the ability to act toward self as may be connected through complicated net-
an object. This capacity to act implies that the works. Distant actors may be interlinked ulti-
individual can deal with problem situations: mately in diverse ways, but contrary to popular
“Instead of being merely an organism that re- sociological thinking, “a network or an institu-
sponds to the play of factors on or through it, tion does not function automatically because of
the human being is seen as an organism that has some inner dynamics or system requirements: it
to deal with what it notes .” 13 functions because people at different points do
13. One of the primary
areas in which Blumer something, and what they do is a result of how
extends Mead’s thinking is group or societal they define the situation in which they are called
action. Blumer recognizes the importance of on to act .” 16
group action and takes steps to define it. What Blumer’s third observation ties together the
isseen as societal or group action is merely the first two. With an understanding that groups in
extended process of many individuals fitting a society are based in individual symbolic in-
one another. A joint action of a
their actions to teraction, we may come to realize that individ-
group of people consists of an interlinkage of uals’ backgrounds are important in the kind of
their separate actions, but group action not a joint action that occurs. Blumer’s
is main point,
mere summation of the individual actions. Such repetitiously described, is that societal groups
institutions as marriage, trade, war, and church
14. Ibid., p. 17.
worship are joint actions. Group action is based 15. Ibid., p. 19.
Ibid., p. 14. 16. Ibid.

51
GENERAL THEORIES

and institutions are not structures all their own. prior picture of what the real world is like.
First and foremost they are interlinkages of in- Second, the researcher needs to ask questions
dividual symbolic interactions. about the world, which eventually must be
Another broad area in which Blumer goes framed as problems. Third, the kind of data to
beyond Mead is methodology. Since meth- be sought must be determined and a realistic
odology is the primary, and dramatic, differ- appraisal made of the ways in which that data
ence between the Chicago and Iowa schools, can be obtained. Fourth, the researcher needs to
reviewing Blumer’s ideas on method is particu- ascertain patterns of relationship among the
larlyimportant. One cannot read Blumer with- data collected. Fifth, interpretation of the
how vital this topic is to him.
out realizing findings is necessary. Sixth, the investigator
Although Mead does not emphasize method, must conceptualize what has been discovered.
Blumer maintains that the very nature of sym- Blumer levels a biting criticism of the
bolic interactionismis captured in its method. mainstream of social science method in the fol-
Blumer’s opinions on this topic are strong. lowing words:
According to Blumer, the most basic foun-
The overwhelming bulk of what passes today as
dation for behavioral science must be the empir-
methodology is made up of such preoccupations as
ical world: “This empirical world must forever
the following: the devising and use of sophisticated
be the central point of concern. It is the point of research techniques, usually of an advanced statistical
departure and the point of return in the case of character; the construction of logical and mathemati-
empirical science .” 17 However, we must not cal models, all too frequently guided by the criterion
of elegance; the elaboration of formal schemes on
underestimate the role of the observer in empir-
how to construct concepts and theories; valiant ap-
ical testing. Consistent with symbolic interac- plication of imported schemes, such as input-output
tionist perspective, reality exists only through analysis, systems analysis, and stochastic analysis;
human experience. In Blumer’s words, “It is studious conformity to the canons of research design;
impossible to of a charac-
cite a single instance and the promotion of a particular procedure, such as
survey research, as the method of scientific study. I
terization of the ‘world of reality’ that is not cast
marvel at the supreme confidence with which these
in the form of human imagery .” 18
preoccupations are advanced as the stuff of meth-
In this empirical context are two potential odology. Many of these preoccupations are . . .

dangers for research. The first is the conception grossly inadequate on the simple ground that they
that reality in the empirical world is immutable deal with only a limited aspect of the full act of
scientific inquiry, ignoring such matters as premises,
and exists to be “discovered” by science. An-
problems, concepts, and so on. More serious is their
other related danger is the belief that reality is
almost universal failure to face the task of outlining
best cast in terms of physics. Both conceptions the principles of how schemes, problems, data, con-
already have played havoc with social science nections, concepts, and interpretations are to be con-
research: “To force all of the empirical world to structed in the light of the nature of the empirical
world under study 20
fit a scheme that has been devised for a given
.

segment of that world is philosophical doc- All of these traditional methods use four
trinizing and does not represent the approach of generalized procedures, according to Blumer.
genuine empirical science .” 19 These approaches fail as realistic methods for
Inquiry in form involves six major
its ideal
empirical validation. They are “(a) adhering to
must possess and
aspects. First, the researcher
a scientific protocol, (b) engaging in replication
make use of some framework or model of of research studies, (c) relying on the testing of
the empirical world. Research cannot be ap-
hypotheses, and (d) employing so-called oper-
proached on abstract levels that do not include a ational procedures .” 21
17. Ibid., p. 22.

18. Ibid. 20. Ibid., pp. 26-27.


19. Ibid., p. 23. 21. Ibid.

52
SYMBOLIC INTERACTIONISM AND RULES THEORY

If the usual means of research are inadequate, published a truly unified work. The closest may
what does Blumer propose as an alternative? be Hickman and Kuhn’s Individuals, Groups, and
Blumer maintains that researchers must de- Economic Behavior, published in 1956. 22 (For an
velop firsthand participative knowledge of the excellent short synthesis see Charles Tucker’s
phenomena investigated. The scientist may call critique. 23 )
participative knowledge “soft,” but actually it is Kuhn’s theoretical premises are consistent
a rigorous process of finding out what the real with Mead’s thought. KuhriVronceives of the
world is like. This sort of method consists of basis of all action as symbolic interaction. The
two stages. child is socialized through interaction with
The first stage Blumer
calls exploration. Ex- others in the society into which he or she is
ploration is a scanning technique
flexible born. The person has meaning for and thereby
wherein the investigator uses any ethical deals with objects in the
environment through
method of getting information. In the explor- social interaction. To Kuhn
the naming of an
ing stage the investigator should move from object important, for naming
is is a way of
technique to technique in a flexible and com- conveying the object’s meaning in communi-
fortable manner in order to get a broad picture cable terms. Kuhn agrees with his colleagues
of the area being investigated. Techniques may that the individual is not a passive reactor but an
range from direct observation to interviewing, active planner. He reinforces the view that indi-
from listening in on conversations to surveying viduals undertake self-conversations as part of
life histories, from reading and diaries to
letters the process of acting. Kuhn also reiterates the
consulting public records. No formal guidelines importance of language in thinking and com-
are followed, and whatever procedures are used municating.
should be adapted to the situation. The second Like Mead and Blumer Kuhn discusses the
stage is more
focused. After ascertaining the importance of objects in the actor’s world. The
general nature of the phenomenon, the re- object can be any aspect of the person’s reality: a
searcher begins inspection. The primary differ- thing, a quality, an event, or a state of affairs.
ence between exploration and inspection is The only requirement for something to become
depth and focus. Inspection is “an intensive fo- an object for a person is that the person name it,
cused examination,” according to Blumer. This represent it symbolically. Reality for persons is
examination must be done in the context of the the totality of their social objects. Kuhn agrees
area under investigation. with other interactionists that meaning is so-
Meaning is assigned to an object
cially derived.
Manford Kuhn and the Iowa School from group norms regulating how people deal
Manford Kuhn and his students, while main- with the object in question.
taining basic interactionist principles, take two A second concept important to Kuhn is the
new steps not previously seen in the old-line A plan of action is a person’s total
plan of action.
interactionist theory. The first is to make the behavior pattern toward a given object, includ-
interactionist concept of self more concrete; the ing whether to seek or avoid it, how the object
second, which makes the first possible, is the thought to behave (since
is this determines how
use of quantitative research. In this latter area the person will behave toward the object), and
theIowa and Chicago schools part company. feelings about the object as it is defined. At-
Blumer strongly criticizes the trend in the be- titudes constitute a subset of the plan of action.
havioral sciences to operationalize; Kuhn makes 22. C. A. Hickman and Manford Kuhn, Individuals,
apoint to do just that! As a result Kuhn’s work Groups, and Economic Behavior (New York: Holt, Rinehart
moves more toward microscopic analysis than and Winston, 1956).

does the traditional Chicago approach. 23. Charles Tucker, “Some Methodological Problems of
Kuhn’s Self Theory,” The Sociological Quarterly 7 (1966),
Like many of the interactionists, Kuhn never

53
GENERAL THEORIES

Attitudes are verbal statements that act as blue- “There are twenty numbered blanks on the
prints for one’s behavior. The attitude indicates page below. Please write twenty answers to the
the end toward which action will be directed as simple question, “Who am I?” in the blanks.

well as the evaluation of the object. Because Just give twenty different answers to this ques-
attitudes are verbal statements, they can be ob- tion. Answer as if you were giving the answers

served and measured. to yourself, not to somebody else. Write the


A third concept important to Kuhn is the answers in the order that they occur to you.
orientational other. Orientational others are those Don’t worry about logic or ‘importance.’ Go
who have been particularly influential in a per- along fairly fast, for time is limited .” 25
son’s life. They possess four qualities. First, A number of potential ways are available to
they are people to whom the individual is emo- analyze the responses from this test, with each
tionallyand psychologically committed. Sec- method tapping a different aspect of self. Here

ond, they are the ones who provide the person are Kuhn’s primary theoretical formulations.
with general vocabulary, central concepts, and First, the self-conception is seen as the individ-
categories. Third, they provide the individual ual’s plans of action toward the self as an object.
with the basic distinction between self and This self-concept consists of the individual’s
others, including one’s perceived role differ- identities (roles and statuses), interests and aver-

entiation. Fourth, the orientational others’ sions, goals, ideologies, and self-evaluations.

communications continually sustain the indi- Such self-conceptions are anchoring attitudes,

vidual’s self-concept. Orientational others may for they act as one’s most common frame of
be in the present or past, they may be present or reference for judging other objects. All subse-
absent. The important idea behind the concept quent plans of action stem primarily from the
is that the individual comes to see the world self-concept.

through interaction with particular other per- Two major aspects of the self may be termed
sons who have touched one’s life in important the ordering variable and the locus variable.
ways. The ordering variable is the relative salience of

Finally, we come
to Kuhn’s most important identifications the individual possesses. It is ob-
concept — the
Kuhn’s theory and method
self. servable in the order of statements listed by the
revolve around and it is in this area that
self, subject in the “twenty-statements” task. For
Kuhn most dramatically extends symbolic in- example, if the person lists “Baptist” a great
teractionist thinking. Kuhn is primarily respon- deal higher than “father,” the researcher may
sible for a technique known as the “twenty- conclude that the person identifies more readily
statements” self-attitudes test. His rationale for with religious affiliation than with family
developing this procedure is stated succinctly: affiliation. The locus variable is the extent to

“If as we suppose, human behavior is organized which the subject in a general way tends to

and directed, and if, as we further suppose, the identify with consensual groupings rather than

organization and direction are supplied by the idiosyncratic, subjective qualities.

individual’s attitudes toward himself, it ought to In scoring the self-attitude test, the analyst

be of crucial significance to social psychology to may place statements in one of two categories.

be able to identify and measure self-attitudes .”


24 A may be said to be consensual if it
statement
A subject taking the “twenty-statements” test consistsof a discrete group or class identifica-
would be confronted with twenty blank spaces tion, such as student, girl, husband, Baptist,

preceded by the following simple instructions: from Chicago, premed, daughter, oldest child,
studying engineering. Other statements are not
24. Manford Kuhn and Thomas McPartland, “An Empiri- descriptions of commonly agreed-on cate-
cal Investigation of Self-Attitudes,” American Sociological
Review 19 (1954), p. 68. 25. Ibid., p. 69.

54
SYMBOLIC INTERACTIONISM AND RULES THEORY

gories. Examples of subconsensual responses are quences that block achievement of interaction
happy, bored, pretty, good student, too heavy, objectives are accounted for.By studying these
good wife, interesting. The number of state- areas, theyattempt to isolate general principles
ments in the consensual group is the individ- of symbolic interaction. Such principles may
ual’s locus score. form the basis for a grounded theory of sym-
The idea of locusimportant to Kuhn:
is bolic interaction in the future. 28
“Persons vary over a rather wide range in the
relative volume of consensual and subconsen- The Dramatism of Kenneth Burke
sual components in their self-conceptions. It is The so-called dramaturgical school of symbolic
in this finding thatour empirical investigation interactionism is distinguished by the use of the
has given the greatest advance over the purely dramatic metaphor. The dramaturgists see peo-
deductive and more or less literary formulations ple as actors on a metaphorical stage playing
of George Herbert Mead.” 26 out roles in interaction with others. Several
The between the Chicago and Iowa
conflict theorists might be termed dramaturgical in this
schools is work of Kuhn
apparent. In fact, the sense, but dramaturgical theory in actuality
and become so estranged from
his associates has lacks the unity required to call it a school. Three
mainstream symbolic interactionism that it has dramaturgists seem to lead the movement. The
lost its support among those who espouse the first, Erving Goffman, has written extensively
basic tenets of the movement. Kuhn’s methods about how individuals present themselves to
simply are not adequate for investigating pro- others in rolelike behavior. His theory is dis-
behavior, an essential element of interac-
cessual tinctly microscopic and takes a different turn
tion. As a result a group of followers, who from other interactionists. (Although Goffman
believe in both the central ideas of symbolic is known as a symbolic interactionist, it seems
interactionism and the expressed need to exam- more appropriate to treat his theory at length in
ine social life in concrete ways, has emerged as Part IV on contextual theories.) The other two
the “new” Iowa School. One of its leaders, Carl primary dramaturgical interactionists, who
Couch, describes the situation: “By the mid- have taken different approaches from Goffman,
1960s most of us affiliated with Kuhn had be- are Kenneth Burke and his advocate in the field
come disenchanted with the use of the TST of sociology, Hugh Duncan.
[twenty-statements test] and allied instruments. Although Burke’s concepts are consistent
There was an increasing awareness that this set with
28. the symbolic interactionist movement, it
of procedures was not generating the data re- is doubtful that he would align himself exclu-
quired for serious testing, revision, and elabora- sively with the movement. In fact, unlike most
tion of the theory. Some turned to naturalistic of the symbolic interactionists, Burke has not
observation. . . . Some gave up the search; identifiedwith any particular academic disci-
others foundered.” 27 pline. He has written widely in many areas of
Couch and began studying the
his associates thought from creative writing, to literary and
structure of coordinated behavior
by using vid- rhetorical criticism, to social psychology, to
eotaped sequences. They have produced re- linguistic analysis. Also, unlike most other
search on how interaction begins (openings) symbolic interactionists, Burke’s concepts are
and ends (closings), how disagreements are not derived from the work of Mead and the
negotiated, and how unanticipated conse-
This work is summarized in Carl J. Couch and Robert
Hintz, eds., Constructing Social Life (Champaign: Stipes
26. Ibid., p. 76.
Publishing Co., 1975); and Clark McPhail, “Toward a
27. Carl J. Couch, “Symbolic Interaction and Generic Theory of Collective Behavior” (Paper presented at the
Sociological Principles” (Paper presented at the Symposium Symposium on Symbolic Interaction, Columbia, South
on Symbolic Interaction, Boston, 1979), p. 9. Carolina, 1978).

55
GENERAL THEORIES

other early sociologists. Some of his most im- Burke sees the act as the basic concept in
portant works, in fact, appeared concurrently dramatism. His view of human action is con-
with the publication of Mead’s ideas. On the sistent with that of Mead, Blumer, and Kuhn.
other hand, it would be incorrect to exclude Specifically, Burke distinguishes between action

Burke from the mainstream of symbolic in- and motion. All objects and animals in the uni-
teractionist thought, for while he has main- verse can be said to possess motion, but only
tained his independence, his theory is highly human beings have action. Action consists of
consistent with the others presented in this purposeful, voluntary behaviors of individuals.
chapter. Dramatism is the study of action in this sense;
Kenneth Burke is no doubt a giant among the study of motion is mechanism. Burke be-
symbol theorists. He has written profusely over lieves that a dramatistic (teleological) view of
a period of fifty years, and his theory is the people is needed in all of the “human” disci-
most comprehensive of all the interactionists. plines, for human behavior cannot be properly
Hugh Duncan wrote, “It may be said without understood without it. With this perspective let

exaggeration that anyone writing today on us look at Burke’s seminal ideas.


communication, however ‘original’ he may be, Burke views the individual as a biological
is echoing something said by Burke.” 29 Burke and neurological being, who possesses all of
has published eight major books spanning from the animalistic characteristics of lower species.
1931 to 1966. 30 Unfortunately, Burke is not Consistent with Mead, Burke distinguishes
noted for clarity of style. His theory is scattered humans by their symbol-using behavior, the
and often appears ambiguous. When a scholar ability to act. People are symbol-creating,
takes the time necessary to know Burke’s work, symbol-using, and symbol-misusing animals.
however, the coherence and unity of the theory They create symbols to name things and situ-
become apparent. Fortunately, a number of ations; they use symbols for communication;
scholars have provided written interpretations and they often abuse symbols —
misuse them to
of Burke’s ideas.31 In surveying Burke’s com- their disadvantage. Burke’s view of symbols is
munication theory, we will begin with a sum- broad, including an array of linguistic and non-
mary of his concept of dramatism; then we will verbal elements as well. Especially intriguing
turn to his central concepts of humanity, lan- for Burke is the notion that a person can sym-
guage, and communication; and finally we will bolize symbols. One can talk about speech
sketch Burke’s method. and can write about words. This second-level
activity is a distinguishing characteristic of
29. Hugh Duncan, “Communication in Society,” Arts in
Society 3 (1964), 105. symbol use.

30. Burke’s major works include Counter-Statement (New In addition Burke sees people as instrument
York: Harcourt, Brace & Company, 1931); Permanence and creators. They create a variety of mechanical
Change (New York: New Republic, 1935); Attitudes toward
History (New York: New Republic, 1937); The Philosophy of
and social tools that, unlike lower animals, sep-
Literary Form (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University, arate them from their natural condition. People
1941); A Grammar of Motives (1945) and A Rhetoric of Motives filter reality through the symbolic screen. For
(1950) (Englewood Cliffs, N.J. Prentice Hall); A Rhetoric of
is, but for humans reality
:

an animal reality just


Religion (Boston: Beacon Press, 1961); Language as Symbolic
Action (Berkeley and Los Angeles University of California is mediated through symbols. Burke agrees
Press, 1966). with Mead that language functions as the vehi-
31. I would like to express my particular appreciation to
cle for action. Because of the social need for
friend and colleague Peter Coyne for the continued insights
he has given me on Kenneth Burke. See Peter Coyne,
people to cooperate in their actions, language
“Kenneth Burke and the Rhetorical Criticism of Public arisesand shapes behavior. Language, as seen
Address” (Doctoral dissertation, University of Utah, 1973). by Burke, is always emotionally loaded. No
For a comprehensive overview on Kenneth Burke, see Wil-
liam Rueckert, ed., Critical Responses to Kenneth Burke
word can be affectively neutral. As a result a
(Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1969). person’s attitudes, judgments, and feelings

56
SYMBOLIC INTERACTIONISM AND RULES THEORY

invariably are in that person’s language. Lan- that of substance, or in Burke’s words the doc-
guage is by nature selective and abstract, focus- trine of substance. Substance is the general na-
ing attention on particular aspects of reality at ture, fundamentals, or essence of any thing.
the expense of others. While language is eco- Substance must be viewed in holistic terms; it is
nomical, it is also ambiguous. Further, lan- not a mere summation of the parts or aspects of
guage is formal in that it tends to follow certain the thing in consideration. Each person is dis-
patterns or forms. tinct, possessing separate substance. Crucial to
An overriding consideration for all of Burke’s theory is the understanding that the
Burke’s work is his concept of guilt. The term substances of anytwo persons always overlap
guilt is Burke’s all-purpose word for any feeling to some The overlapping is not perfect,
extent.
of tension within a person: anxiety, embarrass- though, and thus prevents ideal communica-
ment, self-hatred, disgust, and so forth. For tion. Whatever communication occurs between
Burke guilt is a condition caused only in hu- individuals is a direct function of their con-

mans by their symbol-using nature. He iden- substantiality (sharing of common substance).


tifies three interrelated sources of guilt arising Consubstantiality, or commonality, allows for
out of language. The first is the negative. communication because of the shared meaning it
Through language people moralize (animals do creates for the symbols used. When Barney and
not). They construct a myriad of rules and Joe are relaxing next to the swimming pool on a
proscriptions. Now, these rules are never en- warm summer morning, they communicate
tirely consistent. In following one rule, you with one another in a free and understanding
necessarily are breaking another, creating guilt. manner because they share meanings for the
We will see that Burke’s concept of guilt in this language in use. They are, so to speak, con-
sense is similar to the idea of cognitive disso- substantial. On the other hand, when Mary and
nance (see Chapter 8). The second reason for Bob ask a question of a harried bus boy in a
guilt is the principle of perfection, or categorical Swiss restaurant, they may be-
feel frustration
guilt. People are sensitive to their failings. Hu- cause of their lack of shared meaning with this
mans are able toimagine (through language) a individual. To combine Mead and Burke, a sig-
stateof perfection. Then, by their very nature, nificant symbol is one that allows for shared
they spend their lives striving for whatever de- meaning through consubstantiality.
gree of this perfection they set for themselves. Another important concept of Burke is iden-
Guilt arises as a result of the discrepancy be- tification. As generally conceived, identifica-
tween the real and the ideal. A third reason for tion is the same as consubstantiality, or the shar-
guilt is the principle of hierarchy. In seeking or- ing of substance. The opposite of identification
der, people structure society in social pyramids is division. Division and the guilt it produces
or hierarchies (social ratings, social orderings). are the primary motives for communication.
This ranking of course, is a symbolic phenome- Through communication, identification is in-
non. Competitions and divisions result between creased. In a spiraling fashion as identification
classes and groups in the hierarchy, and guilt shared meaning increases, thereby
increases,
results. For Burke guilt is the primary motive improving understanding. Identification thus
behind all action and communication: We can be a means to persuasion or improved
communicate to purge our guilt. communication or an end in itself. Identifica-
In discussing communication Burke uses tion can be conscious or unconscious, planned
several inseparable terms: persuasion, iden- or accidental. Three overlapping sources of
tification, consubstantiality, communication, identification exist between people. Material
and rhetoric. Let us see how these concepts are identification results from goods, possessions,
integrated in his theory. The underlying con- and things. Idealistic identification results from
cept behind Burke’s ideas on communication is ideas, attitudes, feelings, and values. Formal

57
. .

GENERAL THEORIES

identification results from the form or ar- proved useful in areas such as rhetorical and
rangement of the act. If two people who are literary criticism — the analysis of speeches,
introduced shake hands, the conventional form poems, books, and other rhetorical devices.
of handshaking causes some identification to Burke’s most basic methodological para-
take place. Speakers can identify better with digm is the dramatistic pentad Pentad, meaning a
their audiences if they provide a form that is group of five, is in this sense an analytical
meaningful to the particular audience. framework for the most efficient study of any
Before we proceed, let us look at a couple of act. The first part is the act, what is done by the

cautions. First, identification is not an either-or actor. It is a view of what the actor played, what

occurrence but a matter of degree. Some con- was accomplished. The second part is the scene,
substantiality will always be present merely by the situation or setting in which the act was
virtue of the shared humanness of any two per- accomplished. It includes a view of the physical
sons. Identification can be great or small, and it setting as well as the cultural and social milieu
can be increased or decreased by the actions of inwhich the act was carried out. The third
the communicators. Second, although iden- component is the agent, the actor, including all

and division exist side by side be-


tification that is known
about the individual. The agent’s
tween any two persons, communication is substance reaches all aspects of his or her being,
more successful when identification is greater history, personality, demeanor, and any other
than division. contributing factors. The agency, the fourth
An interesting phenomenon that might seem component, is the means or vehicle the agent
to contradict Burke’s view of identification is uses in carrying out the act. Agency may in-
that people of lower strata in a hierarchy often clude channels of communication, devices, in-
identify with godlike persons at the top of the stitutions, strategies, or messages. Fifth, the
hierarchy, despite tremendous apparent divi- purpose is the reason for the act — the rhetorical
sion. This kind of identification can be seen, for goal, the hoped-for effect or result of the act.

example, in the mass following of a charismatic For example, in writing a paper for your
leader. Two overlapping factors explain its oc- communication theory course you, the agent,
currence. First, individuals perceive in others an gather information and present it to the instruc-
embodiment of the perfection they themselves tor (the act). Your course, your university, your
strive for. Second, the mystery surrounding the library, your desk and room, the social atmo-
charismatic person simultaneously tends to hide sphere of your school, and more constitute the
the division that exists. This phenomenon may scene; the format of the paper itself is the
be called identification through mystification agency. You have a variety of purposes, includ-
In striving for happiness, each person adopts ing, in all likelihood, getting a good grade.
of identification. Strategies are
certain strategies
analogous to Kuhn’s concept of plans of action. Criticism of Symbolic Interactionism
They are the tactics for living, the plans for Although many specific objections have been
communicating with another. Burke does not raised against symbolic interactionism, for the
attempt to outline all available strategies for most part they can be combined into three
relating to others, because the list would be major criticisms 32 First, symbolic interac-
.

indefinitely long. One of the suggestions he


32. For reviews of specific objections to symbolic interac-
makes for analyzing a rhetorical (communica- tionism, see Jerome G. Manis and Bernard N. Meltzer,
tive) act is to assess the strategies the communi- “Appraisals of Symbolic Interactionism,” in Manis and
Meltzer, Symbolic Interaction, pt. IV, pp. 393-440; Bernard
cators use to increase their identification. Burke
N. Meltzer, John Petras, and Larry Reynolds, Symbolic
provides a full-blown methodology for study- Interactionism: Genesis, Varieties, and Criticism (London:
ing rhetorical acts. His method, in fact, has Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1975).

58
SYMBOLIC INTERACTIONISM AND RULES THEORY

tionism is said to be nonempirical. That is, one theses, and little research has been produced.
cannot readily translate its concepts into ob- Interactionist scholars thus
have been unable to
servable, researchable units. Second, it is said to elaborate and expand their thinking. Carl
be overly restrictive in the variables it takes into Couch, a leading proponent (and house critic)
account. Critics have charged that it ignores of the movement, points out that interactionists
crucial psychological variables on one end and do engage in research, but that their obser-
societal variables on the other. Third, it uses vations do not cast light on the theory’s key
concepts in an inexact, inconsistent way. Let us concepts, making revision and elaboration
look at each of these objections more closely. In Couch believes this circumstance need
difficult.
doing so, we will relate the objections to the not be so, and the “new” Iowa tradition has
categories for evaluating theory outlined in emerged out of a need for interactionists to do
Chapter 2. “serious sociological work.” 34
The major criticism of symbolic inter-
first The second major criticism is that interac-
actionism has broad implications. Despite tionism has either ignored or downplayed im-
Blumer’s protestations to the contrary, critics portant explanation variables. Critics say it
maintain that in actual practice the researcher leaves out the emotions of the individual
on one
does not know what to look for in observing end and societal organization on the other.
interactionist concepts in real
life. This problem These arguments as a whole make clear that
seems to stem from the vague, intuitive claims interactionism is overly restrictive in scope. To
of early interactionists. What is mind, for cover as much of social life as it pretends to do,
example? How can this concept be observed? interactionism must take into account social
We already have noted Kuhn’s failure to oper- structures as well as individual feelings. The
ationalize interactionist concepts
without giv- problem is not one merely of scope, of course;
ing up assumptions about the process nature
its it casts doubt on the validity of the tradition
of behavior. Most basically, this criticism as well.
questions the appropriateness of symbolic in- The failure of symbolic interactionism to
teractionism to lead to a more complete under- deal with social organization is a major concern
standing of everyday behavior. As such, critics for interactionists. Social organization or struc-
believe it to be more appropriately social phi- ture removes individual prerogative, a highly
losophy, which may guide our thinking about valued idea in old-style interactionism. Social
events, but which provides little concrete con- structure is normally a matter of power, and
ceptualization
33. for explaining the events. John interactionists have been loath to admit to
Lofland’s criticism is especially biting. He power inequality. However, the concept of
claims that interactionists participate in three power can be investigated from an interac-
main activities: “doctrinaire reiteration of the tionist perspective, and since about 1965 sev-
master’s teachings, . . . [making] slightly more eral research programs have begun to look at
specific the general imagery, . [and connect-
. . power. 35
ing] descriptive case studies and interac- Somewhat less work has been done in the
tionism. 33 area of emotions. Interactionists now generally
As a result of this alleged failure, symbolic agree that feelings have been neglected by sym-
interactionism is not thought to be adequately bolic interactionism, although they claim that
heuristic. It has generated few testable hypo-
34. Couch, “Symbolic Interaction.”
John Lofland, “Interactionist Imagery and Analytic In- 35. This lineof work is discussed in Peter M. Hall, “Struc-
terruptus, in Human Nature and Collective Behavior, ed. turing Symbolic Interaction: Communication and Power,”
Tamotsu Shibutani (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, in Communication Yearbook 4, ed. Dan Nimmo (New
1970), p. 37. Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Books, 1980), pp. 49-60.

59
.

GENERAL THEORIES

interactionism is not antithetical to the study of polite or how to insult, to greet, and so forth. If
feeling or affect. every symbol user manipulated symbols at ran-
The third general criticism of symbolic in- dom, would be chaos rather than
the result
teractionism is that its concepts are not used communication .” 37
consistently. As a result such concepts as I, me, Unfortunately the rules approach is a loose
self, role, and others are vague. This is a prob- confederation of ideas that are still evolving as a
lem of both internal validity and parsimony 36 . recognizable body of research and theory. As a
However, we must keep in mind that symbolic result discussing rules theory as a unified ap-
interactionism is not a unified theory. Rather, it proach is not possible. Let us look briefly at the
is a general framework, and as we have seen, it main theoretical branches of the rules approach,
has different versions. Therefore, although this emphasizing two recent rules theories of com-
is a valid criticism of early interactionism, it is munication.
not a fair picture of the movement today. Despite its diversity the rules approach is

Interactionists have not been daunted by held together by certain common assump-
their critics. The movement has adjusted and tions 38. Although these are not identical to
matured. It is too early to tell what will happen the premises of symbolic interactionism, they
to symbolic interactionism, although it appears are consistent with and add to the latter
that the grand movement will be replaced by a framework. The action principle, which is cen-
series of middle-range theories that provide tral to symbolic interactionist thought, gener-

concrete explanations of social behavior con- ally is considered to be a primary assumption of


sistent with the general tenets of old-line sym- the rules approach. Although some human ac-
bolic interactionism. Rules theory shows prom- tivity is mechanical and determined by uncon-
ise for filling this gap. trollable factors, the most important behaviors
are considered to be actively initiated by the
individual. People are thought to choose
The Rules Approach to Communication courses of action within situations to ac-
of ideas, two different strands of
In the history complish their intentions. You recall that this
thought sometimes are found to be consistent action principle is opposed to the motion prin-
with one another, and they converge to the ciple, in which human behavior is seen as de-

benefit of both. Each tradition enhances or im- termined by prior causes. Rules theorists agree
proves the other. Such is the case with symbolic that the motion principle, which gives rise to
interactionism
36. and rules theory. Symbolic in- laws of nature, is appropriate in the science of
teractionism us of the importance of in-
tells objects but that it is not useful for understand-
teraction andmeaning in human experience; the ing human social life. For this reason the rule-
rules approach gives form and substance to this
interaction-meaning cycle. Susan Shimanoff 37. Susan B. Shimanoff, Communication Rules: Theory and
Research (Beverly Hills: Sage Publications, 1980), pp. 31-32.
discusses the importance of rules in symbolic
38. The similarities and differences among rules theories
interaction: “In order for communication to are discussed in such sources as Donald P. Cushman, “The
exist, or continue, two or m ore interacting in- Rules Perspective as a Theoretical Basis for the Study of
dividu als must share rules for using symbols Human Communication,” Communication Quarterly 25
(1977), 30-45; W. Barnett Pearce, “Rules Theories of
NoFonTymust they have rules for individual Communication: Varieties, Limitations, and Potentials”
symbols, but they must also agree on such mat- (Paper presented at the Speech Communication Associa-
ters as how to take turns at speaking, how to be
tion, New York City, 1980); Stuart J. Sigman, “On Com-
munication Rules from a Social Perspective,” Human Com-
As an example of this criticism, see the analysis of the munication Research 7 (1980), 37-51; and Shimanoff, Commu-
concept of self in Meltzer, Petras, and Reynolds, pp. 94-95. nication Rules.

60
.

SYMBOLIC INTER ACTIONISM AND RULES THEORY

governed approach to communication theory basis of rules. The native speaker acquires these
often is set in opposition to the law-governed rules early in life, based on maturation of innate
approach. abilities.The generative grammar school, an
Another basic assumption of most rules important aspect of communication theory,
theories is that social behavior is structured and will be discussed in Chapter 5.
organized. Certain behaviors recur in similar A second major rules application is that of
situations. Social interaction patterns, however, the previously mentioned philosophers of the
vary in different settings. Although these pat- action tradition. These scholars relate actions to
terns are organized, they are not universal, but intentions via rules; people accomplish objec-
highly contextual. Thus most rules theories tives by applying particular rules. Thus rules
consider the relationship between the way are seen as practical tools for accomplishing
people act and the culture and situation wherein intentions. One branch of this tradition is ordi-
the action occurs. In fact, rules scholars criticize nary language philosophy, which is responsible
law-governed theories precisely because of their for the original work on communication rules.
failure to reflect such variation. This tradition deals with the ways people create
Rules are considered to be the mechanism speech to fulfill intentions (see Chapter 6)
through which social action is organized. The A third rules tradition is in cognitive devel-
structure of interaction can be understood in opment. Philosophers and psychologists of this
terms of the rules governing it. Rules affect the tradition study how people conceptualize and
options available in a given situation. Because solve problems and how their behavior is af-
rules are thought to be contextual, they explain fected by cognitive processes. These scholars
why people behave similarly in similar situ- believe that rules are learned gradually during
ations but differently in different situations. childhood and that an individual’s ability to
The rules approach began in the field of grasp and use rules becomes increasingly com-
philosophy in what has become known as or- plex, allowing the individual to become more
dinary language philosophy. That tradition, behaviorally adaptive.
spirited by Wittgenstein, Austin, Searle,and
others, is discussed in greater depth in Chapter Approaches to Rules
6. Other fields of study have taken up the The rules perspective includes several defi-
banner, including speech communication, an- nitions. 41 Barnett Pearce outlines three main
thropology, linguistics, psychology, and so- groups of rule conceptions.42
ciology. 39 Discussing all of these applications
in depth would be impossible. Fortunately, Rule-following Approach. In this view rules are
Donald Cushman has distilled this work into seen simply as observed behavioral regularities.
three major research and theory programs, de- A recurring pattern is said to happen “as a rule.”
scribed in the following paragraphs. 40 Pearce calls such rules weak laws because they
In linguistics weone of the important
find are cast in the form of a statement of what is
applications of rules theories.
Here the concept expected to happen under certain circum-
of grammatical rules has been developed to ex- stances. This approach is highly descriptive but
plain how speakers can generate any novel sen- does not explain why particular patterns recur.
tence from minimal exposure to the language.
Sentences are generated and understood on the 41 . See Shimanoff, Communication Rules, for comparison of
various definitions as well as a discussion of the differences
39. Shimanoff, Communication Rules, pp. 33-34, lists some between rules and other similar concepts such as norm.
of the seminal figures in these fields.
40. Cushman, “The Rules
42. Pearce, “Rules Theories.” See also Joan Ganz, Rules: A
Perspective.” Systematic Study (The Hague: Mouton, 1971).

61
GENERAL THEORIES

It aims only to catalogue predictable behaviors. broader rule-using approach is better suited for
Linguistic theories typically are of this type, understanding the preparation of a speech, the
suggesting that speakers follow rules of gram- organization of a meeting, the writing of a let-
mar with a high degree of regularity. Of all and other heterogeneous rule situations.
ter,

approaches to rules, this group least supports Although these approaches may appear to
the basic assumptions of the rules tradition. compete for explaining actions, they need not
be considered such. Various types of human
Rule-governed Approach. Here rules are beliefs action can be classified properly under each cat-
about what should or should not be done to egory.The problem for the theorist is to decide
achieve an objective in a given situation. The what level is most appropriately defined as
rule-governed approach attempts to uncover communication “rules,” and on this matter
people’s intentions and to define the socially there is little agreement.
acceptable in which people accomplish
ways Now that we have discussed the general na-
For example, if a person wishes
their intentions. ture of the rules approach, let us turn to some
to engage another person in conversation at a specific applications of rules. Two recent
party and the other person is talking with theories, which are rather different from one
someone else, one would approach the two in- another, will illustrate how the rules approach
dividuals and not speak until recognized non- can be applied to communication theory. We
verbally. To interrupt or to break in too quickly will look at Susan Shimanoff’s work because it

would be a rules violation that could prevent helps us understand the nature of rules in com-
the desired conversation from occurring. This munication, providing an excellent conceptual
approach presumes that people know the rules approach. The second theory, that of Barnett
and have the power to follow or to violate Pearce and Vernon Cronen, is useful for seeing
them. It also assumes that people usually act how ongoing interaction. Later
rules operate in
consciously, intentionally, and rationally. in the chapter we will examine some of the
ways these theories are similar and ways they
Rule-using Approach. This view is consistent differ.

with the rule-governed approach except that it


posits a more complex social situation. The ShimanofF s Integrative Approach
actor potentially is confronted with a variety of Susan Shimanoff s work is presented for several
rules for accomplishing various intentions. The reasons 43 It is perhaps the most recent general
.

actor chooses which rules to follow (or more treatment of rules. Shimanoff surveyed the lit-
properly, to use) in carrying out an intention. erature on rules and formulated an overview
As a rules critic the individual reflects on rules, that incorporates what she judgesto be the best
following some and discarding others. This ap- thinking in the field. She added to rules theory
proach thereby provides a basis for evaluating in such a way as to make it particularly applica-
what choices a person makes in a social situa- ble to communication. Her work is integrative
tion and even allows for people to create new in that it critically considers and analyzes the
options. It also enables the theorist to discuss divergent literature. Shimanoff does not, in-
communication competence by observing how deed could never, incorporate all notions of
well a person sorts through the matrix of objec- rules, but she explains her chosen position by
tives and rules to plan an interaction strategy. In comparing and contrasting it with others. Fi-
a highlyhomogeneous situation such as break- nally, she takes a first step toward developing a
ing into a cocktail party conversation, the rules rules theory of communication that has the po-
are few and simple. Here the rule-governed
approach suffices to explain what occurs. The 43. Shimanoff, Communication Rules.

62
.

SYMBOLIC INTERACTIONISM AND RULES THEORY

tential of clarifying and unifying the thought in all situations. Shimanoff takes a position in the
this area. middle. Since rules are a vehicle for understand-
Shimanoff defines a rule as “a followable ing organized, recurring behavior, they must
prescription that indicates what behavior is apply in two
at least different occurrences; po-
obligated, preferred, or prohibited in certain tentially they may be broad enough to cover
contexts.” 44 This definition incorporates the many situations. Hence, rules can be under-
following four elements. stood in terms of their range or generalizability.
(1) Rules must be followable. This criterion The “apology rule” just mentioned applies in
implies that actors can choose whether to fol- almost situations and
all is therefore broad in
low or to violate a rule. If a person has no scope. Still, it is contextual in that it applies
(4)
choice in a course of action, then a “rule” is not only when one person some bothers another in
being followed. The laws of nature are not “fol- way. In fact, you can probably think of situ-
lowed” by the objects under their control; they ations in which apologizing is uncalled for and
are fulfilled. For example, you are not follow- potentially annoying.
ing a rule by running out of a burning building. Rules specify appropriate behavior. They
On the other hand, rules must deal with the tell us what to do or not do. They do not specify
possible. One
cannot follow an impossible rule. how we must think,
For feel, or interpret.
This statement does not imply that people are example, a rule may require an apology, but it
indifferent to rules. Behavior is greatly affected cannot require the apologizer to feel sorry.
by rules, as the following criterion indicates. In order to identify a rule properly, an ob-
(By the way, you perhaps have noticed that server must be able to specify its context and its
Shimanoff uses the word follow differently obligated, preferred, or prohibited behavior.
from Pearce’s rule-following category de- The rule also must be stated in a form that
scribed earlier.) demonstrates that it is followable. Shimanoff
(2) By this Shimanoff
Rules are prescriptive. believes that the if-then format allows the ob-
means of action is called for and
that a course server to identify rules by specifying four com-
that the failure to abide by the rule can be criti- ponents: If then one (must, must not,
. . .,

cized. Prescriptions may state what is obligated, should). . . . The if clause specifies the nature
preferred, or prohibited, but in any case nega- of the prescription and the prescribed behavior.
tive evaluation may ensue if the rule is not Consider the following examples:
followed. Thus rules cannot “prescribe” per-
mitted behaviors because no criticism would
If one is not the owner or guest of the owner,
then one is prohibited from being in the land
follow if such behaviors were not chosen. For
example, while telling a joke is permissible in
marked off by this sign.

certain situations, joke telling is not prescribed Ifone is playing bridge and is the dealer, then
and therefore not rule following. One is obli- one must bid first.
gated to apologize, however, after accidentally If one is wearing a hat and is entering a church,
bumping another person, and the violation of then one must remove his/her hat.
this rule may result in criticism.
If one is playing chess and one’s chess pieces are
Rules are contextual Shimanoff points out
(3)
white, then one must move his/her piece first. 45
that theories vary in the degree of contextuality
believed to exist in a rules situation. 45. Ibid., p. 79. Shimanoff adapted these rule examples
Some from Gidon Gottlieb, Logic of Choice: An Investigation of the
theories state that rules are idiosyncratic, that Concepts of Rule and Rationality (New York: Macmillan,
each situation has its set of rules. Others seek 1968), p. 11; Max Black, Models and Metaphors (Ithaca: Cor-
nellUniversity Press, 1962), p. 106; Raymond D. Gumb,
broad, almost universal, rules that cover nearly
Rule-Governed Linguistic Behavior (Paris: Mouton, 1972), p.
44. Ibid., p. 57. and Ganz, Rules,
21; p. 13.

63
GENERAL THEORIES

From Communication Rules: Theory and Research, by Susan B. Shimanoff. Copyright © 1980 by Sage Publications. Reprinted
by permission of the publisher.

Figure 4.1. Decision tree to identify rules from observed behavior.

64
SYMBOLIC INTERACTIONISM AND RULES THEORY

Notice that Shimanoffs use of if-then does not tifies eight types of rule-related behavior. Four
imply causal reasoning in which the antecedent of these are rule conforming, and four are rule
causes a consequent. Rather, the antecedent deviating. Let us look at these in pairs, begin-
serves as the context in which the rule applies. ning toward the center of the figure. Rule-
To verify a rules theory, a researcher must be fulfilling and rule-ignorant behaviors involve
able to observe rules in operation in everyday acting withoutknowing the rule. For example,
interaction. If Shimanoffs rule model is accu- a some situations is for men to
prevalent rule in
rate, one will be able to apply her rule criteria to open doors for women. Imagine a little boy
any episode and thereby identify the rules in who naively opens a door for a woman. He is
force. Some rules are easy to see in operation unaware that he has followed a rule, but the
because they are explicit. Such rules are an- woman might respond by saying, “What a gen-
nounced, for instance, on a sign or in a game tleman you are.” This behavior is rule fulfilling
rule book. Most rules are implicit, though, and because the boy didn’t know he was following a
must be inferred from the behavior of the par- prescription. On the other hand, had the boy
ticipants. Behavior can be examined in terms of failed to open the door in ignorance of the rule
three criteria: (1) Is the behavior controllable (to (rule-ignorant behavior), the woman might
assess the degree to which the underlying rule is whisper to the boy’s parents, “You need to
followable)? (2) Is the behavior criticizable (to teach your child good manners.”
assess whether the underlying rule is prescrip-
tive)? (3) Is the behavior contextual (to assess
whether people behave differently in various
situations)?
Applying these criteria is not necessarily
easy. For example, consider how difficult it
would be to determine whether an action is
criticized. We know that rule behavior is open
to evaluation and that compliance may be
praised while violation is punished. Overt sanc-

tions are easiest to identify in observing interac-


tions because they involve verbal or nonverbal
rewards and punishments. Sanctions may range
from simple frowns or smiles to a stern lecture
about rule violation. In addition to noting sanc-
tions, observers can also look for repairs. Here a
rule violator will behave in a way that reveals
that a rule was
violated. Apologizing is an
example. In the absence of overt sanctions or Key: a = noncontrollable, noncriti-
cizable, or noncontextual
repairs, the observer can ask participants
b = rule-governed, but no
whether a given behavior was appropriate or knowledge of the rule
not. Figure 4.1 is a decision tree illustrating how c = tacit knowledge of a rule

to identify rules from observed behavior. 46 d = conscious knowledge of a


rule
One of Shimanoff s most interesting contri- e = conscious knowledge, plus
butions is her model of rule behavior, which evaluation of a rule
indicates the ways peoplerelate to rules in ac-
From Communication Rules: Theory and Research, by Susan
tual interaction (Figure 4. 2) 47 This model iden- B. Shimanoff. Copyright© 1980 by Sage Publications.
46. Shimanoff, Communication Rules, pp. 106-7. Reprinted by permission of the publisher.

47. Ibid., p. 127. Figure 4.2. Rule-related behavior.

65
GENERAL THEORIES

Conforming or error behaviors definitely are theory, it integrates work from symbolic in-

governed by rules, although the rule is not teractionism (Chapter 4), system theory (Chapter
noted consciously by the individual at the time 3), speech acts (Chapter 6), and relational
it isfollowed or not followed. Men often un- communication (Chapter 9). This theory is in-
consciously open doors for women, and fre- teresting not only because it integrates and
quently they fail to do so, not out of ignorance builds on a great deal of previous theoretical
but because they are not thinking about it at the work but because it is broadly applicable. It is
moment. The first instance is an example of one of the few general theories of communication
conforming behavior, the second of error per se.
behavior.
Rule-following behavior is conscious compli- Communication as Coordination. An individual is
ance with the rule. To pursue our example, rule part of many systems, each with its own set of
following would apply when a man intention- interactional rules.Over time individuals inter-
ally steps ahead of a woman and opens a door. nalize some of these rules and draw on them to
Rule violation, on the other hand, is intentional guide their actions. The basic problem of com-
violation of the rule. For instance, a man may munication is that no two individuals enter an
be tired and simply may not feel like opening interaction knowing precisely what rules the
the door for his companion. other participants may find salient. Initially, at
Reflective behavior involves positive reflection least, communication events are uncoordinated,
or negative reflection (following or violating) of a and the primary task in all communication is to
rule after evaluating it. The women’s move- achieve and later sustain some form of coordi-
ment questions many social rules, such as men’s nation. Such coordination may or may not in-
opening doors. A feminist male may con- clude mutual understanding (shared meaning),
sciously choose not to open the door for a but it must minimally involve a meshing of the
woman, precisely because of his evaluation of rules governing the behavior of participants. In
what the gesture implies about sex roles. Or a other words, participants must develop a com-
woman may take the initiative to open a door mon logic of interactional rules. Any positive
first. A man who does not espouse feminist outcome of communication, including mutual
values may make a point to open the door be- understanding, depends first and foremost on
cause,on reflection, he believes that the rule is a rules coordination.
good one.
The primary value of Shimanoff s treatment Importance of Context. Communication systems
is the clear, operational definition of rule that it must be viewed holistically. Individuals’ mean-
provides. The following treatment of rules is ings are part of a hierarchy of meanings. (See
different from Shimanoff s in that it does not Chapter 3 for the concept of hierarchy.) In other
center on the definition of rule but on how words, the person is a whole entity but is part
individuals use rules in communication. of a larger context as well. Pearce and Cronen
envision a rather complex hierarchy of meaning
Coordinated Management of Meaning
The theory of the coordinated management of
dinated Management of Meaning,” in Comparative Human
meaning, developed by W. Barnett Pearce, Communication Theory, ed. Frank E. X. Dance (New York:
Vernon Cronen, and emerged
their colleagues, Harper & Row, 1982); W. Barnett Pearce, “The Coordi-
nated Management of Meaning: A Rules Based Theory of
during the 1970s as a comprehensive theory of Interpersonal Communication,” in Explorations in Interper-
communication. 48 A meaning-centered rules sonal Communication, ed. Gerald R. Miller (Beverly Hills:
Sage Publications, 1976), pp. 17-36; Vernon Cronen, W.
48. W. Barnett Pearce and Vernon Cronen, Communication Barnett Pearce, and Linda Harris, “The Logic of the Coor-
Action and Meaning (New York: Praeger, 1980); Vernon dinated Management of Meaning,” Communication Educa-
Cronen, W. Barnett Pearce, and Linda Harris, “The Coor- tion 28 (1979), 22-38.

66
SYMBOLIC INTER ACTIONISM AND RULES THEORY

contexts within which communication takes The content level is the message itself, the
place.The nature of this hierarchy varies from actual linguistic and paralinguistic elements of
system to system. Pearce and Cronen’s depic- the utterance. Speech acts are messages de-
tion (Figure 4.3) shows the hierarchy as a signed to fulfill a simple intention. (Speech act
hypothesized, idealized form. 49 One chooses theory is covered in Chapter 6.) Contracts are
rules partially on the basis of the perceived con- the defined requirements of the relationship. An
text of the interaction. The communicator may episode is a sequence of speech acts perceived
use any level of abstraction as the context of the by participants to constitute a unit
of interac-
moment; how one behaves depends greatly on tion. Life-scripts are sets of episodes taken by
the context in operation. Let us explain the the individual to be consistent with self-
levels presented in Figure 4.3, then we will concept. Finally, archetypes are accepted im-
discuss an example. ages of how things are, a person’s basic logic of
49. Pearce and Cronen, Communication p. 131.
the universe.
,

Consider, for example, a marriage in which


the husband and wife tend to withdraw from
Archetypes conflict. On the content level an observer
would concentrate on the actual utterances of
the husband and wife, looking closely at the
types of words used and at the grammatical
structure. At the speech act level the observer
Life-scripts would assess the interactional rules, perhaps
discovering that when the wife objected or dis-
agreed with the husband, he would withdraw
or fail to respond. At the level of contracts, one
might note that the couple maintained an im-
plicit agreement not to argue with each other.
Episodes
In a sense we would say that this agreement was
a requirement or “contract” of the relationship.
In analyzing episodes one would look for repet-
itive behavior patterns. The observer might
note that the husband’s withdrawing in the face
Contracts
of disagreement occurs over and over, and at a
higher level one might infer that conflict-
avoidance is an important part of his life-script.
Finally, as an archetype the couple might be-
lieve that harmony and happiness should per-
Speech acts
vade all human relationships.

Rules. Pearce and Cronen borrow the concept


of constitutive and regulative rules from speech
act theory and make them a central part of their
Content treatment. In speech act theory constitutive

From Communication Action and Meaning, by W. Barnett


what a given act should be taken to
rules define

Pearce and Vernon Cronen. Copyright © 1980 by Praeger “count as”; regulative rules refer to how one
Publishers. Reprinted by permission of the publisher. should behave within a given context. These

Figure 4.3. A model of hierarchically organized two kinds of rules are intimately related. Pearce
meanings. and Cronen take a major step in the develop-

67
GENERAL THEORIES

ment of rules theory by demonstrating how Regulative rule: When the husband insults, wife
rules are involved in communication and how should cry.
they are managed by participants in interaction.
(Notice that this approach to rules is substan-
episode of playful banter
tially different from Shimanoffs treatment.)
In order to demonstrate the operation of [husband insults wife’s family

rules, Pearce and Cronen developed a set of wife playfully hits husband] > fun

symbols denoting rule structures. Three are


important here:
In play it is considered fun for the wife to “hit” the
husband after he insults her family.

|
= in the context of Regulative rule: Wife should respond to husband’s
insult by “hitting” him.
> = counts as
Constitutive rule: This sequence of events is to be
taken as fun.
= if, then

These examples are simple, but complex acts


may be diagramed in the same fashion. Where-
The first symbol denotes the context of an act,
as simple examples are used here for clarity,
the second applies to a constitutive rule, and the
most significant interactions are far more com-
third is used in regard to a regulative rule. Con-
plex. Notice also that the bracketing of context
sider the following examples:
is important for determining the rules in

operation.
P la Y One’s rule system provides a logical force for

insult > joke |


acting, a pressure to act in certain ways. One
behaves in a manner consistent with one’s as-
sumptions about the rules in force. Two types
In the context of play, an insult is to be taken as a
joke.
of logical force operate in communication.
Prefigurative force is an antecedent-to-act link-
Constitutive rule: An insult counts as a joke. age in which the individual is “pressured” to
behave in certain ways because of prior condi-
tions. Practical logical force
is an act-to-
conflict
consequent linkage in which one behaves in a
insult > put-down |
'
certain way in order to achieve a future condi-

tion. In any communication encounter an indi-


In the context of conflict, an insult is to be taken as a vidual’s rule system for that context presents a
put-down. series of “oughts” that guide interpretations,
responses, and actions. (Do not become con-
Constitutive rule: An insult counts as a put-down,
fused by the use of terms here; prefigurative and
practical force are similar to the concepts of
episode of an argument causal and practical force referred to in Chapter
2, but logical force here is a broader concept
husband insults wife’s family wife cries |

than that referred to in the earlier chapter.)

When arguing, the wife typically cries after the hus- Coordinated Management. The foregoing discus-
band insults her family. sion is preliminary to the heart of coordinated

68
.

SYMBOLIC INTERACTIONISM AND RULES THEORY

management theory, which deals with how rules until some level of coordination is
people actually mesh their rules. The key prob- achieved.
lem of coordination is this: Each individual Consider the simple example of a child try-
must use his or her rules to guide interpretation ing to get back a ball after accidentally having
of and response to the actions of others, but thrown it through a neighbor’s window. 51 The
within a short time a new interpersonal sys- adult begins with the following rule structure:
tem must develop so that the interactions are
Constitutive rule: If I say, “Is this ball yours?” in a
some point participants must
coordinated. At stem fashion, this act will be taken as anger, a de-
become enmeshed for communication to be mand for a confession, and a threat.
successful.
Regulative rule: My
act, taken as anger, will elicit
Figure 4.4 shows how enmeshment occurs. 50 crying and apologies. I in turn will become less angry
(The model perhaps overly simple in order to
is and will give back the ball.
make the process clear.) Person A acts in a
The child, on the other hand, has a very differ-
particular way in response to prior conditions
ent set of rules:
(prefigurative force) or to achieve a consequent
Constitutive rule: When the neighbor says, “Is this
(practical force). The act is taken as a message
your ball?” he is asking for information. My state-
by Person B, who uses constitutive rules to ment, “Give it back,” will be taken as a request.
interpret the message. Person A’s act thus be-
Regulative rule: When the neighbor requests informa-
comes an antecedent event to which Person B tion, I will respond with a factual answer, “Yes, it
responds, based on B’s regulative rules. B’s act is.” I will say, “Give it back,” and he will give it
is in turn interpreted by A as a message from back.
the standpoint of A’s constitutive rules. B’s act
Now observe the actual conversation:
as interpreted A thus becomes a consequent
by
to A’s initial act. A will then compare B’s act
Neighbor: “Is this your ball?”

with the intended consequent. If A and B are Child: “Yes, it is. Give it back.”
operating with substantially different rule struc-
tures, they quickly will discover that one per-
51. The example is adapted from Pearce and Cronen,
Communication, pp. 162-64. Originally it was developed in
son’s behavior does not represent the con- K. T. Alvy, “The Development of Listener Adapted
sequent intended, and they will readjust their Communication in Grade-School Children from Different
Social Class Backgrounds,” Genetic Psychology Monographs
50. Ibid., p. 174. 87 (1973), 33-104.

Person A: [antecedent event ID act] 3 consequent event [antecedent event 3 act] . .


.*

t
message message
I t
Person B: [antecedent event act] 3 consequent

(time sequence .
-)

* Solid arrows denote constitutive rules. Broken arrows denote the


coorientational state of comparing the subsequent
message to the anticipated consequent event in anticipation of the next act.
From Communication
Publishers. Reprinted
Action and Meaning, by W. Barnett Pearce and Vernon Cronen. Copyright
by permission of the publisher.
© 1980 by Praeger

Figure 4.4. Enmeshment process

69
GENERAL THEORIES

Obviously, the neighbor did not get the ex- control, and negative valence. In the successful
pected response and will interpret the child’s version both would have felt that the interac-
remark impudence rather than the simple
as tion was coherent. The neighbor would have
request intended by the child. At this point the good deal of control, while the child prob-
felt a
is not coordinated. Now the neigh-
interaction ably would have felt little control. Both parties
bor must adjust the regulative rule by trying a probably would have felt positive valence.
different approach:

Neighbor: “Give it back? This ball hit my window. Communication Competence. The foregoing
Do you know that?” analysis shows clearly that an individual’s
If the child has a sufficiently
ability to manage a variety of rule systems is
complex rule struc-
important in effectiveness as a communicator.
ture to provide options, he may adjust so that a
successful outcome can be achieved.
People who among rule op-
can choose facilely
If not, co-
tions in interpreting events and acting within
ordination may not be achieved. Consider:
situations will achieve coordination of meaning
Unsatisfactory outcome (no enmeshment):
more often than people who have a more re-
Child: “Give my ball back. I’ll tell daddy if you don’t
stricted repertoire of rule systems. Pearce and
give it back.”
Neighbor: “Get out of my yard, kid.” Cronen define this communication competence
Successful outcome (coordination achieved):
as “the person’s ability to move within and
Child: “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to do it, and I will be
among the various systems s/he is cocreating or
careful in the future.” comanaging .” 52
Neighbor: “Okay. Here’s your ball.” Three levels of competence are delineated.

Any communication Minimal competence, the inability to comanage


episode can be evalu-
ated in terms of three variables related to coor-
meanings with others in a system within which
dinated management. one must exist, can result from an overly simple
The first is coherence or
cognitive system that has restrictive constitu-
the degree to which participants make sense of
the sequence of events in the interaction. Lack tive rules. It can also result from inability to
of coherence occurs when one or more partici- adapt one’s rules to context or from inability to

pants feel they do not know what is going on. take other individuals’ rule systems into

Lack of coherence is the epitome of the lack of account.

coordination. The second variable, control,


competence enables a person to
Satisfactory
is

the degree to which one or more communicate system at hand,


effectively in the
participants
usually achieving coordination with others. Op-
feel able to make choices that affect the se-
timal competence is the ability to understand the
quence of acts in the interaction. In some situ-
ations one or more participants are able to enact boundaries, strengths, and weaknesses of a sys-

a sufficiently complex rule structure so that


tem in comparison with other systems and to
they may actively choose whether to become enmeshed
select rules and affect the course of the
in a particular system or to remain outside. An
encounter while still maintaining coordination.
optimally competent person can enter or exit a
In other situations one or more participants
(even all participants) may feel highly coordi- system at will.
nated but limited or programmed, such that
they have little effect on the outcome. The third Criticism of the Rules Approach
variable valence or the degree to which partic-
is
Criticism of rules theory typically has centered

ipants arehappy with the interaction. Consider around two conceptual coherence and
issues:

the two versions of the example of the neighbor explanatory power. Let us consider each of
and the these in turn:
child. In the unsuccessful version both
participants would have felt low coherence, low 52. Pearce and Cronen, Communication , p. 187.

70
SYMBOLIC INTERACTIONISM AND RULES THEORY

First, is rules theory conceptually coherent? Berger’s view is that a covering law approach is
The answer to this question is a resounding no. ultimately necessary to provide explanation; at-
Even its adherents admit that the rules tradition tempts of rules theorists to provide generic
lacks unity and coherence. Jesse Delia verbalizes principles are nothing more than covering laws
this objection in strong terms: in disguise.

The terrain covered


Most rules advocates do not go along with
by notions of “rules,” then, is
broad, grossly diffuse, and imprecisely articulated. this argument, of course. Shimanoff points out
And the real problem for any position purporting to that most rules explanations, in contrast to laws
be a general rules perspective is that the meaning of explanations, are teleological or reason giving.
“rule” does not remain constant either within or
Behaviors are explained in terms of their practi-
across these domains. The “rules” territory taken as a
cal impact on creating desired outcomes. Such
whole is, in fact, little short of chaotic. At the least, it
is is no unifying conception of the
clear that there explanations can be generalized. While develop-
rule construct,of the domain of phenomena to which ing universal explanations would not be desir-
the construct has reference, of whether rules have able, and perhaps not possible, rules theories
generative power in producing and directing be-
should seek reason-giving explanations that
havior, ... or of the proper way to give an account
cover relatively broad classes of situations, even
of some domain of phenomena utilizing the con-
struct. The idea of “rules” as a general construct to the point of allowing for prediction. 55
represents only a diffuse notion devoid of specific The appropriate question here is not whether
theoretical substance. 53 rules theories are explanatory but what kind of
explanation the critic believes is necessary.
The two theories we have covered illustrate this
lack of coherence. Shimanoff is firm in stating
Clearly, Berger and Shimanoff disagree on the
level of generality necessary for adequate expla-
that a rule must deal with overt behavior. She
nation. We must also keep in mind that differ-
believes that the concept should not apply to
ent rules theories possess different levels of ex-
interpretation. Pearce and Cronen, however,
planatory power.
place constitutive rules at a central place in their
Recall from Chapter 2 that explanation is
approach. For them rules apply not only to
overt behavior but to internal meanings as well.
made possible by principles of necessity and
generality. Barnett Pearce discusses rules ap-
The second question is, are rules theories
sufficiently explanatory? Critics generally be-
proach in terms of these criteria. 56 Rule-
following approaches tend not to be explana-
lieve that rules approaches cannot be explana-
tory because they merely describe recurring
tory as long as they fail to develop generic
behavior without indicating any form of neces-
principles that cut across contexts.To identify
the rules in operation within a particular con-
sity. Rule-governed approaches explain in
terms of practical necessity, although their gen-
text is not sufficient to explain communication
eralityis somewhat limited. Pearce believes that
processes. Berger believes that “at some point
the rule-using approach, while presently lim-
one must go beyond the description of ‘what
ited, has the highest potential for explanatory
the rules are’ and ask why some rules are se-
lected over others
power in terms of both practical and logical
[and] what social forces
. . .

necessity and generality.


produced the kinds of conventions and appro-
priate modes of behavior we now observe.” 54
Shimanoff s theory is basically descriptive,
providing detailed guidelines for identifying

53. Jesse Delia, “Alternative Perspectives for the Study of


rules in a social situation. As such it is highly
Human Communication: Critique and Response,” Commu- heuristic from a methodological standpoint. It
nication Quarterly 25 (1977), 54. is also strong in providing conceptual guidance
54. Charles R. Berger, “The Covering Law Perspective as
a Theoretical Basis for the Study of Human Communica- 55. Shimanoff, Communication Rules, pp. 217-34.
tion,” Communication Quarterly 25 (1977), p. 12. 56. Pearce, “Rules Theories.”

71
GENERAL THEORIES

in understanding rules. Shimanoffs theory, itself to explain coherence. Of course, shared


however, does not present much explanation. meaning is largely a function of agreement on
Little basis exists for understanding why partic- constitutive rules, but meaning also has an ex-
ular kinds of communication behavior occur periential and referential aspect as we shall see in
in various situations. Shimanoff’s framework Chapter 6. This theory could be strengthened
shows potential for developing explanation, but by showing how other aspects of meaning enter
we shall have to see what theorists do with it in the coordination process. Instead of assuming,
the future. as Pearce and Cronen do, that mutual under-
Although Pearce and Cronen do not present standing always follows coordination, the
firm guides for identifying rule behavior, their theory could elaborate ways in which mutual
theory of coordinated management is a step understanding may sometimes prefigure coor-
toward providing explanation of rule-using be- dination.
havior. The theory appears to be quite heuristic
in this way. The authors have demonstrated
how it can be tested with a variety of research What Do We Know about Communication
methods. 57 This theory has potential for as Symbolic Interaction?
stimulating a series of studies that could un- The unifying idea behind this chapter is sym-
cover new dimensions of the communication bolic interaction. The term is chosen as an in-
process. tegrating concept because the theories of this
The power of Pearce and Cronen’s theory domain all deal with ways people interact to
results primarily from its elaboration of the create social entities. Society requires social in-
operations by which coordination is achieved. teraction. It also requires social order and
The theory’s concepts help structure an ob- shared meaning. The essence of social life is the
server’s perceptions of what is happening in any coming together of human beings in commu-
communication event. However, the theory has nity through the use of symbols. Interaction is
not yet generated a sufficiently complete set of both the precursor and the product of shared
hypotheses to enable the observer to predict the meaning, and shared meaning makes all aspects
course or outcome of an interaction. of society possible. In short, the work of this
Some critics no doubt will take issue with domain demonstrates that communication,
Pearce and Cronen’s subordination of shared above all else, is a symbolic, rule-governed
meaning. Although shared meaning is impor- activity.
tant, Pearce and Cronen believe that it is not Two groups of theory are presented in this
crucial for successful communication and that chapter. The first, symbolic interactionism,
coordination always precedes understanding. deals with the ways in which human life, both
Their postulate that rules coordination is essen- private and public, is affected by symbols and
for successful communication may well be
tial meaning. The second, rules theory, gives us a
valid,but critics will point out that the degree means for understanding how social order is
and rapidity with which rules mesh may de- maintained among humans, who, unlike lower
pend on the degree of shared meaning already animals, are able tomake choices.
established within the system. The research re- These two sets of theory demonstrate a
ported by Pearce and Cronen indeed provides handful of generalizations that have become so
strong evidence that rules coordination is neces- popular as to assume the status of truisms. First,
sary for interaction coherence, but these studies symbolic interaction is the binding force of so-
do not imply that coordination is sufficient by ciety. Second, symbolic interaction is vital to

57. Ten studies ranging widely in method are reported in


human development. The roles we take in soci-
Pearce and Cronen, Communication, chap. 7. ety and the images we have of ourselves are

72
SYMBOLIC INTERACTIONISM AND RULES THEORY

shaped through interaction with other people. shared also with system theory, stems from the
Third, people create their own worlds through general nature of the first two domains (Chap-
the use of symbols and meanings. Fundamental ters 3 and 4). Admittedly, most of the theories
to most of the theories in this chapter is the in thesetwo chapters are not discriminating, for
belief that people are active builders of their they are designed to capture the general essence
own realities. Fourth, thinking is merely an of communication without postulating specific
extension of symbolic interaction with others. relationships within given situations. They
Thinking, or internal conversation, is based on have been grouped together because of this
meanings learned through interaction with shared goal. Do not misinterpret however, that
others.Fifth, social behavior is largely gov- these general theories cannot be applied to
erned by rules that, unlike causative laws, are specific contexts; indeed, they often are, as you
guidelines for individual choice. will see repeatedly throughout the text. Evalua-
The primary objection to theories in this tions of the specific symbolic interactionist and
group is that they are abstract and diverse in rules theories related to various themes and con-
their claims. Rules theorists do not even agree texts are presented in the appropriate chapters.
on what a rule is; their definitions vary from Like general system theory, symbolic interac-
extremely mechanistic to highly humanistic. tionism and rules theory are most valuable for
Symbolic interactionism is sometimes vague guiding our thinking about the nature of com-
and the researcher can never be sure, based on munication events rather than for directing our
these theories, precisely what to observe in at- observations of specific finely combed events.
tempting to verify claims. This criticism,

73
PART

m
THEMATIC THEORIES

Chapter 5
Theories of Language and
Nonverbal Coding

Chapter 6
Theories of Meaning

Chapter 7
Theories of Information and
Information Processing

Chapter 8
Theories of Persuasion
CHAPTER

Theories

5 of Language and
Nonverbal Coding

Essentially every theoretical approach to plies to all of the chapters in the book, it is espe-
communication recognizes as a basic fact that cially pertinent here.
communication takes place through the use of
signs. Roughly, a sign is a stimulus that em-
bodies a meaning beyond itself. Signs that elicit Theories of Language
singular, programmed responses
are sometimes Linguistics, the study of language, is one of the
known as Other signs are complex,
signals. most important theoretical areas related to
evoking a rich variety of meanings and con- human communication. Language is so central
ceptions. Such signs, important to most of the to human behavior that it has captured the
theories in this chapter, are often referred to as interest of social scientists and scholars for cen-
symbols. 1 This chapter and the next are devoted turies. The number of approaches to linguistics
to theories that attempt to describe and explain is large, and the breadth of the field thus con-
the role of symbols in communication. fusingly broad. 2 Basically, linguistics has two
Our discussion in this chapter is divided into large, overlapping branches. Historical linguistics
two broad areas. The first covers language, the is the study of how language changes over time
primary element of most human communica- and how it has evolved into language groups in
tion. Although language is central to communi- the world. Descriptive linguistics is the study of
cation, certain nonlinguistic, or nonverbal, particular languages, how they are structured
elements of communication are also important. and how they are used. (Several subbranches
The second section of the chapter presents some also exist.) In this book we will discuss primar-
prominent theories of nonverbal communica- ily the twentieth-century theories of descriptive
tion. The next chapter covers theories of mean- linguistics. The theories presented in this sec-
ing, a topic that is intimately intertwined with tion address three significant sets of questions:
the subject matter of the present chapter. (1) How is language structured? What are the
A casual reading of this chapter may leave the syntactical units and relations within a sentence?
impression that it provides a complete picture (2) How is language used? What mental or be-
of theory in language and nonverbal commu-
2. There are many fine textbooks on language study. A
nication. No brief treatment could ever ac- classic is John B. Carroll, The Study of Language (Cam-
complish such a synthesis. Indeed, the areas of bridge: At the University Press, 1953). More recent texts
language and nonverbal communication consist include Lois Bloom, Language Development: Form and Func-
tion in Emerging Grammars (Cambridge: M.I.T. Press, 1970);
of specialties and subspecialties that have pro-
B. G. Blount, ed., Language, Culture, and Society: A Book
duced a copious quantity of research and theory. Winthrop Publishing, 1974): Yuen
of Readings (Cambridge:
The issues within these fields are numerous, Ren Chao, Language and Symbolic Systems (New York:
Cambridge University Press, 1968); Phillip S. Dale, Lan-
sometimes subtle, and always more complex guage Development: Structure and Function (Hinsdale, 111.:
than implied here. While this qualification ap- Dryden Press, 1972); Joseph A. DeVito, ed., Language:
Concepts and Processes (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-
1. This analysis taken from Wallace Fotheringham, Hall, 1973); Paul Garvin, Method and Theory in Linguistics
Perspectives on Persuasion (Boston:
Allyn and Bacon, 1966), (New York: Humanities Press, 1970); Archibald Hill, ed.,
pp. 52-68. Linguistics Today (New York: Basic Books, 1969).

77
THEMATIC THEORIES

havioral processes are involved in the produc- —


phemes are free they can stand alone as a
tion and reception of speech? (3) How is lan- word in a sentence. Other morphemes are
guage acquired? —
bound they must be combined with other
morphemes to form words. On the syntax level
Classical Linguistics words are combined according to rules to form
A revolution occurred in the study of language grammatical phrases, which are linked together
after the mid-1950s. Many language scholars into clauses and sentences. This structural ap-
came to conceptualize grammar quite differ- proach provides an orderly classification of lan-
ently than they had before. Still, many elements guage parts. Actual observed segments are put
of the old grammar have lived on in various into classes of a given type (phoneme, mor-
forms. Let us review the salient features of clas- pheme, and so forth), and these segments are
sical linguistics, then turn to the newer genera- sequenced in a sentence-building process. At
tive grammar in the next section. each level of analysis is a finite set of classes (for
example, phonemes or morphemes) that can be
Structural Linguistics. What has become the observed in the native language. Sentences are
standard model of sentence structure was de- always built up from the bottom of the hierar-
veloped between 1930 and 1950 in the classical chy, so that succeeding levels depend on the
structural period. 3 Numerous linguists contrib- formation of lower levels.
uted to this model, but the most important While this approach provides a useful de-
include Leonard Bloomfield, Charles Fries, and scription of the structure of language, it fails to
Zellig Harris. 4 Basically, this model breaks explain how people use language. This latter
down a sentence into component parts in question, far more central to communication
Sounds and sound groups
hierarchical fashion. than language structure, has demanded the at-
combine to form word roots and word parts, tention of psycholinguists since about 1950. We
which in turn combine to form words and know that people must possess an intuitive
phrases. Phrases are put together to make knowledge of language in order to pro-
their
clauses or sentences. Thus language can be duce meaningful, grammatical speech. What is
analyzed on various levels, roughly correspond- the nature of this knowledge? How is it ac-
ing to sounds, words, and phrases. quired? How is it actualized?These important
The of sounds involves the study
first level questions have been addressed by psycholin-
of phonetics. An isolatable speech sound is a guists in the last three decades. The literature
phone. Phones of a particular type are grouped that has emerged from this work is extensive,
into a sound family called phoneme, which is the controversial, and highly technical.
basic building block of any language. Any
dialect of a language contains a number of Finite-State Grammar. The earliest attempt to
phonemes. These phonemes are combined ac- explain how people produced sentences was the
cording to rules to produce morphemes, the finite-state approach. No serious language
smallest meaningful linguistic unit. Some mor- scholar of today uses this approach because it
was proved invalid years ago. Reviewing it
3. An excellent summary and critique of this period can be briefly is instructive, however, to illustrate the
found inj. A. Fodor, T. G. Bever, and M. F. Garrett, The
Psychology of Language: An Introduction to Psycholinguistics and
development of language theory and to provide
Generative Grammar (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1974). a contrast with modern grammar theory. Basi-
4. Leonard Bloomfield, Language (New York: Holt, cally, finite-state theorists believed that sen-
Rinehart and Winston, 1933); Charles Fries, The Structure of
tences are produced from left to right, one
English(New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1952); Zellig
Harris, Structural Linguistics (Chicago: University of word at a time, with the selection of each word
Chicago Press, 1951). providing a set of choices for the next word.

78
THEORIES OF LANGUAGE AND NONVERBAL CODING

The obvious weakness of finite-stace grammar This process continues until all units of the sen-
is thatprovided no simple, parsimonious ex-
it tence are accounted for, including small parts
planation for how human beings could produce such as the articles the or an. These analyses are
an infinite number of novel sentences. In other often illustrated by a tree diagram, as shown in
words, it allowed for little creativity on the part Figure 5.1.
of speakers.
Criticism of Classical Linguistics. The primary
Phrase-StructureGrammar. This approach, a objection to classical linguistics is that although
mainstay in grammar theory for many years, is it is useful as a taxonomic, or descriptive, ap-
no longer believed to be adequate by itself to proach, it is powerless to explainhow language
explain the generation of sentences. 5 Its essential is generated. A simple example will suffice to
features,however, are still used as part of a illustrate this weakness. Phrase-structure
larger explanatory framework, which is ex- grammar would two sen-
analyze the following
plained in the next section. Phrase structure tences exactly the same way, even though the
breaks down a given sentence into phrases. A slightest inspection reveals that their syntactical
sentence is a hierarchy of components, with origins must be different: 6
each successively larger component being gen-
erated by a set of rewrite rules. For example, a John is easy to please.

sentence may be broken down according to the John is eager to please.


following rewrite rule:
Although easy and eager have different semantic
sentence <-> noun phrase + verb phrase meanings, these sentences have entirely differ-
ent syntactical meanings. In the first sentence
Or, to use an actual example:
John is the object of the infinitive to please. In
The girl hit the ball the second John is the noun phrase of the sen-
tence. Regular phrase structure provides no

Information Theory, vol. IT-2 (1956): 113-24; and Jerry


Fodor, James Jenkins, and Sol Saporta, “Psycholinguistics
and Communication Theory,” in Human Communication
Theory, ed. Frank Dance (New York: Holt, Rinehart and
Winston, 1967), pp. 160-201.
6. Examples from Gilbert Harmon, On Noam Chomsky:
The verb phrase can be broken down (Garden City: Anchor Books, 1974), p. 5.
Critical Essays
further
according to the following rewrite rule:

verb phrase <- verb + noun phrase The girl hit the ball

Or, to continue the example:

hit the ball

5. For an explanation and critique of finite-state and


phrase-structure grammar, see Noam Chomsky, “Three
Models for the Description of Language,” Transactions on

79
.

THEMATIC THEORIES

easy way to explain these different grammatical description. Second, the objective of generative
meanings. grammar is to isolate a set of rules that will
Basically, this problem involves theoretical parsimoniously explain how any sentence could
appropriateness The nature of classical lin- be generated. Parsimony is the key. Inventing a
guistics makes it inappropriate as an explana- new rule for each construction is not workable.
tory device; yet, the most important questions Indeed, the brain is finite and cannot operate on

of language demand that the theorist go beyond an infinitely expanding set of linguistic rules.
mere description of sentences as uttered. Ques- Yet people can produce and understand an in-
tions to be answered include the following: number of sentences. An adequate gram-
finite
What constitutes a necessary and sufficient mar must explain this paradox. The answer lies
grammar, such that a speaker competent in the number of rules that can be
in a relatively small
grammar of a language can produce an infinite used over and over again to produce novel sen-
number of novel sentences? By what cognitive tences.The third essential feature of generative
process are sentences generated and under- grammar is the transformation. (In fact, genera-
stood? How is syntactical ambiguity to be tive grammar is alternatively named transfor-
accounted for? How is language acquired? To mational grammar.) Transformations are the
answer questions such as these, generative key element in the generative grammar system.
grammar has been developed. We shall see the role of transformations mo-
mentarily.
Generative Grammar As Chomsky freely admits, transformational
Noam Chomsky is the primary force behind grammar does not yet solve all of the mysteries
generative grammar. As a young linguist in the of language. Consequently, various versions
1950s, Chomsky parted company with the clas- have emerged as alternative explanations of
sical theorists to develop an approach that since language processes. We will cover two of these.
has become the foundation of contemporary The first is standard theory, which for many
linguistics. 7 Like any theoretical tradition years represented the mainstream of thought in
generative grammar now has several positions linguistics.
within it, although the tradition as a whole is

built on a cluster of essential ideas. Three of Standard Theory. Original generative theory
these ideas warrant discussion. posits four basic components of grammar. Deep
First, generative grammar
on the be-
rests structures are believed to be underlying sentence
lieved centrality of sentence generation, which models constructed by the use of base phrase-
is seen as far more important than sentence
The deep structure of any sen-
structure rules.
7.Chomsky’s works include: Syntactic Structures (Hague: tence is modified by transformation rules, result-
Mouton, 1957); Aspects of the Theory of Syntax (Cambridge:
ing in an uttered (or utterable) surface structure.
M.I.T. Press, 1965); Cartesian Linguistics: A
Chapter in the
History of Rationalist Thought (New York: Harper Row, & Sentence generation proceeds along the follow-
1966); Topics in the Theory of Generative Grammar (The ing lines.
Hague: Mouton, 1966); Language and Mind (New York:
Deep structure is created with base rules.
Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1968); The Sound Pattern of
English (New York: Harper & Row, 1968); Current Issues in The deep structure is a sentence model, a men-
Linguistic Theory (The Hague: Mouton, 1970); Problems of tal structure, not utterable as speech. It is a
Knowledge and Freedom (New York: Pantheon Books, 1971);
model of sentence parts resembling a simple
Studies on Semantics in Generative Grammar (The Hague:
Mouton, 1972); Reflections on Language (New York: Pan- declarative form. The rules used to generate the
theon Books, 1975); The Logical Structure of Linguistic deep structure are rewrite rules that follow
Theory (New York: Plenum Press, 1975); Essays on Form and
lines originally developed in phrase-structure
Interpretation (New York: North Holland, 1977); Rules and
Representations (New York: Columbia University Press, grammar.
1980). Next, a surface structure is generated by

80
:

THEORIES OF LANGUAGE AND NONVERBAL CODING

transformation rules. Unlike rewrite rules John loves Mary.


transformation rules are instructions of move-
Mary is loved by John, (passive)
ment: Move component x to location y. For
example, the active transformation moves The adjective transformation occurs by deleting
components so that they appear in the order NP the verb form be and placing the adjective in
+ VP (Sally hit the ball). The passive transfor- front of the noun:
mation prescribes NP + auxiliary + VP + NP
(The ball is hit by Sally). A sufficient, but par- John loves Mary.
simoniously small, number of phrase-structure Mary is pretty.
and transformation rules will permit the genera-
John loves pretty Mary, (adjective)
tion of any proper sentence.
Since this book is not a linguistics text, we Suppose you wish to generate the sentence,
will not cover the range of possible transforma-
Ripe mushrooms are loved by hobbits. 9 You
tion rules of English. In order to understand the
would do this in two stages. First, with the
basics of the theory, however, we will look at
phrase-structure rules you would generate a
an example. Our example uses two transforma- deep tree, as shown in Figure 5.2. This deep
tion rules: the passive transformation and the tree provides the basic semantic interpretation
adjective transformation. 8 The passive trans- of the sentence. All of the basic logical gram-
formation inverts the noun phrase and verb matical relations are present, and the meaning
phrase, puts the verb in the passive form, and of the sentence is set. Don’t worry that this
adds the preposition by deep structure does not resemble the intended
8. Several English transformations are explained in brief surface structure. The deep structure is an ab-
form by 'Peter Salus, Linguistics (Indianapolis: Bobbs-
Merrill, 1969)y 9. Example from ibid.

From Linguistics, by Peter H. Salus. Copyright © 1969 by The Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc. Reprinted by permission of
the publisher.

Figure 5.2. An example of deep structure.

81
THEMATIC THEORIES

stract entity from which the actual sentence will components: NP (She) 4- VP (teaches dancing).
be generated in the next stage. The other is transformed from a deep structure
The surface tree — the actual sentence — is —
of two clauses (1) NP (She) + VP (dances),
generated by applying the two transformations and (2) NP (She) + VP (teaches) that have —
described above, passive and adjective. Figure been combined into a single deep structure of
5.3 illustrates the surface tree. the following form: NP (She) + S (who dances)
With a relatively small number of rewrite + VP (teaches). These deep structures would be
rules and transformation rules, a speaker can diagrammed as indicated in Figure 5.4.
generate any novel grammatical sentence. The Obviously, this theory explains surface am-
basic semantic structure is generated on the biguities, while the classical structure cannot. It

deep or abstract level with phrase structure, and also illustrates that in standard theory meaning
sentences are generated by subjecting the under- must always be located at the deep level.
lying structure to transformations. In essence Chomsky has come to believe, however, that
this process is what a speaker intuitively deep grammar alone is not sufficient to explain
“knows” about the language. The two-stage allmeaning structures. He therefore has devel-
sentence-generation model is a parsimonious oped a new approach, which is as yet unde-
and descriptively adequate explanation of how veloped and controversial.
the speaker uses this knowledge.
An essential feature of standard theory is that Trace Theory. Trace theory, or extended standard
a singular correspondence exists between a sur- theory ,
was developed
in an attempt to approx-
face structure and its deep structure. Any mean- imate better how
people assign interpretations
ingful sentence structure has one, and only one, to grammatical structures. Advocates of trace
deep structure. If an uttered sentence has more theory, including Chomsky, add an additional
than one syntactical meaning, each meaning is

derivable from a separate deep structure. For


example, the sentence, She is a dancing teacher,
has two possible meanings. No analysis of sur-
face structure alone can explain this paradox.
The two interpretations stem from separate
deep structures with different configurations.
One stems from a structure with the following

teaches dancing

A. Deep structure for first interpretation.

Ripe mushrooms are loved by hobbits

From Linguistics by Peter H. Salus. Copyright


, © 1969 by
The Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc. Reprinted by
permission of the publisher. B. Deep structure for second interpretation.

Figure 5.3. An example of a surface structure. Figure 5.4. Two illustrative deep structures.

82
. .

THEORIES OF LANGUAGE AND NONVERBAL CODING

level to sentence production. 10 Deep structures through their traces, and surface elements are
are generated by base rules, and transfor- combined in the attribution of meaning.
mations are applied, resulting in S-structures
S-structures possess the basic structure of the Language Acquisition. Some of Chomsky’s
uttered sentence, except that they contain most revolutionary and controversial ideas re-
“traces” of components in former positions be- late to language acquisition. Once Chomsky
fore being moved by transformation rules. identified the rich system of grammar that con-
Traces are seen strictly as mental repre- stitutes an individual’s linguistic knowledge,
sentations of deep sentence structure that aid in scholars immediately began to ask where this
surface interpretation. S-structures are trans- knowledge comes from.
lated into actual utterable sentences by pho- The behaviorists had a ready answer. For
nological rules. The resultant spoken sentence is them language is learned in the same fashion as
the logical form or LF-structure is any other behavior. 12 The child, born with a

Consider the following sentence as an exam- highly developed, but blank, cerebral cortex,
ple: Who do you want to visit? This question is responds randomly to various environmental
ambiguous. It could mean (1) What person do stimuli. Through a series of associations and
you wish to go to? or (2) What person do you reinforcements, the child’s responses are re-
wish to come to you? The first interpretation peated and shaped to form language.
stems from the deep structure, You wish to visit Generative theorists find this explanation
who. The second comes from, You wish who to weak. Chomsky calls it “a dead end, if not an
visit. Applying transformation rules, the intellectual scandal.” 13 The behaviorists’ expla-
speaker moves the element who to the front of nation is inadequate on two counts. It cannot

the sentence, but a mental trace (t) of its former adequately account for the extremely rapid ac-
location is left in the S-structure, as follows: (1) quisition of language in early childhood, and it
who do you want to visit t, and (2) who do you does not explain the ability to produce and un-
want t to visit. derstand novel sentences that the child has
ongoing speech phonological rules allow
In never heard before. 14
you to make a distinction between these two Chomsky approaches language acquisition
meanings in the way you utter the sentences.
For example, one such rule allows you to con- 12. The, best known behavioristic treatment of language
tract want and to to wanna, if and only if these learning is Skinner, Verbal Behavior (New York: Apple-
ton-Century-Crofts, 1957). For an integrated learning
two morphemes are contiguous. In the theory of language, see Arthur Staats, Learning, Language,
S-structure of the first sentence they are con- and Cognition (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston,
tiguous and thus you could say, Who do you 1968). Finally, see H. Hobart Mowrer, “The Psychologist
Looks at Language,” American Psychologist 9 (1954): 660-
wanna visit? But in the second sentence the trace ,

92; Learning Theory and the Symbolic Processes (New York:


of the former placement of who separates want John Wiley and Sons, 1960).
and to. Thus to properly get across the second 13. Chomsky, The Logical Structure of Linguistic Theory,
p. 40.
interpretation, you would utter these two
words distinctly and avoid using wanna 11 14. One learning theory approach, contextual generaliza-
.

tion, was developed to explain this phenomenon. See Mar-


The important difference between standard tin D. Braine, “On Learning the Grammatical Order of

theory and trace theory is that in the latter, Words,” Psychological Review, 70 (1963): 323-48. For a de-
bate on the basic issues, see ibid.; T. G. Bever,
meaning is attributed at the S-level, not the J. A. Fodor,
and W. Weksel, “A Critique of Contextual Generalization,”
deep level. In other words, deep elements, Psychological Review, 11 (1965): 467—82; Martin Braine, “On
the Basis of Phrase Structure: A Reply to Bever, Fodor, and
10. Trace theory is explained in Chomsky, Rules and Repre- Weksel,” Psychological Review, 72 (1965): 483-92; T. G.
sentations, pp. 155-81.
Bever, J. A. Fodor, and W. Weksel, “Is Linguistics Empiri-
1 1 . Examples from ibid. cal?” Psychological Review, 72 (1965): 493-500.

83

THEMATIC THEORIES

with the assumptions that language is a funda- form and content of linguistic rules is the best one for
mental cognitive element and that cognition, the language from which the corpus is drawn 16 .

likeany other physiological/anatomical process


a biological function.
Our understanding of language acquisition is
is Thus for Chomsky
basic language
primitive. The nativists believe that the lan-
knowledge
innate. According
is
guage a child acquires in the first few years is
to Chomsky, the child
born with various
is
too rich to be explained solely in terms of learn-
kinds of linguistic information 15 This informa- .

tion is universal and is not related to any partic-


ing. The alternative theory we have just dis-
cussed is abstract and vague. In the future
we
ular language. The innate information is the
same regardless of the culture into which the
may be able to see advances in understanding of

child is born. Chomsky believes that the child


this interesting phenomenon. What will be dis-
covered about language acquisition particularly
brings to language learning a basic knowledge
and language behavior generally may lead to an
of all the possible universal phonetic sequences
improved knowledge of basic human thought
(as opposed to impossible sequences), all possi-
processes.
ble deep structure trees (as opposed to impossi-
ble trees), and
possible transformations (as
all
Generative grammar affects all fields in-
terested in language. Gilbert Harmon states,
opposed to impossible ones). The child knows
the difference between what is possible in any
“Chomsky has let us see that there is a single
subject of language and mind which crosses
language (a language universal) and what is not.
departmental boundaries 17 This theory grew .

This amounts to an enumeration of all possible


out of the field of linguistics but rapidly stimu-
grammars. Further, the child is born with a
lated interest in other fields as well. It has be-
standard routine for testing the utterances
come especially important in psycholinguistics,
heard. This recognition device allows the child
since it bears directly on problems of human
to match what is heard against all possible
cognition.
sequences until the grammar of the native lan-
Yet, curiously, generative theory has had
guage is “discovered.” This sorting process
in-
lit-

volves the child’s hypothesizing about the na-


tle impact on many scholars interested in com-
tive grammar and testing the hypothesis. Thus
munication. Chomsky prefers not to conceive
of language primarily as a tool of communica-
language is not “learned” but develops and is
tion but a natural phenomenon of import in and
triggered by experience.
of itself. Needless to say, this claim is contro-
Fodor, Bever, and Garrett make an analogy
versial, and we shall return to it in the section
between this process in the child and the work
15. on criticism.
of a field linguist:
Chomsky’s work is philosophically interest-
In Chomsky’s view, then, the child is faced with a ing and complex. Its blend of philosophical
task analogous to that of a field linguist
confronted views is provocative as Justin Leiber points out:
with an alien language. Both are required to con-
struct a characterization of the regularities underlying [Chomsky’s ideas present] a peculiar, but explicable,
a certain set of phonetic strings where the rele-
. . . paradox; namely, that man has a kind of free
. . .

vant form of characterization is a generative gram- creative nature that Chomsky believes depends
on
mar. Like the field linguist, the child does not come the highly constraining innateness, and derived men-
to his task empty-handed: both are character, belonging to the
ideally, in posses- talistic human mind. The
sion of a linguistic theory”. ... In either case the paradox resolved by recalling that it is the infinite
is
problem is that of discovering which of the infinitely capacities of human thought, the infinistic and ab-
many grammars that satisfy universal constraints on stract character of man’s linguistic competencies,
that
purport to establish that man is by nature beyond a
Chomsky, Aspects of the Theory of Syntax, p. 30. An
interpretation and summary is provided by Fodor et al., 16. Fodor et al., Psychology of Language, p. 472.
Psychology of Language, pp. 470—72.
17. Gilbert Flarmon, On Noam Chomsky, p. vii.

84
.

THEORIES OF LANGUAGE AND NONVERBAL CODING

behaviorist or determinist viewpoint. One needs a nores or downplays semantics. Primarily it is a


strong, built-in capacity, as it were, before full, free theory of grammar, of syntax; problems of in-
creativity can manifest itself as choice within this
dividual lexical units and their meanings are
infinite, discrete range. The freedom Chomsky
ignored as unimportant. 20
. . .

wishes to emphasize is the freedom of a being with


infinite and reasoned choices when so unrestrained Second, critics are bothered by the failure of
by external force .
18 generative grammarians to consider problems
of language as used in everyday life. Generative
In treating the study of mind as a natural
grammar treats language as an abstraction,
science, Chomsky displays some obvious as-
claiming that an understanding of the anomalies
pects of World View I. (See Chapter 2.) He be-
of language use is unimportant to an under-
lieves that elements of language and mind are
standing of language itself. This approach
universal and available for discovery. He is
makes a sharp distinction between language
analytical in approach, seeking inherent
competence and language performance The for-
mechanisms of mind. However, in fulfilling his
mer is knowledge of grammar; the latter is lan-
view of the individual as distinctly human and
guage use. Generative grammarians steadfastly
creative, he follows actional assumptions. He
have maintained that performance is not a lin-
strongly believes in the a priori nature of knowl-
guistic concern. Consequently, they are not
edge and that much knowledge is tacit or im-
interested in how language is used in social
plicit.He follows the notion that knowledge
interaction. The theory therefore does not
arisesfrom an application of innate categories
account for local and cultural variations of
onto the world of experience. 19 In short,
language, nor does it account for the commonly
Chomsky is a champion of a point of view that
— observed phenomenon of ungrammatical
has not been popular in this century
speech.
rationalism. He has revived the basic idea of
Much of the criticism of generative grammar
Rene Descartes of the seventeenth century, that
questions its validity. A good deal of disagree-
the mind is given its power by a priori qualities
ment exists within the generative movement
and that knowledge arises from the use of this
itself about the locus of meaning. Where in the
power in understanding experience.
process of sentence generation is meaning estab-
lished? Chomsky has shown that meaningful-
Criticism of Generative Grammar
ness cannot reside strictly at the surface level,
Chomskian linguistics has been described as a
yet deep analysis by itself may not be adequate
true Kuhnian revolution (see Chapter 2). It is
for the establishment of meaning. Trace theory
generally praised as providing answers to ques- 20.
presents an answer, but as yet it is controversial
and behavioristic linguistics
tions that classical
and sketchy.
could not handle. major strengths are usually
Its
Much uncertainty exists, of course, about
seen as its parsimony and explanatory power.
the innatist arguments of generative grammar.
However, language presents us with one of our
Innatism is a position that cannot be proved,
most difficult intellectual puzzles, and even
although its strength lies in the fact that it has
generative grammar has its weaknesses. Basical-
not yet been disproved. As we already have
ly, generative grammar has been criticized on
pointed out, alternative explanations of lan-
two fronts,its scope and its validity.
guage acquisition have failed. Even if basic lan-
Two problems of scope warrant discussion
guage mechanisms are innate, we are far from
here. First, generative grammar generally ig-
understanding their nature or how they oper-
18. Justin Leiber, Noam Chomsky: A Philosophical Overview
(Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1975), p. 182. This criticism is discussed by John Searle, “Chomsky’s
19. Chomsky discusses features of his epistemology in Revolution in Linguistics,” in Harmon, On Noam Chomsky,
Rules and Representations ,
chapter 6. pp. 2-33.

85
THEMATIC THEORIES

ate. The claims of generative grammar are still cation, in fact, has isolated “mediated” mes-
speculative. sages as a special form of nonverbal code. 21
Transformational theory’s key problems re- Because of widespread application in all of
its
sult from the difficulty of observing generative
these contexts, nonverbal coding is included
processes. Linguists must rely on inferences here as a thematic domain.
made from observing spoken sentences. Classi- Actually, we touch on theories of nonverbal
make this inferential leap
cal linguistics failed to
communication in two places in this book.
from observed behavior to hidden processes, Here we cover five well-known theories of
and thus it fell short. As a result of its strong nonverbal coding. The theories that relate non-
reliance on inference, generative theory oper-
verbal processes specifically to interpersonal
com-
ates primarily from logical force (see Chapter
munication are included
in Chapters 9 and 10.
2). Its explanations rest on the strength of the
Although research and writing on nonverbal
logical connections among inferences. It also communication are copious and diverse, non-
reliesheavily on reasoning from “residues.” In verbal scholars have not been quick to produce
other words, alternative explanations are at- theory. Judee Burgoon comments on the field:
tacked and shown to be inadequate. What can-
If nonverbal communication in the 1950s and 1960s
not be disproved, the residue, is taken as the
was regarded as the foundling child of the social
best explanation. Linguistic writings are filled
with demonstrations of how this or that expla-
sciences —
disdained, neglected, even nameless the—
1970s marked a transition toward a legitimate and
nation will not work in explaining a particular identifiable areaof scholarship. An increasing con-
construction. The use of inference, logical sciousness and conscientiousness regarding nonver-
bal communication was reflected in the publication
necessity, and residues in the development of
of literally thousands of articles related to it, in its
generative theory is not inherently weak, and it
emergence as a topic for courses and textbooks, and
is the only available method for developing in its skyrocketing popularity with the lay public. 22
theory in the absence of direct observation.
Nonverbal communication theory is difficult
to summarize because it has been plagued by
Theories of Nonverbal Communication conceptual difficulties. Scholars disagree about
Most what nonverbal communication is. Defining
scholars would agreethat language is a
the term is not easy, as Randall Harrison points
central element of human communication; yet
out:
communication involves much more than lan-
guage. The signs that are used in communica- The term “nonverbal communication” has been
tion may be verbal (linguistic) or nonverbal; applied to a broad range of phenomena: everything
most communication involves messages that from facial expression and gesture to fashion and
contain a complex web of both verbal and non-
21. Randall Harrison, “Nonverbal Communication,” in
verbal signs.
Handbook of Communication, eds. Ithiel de sola Pool et al.
Nonverbal communication, an important (Chicago: Rand McNally, 1973).
aspect of coding and messages, is a cousin area 22. Judee K. Burgoon, “Nonverbal Communication Re-
search in the 1970s: An Overview,” in Communication Year-
to linguistics.For this reason it has been in-
book 4, ed. Dan Nimmo (New Brunswick,
N.J.: Transac-
cluded in this chapter. In addition, nonverbal tion Books, 1980), p. 179. In addition to this excellent
communication relates strongly to interper- review, see also Mark Knapp, Nonverbal Communication in

sonal communication and therefore applies to Human Interaction (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston,
1978); Mark Knapp, John Wiemann, and John Daly, “Non-
group and organizational communication as verbal Communication: Issues and Appraisal,” Human
well. Students of mass communication are in- Communication Research, 4 (1978): 271-80; Robert G.
Harper, Arthur Wiess, and Joseph Motarozzo, Nonverbal
terested in nonverbal aspects of media. One Communication: The State of the Art (New York: John Wiley
well-known textbook of nonverbal communi- and Sons, 1978).

86
THEORIES OF LANGUAGE AND NONVERBAL CODING

status symbol, from dance and drama to music and opment deal with the improvement of nonverbal
mime, from the flow of affect to the flow of traffic, elements of message sending and receiving. The
from the territoriality of animals to the protocol of
last two categories are especially useful for
diplomats, from extrasensory perception to analog
theories surveyed in this text. Structural ap-
computers, and from the rhetoric of violence to the
rhetoric of topless dancers .
23 proaches classify nonverbal behavior in order to
reveal the ways in which nonverbal messages
Four major conceptual issues are evident 24 .

are structured. Functional approaches, on the


The first is intent. Are all communication acts other hand,show how nonverbal actions are
intentional? Are acts that are unintentional
used and how they operate in the communica-
communicative? Are acts that are not perceived
tion process. Since many of the prominent
by a source as intended to be considered as theories of nonverbal communication fall into
communication? The second issue is awareness. these last two categories, this section of the
Must communicators be aware of communica- chapter is organized around the structure-
tive acts? Or do acts of which either source,
function distinction.
receiver, or both are unaware count as commu-
nication? The third issue involves shared mean-
Structural Theories
ing. To what must the meanings of acts
extent
Among the various theories of nonverbal
be shared to count communication? Finally,
as
communication, certain structural approaches
scholars disagree on what constitutes meaningful
stand out clearly. These theories can be clas-
units of analysis. What kinds of signs are to be
sified according to Abne Eisenberg and Ralph
included in nonverbal communication?
Smith’s three-point analysis: kinesics, the study
Two analytical problems
from these is-
arise
of bodily activity; proxemics, the study of
sues. First, one is never sure what to count as
space; and paralanguage, the study of voice 26 .

nonverbal communication. Our discussion will


Two anthropological theories that have become
not take sides in this debate, but you will see
standards in nonverbal communication are Ray
that the various theories included define some-
Birdwhistell’s kinesic theory and Edward Hall’s
what different behaviors and acts as important. theory of proxemics. A third representative
Second, classifying or organizing the diversity theory is G. L. Trager’s on paralanguage. These
of work in nonverbal communication presents a
three views provide an excellent representation
problem. One of the most useful classification of theory on the structure of nonverbal com-
schemes is that created by Judee Burgoon, who munication.
divided the writings in this area into five
categories 25 The first is research in the variable
Theory of Kinesics. Ray Birdwhis-
.
Birdwhistell’s
analytic tradition. This research attempts to iso-
tell, one of the most important theorists and
late and understand how certain nonverbal vari- researchers on body movement, has led the
ables relate to aspects of communication. Such field of kinesics for over thirty years 27 As the .

research tends to be experimental, behavioris-


inventor of the term, he is considered the father
tic,and nonactional. Context research examines
of kinesics. An anthropologist interested in lan-
the behavior of people in different situations,
guage, Birdwhistell uses linguistics as a model
correlating nonverbal behavior with the de-
for his kinesic work. In fact, kinesics is popu-
mands of the situation. Writings on skill devel- larly referred to as body language, although cri-
23. Randall Harrison, “Nonverbal Communication,” in 26. Abne M. Eisenberg and Ralph R. Smith, Nonverbal
Handbook of Communication, eds. Ithiel de sola Pool et al. Communication (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1971).
(Chicago: Rand McNally, 1973).
27. Birdwhistell’s major works include Introduction to
24. This analysis from Burgoon, “Nonverbal Communica- Kinesics (Louisville: University of Louisville Press, 1952);
tion Research.” Kinesics and Context (Philadelphia: University of Pennsyl-
25. Burgoon, “Nonverbal Communication Research.” vania Press, 1970).

87
THEMATIC THEORIES

ticsdoubt the validity of the language analogy. One of the most important connections
Let us look at the foundation ideas of Birdwhis- Birdwhistell found is the link between bodily
tell’s theory. activity and language, called the linguistic-
Communication, as a complex process, is a kinesic analogy. This analogy extends classical
multichannel phenomenon. It makes use of all linguistics into the realm of kinesics:
sensory channels, and a complete analysis must
encompass all channels in use. Birdwhistell de- This original study of gestures gave the first indica-
tion that kinesic structure is parallel to language
scribes the continuous process: “While no
structure. By the study of gestures in context, it
single channel is in constant use,
one or more became clear that the kinesic system has forms which
channels are always in operation. Communica- are astonishingly like words in language. The dis-
tion is the term which I apply to this continuous covery in turn led to the investigation of the compo-
process .” 28 Although developing methodol- nents of these forms and to the discovery of the
larger complexes of which they were components.
ogies for studying each channel is important,
... It has become clear that there are body behaviors
the theorist must always keep an eye on the which function like significant sounds, that com-
whole. So, while Birdwhistell has concentrated bine into simple or relatively complex units like
his work on the visual channel, he has also words, which are combined into much longer
attempted to stretches of structured behavior like sentences or
relate his findings to the larger
even paragraphs. 30
complex.
In Kinesics and Context Birdwhistell lists The similarity of hierarchical structure in
seven assumptions on which he bases his kinesics to that of linguistics is striking. The
theory. problem of the kinesicist is similar to that of the

linguist: “Kinesics is concerned with abstract-


1. Like other events in nature, no body
movement
or expression is without meaning in the context in ing from the continuous muscular shifts which
which it appears. are characteristics of living physiological sys-
2. Like other aspects of human behavior, body pos- tems those groupings of movement which are
ture, movement, and facial expression are patterned of significance to the communicational process
and, thus, subject to systematic analysis. and thus to the interactional systems of particu-
3. While the possible limitations imposed by particu- lar social groups .” 31 Out of the thousands of
lar biological substrata are recognized, until other- perceptible bodily motions produced in a short
wise demonstrated, the systematic body motion of
period of time, certain of these emerge as func-
the members of a community is considered a func-
tion of the social system to which the group belongs. tional in communication. Such movements are
4. Visible body activity, like audible acoustic activ-
called kines: “A kine is an abstraction of that
ity, systematically influences the behavior of other range of behavior produced by a member of a
members of any particular group. given social group which, for another member
5. Until otherwise demonstrated such behavior will of that same group, stands in perceptual con-
be considered to have an investigable communi- trast to a different range of such behavior .” 32 In
cational function.
other words, it is a range of motions or posi-
6. The meanings derived therefrom tions seen as a single
both of the behavior and of the operations by which
are functions motion or position. A
perceptible movement of the eyelid or a turn of
it is investigated.
the hand are examples of kines. What is defined
7. The particular biological system and the
special as a kine in one cultural group may not be in
life experience of any individual will contribute
idiosyncratic elements to his kinesic system, but the another. Kines are further grouped into kinemes,
individual or symptomatic quality of these elements elements that display differential communica-
can only be assessed following the analysis of the tive function. Like the phoneme in linguistics,
larger system of which he is a part. 29
30. Ibid., p. 80.
28. Birdwhistell, Kinesics, p. 70.
31. Ibid., p. 192.
29. Ibid., pp. 183-84. 32. Ibid., p. 193.

88
. , ,

THEORIES OF LANGUAGE AND NONVERBAL CODING

the kineme a group of relatively interchange-


is use of senses in interaction and interpersonal
able kines. For example, up to twenty-three distances. Another reason that proxemic rela-
of the eyelids may be
different positions (kines) tions vary among cultures involves the defini-
discerned, but they can be grouped into about tion of the self. People in most western cultures
four kinemes. Kinemes, like phonemes, occur learn to identify the self through the skin and
in context. A complex combination of kinemes clothes. Arabs, however, place the self deeper in
throughout the body may be called a kinemorph. the middle of the body.
For these reasons, then, the people of a par-
Hall’s Theory of Proxemics If Birdwhistell is the ticular culture structure their space in particular
father of kinesics, Edward Hall is surely the ways. Hall defines three basic types of space.
father of proxemics. 33 Hall shares the view of Fixed-feature space consists of the unmovable
his fellow anthropologist Birdwhistell that structural arrangements around us. Walls and
communication is a multichannel affair. Hall rooms are examples. Semifixed feature space is

believes that just as language varies from cul- the way that movable obstacles such as furni-
ture to culture, so do the other interacting ture are arranged. Informal space is the personal
media. Specifically, proxemics refers to the use territory around the body that travels with a
of space in communication. “Proxemics is the person. Informal space determines the interper-
term have coined for the interrelated obser-
I sonal distance between individuals. American
vations and theories of man’s use of space as a culture utilizes four discernible distances: inti-
specialized elaboration of culture.” 34 A more mate (zero to eighteen inches), personal (one
specific definition is “the study of how man and one-half to four feet), social (four to twelve
unconsciously structures microspace — the dis- feet), and public (over twelve feet).
tance between men in conduct of daily trans- When people are engaged in conversation,
actions, the organization of space in his houses eight possible factors are involved in the dis-
and buildings, and ultimately the layout of his tance between them. Hall lists these factors as
towns.” 35 Although this definition of prox- primary categories:
emics is broad, most of the work in the area has
been limited to the use of interpersonal space. 1. Posture-sex factors: These include the sex of
These definitions make clear that the way the participant and the basic position (standing,
sitting, lying).
space is used in interaction is very much a cul-
tural matter. In different cultures various sen- 2. Sociofugal-sociopetal axis: The word sociofugal
sory modalities assume importance. In some implies discouragement of interaction; sociopetal
cultures, such as the American, sight and hear- implies the opposite. This dimension refers to
ing predominate; in other cultures, such as the the angle of the shoulders relative to the other
Arabian, smell is also important. Some cultures person. The speakers may be facing each other,
rely on touching more than do others. In any may be back to back, or may be positioned
case, a necessary relation is present between the toward any other angle in the radius.
33. Edward Hall’s major works include Silent Language 3. Kinesthetic factors: This is the closeness of the
(Greenwich, Conn.: Fawcett, 1959); “A System for the
Notation of Proxemic Behavior,” American Anthropologist
individuals in terms of touch-ability. Individ-
65 (1963): 1003-26; and The Hidden Dimension (New York: uals may be in physical contact or within close
Random House, 1966). Excellent summaries can be found distance, they may be outside body contact dis-
in Eisenberg and Smith, Nonverbal Communication pp.
85-88; Knapp, Nonverbal Communication in Human Interac-
tance, or they may be positioned anywhere in
tion, pp. 186—90; and O. Michael Watson, “Conflicts and between these extremes. This factor also in-
Directions in Proxemic Research,” Journal of Communica- cludes the positioning of body parts as well as
tion, 22 (1972): 443-59.
which parts are touching.
34. Hall, The Hidden Dimension, p. 1.

35. Hall, “A System for Notation,” p. 1003. 4. Touching behavior: People may be involved

89
THEMATIC THEORIES

in any of the following tactile relations: caress- excellent general model of nonverbal signs. 37
ing and holding, feeling, prolonged holding, They have concentrated their work on kinesic
pressing against, spot touching, accidental behavior (for example, face and hands). Their
brushing, or no contact. goal has been ambitious: “Our aim has been to
5. Visual code: This category includes the man- increase understanding of the individual, his
ner of eye contact ranging from direct (eye-to- feelings, mood, and attitudes, and
personality,
eye) to no contact. to increase understanding of any given interper-
sonal interaction, the nature of the relationship,
6. Thermal code: This element involves the per-
the status or quality of communication, what
ceived heat from the other communicator.
impressions are formed, and what is revealed
7. Olfactory code: This factor includes the kind
about interpersonal style or skill.” 38
and degree of odor perceived in the conver-
These authors have approached nonverbal
sation.
activity from three perspectives: origin, coding,
8. Voice loudness: The loudness of speech relates and usage. Origin is the source of an act. A
directly to interpersonal space. nonverbal behavior may be innate (built into
the nervous system), species constant (universal
Paralanguage. The third category of nonverbal behavior required for survival), or variant
behavior is paralanguage, or the use of vocal across cultures, groups, and individuals. As
signs in communication. forms the borderline
It examples, one could speculate that eyebrow
between the verbal and nonverbal aspects of raising as a response to surprise is innate, that
interaction. The sounds we make in speaking territoriality is species constant,
and that shak-
relate to language but are not included directly ing the head back and forth to indicate no is
in language. Trager’s work in this area is not as culture specific.
well known as the other theories in the chapter, Coding is the relationship of the act to its
but an important contribution to our un-
it is meaning. An
act may be arbitrary, that is, no
derstanding. 36 Trager divides paralinguistic indication of meaning is inherent in the sign
cues into four types: voice qualities, vocal char- itself. Head nodding is a good example. By
acterizes, vocal qualifiers, and vocal segre- convention, in our culture we agree that nod-
gates. Voice qualities include such cues as pitch ding is an indication of yes, but this coding is
range, quality of articulation (forceful or re- purely arbitrary. Other nonverbal signs are
laxed), and rhythm. Vocal characterizers include iconic. Iconic signs resemble what is being sig-
such noises as laughing, crying, yelling, yawn- nified. For instance, we often draw pictures in
ing, spitting, belching. Vocal qualifiers include the air or position our hands to illustrate what
36.
the manner in which words and phrases are we are talking about. The third category of
uttered. For example, a word may be spoken coding is intrinsic. Intrinsically coded cues con-
softly or with high pitch; a phrase may be tain their meaning within them; such cues are
drawled or clipped. Finally, vocal segregates in- themselves part of what is being signified. Cry-
clude the rhythmic factors that contribute to the ing is an example of intrinsic coding. Crying is
flow of speech: “uh,” “um,” pauses, and other
37. Ekman and Friesen’s major works include “Nonverbal
interruptions of rhythm. Behavior in Psychotherapy Research,” in Research in
Psychotherapy, ed.J. Shlien, vol. Ill (Washington, D.C.:

Functional Theories American Psychological Association, 1968); “The Reper-


toire of Nonverbal Behavior: Categories, Origins, Usage,
Ekman and Friesen. For nearly twenty years and Coding.” Semiotica, 1 (1969): 49-98; Emotion in the
Paul Ekman and Wallace Friesen have collabo- Human Face: Guidelines for Research and an Integration of

rated on nonverbal research Findings (New York: Pergamon Press, 1972); Unmasking the
that has led to an
Face (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1975).
G. L. Trager, “Paralanguage: A First Approximation,” 38. Paul Ekman and Wallace Friesen, “Hand Movements,”
Studies in Linguistics, 13 (1958): 1-12. Journal of Communication, 22 (1972): 353.

90
THEORIES OF LANGUAGE AND NONVERBAL CODING

a sign of emotion, but it is also part of the outlining space), rhythmic movements (pacing
emotion itself. motions), kinetographs (depicting physical ac-
The third way to analyze a behavior is by (drawing a picture in the air),
tions), pictographs
usage. This category includes variables related and emblematic movements (illustrating a verbal
to circumstances. It involves such factors as statement) These types are not mutually exclu-
.

external conditions around the behavior, sive; some motions are combinations of types.
awareness or nonawareness of the act, reactions Illustrators are informative or communicative
from others, and the type of information con- in use and occasionally may be interactive.
veyed. A helpful subanalysis of usage is the They are also learned.
degree to which a nonverbal behavior is in- The third type of nonverbal behavior is the
tended to convey information. A communicative adaptor, which serves to facilitate release of
act is one used deliberately to convey meaning. bodily tension. Such actions as hand wringing,
Interactive acts are those that influence the be- head scratching, or foot jiggling are examples
havior of the other participants. An act will be of adaptors. Self-adaptors which usually occur
,

both communicative and interactive if it is in- in private, are directed to one’s own body.
tentional and influential. For example, if you They may include scratching, stroking, groom-
deliberately wave to a friend as a sign of greet- ing, squeezing. Alter-adaptors are directed to an-
ing and the friend waves back, your cue would other’s body. Object-adaptors are directed at
be communicative and interactive. A third cat- things. In any case, adaptors may be iconic or
egory of behaviors are those not intended to be Rarely are they intentional, and one is
intrinsic.
communicative but that nevertheless provide usually not aware of one’s own adaptive be-
information for the perceiver. Such acts are said haviors. They may occur when the individual is
to be informative. On a day when you are feeling communicating with another, but they usually
less than friendly, you may duck into a hallway occur with greater frequency when the person
to avoid meeting an acquaintance coming your is alone. Although they are rarely communica-
way. If the other person sees the avoidance, tive, they are sometimes interactive and often
your behavior has been informative even informative.
though you did not intend to communicate. Regulators, the fourth type of behavior, are
All nonverbal behavior is one of five types, used directly to regulate, control, or coordinate
depending on origin, coding, and usage. The interaction. For example, we use eye contact to
first type is the emblem. Emblems have a verbal signal speaking and listening roles in a conver-
translation of meaning for a
a rather precise sation. Regulators are primarily interactive.
social group. They are normally used in a delib- They are coded intrinsically or iconically, and
erate fashion to communicate a particular mes- their origin is cultural learning.
sage. The “V” and the black power fist
victory The category of behavior is the affect
final
are examples. The origin of emblems is cultural display.These behaviors, which may be in part
learning; emblems may be either arbitrary or innate, involve the display of feelings and emo-
iconic in coding. tions. The face is particularly rich for affect
Illustrators are the second kind of nonverbal display, although other parts of the body also
have a high relation to speech
cues. Illustrators may be involved. Affect displays are intrinsi-
since they are used to illustrate what is being cally coded. They are rarely communicative,
said verbally. They are intentional, though we often interactive, and always informative.
may not always be directly aware of them.
They include eight types: batons (movements Dittmann’s Theory of Emotional Communi-
that accent or emphasize), ideographs (“sketch- cation. Allen Dittmann provides an important
ing” the direction of a thought), deictic move- functional theory of emotional communica-
ments (pointing), spatial movements (depicting or tion. His theory has three parts: emotional

91
THEMATIC THEORIES

information, emotion signs, and channels for level of awareness, actually is two variables. On
communicating emotion 39
.
one end of the spectrum is full awareness; on
Following the classical definition of emo- the other is either subliminal unconscious or
tion, Dittmann explains emotion in terms of repression. A person may be more or less aware
behavioral deviation.
That is, whether perceived of a particular behavior. If the behavior is done
by self or others, an emotional expression is a without awareness, one of two conditions
deviation from some baseline behavior. We exists: Either the behavior is psychologically
judge a person’s emotion on the basis of how repressed, or the stimulus is not strong enough
the behavior is different from what is usually to be perceived. This dimension of awareness
seen in this individual and culture. This expla- can apply to either the sender, the receiver, or
nation, of course, assumes that people have both. Suppose in a conversation a speaker is
some knowledge of baseline behavior
intuitive expressing dislike for another person by a slight
in relation to various situations in which emo- frown. If the listener has a strong need for ac-
tions occur. Such knowledge stems from expe- ceptance at that moment, the listener might
rience with universal behavior patterns, cultural repress awareness of the frown and fail to
modes of expression, and social structure, as realize the other speaker’s dislike. Or perhaps
well as the observed person’s idiosyncratic be- the frown is so slight that the listener fails to see
havioral patterns. Once emotional expression is it because it is subliminal. At the other
end of
perceived, it is placed in the category (fear, the scale, however, the listener might be mildly
anger, sadness, and so forth) that the perceiver or strongly aware of the frown. In summary,
has learned to associate with the particular be- this variable forms two continuums, with
havioral deviation being observed. awareness as one extreme and either repressed
What the nature of emotional signs?
is unconscious or subliminal unconscious as the
Dittmann provides a useful and interesting other.
analysis of nonverbal affect display. His analysis The third dimension of the emotional mes-
contains three major factors: communicative sage is intentional control. In some cir-
specificity, levelof awareness, and intentional cumstances a person tends to express feeling
control. These variables extend Ekman and fully and spontaneously. At other times emo-
Friesen’s concept of sign use. tions are controlled and monitored. (As in the
The variable, communicative spec-
first case of the other factors, intentional control is
continuum between the extremes of
ificity, is a always a matter of degree.) A good illustration
communication and expression. Messages on of an extreme case of control is when a person
the communication end of this spectrum pos- has a strong urge to laugh in an inappropriate
sess “coded” or agreed-upon meaning. Com- setting and fakes a cough to cover up the
municative cues are relatively specific in terms laughter.
of what they relay to the perceiver. Messages at The final division of Dittmann’s theory deals
the other end have less social meaning and tend with channels of emotional communication. In
to express one’s feeling in idiosyncratic terms. any face-to-face interaction a number of modal-
In our culture shrugging the shoulders is a sign ities are used. We know that a rich assortment
of uncertainty, possessing a high degree of of behaviors communicated
is in the form of
communicative specificity. bodily activity, space, voice, and so forth. In an
The second dimension in Dittmann’s model, ongoing conversation these behaviors blend to-
gether into a kind of gestalt image. Certain
39. Allen T. Dittmann, Interpersonal Messages behaviors will be more salient for the receiver
of Emotion
(New York: Springer Publishing, 1972). Dittmann’s ap-
than others, depending on the situation and cul-
proach is based on information theory, which we will not
pursue here. See chaps. 2 and 3. Information theory is ture.Thus the primary channel of emotional
covered separately in this book in Chapter 7. communication in a given conversation de-

92
THEORIES OF LANGUAGE AND NONVERBAL CODING

pends on what the receiver perceives from the strongly to approach a synthetic topic in an
complex stimuli. Dittmann describes three analytic way by focusing on particular be-
broad classifications of channels: audible, vis- haviors to the exclusion of others. Again, this
ual, and psychophysiological. Audible channels problem is one of appropriateness and scope.
include language and paralanguage; visual chan- Finally, there is the fallacy of nonverbal preemi-
nels include facial expression and body move- nence. Nonverbal communication is often as-
ment; psychophysiological channels are those cues sumed to be the most important aspect of any
emanating from bodily functions (for example, message. Language is reduced to a lesser role.
breathing, eyeblinking, and so forth). Some writers on nonverbal communication
have actually stated as much 41 Most, however, .

Criticism imply undue importance by separating and


Certainly the work of nonverbal communica- concentrating on aspects of nonverbal codes
tion has helped us realize the complexity and apart from the entire coding complex. In most
subtlety ofcommunication codes. The various transactions language is absolutely central, but
categories suggested by theory have been the relative importance of any part of the code
producing an impressive quantity of
heuristic in varies from situation to situation.
research. The major problems of nonverbal These fallacies are especially apparent in
communication theories lie in their appropri- structural theories of nonverbal communica-
ateness for explaining intricacies of the com- tion, and they arise from the tendency of such
munication process and in their narrowness of theories to separate and classify bodily activity.
scope 40 .
The functional approaches tend to be less seg-
We can express the major criticism of these mental in their treatment of verbal and nonver-
theories as a series of fallacies. The first is the bal codes.
fallacy of the linguistic analogy. Although some The attempt to move from finite description
superficial similarities may be observed be- of nonverbal communication behavior to an
tween language and kinesics, probably more explanation of how it functions in ongoing in-
differences than similarities exist. Language is teraction is a necessary step. Yet this kind of
presented sequentially and involves discrete work is fraught with difficulties. First, accurate
signs; nonverbal codes are not presented solely observation is a problem. How can we know
in a sequential manner and rarely consist of what functions are being served by nonverbal
discrete behaviors. Although language is orga- behaviors? Indeed, at any given moment several
nized hierarchically, no good evidence shows functions may be involved.
that nonverbal acts are organized in this way In short, a more comprehensive theory is
(despite Birdwhistell’s linguisticlike categories). needed in nonverbal communication. Hereto-
Language is always used consciously; nonverbal fore the theoretical work has been fragmented
codes often are not. Thus we see that the as- and limited. The functional theories take a step
sumptions of language may not be appropriate in the right direction, buteven these could be
to thedomain of nonverbal behavior. more comprehensive in considering the larger
The second problem is the fallacy of analysis. issue of coordinated coding in general.
Most of the structural theorists admit that mes-
sages consist of inseparable complexes of verbal
and nonverbal codes, yet these theories tend What Do We Know about Language and
40. For a more complete analysis and critique of several Nonverbal Coding?
approaches to nonverbal communication, see Judee Bur- Of all the communication domains language
goon and Thomas Saine, The Unspoken Dialogue: An Intro-
and meaning are perhaps the most elusive; yet
duction to Nonverbal Communication (Boston: Houghton
Mifflin, 1978), chap. 2. See also Knapp, Wiemann, and 41. A. Mehrabian, “Communication without Words,”
Daly, “Nonverbal Communication.” Psychology Today, 2 (1968): 51-52.

93
THEMATIC THEORIES

lie at the heart of communication


ironically they language is strictly a learned behavior. Rather,

as asymbolic activity. Earlier simplistic models they believe that children are born with an in-
of language no longer are considered adequate nate model of linguistic structure that enables
to explain how language is acquired and how the child to acquire a native language with great
sentences are generated and understood. Mean- speed. Although several notions of how this
ing is not simply a matter of individual word process occurs have been posed, basically it is

denotations and connotations. Grammar, as an still unknown.


organizing link among semantic units, is vital in Nonverbal communication is an important
the communication of meaning. Therefore addition to our body of theory because of what
much work in linguistics has
centered on syntax it reveals about the coding complex. Although
as the key element of language. Generally ac- language is the essence of communication,
cepted among linguists today is the belief that meanings are communicated by messages that
the generation and reception of sentences can- consist of a complex set of linguistic and non-
not occur on the surface level alone. Deeper linguistic cues. Words are not uttered in isola-
coding processes must be examined. Unfortu- tion but are part of a bigger set of vocal, facial,
nately, linguists are farfrom certain what these bodily, and spatial cues. Some communication
deep processes are. The mainstream of linguis- takes place without language at all.

tic thought states that sentences are created and Clearly, nonverbal elements of communica-
understood by the use of a parsimonious set of tion are highly functional, relating emotional
rules that can be combined in numerous ways meaning, management,
facilitating interaction
to create or understand an infinite number of and releasing tension. Nonverbal cues also
sentences. augment the linguistic code, adding nuance to
Language acquisition also remains an un- the meaning of verbal messages.
solved puzzle. Few linguistics still believe that

94
CHAPTER

Theories

6 of Meaning

One cannot logically separate the topics of lan- for his work in literary criticism and rhetorical
guage and nonverbal communication from theory. His lifelong pursuit of improving
meaning. Meaning is the concept that connects communication led him to consider the nature
symbols with human beings. It is an elusive of words, meanings, and understandings in all
theme, of which several interpretations exist. kinds of discourse. In the introduction to The
The theories presented in this section attempt to Philosophy of Rhetoric he writes, “We struggle all
describe or explain this concept. For purposes our days with misunderstandings, and no apol-
of discussion, these theories are divided into ogy is required for any study which can prevent
several groups according to similar assumptions or remove them.” 2
and claims: representational theories, ordinary For Richards language is a system of signs
language philosophy, and experiential theories. that, because of its centrality to human life, is
supremely important as a field of study. A sign
is anything that stands for something else. It

Representational Theories of Meaning elicits in the person an image of a broader con-


The first sense of meaning is representational. text inwhich the sign was originally perceived.
Here meaning is seen as the “representation” of Further, as instruments of thought and com-
an object, event, or condition by a sign. Each munication, language signs are designated spe-
theory in this section explains how signs are cially as symbols.
used to stand for things in the minds of people. To aid in understanding the nature of symbol
The first theory is that of I. A. Richards. meaning, Richards and Ogden developed their
Richards
1. shows how three elements the sym- — famous triangle of meaning, illustrated in Fig-
bol, the referent, and the person — interrelate in ure 6.1. 3 This model stresses three senses of
establishing meaning. A closely related ap- meaning: meaning in the symbol (What does
proach, which stresses the conception of the the word mean?), meaning in the referent
referent in the person, is that of Suzanne (What is the meaning of this thing?), and mean-
Langer. The section concludes with a discussion ing in the person (What does this mean to
of the semantic theory of Charles Osgood, you?). While there is a direct relationship be-
which attempts to define the nature of meaning tween the symbol and the thought or the refer-
within the person. ent and the thought, the relationship between
the symbol and the referent is indirect. It is an
The Approach of Richards
One of the best known approaches to meaning University Press, 1936); Principles of Literary Criticism (New
York: Harcourt, Brace, 1952). For excellent summaries of
is of I. A. Richards and his colleague C. K.
that
Richards’s work, see Marie Hochmuth Nichols, “1. A.
Ogden in The Meaning of Meaning, later elabo- Richards and the New Rhetoric,” Quarterly Journal of Speech
rated by Richards in other works. 1 Richards, a 44 (1958): 1-16; Marie Hochmuth Nichols, Rhetoric and
Criticism (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press,
scholar in the field of English, was most noted
1963), chap. 7; Richard L. Johannesen, ed. Contemporary

C. K. Ogden and I. A. Richards, The Meaning of Mean- Theories of Rhetoric (New York: Harper & Row, 1971), pt. 3.

ing (London: Regan, Paul, Trench, Trubner, 1923). I. A. 2. Richards, Philosophy of Rhetoric, p. 3.
Richards, The Philosophy of Rhetoric (New York: Oxford 3. Ogden and Richards, The Meaning of Meaning, p. 11.

95
THEMATIC THEORIES

arbitrary relationship that holds only because of share a certain degree of past experience. This
the common denominator of thought in the general aim exists for both emotive and scien-
person. Let’s use the word cat as an example. tific communication. With emotive discourse
The three elements include the animal itself (re- the communicator hopes to elicit similar feel-
ferent), the symbol cat, and the thought or ings and attitudes; with scientific description
image of the animal that arises in the person’s one hopes to elicit an accurate and factual im-
mind when the word is heard. The connection age. According to Richards, rhetorical criticism
between the sign and the referent can only must involve the detailed study of words and
occur through the image of the animal in the the ways these kinds of understandings occur.
person. The relationship between cat and the In short, it must become a science of meanings
actual thing is therefore indirect, even though in communication.
either will elicit the thought in the person. Richards’s most valuable contribution is his
With this basic three-way distinction as a notion that the important meaning is in the per-
base, Richards discusses the ways that language son.The relationship between the person and
is used. When it is used primarily to communi- thesymbol is arbitrary and is mediated by the
cate description of the referent, the statement is thought of the person. Thus communication
scientific. When language is used primarily to must be viewed as a process of eliciting mean-
communicate one’s feeling about something, it ings, not giving meanings. This thesis has had a
is emotive. And in the middle is a mixed range of great impact on the study of human communi-
statements. In any'case communication is an cation. It is a view that has been promoted by
attempt to elicit meanings in another person. each of the theories in this section. A further
The goal of communication is to create a similar discussion of this notion is that of Suzanne
mental experience in the other, a goal that can Langer.
be achieved only when the communicators
Langer’s Theory of Symbols

Thought or reference
One of the most important topics of philosophy
in the past century has been the relationship
between language and meaning. It is clear that
any investigation of knowledge or epistemol-
ogy must include a view of these central issues.
A most useful concept of language is that of
Suzanne Langer, whose Philosophy in a New Key
has received considerable attention by students
of symbolism 4 .

Langer considers symbolism to be the key


issue of philosophy, an issue that underlies all
human knowing and understanding: “So our
interest in the mind has shifted more and more
from the acquisition of experience, the domain
of sense, to the uses of sense-data, the realm of
conception and expression .” 5 All animal life is

4. Susanne Langer, Philosophy in a New Key (Cambridge:


From The Meaning of Meaning, by C. K. Ogden and I. A. Harvard University Press, 1942). See also Mind: An Essay on
Richards. Copyright ©
1923. Reprinted by permission of
Human Feeling (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press), vol. 1,
Harcourt Brace Jovanovich and Routledge and Kegan Paul.
1967; vol. 2, 1972.
Figure 6.1. Ogden and Richards’s meaning triangle. 5. Langer, Philosophy in a New Key, p. 26.

96
THEORIES OF MEANING

dominated by feeling, but human feeling in- Like Richards, Langer conceives of meaning
cludes the additional ability to conceive of ob- as the complex
relation among the symbol, the
jects in their absence via
symbols and language. object,and the person. As she puts it: “If there
Langer distinguishes between signs and is not one thing meant and one mind for
at least
symbols, using sign in a narrower sense than which it is meant, then there is not a complete
did our discussion in the last chapter. For her a meaning .” 9 Thus we have both a logical and
sign is a stimulus that indicates the presence of psychological sense of symbol meaning, the
something corresponds highly with the
else. It logical being the relation between the symbol
actual signified event or object. A symbol is and referent and the psychological the relation
more complex: “Symbols are not proxy of their between the symbol and the person.
objects, but are vehicles for the conception of ob- The real significance of language, however,
jects .” 6
Symbols allow a person to think about not in words, but in
is discourse. Words name
something apart from its immediate presence. things, but “before terms are built into proposi-
Langer therefore calls the symbol “an instru- tions, they assert nothing, preclude nothing
ment of thought .” 7 We can see how this idea . . . say nothing .” 10 By tying words together,
supports Ogden and Richards’s idea of meaning grammatical structure plays an important sym-
in the person. We will return to the function of bolic role. A proposition is a complex symbol
signs and symbols momentarily. First, let’s go that presents a picture of something. The word
back to the broader issue of human mentality. dog brings up a conception, but its combination
Not only do people have an increased ca- with other words in a proposition provides a
pacity to use symbols, but the human has a unified picture: The little brown dog is nestled
basic need to symbolize apart from the practical against my foot.
necessities of living. Further, the symbol- In this sense language truly
makes us human.
making process is a continuous function in hu- Through language we communicate, we think,
mans tantamount to eating and sleeping. We and we feel. The significance of discursive
therefore must explain a good deal of human symbolism in human life is captured in the fol-
behavior in terms of meeting the symbolic lowing passage:
need. Symbolic acts involve speech (the use of
9.
Language draws so many other mental functions into
language) and nonverbal symbolization, which
Langer calls ritual. In the following passage
its orbit —
very deep and phylogenetically ancient

Langer indicates the importance of studying


processes of emotive and instinctive character and —
lifts them from their animalian state to a new, pecu-

meaning in symbolism: “In order to relate these liarly human level. It also engages all sorts of higher,

two distinct conceptions of symbolism [lan- larger cortical mechanisms, producing distinct forms
of memory, sequences of recall, logical contradic-
guage and ritual] ,
and exhibit the respective
tion, logical entailment, the propositional structure
parts they play in that general human response of ideas that is inherent in the conception of fact, and
we call life, it is necessary to examine more the correlative, largely emotional disposition of the
accurately that which makes symbols out of whole mind, belief. The depth to which the influence
anything — out of marks on paper, the little
of language goes in the organization of our percep-
tion and apperception becomes more impressive the
squeaks and grunts we interpret ‘words,’ or as
further one pursues 11
knees — the quality of meaning,
it .

bended in its
several aspects and forms .” 8 How, then, does language work? Any prop-
osition communicates a common concept. The
6. Ibid., p. 61. Elsewhere in this book we have treated
concept is the general idea, pattern, or form
symbols as a kind of sign. Langer uses the term sign more
narrowly. Ibid., p. 56.
7. Ibid., p. 63. 10. Ibid., p. 67.
8. Ibid., p. 52. 11. Langer, Mind, p. 324.

97
THEMATIC THEORIES

embodied by a proposition. It is, in short, situation. For example, the word dog brings to
common meaning among communicators. But mind a conception, a connotation, but this con-
each communicator also will have a private ception is incomplete; it always leaves some-
image or meaning, which fills in the details of thing out.The more abstract the symbol, the
the common picture. This private image is the more sketchy the conception: A dog is a mam-
person’s conception. Meaning therefore consists mal, which is an animal an animal is a living
;

of the individual’s conception and the common thing, which is an object. All of these terms can
concept: “A concept is all that a symbol really be used to symbolize the furry little puppy, but
conveys. But just as quickly as the concept is they constitute a hierarchy of abstraction, each
symbolized to us, our own imagination dresses successive term leaving out more details in the
it up in a private, personal conception ,
which we conception.
can distinguish from the public concept only by Earlier we mentioned that two important
a process of abstraction .” 12 Three terms help to types of symbols involve language and ritual.
explain Langer’s ideas: signification, denota- Langer labels these discursive and presenta-
tion, connotation. tional. Discursive symbols involve the combina-
Signification is the meaning of a sign. A sign, tion of smaller units (for example, words and
as defined earlier, is a simple stimulus announc- phrases) into larger ones. Individual word
ing the presence of some object. Signification meanings are combined into larger concepts.
therefore is a one-to-one relationship between Such symbols are linguistic. In presentational
sign and object. Denotation is the complex rela- symbolism individual units may not have dis-
tion of the symbol to its object via the concep- tinct meaning. Such forms may not be translat-
tion in the person. Theof a symbol
connotation The meanings
able or definable in other terms.
is the direct relationship between the symbol of presentational forms are understood only
and the conception itself. For example, the de- through the whole. Nonverbal rituals and
notation of the symbol dog is its relation to the forms constitute “a simultaneous integral pre-
fluffy little pup at my feet. This relationship sentation .” 14 A Catholic mass or commence-
occurs only in my mind through conception. ment ceremony illustrates this idea.
Even when the puppy is not present, I can think While other philosophers have excluded pre-
of it because of the relationship between the sentational forms from rationality, Langer be-

symbol and conception the connotation of the lieves that all experience, including thought
word. Connotation includes all of one’s per- (discursive symbolism) and feeling (presenta-
sonal feelings and associations attached to a tional symbolism), is rational. Some of the
symbol. most important human experiences are emo-
14.

Langer notes that humans possess a built-in tional and are best communicated through pre-
tendency to abstract. Abstraction, which leads to sentational forms such as art and music. Langer
the ability to deal with concepts, is a crucial summarizes her quest in the following passage:
human function. It is the essence of rationality. “The continual pursuit of meanings wider, —
Consistent with her notion of meaning, Langer clearer, more negotiable, more articulate
defines abstraction as “a process of recognizing meanings — is philosophy. It permeates all men-
the concept in any configuration given to expe- tal life; sometimes in conscious form of
rience, and forming a conception according- metaphysical thought, sometimes in the free,
ly .” 13 Abstraction is a process of leaving out confident manipulation of established ideas to
details in conceiving of an object, event, or derive their more precise, detailed implications,

12. Ibid., pp. 71-72.


and sometimes — in the greatest creative peri-

13. Ibid., p. 72. Ibid., p. 97.

98
THEORIES OF MEANING

ods —
in the form of passionate mythical, ritual, to respond to the new stimulus in the same way
and devotional expression.” 15 as to the old. For example, Pavlov’s dog learned
to salivate to the sound of a bell. By this process
Osgood’s Theory of Meaning new S-R links are established. This model of
The other theories in this section mean-
define learning is simple, and psychologists agree that
ing in terms of the association between a sym- learning does occur in other, more complex
bol and its referent. The theory of Charles ways. Osgood, however, believes that this
Osgood seeks to explain how this association basic association process is responsible for the
arises and to isolate the psychological dimen- establishment of meaning. Although individ-
sions of connotation. As a behaviorist Osgood uals can respond overtly to actual environ-
is especially interested in how meanings are mental stimuli, they also have a representation
learned and how they relate to internal and ex- of the stimulus and response that is internal in
ternal behavior. He is well known work
for his the organism. While the symbols S and R are
on the semantic differential, a method for used to represent the overt stimulus and re-
measuring meaning. His theory is one of the sponse, the lowercase letters 5 and r designate
most elaborate of the behavioral theories of lan- the internal representation. Meaning occurs on
guage and meaning. 16 Osgood believes that the internal (s-r) level. Osgood’s model of this
language should not be studied apart from ac- internal-external relationship is somewhat
tual ongoing behavior, that language is used in complex.
context, and that theories of psycholinguistics He proposes a three-stage behavioral model,
should explain the interaction between lan- illustrated in Figure 6.2. 17 This model can be
guage and other human activity. Clearly his used to analyze any behavior, but he applies it
approach differs significantly from the purely to language and meaning in particular. Three
structuralapproach of Chomsky, which was basic processes are involved: encoding (receiving
reviewed in the last chapter. stimuli), association (pairing stimuli and re-
In order to understand Osgood’s theory, you sponses), and decoding (responding). These
may need a little background in learning theory. processes occur on one of three levels, depend-
Osgood follows the classical learning tradition, ing on the complexity of the behavior involved.
which teaches that learning is a process of de- The projection
level is the simple neural pathway
veloping new internal or external behavioral system between sensor and effector organs. Be-
associations. In this tradition learning theory havior on this level is reflexive, such as knee
begins with the assumption that individuals re- jerks and eye blinks. Here the stimulus and
spond to stimuli in the environment. The link response
17. are linked automatically and directly.
between stimulus and response is often referred On the integration level the stimulus-response
to as S-R.Most learning theorists such as Os- link is not automatic. Stimulus and response
good agree that predispositions in the individ- must be integrated by the brain through per-
ual affect how the person will respond to the ceived association. An example is the routine
stimulus, and so they revise the model to read greeting ritual: “How are you?” “I am fine.”
S-O-R, which refers to stimulus-organism- The representational level is the level on which
response. meaning occurs. The stimulus from the envi-
When a new stimulus is paired or associated ronment is projected onto the brain, where an
with the original stimulus, the organism learns internal response leads to an internal stimulus
(meaning), which in turn leads to the individ-
15. Ibid., pp. 293-94.
ual’s overt response. The internal response or
16. Charles Osgood, “On Understanding and Creating
Sentences,” American Psychologist 18 (1963): 735-51. Ibid., p. 740.

99
THEMATIC THEORIES

meaning is a learned association between certain you will respond. This internal response (fear
actual responses to the object and a sign of the or pain) is part of your meaning for the sign. In

object. Thus word, perhaps) will


the sign (a real life meanings are more complex than in this
elicit a particular meaning or set of meanings, example, but they are formed, Osgood be-
which stem from the association of the sign and lieves, through the same basic associational

the object. To use a rather dramatic example, process. In summary, Osgood sees the first

suppose you sit and it


in a small fragile chair, level as sensory, the second as perceptual, and
collapses. In the immediate future a picture of the third as meaningful.
the chair, the sight of another similar chair, or The development of meaning by associating
the words “small fragile chair” will elicit an a sign with an environmental stimulus is illus-

image (r m ) in your head that influences how trated in Figure 6.3. This figure shows the

Processes

Decoding Association Encoding Levels

Representational s..
n
Meaning

(7) (8) (9)

Integra tional r Perception


s

(4) (5) (6)

Projection s r r Sensory

(1) (2) (3)

S R

*The symbol s refers to internal stimuli, r to internal responses, both differentiated by level. S and R refer to external
stimulus and response.

Figure 6.2. Three-stage mediation model of behavior.

100
.

THEORIES OF MEANING

development of a sign S as the result of its signs, S ,


each of which elicits meanings in
association with a natural stimulus S. A portion the individual because of previous associations
of one’s complex response to the natural (r mThese signs are associated with another
).

stimulus R t becomes represented in the form new sign, I SI, and their internal responses
of an internal response r m which in turn be- , (meanings) “rub off” on the new sign (r ma ).
comes an internal stimulus to a new but related To continue our example, imagine that the
overt response R x Meaning
. is the internal child who had already established internal re-
mediating process represented in Figure 6.3 as sponses to the words spider, big, and hairy lis-
r m > s m
Such meaning, since it is in-
. tened to a story about a tarantula. In the story
side the person and unique to the person’s own the tarantulawas characterized as a “big, hairy
experience with the natural stimulus, is said to spider.” Through association the child will now
be connotative Osgood presents a good example have a meaning for the new word tarantula.
of this process. For a particular person a spider This word may also carry some mixture of the
(S) elicits a complex response R T . When the connotations earlier attached to the other words
word spider is associated with the object as it because of its association with these words. If
might be in a small child, a portion of the the child associated spider with fear, big with
response Rm becomes associated with the
(fear) potentially dangerous, and hairy with feeling
label. This internal meaning mediates the per- creepy, then the childmight well react to a real
son’s response to the word, even when the ac- or imagined tarantula by running away. In this
tual object is not present. 18
Most meanings are not learned as a result of
with the natural stimulus. In
direct experience
other words, they are learned by associations ISI (tarantula), when associated with the other
between one sign and another, a process that words, comes to elicit the internal response
may occur in the abstract out of physical con- of avoidance (r m a)> which itself becomes a
tact with the original stimulus. Figure 6.4 is stimulus away
(s ma ) to cause the child to run
Osgood’s illustration of this more complex (R xa ) when threatened by a real or imagined
process. 19 This figure depicts a series of tarantula.

18. Osgood, “The Nature and Measurement of Meaning,”


in The Semantic Differential Technique, ed. James Snider and
Charles Osgood (Chicago: Aldine, 1969), pp. 9-10.
19. Ibid., p. 11.

Rx

From The Measurement of Meaning,


by Charles Osgood, From The Measurement of Meaning, by Charles Osgood,
George Suci, and Percy Tannenbaum. Copyright© 1957
by the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois.
George Suci, and Percy Tannenbaum. Copyright 1957 ©
by the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois.
Reprinted by permission of the University of Illinois Press. Reprinted by permission of the University of Illinois Press.

Figure 6.3. Development of a sign. Figure 6.4. Development of an assign.



THEMATIC THEORIES

Osgood is perhaps best known for the seman- and strong. In any case one’s connotative mean-
ticdifferential technique, a method for measuring ing for mother will depend on learned associa-
meaning. 20 This measurement technique as- tions in the individual’s life. (Keep in mind that
sumes that one’s meanings can be expressed by the three dimensions of meaning are not
the use of words. The method begins by dichotomous but continuous variables.)
finding a set of adjectives that could be used to Osgood and others have done semantic dif-
express individuals’ connotations for some ferential research on a variety of sign types,
stimulus or sign. These adjectives are set against including word concepts, music, art, and even
one another as opposites, such as good/bad, sonar sounds. 22 In addition they have done re-
high/low, slow/fast. Individuals are given a search among a number of groups of people
topic, word, or other stimulus and are asked to representing a wide range of cultures. Osgood
indicate on a seven-point scale how they as- believes that the three factors of meaning
sociate the stimulus with the adjective pairs. A evaluation, potency, and activity —
apply across
sample scale looks like this: all people and all concepts. 23 If this is true, then

good : : : : : :
bad
Osgood has significantly advanced our under-
standing of meaning.
The subject places a check mark on any space Osgood’s mediational approach has been
between these adjectives to indicate the degree especially well applied by social psychologists
of good or bad associated with the stimulus. to persuasion and attitude research. Osgood
The subject may fill out as many as fifty such himself has participated in developing a theory
scales for each stimulus. Osgood then uses a
statistical technique called factor analysis to find 22. A sampling of studies illustrating the applications can
be found in Snider and Osgood, Semantic Differential. This
the basic dimensions of meaning that are operat-
work also includes an atlas of approximately 55 concepts
ing in peoples’ connotations of the stimulus. and their semantic profiles.
His findings in this research have led to the 23. This point of view is expressed in Charles Osgood,
theory of semantic space. 21 “Semantic Differential Technique in the Comparative
Study of Cultures,” in The Semantic Differential Technique,
One’s meaning for any sign is said to be ed. James Snider and Charles Osgood (Chicago: Aldine,
located in a metaphorical space of three major 1969), pp. 303-32); and Cross Cultural Universals of Affective

dimensions: evaluation, activity, and potency. A Meaning (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1975).

given sign, perhaps a word or concept, elicits a

reaction in the person consisting of a sense of


Good
evaluation (good or bad), activity (active or
inactive), and potency or strength. The person’s
connotative meaning will lie somewhere in this
hypothetical space, depending on the responses
of the person on the three factors. Figure 6.5
illustrates semantic space.
Take the concept mother, for example. For
any given person this sign will elicit an internal
response embodying some combination of the
One person might judge mother as
three factors.
good, passive, weak; another as good, active,
20. Ibid.

21. More recently Osgood has hypothesized that bipolarity


isa basic factor in all language and human thought. See
Charles Osgood and Meredith Richards, “From Yang and
Yin to and or but," Language 49 (1973): 380-412. Figure 6.5. Three-dimensional semantic space.

102

THEORIES OF MEANING

of attitude change. His semantic differential mainly to validity. 25 Although


criticism, related
technique has often been used in attitude re- most behavioral researchers admit the useful-
search because his concept of meaning is similar ness of semantic differential technique for
to that of attitude. We will return to this issue measuring a certain aspect of connotative mean-
again in Chapter 8. ing, they question the view that the factors of
An interesting epistemological division is meaning — evaluation, potency, and activity
found among the theories in this section. are invariant and universal across situations,
Langer and Richards stress the importance of concepts, and cultures. Although these factors
individual interpretation and the personal na- have appeared in an amazingly diverse set of
ture of meaning. Osgood’s theory, however, is studies, they do not always appear; to suggest
behavioristic and posits universal factors of that they are universal is a gross overgeneraliza-
meaning. His semantic diffetential epitomizes tion. Problems of validity in the use of semantic
the behaviorist penchant for “discovering” and differential arise from at least two methodolog-
“measuring” dimensions of existing reality. ical problems.
This fundamental difference illustrates clearly First, somewhat similar responses may result
how assumptions about knowledge
a theorist’s from the use of a highly structured stimulus
shape the sort of claims made and methods situation. The semantic differential always in-
used. Richards and Langer, assuming rich indi- volves adjective scales, and subjects are often
vidual differences in personal knowledge, at- presented with many of the same scales in study
tempt to capture idiosyncratic aspects of repre- after study. Subjects may respond more to the
sentational meaning. Osgood, in contrast, seeks form of the instrument than to the real mean-
the generalized forms of meaning that cut ings of the concepts. Second, the semantic dif-
across situations and cultures. ferential relies heavily on a statistical procedure
i

called factor analysis. This technique shows


Criticism of Representational Theories how the several scales intercorrelate to form
The basic criticism of representational theories factors, but the researcher must subjectively
as a group is one of scope. No one denies that interpret and name the factors. If a theorist such
there is a grain of truth in these theories, but as Osgood believes that three factors are univer-
they are indicted for being overly simple. The sal, a strong tendency may develop to interpret
notion that words are taken to represent refer- the factor structure in just that way. In short,
ents is obvious and uninteresting, according to the claim that factors of meaning are universal
24
critics. These theories are word-centered and may be the result of a self-fulfilling prophecy.
tell us of how meaning arises and develops
little

in the communicative process. Critics believe


that the most important aspects of meaning are
Ordinary Language Philosophy
beyond the word level. Langer identifies the Ordinary language philosophy began as a reac-
higher discursive level but does not develop it.
tion to two earlier movements. One was the
In the next section theories from ordinary lan-
representational approach to meaning, and the
guage philosophy represent one attempt to deal
other was the tradition of propositional mean-
with meaning on a higher level.
ing. As you have just seen in the last section,
Osgood’s theory ofsematic space, because of
representational theories center on the relation-
its method, has incurred a different kind of
24. This criticism developed extensively by Bernard
is 25. Criticisms, including both positive and negative evalu-
Harrison, An
Introduction to the Philosophy of Language (New ations of the semantic differential, are summarized in
York: St. Martin’s Press, 1979). See also Stanley Deetz, Donald K. Darnell, “Semantic Differentiation,” in Methods
Words without Things: Toward a Social Phenomenology of Research in Communication ed. Philip Emmert and Wil-
,

* of Language,” Quarterly Journal of Speech 59 (1973): 40-54. liam Brooks (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1970), pp. 181-%.

103
THEMATIC THEORIES

ship between symbols and referents. The prop- It is equivalent to the utterance itself without
ositional school looks to the sentence for mean- considering the speaker’s intentions. Philos*
ing; it finds the source of meaning to be the ophers of the propositional school center all of
logical structure of propositions, or claims. their efforts on the analysis of such acts. An
This approach does not consider how a state- illocutionary act involves saying something with
ment is actually being used in interaction. Or- the force of communicating an intention. An
dinary language philosophers believe that the illocution is taken as a warning, a compliment,
most important aspect of meaning is not found a reprimand, a promise, and so forth. A per-
in the reference of words or in formal logic but locutionary act is one designed to affect the feel-
in the way language is used. Speech acts, not ings, attitudes, beliefs, or behaviors of listen-
forms, are the most important factors of com- ers 28 . The latter two types of
acts, which are
munication meaning. clearlymost important for Austin, are marked
by the use of certain performative verbs. These
Foundations: Wittgenstein and Austin verbs literally name the act being accomplished
Ludwig Wittgenstein, a German philosopher, by the utterance. Such verbs as name, assert,

was the originator of ordinary language promise, ask or thank guide the observer to un-
philosophy. His early works were strongly in derstand the intentions of the speaker. These
the propositional tradition, but he repudiated concepts are discussed in more detail in the next
thisapproach in one of the most dramatic turn- section on speech acts.
arounds in modern philosophy 26 He later .

taught that the meaning of language depends on Searle’s Theory of Speech Acts
the context of use. Further, single words by Building on the foundation laid by Wittgenstein
themselves are rarely meaningful. Language, as and Austin, John Searle developed the well-
used in ordinary life, constitutes a language known theory of speech acts 29 Although Searle .

game. In other words, people follow rules for is not solely responsible for speech act theory,

accomplishing verbal acts. Giving and obeying he is clearly the leader of the movement, and his
orders, asking and answering questions, de- name is most often associated with the theory.
scribing events are examples of ordinary uses of The speech act is the basic unit of language for
language that follow rules and hence constitute expressing meaning. It is an utterance that ex-
language games. presses an intention. Normally the speech act is

While the philosophical groundwork of or- a sentence, but it can be a word or phrase, so
dinary language philosophy was laid by long as it follows the rules necessary to ac-
Wittgenstein, J. L. Austin developed the basic complish the intention (or in Wittgenstein’s
concepts of what his protege, John Searle, later
27 28. Perlocutionary acts are undeveloped in speech act litera-
called speech acts . Austin designates three ture. For a development of this concept, see Robert N.
types of speech acts. A locutionary act involves Gaines, “Doing by Saying: Toward a Theory of Perlocu-
saying something that has referential meaning. tion,” Quarterly Journal of Speech 65 (1979): 207-17.

29. John Searle, Speech Acts: An Essay in the Philosophy of


26. Wittgenstein’s best known early work was Tractus Language (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1969);
Logico-Philosophicus (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, Searle, “Human Communication Theory and the
1922); his later work, which forms the foundation for ordi- Philosophy of Language,” in Human Communication Theory,
nary language philosophy, is Philosophical Investigations ed. Frank Dance (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston,
(Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1953). I have relied on the excel-
1967), pp. 116-29. Good secondary sources include John
lent summary by David Silverman and Brian Torode, The
Stewart, “Concepts of Language and Meaning: A Compar-
Material Word:Some Theories of Language and Its Limits (Lon- ative Study,” Quarterly Journal of Speech 58 (1972): 123-33;
don: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1980). Paul N. Campbell, “A Rhetorical View of Locutionary,
27. J. L. Austin, How to Do Things with Words (Cambridge: Illocutionary, and Perlocutionary Acts,” Quarterly Journal of
Harvard University Press, 1962); Austin, Philosophy of Lan- Speech 59 (1973): 284-96; Gaines, “Doing by Saying”; and
guage (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1964). Silverman and Torode, The Material Word, pp. 203-25.

104
THEORIES OF MEANING

terms, to play the language game). We will effects or consequences in other peoples’ be-
discuss rules in speech acts momentarily; for havior. Since the difference between illocution
now let us turn our attention to the nature of and perlocution is sometimes hard to grasp,
speech acts. When one speaks, one performs an let’s pursue it a little further.
act.The act may involve stating, questioning, An illocution is an act in which the speaker’s
commanding, promising, or any of a number primary concern is that the listener understand
of other acts. Speech therefore is conceived of as the speaker’s intention. A perlocution is an act
a form of action or intentional behavior. If we in which the speaker not only expects the lis-
relate this discussion to the previous chapter, tener to understand but to act in a particular
we see that while Chomsky is interested in lan- way because of that understanding. If I say, “I
guage competence, Searle is interested in lan- am thirsty,” with the intention of having you
guage performance. understand that I need a drink, I am performing
What, then, is meaning from the standpoint an illocutionary act. If I make the same state-
of speech act theory? Meaning is roughly the ment expecting you to bring me a glass of wa-
same as intention. The speaker means some- ter,my act is perlocutionary. These four kinds
thing, when he or she performs a speech act, of acts are highly interrelated and often are ut-
and the performing of a speech act is an attempt tered simultaneously.
to communicate one’s intention to another per- Now let us pursue propositional acts and
son. An important part of the meaning of a illocutionary acts in more detail. The proposi-
speech act is that the recipient understand the tion can be understood as one aspect of the
speaker’s intention. Unlike the representational content of an illocution. It designates some
view of meaning, speech act theory does not quality or association of an object, situation, or
stress the individual referents of symbols but event. The cake is good, Salt is harmful to the body,
the intent of the act as a whole. If you make a Her name is Karen are allexamples of proposi-
promise, you are communicating an intention tions. Propositions can be evaluated in terms of
about something you will do in the future; but their truth value. The logical relationship of one
more importantly, you are expecting the other proposition to another can also be examined.
communicator to realize from what you have These are the proper tasks of the propositional
said what your intention is. school referred to earlier. In speech act theory,
Searle’s classification, essentially the same as however, truth and logic are not considered
Austin’s but slightly different, divides speech important. Rather, the question is what a
acts into four types. The first is an utterance act. speaker intends to do by uttering a proposition.
Such acts are the simple pronunciation of The meaning of an illocutionary act is deter-
words, singly or in combination. Here the in- mined in part by establishing how the speaker
tention is to utter, nothing more. An example is wishes others to take the stated proposition.
an actor doing voice exercises. The propositional Hence, for Searle, propositions must always be
act is what Austin refers to as a locution. It is the viewed as part of a larger context, the illocu-
utterance of a sentence with the intention of tion. Searle would be interested in acts such as
expressing a reference. In other words, the in- the following: I ask whether the cake is good; I
dividual wishes to make an between
association warn you that salt is harmful to the body; I state
a subject and verb or to designate an object and that hername is Karen. What the speaker is
refer this object to something else. An illocu- doing with the proposition is the speech act,
tionary act designed to fulfill an intention
is and how the proposition is to be taken by the
vis-a-vis another person. Here one uses the audience is the illocutionary force of the state-

speech act to elicit response in another. Finally, ment. You could, for example, state the propo-
the perlocutionary act is one designed to have sition The cake is good in such a way as to have

105
THEMATIC THEORIES

the listener realize that you were speaking ironi- stitute” a sufficient set of conditions for an act
cally, meaning to imply just the opposite: This to count as a promise.
cake is the worst I ever ate. Any illocutionary act must have the basic
Searle states fundamentally that “speaking a kinds of rules named in parentheses above. The
language is engaging in a rule-governed form of propositional content rule specifies some condi-
behavior.” 30 In Chapter 4 we mentioned that tionof the referenced object. Preparatory rules
speech act theory is one of the primary applica- involve the presumed preconditions in the
tions of rules theory. Two types of rules are speaker and hearer necessary for the act to take
important. Constitutive rule create new forms .';
The sincerity rule requires the speaker to
place.
of behavior; that is, acts are created by the estab- mean what is said. (In the case of insincere
lishment of rules. For example, football as a illocutions, the act is presented in such a way
game exists only by virtue of its rules. The rules that the listener presumes the speaker actually
constitute the game. When you observe people intends what he or she says is intended.) The
following a certain set of rules, you know the essential rule states that the act is indeed taken
game of football is being played. These rules by the hearer and speaker to represent what it
therefore tell you what to interpret as football. appears to be on the face. Of course, many acts
In speech acts, one’s intention is largely under- are not successful in these ways, and speech acts
stood by another person by virtue of constitu- can be evaluated in terms of the degree to which
tive rules, because these rules tell others what to they meet these criteria. Searle believes that
count as a particular kind of act. An example is speech acts may be defective; Austin calls a
provided in the next paragraph. The second defective act an infelicity. These constitutive
kind of rule is regulative. Regulative rules pro- rules are believed to apply to a wide variety of
vide guidelines for acting out already estab- illocutionary acts, including at least requesting,
lished behavior. The behaviors are known and asserting, questioning, thanking, advising,
available before being used in the act, and the warning, greeting, and congratulating.
regulative rules one how to use the be-
tell Although many speech acts are direct; in-
haviors to accomplish a particular intention. volving the use of an explicit proposition that
For example, a host often opens the door for a clearly states the intention, other speech acts are
guest who is leaving. indirect. For example, in requesting that his
As an example of the use of constitutive family come to the table, a father might say, “Is
rules, let us look at one of Searle’s extended anybody hungry?” On the face this appears to
analyses of a speech act, the act of making a be a question, but in actuality it is a request.
promise. Promising involves five basic rules . Searle outlines five types of illocutionary
First, promising involves uttering a sentence acts. The first is called assertives. An assertive is
that indicates the speaker will do some future a statement ofproposition that commits the
a
act {propositional content rule). Second, the sen- speaker to advocate the truth of the proposi-
tence is uttered only if the listener would rather tion.In direct form such acts might contain
that the speaker do the act than not do it {prepa- such performative verbs as state, affirm, con-
ratory rule). Third, a statement
promise only is a clude, believe, and so forth. Directives are il-
when it would not otherwise be obvious to the locutions that attempt to get the listener to do
speaker and hearer that the act would be done in something. They are commands, requests,
the normal course of events {preparatory rule). pleadings, prayers, entreaties, invitations, and
Fourth, the speaker must intend to do the act so forth. Commissives commit the speaker to a
(sincerity rule). Finally, a promise involves the They consist of such acts as promis-
future act.
establishment of an obligation for the speaker to ing, vowing, pledging, contracting, guarantee-
do the act ( essential rule). These five rules “con- ing, and so forth. Expressives are acts that
30. Searle, Speech Acts, p. 22 communicate some aspect of the speaker’s

106
.

THEORIES OF MEANING

psychological state. They include thanking, don automatically constitutes an illocution, as


congratulating, apologizing, condoling, wel- Austin claims it does. The distinction between
coming, and others. Finally, a declaration is de- illocutionary and perlocutionary acts is equally
signed to create a proposition that, by its very unclear to many readers, who point out that
assertion, makes it so. Examples include ap- even if one could observe the difference among
pointing, marrying, firing, resigning, and so these concepts, it is doubtful that they consti-
forth. tute a useful conceptual framework for guiding
our understanding of speech acts. It would
Criticism of Ordinary Language Philosophy perhaps be more fruitful to recogize that any
The obvious strength of ordinary language given speech act may be fulfilling a variety of
philosophy is that it takes the analysis of lan- intents and may be taken in a variety of differ-
guage out of the realm of the formal and struc- ent ways by different listeners. Conceptually,
tural and into the arena of actual use. Ironically, the terms illocution and perlocution may apply
its primary weakness may be that it has not more of force and effects than
directly to types
done enough to show how language-in-use op- to types of acts per se.
erates in ongoing communication 31 This prob- . The distinction between regulative and con-
lem is discussed in terms of three related criteria stitutive rules is equally fuzzy 33 The problem
of theory evaluation: scope, validity, and here is that once any act becomes standardized,
heuristic value. as in the case of almost all illocutionary acts,
Critics point out that despite its broad claims rules no longer are constitutive in the sense of
and qualifications to the contrary, speech act creating new acts. Hence, rules that regulate can
analysis is^narrow in scope. It focuses on the be taken as constitutive, and rules that consti-
structure of utterances as indicators of their in- tute an act also regulate it.
tentional meanings. Austin, for example, is These apparent weaknesses of scope and va-
more concerned about the apparent inherent lidity have lessened the heuristic value of these
implications of performative verbs than he is theories. Little research on communication
with speakers’ actual purposes in using those processes has resulted from the ideas of
verbs or with listeners’ actual interpretations. Wittgenstein, Austin, and Searle, even though
Although some critics agree that intentions on the face, language-in-use would seem to be
are an important aspect of meaning, that speech of great interest. Perhaps the main contribution
constitutes a form of action, and that speech of this line of theory is a basic idea, an idea that
acts are governed by rules, they argue that the awaits future investigation and development.
conceptual categories of speech act theory are
vague or meaningless. Austin’s three-fold dis- 33.

tinction among locutionary, illocutionary, and Language and Experience


perlocutionary acts has been severely criticized Experiential theories of meaning take the posi-
from this standpoint. One critic states: “And tion that the most important aspect of meaning
now Austin has, in my judgment, erected a is between language and ex-
in the relationship
structure that is in imminent danger of col- perience. All of these theories share the thesis
lapse .” 32 His three-fold analysis is criticized for that language strongly influences the ongoing
being unclear. Critics question the utility of life and experience of the person. Meaning thus
locution as a concept if the utterance of a locu- is conceived as the person’s knowledge of real-

31. A thorough and rather biting critique of Austin can be ity, as shaped by language. Unlike the repre-
found in Campbell, “Rhetorical View”; see also Gaines,
sentational approaches, these theories do not
“Doing by Saying.” Critical commentary can also be found
in Silverman and Torode, The Material Word, and Harrison, separate the sign, the referent, and the person.
Introduction
Susan B. Shimanoff, Communication Rules: Theory and
32. Campbell, “Rhetorical View,” p. 287. Research (Beverly Hills, CA: Sage 1980), pp. 84-83.

107
THEMATIC THEORIES

They place the three as being so closely in- must adapt to “reality.” What Cassirer seems to
tertwined that they must be viewed together. be saying is that language and nature interact.
There are numerous experiential approaches to Our language and other symbolic forms
meaning. Two major experiential theories are influence how we perceive; at the same time,
presented here for illustration: Cassirer’s theory what we perceive may influence our symbolic
of symbolic forms and Whorf s theory of lin- forms 36

guistic relativity. A culture’s predominant symbolic forms


shape both the culture’s expression and percep-
Cassirer’s Philosophy of Symbolic Forms tion. The Philosophy of Symbolic
Cassirer, in
Ernst Cassirer is one of the best-known lan- Forms, discusses four major forms: myth, art,
guage philosophers of our age. Cassirer was a common language, and science. 37 Myth and art,
German philosopher who wrote during the first like primitive language, are highly personal and
half of this century.As an epistemologist he feeling-centered forms. Myth is a primitive,
believed that the human mind can be under- nonlogical, value-centered form. The values it
stood only through an investigation of sym- expresses include life, power, violence, evil,
bolic processes, and he devoted his life to and death. These values are emotionally
exploring this topic. The Philosophy of Symbolic charged. Myth, therefore, does not lead to un-
Forms, published in the 1920s, is his largest derstanding of concepts but to a deep sense of
single work and the one most concerned with among the people of a culture. As
identification
language and meaning. 34 An Essay on Man, Langer describes it: “Mythic symbols do not
perhaps his best known work, also deals in part even appear to be symbols; they appear as holy
with symbolism. 35 objects or places or being, and their import is
For Cassirer language is intimately tied to felt as an inherent power.” 38 Recalling Cas-
the human mind. The important human quality sirer’s basic theme of the symbol-mediated na-
of language is meaning. Cassirer believes that ture of reality, Langer continues: “This is not
language cannot be studied from afar as a natu- ‘make-believe,’ not a willful or playful distor-
ral object might be studied. It must be ap- tion of a radically different ‘given fact,’ but is the
proached phenomenologically through the way phenomena are given to naive apprehen-
mind and meanings of the person. sion.” 39 At this level the person sees the mean-
Human beings experience the world through ing of the symbol as intrinsic in the form itself:
symbols; symbolic representation is inherent to “In savage societies, names are treated as
our perception. Languages and other symbolic though they were physical proxies for their
forms structure reality for us, but we are not bearers.” 40
stuck in an inflexible position because of some Cassirer did not write much about art, but
preordained linguistic straitjacket. People must
confront natural forces, and thus their language
art is similar to myth — highly personal and feel-
ing centered. Neither myth nor art forms are
very abstract. Unlike scientific forms their
34. Ernst Cassirer, The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms, 3 vols.
(Berlin: Bruno Cassirer, 1923, 1925, 1929). Several sec-
36. This interpretation is further developed in Itzkoff, Emst
ondary sources are available, including Carl H. Hamburg,
Cassirer, pp. 115-18, 138.
Symbol and Reality (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff 1970);
Seymour W. Itzkoff, Emst Cassirer: Scientific Knowledge and 37. Explanations of these can be found in Susanne K.
the Concept of Man (Notre Dame: University of Notre Langer, “On Cassirer’s Theory of Language and Myth,” in
Dame Press,1971); Paul Schilpp, ed., The Philosophy of
The Philosophy of Ernst Cassirer, ed. Paul Schlipp (New
Emst Cassirer (New York: Tudor Publishing, 1949). For a York: Tudor Publishing, 1949), pp. 387-90; Itzkoff, Ernst
short overview see Wilbur Urban, “Cassirer’s Philosophy Urban, “Cassirer’s Philosophy of Lan-
Cassirer, pp. 105-8;

of Language, in Schlipp, The Philosophy of Emst Cassirer, guage,” p. 420-30.


pp. 403-41. 38. Langer, “On Cassirer’s Theory,” p. 388.
35. Emst Cassirer, An Essay on Man (New Haven: Yale 39. Ibid., p. 389.
University Press, 1944). 40. Ibid., p. 390.

108
THEORIES OF MEANING

meanings are rather fixed in the feeling of the person is bound to the immediate sensory expe-
moment. rience. Here is an example: “The contrast be-
Science, the highest symbolic form, devel- tween normal man, who lives in a world of
ops late in the evolution of a culture. Unlike the mediated signs and meanings, and the apractic,
primitive mythical form, it facilitates abstract who must aim at a direct goal for his actions, is
thought. Scientific forms mediate reality just as exemplified by the fact that many apractics who
primitive forms do, but the scientist recognizes under ordinary conditions could not pour
this fact. Mathematics, the ultimate scientific themselves a glass of water when asked, do so
form, is so distant from the sensory experience spontaneously when thirsty. The multitude of
that it symbolizes pure relations rather than individual and mediated symbolic steps be-
things. tween the request to pour the water and the
The fourth form, language, is intimately re- actual act is too overwhelming for them to in-
lated to the other three. Cassirer shows how tegrate and respond normally .” 41
language evolves from a primitive state similar Meaning therefore seems to involve two im-
to myth to an advanced state similar to science. portant attributes, made possible by symbolic
Language passes through three stages. In the processes: gestalt perception (seeing wholes and
mimetic stage, the language is tied to individual interrelationships) and thought or mental action
perceptions of the moment-. Like mythical apart from the immediate presence of the sen-
forms meaning at this stage varies little and suous object.
lacks the abstraction necessary for concept for- In short, Cassirer sees meaning as the indi-
mation and logical thinking. The second stage vidual’s perceptual and thought worlds medi-
isanalogic. At this stage the language begins to ated by the predominant linguistic and nonlin-
move away from a strict one-to-one relation- guistic symbolic forms of the culture. Cassirer
ship with things. People begin to use sounds does not break completely with representa-
more in terms of analogy to the real world tional theory, but he takes a broader
view by
rather than identifying objects with sounds. showing how symbolic forms create meaning
The most advanced stage in language devel- worlds in people by shaping their perception
opment is symbolic. At the symbolic stage and thinking.
grammar develops. Word meanings are broad
enough to allow a range
of conceptions to be Linguistic Relativity
possible. Thus perception itselfis widened. The Another theory that supports this view that
person becomes more creative and adaptive. language shapes our very being is the Sapir-
Only at this advanced stage can science devel- Whorf hypothesis otherwise known as the
,

op. In summary the history of language is one theory of linguistic relativity. Although the
of ever increasing abstraction. As language de- method and origin of the relativity hypothesis is
velops, meaning is broadened from a strict distant from that of Cassirer, its assumptions
sensory, here-and-now identification to forms about language and meaning are much the
that allow for multiple meanings and interre- same. This theory 42 is based on the work of
lationships. Edward Sapir and his protege Benjamin Lee
Cassirer’s notions on the relationship of lan-
guage to thought are largely influenced by his 41. Itzkoff, Ernst Cassirer, p. 132.

observations of aphasics at a neurological insti- 42. Edward Sapir, Language: An Introduction to the Study of
Speech (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1921); Ben-
tute. Our symbol-processing abilities allow us jamin Whorf, Language, Thought, and Reality (New York:
to see relationships and to think through ac- John Wiley and Sons, 1956). In the previous volume the
tions. People who have lost their symbol- following articles are most helpful: John B. Carroll, “Intro-
duction,” pp. 1—34; “The Relation of Habitual Thought and
processing abilities cannot operate on an ab- Behavior in Language,” pp. 134-359; “Language, Mind,
stract level. At low levels of abstraction, the and Reality,” pp. 246-69.

109
.

THEMATIC THEORIES

Whorf. Whorf is best known for his fieldwork stead, the Hopi would refer to the passing or
in linguistics; his analysis of the Hopi is particu- coming of a phase that is never here and now
larly well known. In his research Whorf discov- but always moving, accumulating. In our cul-
ered that fundamental syntactical differences are ture three tenses indicate locations or places in a
present among language groups. The Whorfian spatial analogy: past, present, and future. Hopi
hypothesis of linguistic relativity simply states verbs have no tense in the same sense. Instead,
that the structure of a culture’s language determines theirverb forms relate to duration and order. In
the behavior and habits of thinking in that culture. In the Standard Average European languages
the words of Edward Sapir: (SAE), including English, we visualize time as a
line. The Hopi conception is more complex, as
Human beings do not live in the objective world
illustrated in the following example 4S
alone, nor alone in the world of social activity as
ordinarily understood, but are very much at the Suppose that a speaker reports to a hearer
mercy of the particular language which has become that a third person is “He is running.”
running:
the medium of expression for their society. It is quite The Hopi would use the word wari, which is a
an illusion to imagine that one adjusts to reality es-
sentially without the use of language and that lan-
statement of running as The same word
a fact.

guage merely an incidental means of solving


is
would be used for a report of past running, “He
specific problems of communication or reflection. ran.” For the Hopi the statement of fact (valid-
The fact of the matter is that the “real world” is to a ity) is what is important, not whether the event
large extent unconsciously built up on the language is presently occurring or happened in the past.
habits of the group. We see and hear and other-
. . .

If, however, the Hopi speaker wished to report


wise experience very largely as we do because the
language habits of our community predispose certain a past event of running from memory (the
choices of interpretation 43 .
hearer did not actually see it), a different form
would be used, era wari. The English sentence,
This hypothesis suggests that our thought
“He will run,” would translate warikni, which
processes and the way we see the world are communicates running as a statement of expec-
shaped by the grammatical structure of the
tation. Again, it is not the location in past,
language. As one reviewer reacted, “All one’s
present, or future that
is important to the Hopi,
life one has been tricked ... by the structure of
but the nature of validity (observed fact, re-
language into a certain way of perceiving
called fact, or expectation). Another English
reality .” 44
form, “He
runs [on the track team],” would
Whorf spent much of his life investigating
translate warikngwe This latter Hopi form
the relationship of language and behavior. His
again refers to running, but in the sense of law
work with the Hopi illustrates the relativity
or
45. condition.
hypothesis. Like all cultural groups the Hopi
As a result of these linguistic differences,
possess a thought-world microcosm which repre-
,
Hopi and SAE cultures will think about, per-
view of the world at large or macro-
sents their
ceive,and behave toward time differently. For
cosm One area of Whorf s extensive analysis of
.

example, the Hopi tend to engage in lengthy


Hopi thought is the analysis of time. While
preparing activities. Experiences (getting pre-
many exam-
cultures refer to points in time (for
pared) tend to accumulate as time “gets later.”
ple, Hopi conceive of
seasons) as nouns, the
The emphasis is on the accumulated experience
time as a Thus the Hopi
passage or process.
during the course of time, not on time as a point
language never objectifies time. A Hopi would
or location. In SAE cultures, with their spatial
not refer to summer as “in the summer.” In-
treatment of time, experiences are not accumu-

43. Quoted in Whorf, Language, Thought, and Reality, p.


lated in the same sense. Elaborate and lengthy
134.
Adapted from Whorf, Language, Thought, and Reality,
44. Carroll, “Introduction,” p. 27. p. 213.

no
THEORIES OF MEANING

preparations are not often found. The custom in erates in cultural experience. Whorf and Sapir’s
SAE cultures is to record events (space-time claims, however, are extreme. One commen-
analogy) such that what happened in the past is tator writes that this theory promotes two hor-
objectified in space (recorded). Whorf sum- rors: the horror of helplessness, that people are
marizes this view: “Concepts of ‘time’ and helplessly trapped by their language, and the
‘matter’ are not given in substantially the same horror of hopelessness, that there is no hope for
form by experience to all men but depend upon communication across cultures 47 A good deal .

the nature of the language or languages through of linguistic research challenges the validity of
the use of which they have been developed .” 46 these claims. Recall the concept of language
We have now looked at three senses of mean- universal from the last chapter. Chomsky be-
ing. In the first meaning is seen as a representa- of language are
lieves that the essential features
tion of some object, occurrence, or condition. anything but culturally bound. Osgood too be-
The theories that espouse this view outline lieves that he has found universal factors of
three distinct elements: the object, the sign, and meaning and that these definitely are not de-
the person. The second approach views mean- termined by cultural factors.
ing as intention. Theories in the third approach
stress the idea that symbols so heavily influence
the experience of the person that they cannot be
What Do We Know about Meaning?
separated from human experience. Here we see
The human being brings a wealth of experience
a major departure from the traditional view that
to any communication event. People use lan-
meaning is in the person and is elicited by signs.
guage to share this experience. The correlation
between language and experience is meaning,
Criticism of Experiential Theory which is such a big part of communication
Experiential theories provide a general attitude studies as to constitute a domain of its own.
toward language and meaning. Their strength Scholarship on meaning is highly speculative
is that they remind us of the centrality of indi- and rests largely on philosophical argument and
vidual human experience in meaning. anecdotal observation. This is not to suggest
The problem is that once we understand and thatmeaning theory is trivial or unimportant.
accept their premises, we where to
are not sure Indeed,some of the greatest minds in philoso-
takethem to deepen our understanding of the phy have grappled with the nature of meaning.
phenomena under study. They keep generaliza- This area is controversial because a particular
tion and development of substantive theory out idea ofmeaning often reflects a particular on-
of reach. If meaning is so wrapped up in per- tology orset of beliefs about the nature of be-
sonal experience, how do we separate it from ing. Much of this controversy is needless.
individual experience long enough to ap- Meaning itself is an abstract concept; and con-
prehend it? How do researchers and theorists sequently it can be applied legitimately in a
transcend theirown linguistic experience to un- variety of ways. Even in everyday life we use
derstand the process as a whole? Experiential the term in different ways. We say that we had a
theories provide little in the way of substantive meaningful experience, or we question the mean-
understanding of the nature of language as lan- ing of a word, or we deny another person’s
guage or of meaning processes. misinterpretation of our intentions by saying
The strength of Whorfian theory is that it that we mean it that way.
didn’t
goes beyond philosophical claims to make theo- Most theories of meaning contain a grain (or
retical generalizations about how language op-

47. Joshua Fishman, “A Systemization of the Whorfian


46. Ibid., p. 158. Hypothesis,” Behavioral Science 5 (1960): 323-39.

Ill
THEMATIC THEORIES

boulder) of truth. They have greater potential


for integrating the various notions of meaning Postscript
than implied by their advocates. Such an inte- Clearly language and meaning are domains that
gration can be accomplished by using a mul- are central to the process of communication, yet
tidimensional model of meaning, consisting of difficult to understand. They are multifaceted,
at least three factors. involving many different dimensions, and thus
meaning has a referential aspect. Clearly
First, they present us with a paradox. They are at the
words and other symbols are taken to represent heart of all human communication, yet they
objects, situations, conditions, or states. Com- seem to be just beyond our grasp to define and
munication itself could not occur without explain. It is obvious from the material pre-
shared symbolic references. The problem in sented in the two chapters that controver-
last
meaning theory is not that the notion of mean- sies abound among theorists of language and
ing as reference is wrong, but that it is inade- meaning. Many of the issues are epistemologi-
quate by itself to explain the complexity of cal; others are substantive. Once again we are
meaning. faced with the realization that the most fruitful
Thus a second dimension needs to be added way to gain a fuller understanding and apprecia-
to the model, the experiential aspect of meaning. tion for elements of human communication is
This dimension emphasizes that meaning is to apply multiple perspectives, each of which
largely a matter of experience. How one experi- presents particular insights that together en-
ences the world is determined in part by the lighten the subject.
meanings one attaches to symbols of objects in With the full recognition that evaluative
the world. At the same time that very experi- generalizations are difficult and risky in do-
ence shapes our meanings. We use symbols to mains as huge as these, we can make some
affect and adapt to our environment by express- parting judgments. This area of theory contains
ing our experience; at the same time meanings a wide variety of related concepts. Yet, ironi-
attached to language affect how we experience cally, the theories of language, nonverbal cod-
the environment. ing, and meaning remain for the most part iso-
A dimension complicates our concep-
third lated and separated from one another. In the
tion even more. This is the purposive dimen- domains of language and meaning we see a clear
sion, which implies that human’s intentions example of the disadvantages of single-dis-
vis-a-vis others are an important aspect of cipline and overly specialized approaches to the
meaning. We fulfill purposes in using language study of communication. For example, many
and other symbols, and our intentions shape the linguists, in their focuson the complexities of
way symbols are understood. grammar, have ignored obvious connections
Given the extensiveness of the domains of between linguistic and other social processes.
language and meaning and their multidiscipli- Language often is treated as a phenomenon
nary nature, it is not surprising that these areas apart from communication. Likewise, research-
are epistemologically mixed. Most philosophi- ers of nonverbal communication too often sep-
cal of meaning now in vogue treat
theories arate nonlinguistic codes from the larger coding
meaning as relative and subjective, recognizing complex, focusing undue attention on small
the individuality of experiential meanings. parts of an inseparable whole. Because of
However, this observation is not true of all the heretofore disjointed nature of this work,
philosophical approaches; some philosophers integrative theories such as that of Pearce and
seek universal meaning structures. Some psy- Cronen (Chapter 4) are especially attractive.
chologists too have treated meaning as an objec- Of course any criticism of language and
tive event, attempting to measure it and dis- meaning must be tempered with the qualifica-
cover its operational characteristics. tion that these phenomena are extremely

112
THEORIES OF MEANING

We will never be able to ob-


difficult to study. The challenge of meaning theory is some-
serve deep processes of language generation or what different. Issues in meaning theory are
meaning directly, making kind of study a
this largely semantic. The major disagreements deal
speculative business. Researchers must make in- with the meaning of meaning. Indeed, meaning
ferences about unseen processes based on ob- theoristshave not been able to agree on what to
servable behaviors. The trick is to come up observe to make inferences about meaning be-
with a picture of underlying phenomena that cause they cannot agree on what meaning is!

account for patterns of observed behavior. Thus Hopefully, these last two chapters have pro-
linguists must provide explanations that ac- vided modicum of clarity to an otherwise
a
count for actual speech. Early language theory muddy river. We move now to a discussion of
failed to do but more recent developments
this, the effects of language and meaning in the
in generative grammar have been successful in realms of information and persuasion.
providing a credible theory of language.

113
I
CHAPTER

Theories

7 of Information and
Information Processing

Information is an important element in the formation theory, which is designed as a tool


communication process. The essential feature for developing transmissional devices. The sec-
of all messages is information, and people use ond part deals with the semantics of informa-
the information in messages to reduce uncer- tion, and the third presents a theory of informa-
tainty and thereby adapt to the environment. tion effects.
This chapter is divided into two parts. The first Information theory, which is primarily a
part reviews ideas that have been labeled'' infor- mathematical formulation, grew out of the
mation theory. Although information theory has postwar boom in the telecommunications in-
less direct applicability to
communication than dustry. A perspective that focuses on the mea-
do some of the other theories in this book, it surement of information, it deals with the quan-
establishes certain foundational definitions that titative study of information in messages and
lie atthe base of much of our current thinking the flow of information between senders and
about communication. The second part of the receivers. It has extremely practical applications
chapter reviews some theories of information in the electronic sciences
of communication that
processing,which deal with how humans handle have a need for computing information quan-
information they receive from the environ- tities and designing channels, transmitters, re-
ment. The first section provides important con- ceivers, and codes that facilitate efficient han-
cepts of information as a commodity, and the dling of information. Before we get into the
second section helps us understand how people core concepts of information theory, let’s dis-
use information in their lives. cuss the development of the movement. 2
1. Information theory developed out of inves-
tigations in physics, engineering, and mathe-
Information Theory matics, which were concerned with the organi-
In an early article on the mathematical theory of among occurrences. The common thread
zation
communication, Warren Weaver suggests three among these rather independent investigations
fruitful areas of concern for information was the realization that organization is a matter
The first, the technical level of informa-
theory. 1 of probability. (One of the developments at this
tion,concerns the accuracy and efficiency of time was cybernetics. As you recall from Chap-
information transmission. The second, the ter 3, Wiener’s work in this area relied heavily
semantic level, relates to themeanings of infor- on communication engineering. 3 ) The primary
mation to individuals. Finally, the effectiveness work that crystallized information theory was
level deals with the influence of information on that of Claude Shannon, a telecommunications
the receiver of communication. The first sec-
2. Several brief histories of the movement are available.
tion of this chapter is organized into three parts See, for example, Wendell R. Gamer, Uncertainty and Struc-
corresponding to Weaver’s three levels of in- ture as Psychological Concepts (New York: John Wiley &
Sons, 1962), p. 8.
formation. The first part discusses classical in-
3. Norbert Wiener, Cybernetics or Control and Communica-
Warren Weaver, “The Mathematics of Communica- tion in the Animal and Machine (Cambridge: M.I.T. Press,
tion,” Scientific American 181 (1949): 11-15. 1948).

115
THEMATIC THEORIES

engineer at the Bell Telephone Laboratories. quantification of stimuli or signals in a situa-


His classic book with Warren Weaver, The tion.
Mathematical Theory of Communication, is the On closer examination, this idea of informa-
basic source for information theory 4 . tion is not as distant from common sense as it

first appears. We have said that information is


Technical Information Theory the amount of uncertainty in the situation. An-
Basic Concepts. Information theory provides a other way of thinking of it is to consider infor-
precise definition of information. Perhaps it is ^ mation as the number of messages required to
easier to understand information by starting completely reduce the uncertainty in the situa-
with a related concept, entropy, borrowed from tion. For example, your friend is about to flip a
thermodynamics. Entropy is randomness, or coin. Will it land heads up or tails up? You are

lack of organization in a situation. A totally uncertain, you cannot predict. This uncertainty,
entropic situation is unpredictable. Because of which from the entropy in the situation,
results
the entropy in the situation, you cannot know will be eliminated by seeing the result of the
what happen next. Entropy is best thought
will flip. Now let’s suppose that you have received a

of Most of the situations you are


as variable. tip that your friend’s coin is two headed. The
confronted with are partially predictable. If flip is “fixed.” There is no uncertainty and
black clouds come over the sky, you might therefore no information. In other words, you
predict rain, andyou would probably be right. could not receive any message that would make
Because weather is an organized system, certain you predict any better than you already have. In
probable relationships (for example, clouds and short, a situation with which you are com-
rain) exist. On the other hand, you cannot pre- pletely familiar has no information for you.
dict rain conclusively. The entropy existing in We
have now related information to uncer-
the situation causes some uncertainty. In short, and to the number of messages necessary
tainty
the more entropy, the less organization and There is yet a third way
to reduce uncertainty.
predictability. to view information. Information can be
What does this have to do with information? ^thought of as the number of choices or alterna-
Information is a measure of uncertainty, or entropy, tives available to a person in predicting the out-
in a situation. The greater the uncertainty, the come of a situation. In a complex situation of
more the information. When a situation is many possible outcomes, more information is
completely predictable, no information is pres- available than in a simple situation with few
ent. Most people associate information with outcomes. In other words, a person would need
certainty or knowledge; consequently, this more messages to predict the outcome of a
definition from information theory can be con- complex situation than to predict the outcome
fusing. As used by the information theorist, the of a simple one. For example, there is more
concept does not refer to a message, facts, or information in a two-dice toss than in the toss
meaning. It is a concept bound only to the of a more information in a
single die and
single-die toss than in a coinflip. Since informa-
4. Claude Shannon and Warren Weaver, The Mathematical
Theory of Communication (Urbana: University of Illinois tion is of the number of alternatives,
a function
Press, 1949). For a number of excellent brief secondary it reflects the degree of freedom in making
sources, see the bibliography. Two sources were particu-
choices within a situation. The more informa-
larly helpful in the preparation of this chapter: Allan R.
Broadhurst and Donald K. Darnell, “An Introduction to tion in a situation, the freer you are to choose
Cybernetics and Information Theory,” Quarterly Journal of alternatives within that situation.
Speech 51 (1965): 442-53; Klaus Krippendorf, “Information
The idea of information will become clearer
Theory,” in Communication and Behavior, ed. G. Hanneman
and W. McEwen (Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley, 1975), after you understand the unit of information,
351-89. the bit. Bit stands for binary digit. A bit is a unit

116
THEORIES OF INFORMATION AND INFORMATION PROCESSING

used for counting alternatives. Technically, the tion. In the example of the killer, suppose H
number of bits in a situation of equally possible were a more probable killer than any of the
outcomes is equal to the number of times the others, based on past record. Hypothetically,
outcomes would be halved in order to reduce you might distribute the probabilities as fol-
the uncertainty to zero. lows: A= .05, B= .05, C= .05, D= .05, E=
Consider the following family tree. One of .05, F = .05, G= .05, H= .65. Plugging these
the members of this family has committed a values into a formula shows that the murder
murder for a crime syndicate. As far as you can situation contains 1.88 bits of information or
tell, all family members are equally suspect. uncertainty.
How much information is in this situation? Another important concept is redundancy.

Father (A)

Son (B) Son (C)

Grandson (D) Grandson (E) Grandson Grandson (G)


(F) Grandson (H)

First,you discover that Son (B) and his family Redundancy is a function of its sister concept,
(D and E) were on vacation on the other side of Relative entropy is the propor-
relative entropy.
the world when the crime took place. They of entropy present compared with the max-
tion
took Father (A) with them. This message pro- imum amount possible. Entropy is maximum
vides one bit of information, since it eliminates when all alternatives are equally probable. Let’s
half of the alternatives (A, B, D, and E). Fur- look again at our example. The number of bits
ther, you discover that Son (C) and Grandson of uncertainty is 1.88. The maximum uncer-
(F) were at home, fighting, at the time of the tainty possible is 3. Therefore, the relative en-
murder. This alibi provides a second bit of in- tropy in this situation is
formation, halving the possibilities again. Then
you find out that G died a year ago, providing a
1.88/3= .62 or 62%
third bitof information. Thus you see that this The redundancy is
situation has three bits
of information.
1 - .62 = .38 or 38%
This example is a combinatorial approach to
counting bits. The approach, which assumes In qualitative terms redundancy
is the propor-
that each alternative is equally probable, ex-
is tion of a situation that is predictable; it is a
cellent for getting across the meaning of the measure of certainty. In a relation if one alterna-
information theorist’s conception of informa-
tive follows from another, it is predictable and
tion, but it is not realistic. Often some alterna-
therefore redundant.
tiveshave a higher probability of occurring
than others. When this happens, the statistical Information Transmission. Now that we have
approach is necessary for computing bits.5 The summarized the basic concepts of information
statistical approach recognizes that as certain theory, we can move to the first area of con-
alternatives increase in probability, entropy or
cern, the technical level, which deals primarily
uncertainty decreases. Thus the less equal the with the accurate and efficient transmission of
probability of occurrence, the less the informa-
information. Technical information theory is
5. For a good distinction between these, see Krippendorf, not concerned with the meaning of messages,
“Information Theory.” only with their transmission and reception.

117
THEMATIC THEORIES

This application is particularly important in a measure of uncertainty in a situation. This


electronic communication. definition is general. In information transmis-
The basicmodel of communication devel- sion we are concerned with the special case in

oped by Shannon and Weaver is shown in Fig- which the message itself is the “situation.” Like
ure 7.1. 6 In this model communication begins at any stimulus field a message, consisting of
the source. The source formulates or selects a symbols or signs arranged according to rules,
message, consisting of signs to be transmitted. has a degree of uncertainty or entropy. This
The transmitter converts the message into a set uncertainty (information) is a result of the code
of signals that are sent over a channel to a re- or language into which the message is encoded.
ceiver. The receiver converts the signals into a Normally, a message is a sequence of stimuli or
message. This model can be applied to a variety signs that hit the receiver serially. Ordinary
of situations. In the electronic arena a television written language is an example. This idea of
message a good example. The producers,
is information can be applied to the predictability
and announcers constitute the source.
directors, of a sequential arrangement such as a sentence.
The message is transmitted by air waves (chan- If the letters in the sentence were arranged ran-

nel) to the home receiver, which converts elec- domly, there would be 100 percent entropy.
tromagnetic waves back into a visual impres- Decoding would be difficult because of the great
sion for the viewer. In the interpersonal arena amount of information in the message. But let-
the speaker’s brain is the source, the vocal sys- ters (or sounds in speech) are not organized

tem the transmitter, and the air medium the randomly. Various predictable patterns are
channel. The listener’s ear is the receiver and the found. These patterns make decoding easier be-
listener’s brain the destination. cause there is less information, lower relative
The final element in Shannon and Weaver’s entropy, and high redundancy. For example, an
model is noise. Noise is any disturbance in the adjective has a high probability of being fol-
channel that distorts or otherwise masks the lowed by a noun. A q is always followed by a u
signal. The disturbance may be, literally, noise in English. Thus the overall arrangement of a
in auditory communication, but any kind of sentence is patterned and partially predictable.
interference is included. We Will return to this On the other hand, a sentence does contain
concept momentarily. First, let us integrate in- some information. Redundancy, predictability,
formation into the model at this point. isnever 100 percent. If it were, there would be
In the last section information was defined as no freedom of choicy. Once the first letter was
6. Shannon and Weaver, Mathematical Theory, p. 5. written, all other letters would follow auto-

Signal Signal received

From The Mathematical Theory of Communication, by Claude Shannon and Warren Weaver. Copyright © 1949 by the Board
of Trustees of the University of Illinois. Reprinted by permission of the University of Illinois Press.

Figure 7.1. Shannon and Weaver’s model of communication.

118
THEORIES OF INFORMATION AND INFORMATION PROCESSING

matically. Language is blessed with moderate mission? Accurate transmission involves coding
redundancy, allowing ease in decoding, with at a maximum rate that will not exceed channel
freedom of encoding. capacity. It also means using a code with
Language information is an example of a sufficient redundancy to compensate the
Markov process, in which subsequent alterna- amount of noise present in the channel. If there
tives bear a probability relationship to antece- is too much redundancy, transmission will be
dent occurrences in a chain. In a Markov prob- inefficient; if too little, it will be inaccurate.
ability situation the probabilities of alternatives The major contribution of classical informa-
occurring vary from moment to moment. In tion theory to human sciences is that the latter
English there is a 100 percent probability that u have used the technical model as an analogue
will follow q, but the probability is consid- for modeling interpersonal communication.
erably less that an i will follow a t. Thus in Witness the fact that Shannon and Weaver’s
sequential messages we must talk in terms of model (Figure 7.1) is one of the most frequently
average relative entropy and average redun- reproduced depictions of communication in
dancy. The average relative entropy-redun- textbooks.
dancy of English is about fifty percent. Except for this analogue function, informa-
Whether the message is coded into regular tion theory has little relevance to any domain
language, electronic signals, or some other ver- outside information per se. It does relate to
bal or nonverbal code, the problem of transmis-
systems theory by suggesting that system parts
sion is the same —
to reconstruct the message are connected to one another through informa-
accurately at the destination. Any television tion transmission. It also speaks to the technical
viewer with poor reception is painfully aware side of mass communication. However, as will
of the problem. Accurate transmission would be indicated in the criticism section, these in-
be no problem were it not for certain factors cursions into other domains do not help us
such as noise. much to understand the human side of commu-
Now you can begin to see the role of redun- nication.
dancy in amessage. Redundancy compensates
noise. As noise distorts, masks, or replaces sig- Semantic Information
nals, redundancy allows the receiver to correct
To make information theory more relevant to
or fill in missing or distorted stimuli.
For human communication, the notion of semantic
example, suppose you receive from a friend a information has been developed. 7 To under-
letter that has been smeared by rain. The first
stand this concept, you must shift your think-
sentences might look like this: “How ing slightly. We know that information is a
yo— ? I a ine. Or perhaps because of measure of uncertainty in a situation or mes-
static, a sentence of radio news comes across
as. sage. From technical information theory we
The Pres ed States has —dared. . . . learn that such information can be transmitted.
You can make some sense out of these distorted Now at the semantic level we concentrate on
sentences because of the predictability or re- the communication of information, which reduces
dundancy in the language. the uncertainty in a situation. The information
Another factor limiting accurate transmis-
7. In addition to the theories presented in this chapter,
sion is channel capacity. Channel capacity is
some notable attempts have been made to expand classical
usually defined in terms of the maximum information theory into the semantic area. See Y. Bar-Hillel
amount of information that can be transmitted and R. Carnap, “Semantic Information,” British Journal of
the Philosophy of Science
4 (1953): 147-57; and Krippendorf,
over a channel per second.
Information Theory.” Material in this section is taken
What, then, is necessary for accurate trans- from Krippendorf.

119
. .

THEMATIC THEORIES

conveyed by message that reduces informa-


a sages. Redundancy plays the same role on the
tion is What is added
called semantic information semantic level as it does on the technical level.

to the theory at this point is the human element Redundant, or unnecessary, information coun-
of interpretation and understanding. teracts noise. It also facilitates learning on the
Semantic information always relates to a part of the receiver.
specific aspect in the situation; it is about some- To summarize, semantic information is the
thing. Further, it always reduces the number of amount of information in a message that, be-
alternatives available in interpreting the situa- cause it is transmitted to the person, is removed
tion. The gangland-killing example has eight from the situation. The net effect of semantic
possible killers. Since all are equally probable, information (receiving messages) is to reduce
three bits of information are found in the situa- the total amount of uncertainty in the situation.
tion. When you receive the message that half of Herein we find the contribution of information
them were around the world on a vacation at theory to our common understanding of in-
the time of the killing, you have received one formation.
bit of semantic information, thus reducing the
totalamount of information in the situation to An Effectiveness Approach to Information
two bits. When a person receives information The third of Weaver’s three levels of informa-
about something, a certain amount of uncer- tion theory, the effectiveness level, deals with
tainty in a situation has been removed. the impact of information on the system. It is

Of course, semantic information is always here that we see a particularly striking relation-
relative to the human being’s state of knowl- ship between information theory, systems, and
edge. Information in this sense must be defined cybernetics. Perhaps the most explicit approach
in terms of the perceived alternatives of the per- is of Russell Ackoff 8
that .

son receiving the message. Ackoff begins his theory with the notion of
Now that we
have defined semantic infor- purposeful state. A system, such as a person, is in
mation, we will see what happens when a per- a purposeful state if some goal is desired and
son receives a series of messages about a situa- various unequal alternative ways exist for
tion. Two possibilities exist. The individual achieving the goal. Communication via messages
may receive logically independent messages or affects the system if it changes the purposeful state of
redundant messages. Logically independent the organism
messages about the same situation convey Six concepts are related to the notion of pur-
completely different information. Such mes- poseful state. The first is the individual. This
sages are additive. For example, the message may be any system in a purposeful state, but for
that halfof the suspects were on vacation pro- simplicity we will refer to it as a person from
vides one bit of information, while the message now on. Second, there is a course of action lead-
that two others were home together provides a ing to the third element, outcome. Thus pur-
second bit, equalling a total reduction of two posefulness consists, in part, of an individual’s
bits. choosing to achieve an outcome by taking a
More often, though, messages overlap in particular course of action. The fourth element
meaning. This occurrence is semantic redundancy. in the model is the probability that the individual
For example, you may learn that the vacation will take the particular course of action. Fifth,
took place and then find out in a second mes- efficiency is the likelihood that the specified out-
sage that the father was on vacation while his
8. Russell Ackoff, “Toward a Behavioral Theory of
son and grandson were home together,
Communication,” Management Science 4 (1957-58): 218-34;
fighting. The information that the father was
and Russell Ackoff and Fred Emery, On Purposeful Systems
on vacation is redundant; it occurs in both mes- (Chicago: Aldine, 1972).

120
. .

THEORIES OF INFORMATION AND INFORMATION PROCESSING

come will occur as a result of the course of of action. Third, the message may motivate,
action. The final concept crucial to the idea of changing the value of the outcome. We can
purposefulness is value, which is the importance easily relate the first kind of effect to semantic
of the outcome to the individual. Next we will information. You will recall that semantic in-
define a purposeful state. formation is equal to the reduction of uncer-
A purposeful state requires the following tainty in a situation. If various courses of action
conditions: First, at least two courses of action are present in a purposeful state and each has a
must be available to the individual. These must probability of leading to the desired outcome
be viable choices for the person to use in achiev- (efficiency), receiving information about the
ing the desired outcome. Further, the courses of efficiencies reduces the uncertainty involved,
action must have some degree of efficiency: which changes the probability that one alterna-
There must be a probability that the outcome tive will be chosen. For example, suppose our
will be achieved from either of the courses, and young world traveler is leaning toward joining
the probabilities or efficiencies cannot be equal. the army when she receives information that
Finally, the person must want the outcome: The most WACs are stationed at bases in the United
goal must have value for the person. States. This message regarding the efficiency of
The definition of purposeful state can be clar- the army as her choice now increases the proba-
ified with a simple example. Suppose a young bility that she will join the Peace Corps. By
woman is interested in seeing the world. Visit- reducing the uncertainty among the perceived
ing foreign lands has value for her. She could efficiencies of the alternatives, information af-
take two courses of action to achieve the desired fects the purposeful state by altering the proba-
outcome: joining the army or joining the peace bility that a given course will be chosen.
corps. If each course really is available to her, The second kind of effect is instruction While
and if one has
higher probability of leading to
a information provides a clearer basis for choice
the goal, she then is in a purposeful state. She by making the efficiencies known, instruction
can make a choice that has a chance of getting directly changes the efficiencies. This
change is
her to foreign lands. But suppose she fails the accomplished by providing the person with
physical examination for the army. The army is knowledge and competencies that will enable
no longer an available choice. As conceived by that person to achieve the outcome via a partic-
this theory, she is no longer in a purposeful ular course of action. In our example the
state, since no alternative choice is available. woman may be shown how to manipulate the
Another condition that might occur is for the assignment process in the WACs in order to be
efficiencies of the courses of action to be equal. assigned overseas. This instruction increases the
In this case there is no basis for choice, and once efficiency of the army for reaching her goal.
again the young woman is out of a purposeful The of messages on a system is
third effect
state. In short, she must have various ways of motivation Motivation is the result of a change
seeing the world, and one must be a more likely in value. The woman in our example would, of
course. Recall Ackoff’s thesis, which is an an- course, have several goals (outcomes) of value
swer to this third-level problem: Communica- to her. Let us say that a different goal is owning
tion via messages affects the system if it changes a restaurant. If the outcome of seeing the world
the purposeful state of the organism. has a higher value than owning a restaurant, she
Messages may affect the purposeful state of will pursue it with one of the courses of action
the individual in three ways. First, a message described. But she may receive a message that
may inform, in which case the probabilities of increases the desirability of owning a restau-
choice are altered. Second, the message may rant, thus changing the outcome of her pur-
instruct, changing the efficiencies of the courses poseful state.

121
THEMATIC THEORIES

Ackoff s theory rounds out our brief survey temological assumptions of the theory are not
of information theory. Classical information considered appropriate for understanding many
theory, which is primarily technical, deals with aspects of human communication. Roger Con-
the measurement of information for purposes ant captures the essence of the argument:
of accurate and efficient transmission. The
When Shannon’s theory first appeared it pro-
theory of semantic information shows how the
voked a lot of optimism, not only in the telephone
receipt of information in messages reduces un- company for which it had clear technical applica-
certainty. Finally, Ackoff s effectiveness theory tions, but also among biologists, psychologists, and
broadens the scope of coverage to include the the like who hoped it would illuminate the ways in
which animals, people, and perhaps even
cells,
effect of messages on purposeful systems.
societies use information. Although the theory has
The extensive literature on information been put to use in these ways, the results have not
theory has been touched but lightly here. been spectacular at all. Shannon’s theory pro-
. . .

This short summary of some key points briefly vides practically no help in understanding everyday
illustrates how information theory has added communication .* 1
dimensions to our understanding of commu-
Many critics have centered on the ill-advised
nication.
use of the term information as a symptom of this
problem. The usage of the term is at such odds
Criticism
with popular meanings for information that a.
Clearly information theory is indispensable for
great deal of confusion has resulted. Ironically,
developing advanced electronic communication
information theory is not at all about information
devices. Its problems lie not in its technical
One
as we commonly understand it. critic has
usefulness but in the claims made for it by some suggested that the approach be retitled the
of the original information theorists, system
“theory of signal transmission.” 12 Because the
theorists,
9. and scholars outside of these areas
term information as used by these theorists is so
who looked to information theory for answers difficult to apply to human communication,
it cannot provide. Its original formulators,
other scholars have developed new definitions
Shannon and Weaver, hoped to use the theory of the term under the old rubric of information
as a covering model for all human and machine
theory that have caused even more befuddle-
communication.
10. However, even Colin Cherry, ment. 13 Of course, terminological confusion is
whose famous 1957 treatise on communication only a symptom of the problems involved in
was based largely on information theory, now stretching the concept to fit alien domains.
argues in his 1978 third edition that “the lan-
Three such problems have been cited frequently
guage of physical science is inadequate for dis-
in the literature.
cussion of what is essentially human about
The first is that information theory is de-
human communication.” 9 signed as a measurement tool based on sta-
Most criticism of information theory relates tistical procedures. Human messages in their
to the standard of appropriateness. 10 The epis-
full complexity are not easily broken down into
Colin Cherry, On Human Communication (Cambridge:
M.I.T. Press, 1978), p. ix.
Roger C. Conant, “A Vector Theory of Information,” in
Criticism of information theory can be found in many Communication Yearbook 3, ed. Dan Nimmo (New
sources, including the following, on which my summary Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Books, 1979), 177-96.
Anatol Rapoport, “The Promise and Pitfalls of In-
relies:
11. Conant, “A Vector Theory,” p. 178.
formation Theory,” Behavioral Science 1 (1956): 303-9; also
reprinted in Modem Systems Research for the Behaviorist Scien- 12. Yehoshua Bar-Hillel, “Concluding Review, in Informa-
tist, Buckley (Chicago: Aldine, 1968), 137-42;
ed. Walter tion Theory in Psychology, ed. Henry Quastler (Glencoe, 111.:

Rollo Handy and Paul Kurtz, “Information Theory,” in Free Press, 1955), p. 3.

American Behavioral Scientist 7, no. 6 (1964), pp. 99—104; 13. See, for example, Krippendorf, “Information Theory.”

122
THEORIES OF INFORMATION AND INFORMATION PROCESSING

observable, measurable signals. Although the presented. Next, we move to a topic that has
phonetic structure of language is amenable to seen particularly fruitful applications in com-
analysis, when you add paralinguistic cues, not munication research: theories of cognitive
to mention kinesic and proxemic features, in- complexity.
formation theory becomes virtually useless. At this point a qualification stated several
Also, many of the codes used in human com- times in this text must again be reiterated. The
munication are continuous, not discrete; that is, literature of information processing is im-
they do not consist of off-on signals. Such mense. The theories included here represent
codes are difficult to fit into the mathematical only a sampling of this work. So although the
paradigm. theories summarized here are important, they
A second problem of applying information are far from exhaustive.
theory to human communication is that the
theory downplays meaning as the topic was “Standard Theory”
developed in the chapter. Even if we were
last “Standard theory” is placed in quotation marks
able to predict the amount of information re- because the work summarized in this section
ceived by a listener, we would know nothing of does not constitute a single theory. It was not
the degree of shared understanding between the organized by a particular scholar or group of
communicators or the impact of the message on scholars. Rather, this work is a composite of
them. research findings of cognitive psychologists in
information theory does not deal
Finally, this century. This work is called “standard”
with the contextual or personal factors affecting only because it represents the mainstream of

an individual’s channel capacity. For example, psychological thought about the basic processes
individual learning, which changes one’s ability of cognition. Also, the use of the word standard
to comprehend certain types of messages and does not imply that the findings reported here
ultimately one’s capacity to receive signals, is are universally accepted. Indeed, cognitive psy-
left untouched in classical theory. Newer ap- chology is one of the most dynamic fields in the
proaches such as that of Ackoff help to improve behavioral sciences.
in this area. The following summary based on the ex-
is

cellent synopsis of C. David Mortensen. 14 His


model for organizing information-processing
Theories of Information Processing research is three-dimensional: encoding/decod-
This section covers a variety of theories that ing, stages, and integration. Together these
deal, not with the nature of information, but elements constitute a general framework for
with the ways persons deal with informa- understanding cognition. Figure 7.2 depicts the
tion — how information is received, organized, three dimensions. 15 We deal with the first two
stored, and used. For the most part these here; integration is taken up separately in the

theories cover processes that occur within the next section under cognitive complexity.
individual.As such they may not appear at first Encoding refers to all of the activities in-
to relate to communication. Keep in mind, volved in transforming information into mes-
however, that the basic commodity of commu- sages. Speech (and its derivative, writing) are
nication information, and information pro-
is encoding activities in communication. Decoding
cessing on the intrapersonal level is an integral
part of the communication process. 14. C. David Mortensen, “Human Information Process-
ing,” in Communication: The Study of Human Interaction
This discussion is divided into two parts. (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1972), 69-124.
First, standard information processing theory is 15. Ibid., p. 80.

123
THEMATIC THEORIES

involves the transformation of sensations into stages of information processing: sensation,


meaning. In communication decoding activities central processing, storage, and recall. Sensation
include listening and reading. Perception of involves receiving signals from the environ-
nonverbal signs is also a decoding activity. Here ment. These signals include energy that stimu-
we see an important distinction between latesreceptor organs such as the eyes and ears.
psychological theories of information process- Actually, sensation is a rather complex process.
ing and classical information theory. In classical Before any stimulation can enter the nervous
theory information is thought to exist apart system, the receptor nerve fibers must be acti-
from the individual as a quality of the signal. vated. The level at which a receptor cell “fires”
Most cognitive psychologists, however, would is the arousal threshold. A receptor cell will not
agree that signals merely present sensory minimum level of energy
activate until a certain
stimuli and that information results from the impinges upon it (light, sound, and so forth).
processing activities of encoding and decoding For example, auditory nerves normally will not
within the individual. be excited until sound waves reach a level ex-
Let us look more closely at the four primary ceeding ten-to-fifteen hertz.

From “Human Information Processing,” in Communication: The Study of Human Interaction, by C. David Mortensen.
Copyright © 1972 by McGraw-Hill. Reprinted by permission of the publisher.
Figure 1 .2. Information-processing model.

124
THEORIES OF INFORMATION AND INFORMATION PROCESSING

Our sense organs are almost always being ceptual organization direct the organizing pro-
stimulated in one way or another, which means cess. Although we do not have space to explain
that the sensory systems must cope with a vir- these here, any general psychology text lists
tual onslaught of stimulation most of the time. them. We are all aware that attitude and motiva-
The cocktail party situation illustrates this oc- tion affect perception. One’s feelings, attitudes,
currence 16
In a crowded room one must attend and motives of the
.
moment affect how sensory
to a single message at a time, separating it from stimuli are filtered and organized. This truism is
other stimuli. We selectively filter stimulation. well supported by research and common expe-
Although the research evidence on point One
this is rience. of the reasons you may findhard
it
mixed, stimuli appear to be filtered not only by not to listen to someone else’s conversation at a
the sense organs according to stimulus prop- cocktail party is that the other conversation
erties (forexample, loudness, brightness) but “fits” into your attitudinal or motivational state
by the brain s use of previous experience to of the moment.
assign meaning and relevance to certain stimuli Storage or memory is the third stage of in-
over others. Without the individual’s aware- formation processing. A great deal of research
ness, the brain apparently screens out irrelevant on memory has been done in psychology. From
stimuli and organizes sensations into potentially much of this work it is clear that memory and
meaningful units. perceptual organization go hand in hand. Our
For example, when you are talking with memories affect central processing, and in turn
someone in a crowded room, your brain filters memory is facilitated by organization. Specific
out extraneous stimulation from other conver- percepts are not stored independently in draw-
sations. One of the reasons for this is that your ers of the brain. Rather, they are integrated into
conversation is a coherent and organized in- complex hierarchical webs of knowledge.
teraction, and bits and pieces of other conversa- Memory is thus facilitated by the anchor of
tions are not meaningful to this organized pat- context. Likewise, one never remembers just
tern. However, at times someone standing one piece of data; it is remembered by associa-
nearby says something that strikes a familiar tion with something else. In other words,
note, and your brain takes your attention off thinking and remembering are intimately tied
your immediate conversation so that you tune together. For these reasons certain mnemonic
into the outside comment. Sometimes you may devices, such as making a word out of the first
even fake attention to your partner while you of each item
letter in a list, aid memory.
are paying attention to someone else’s conversa- The final stage of information processing is
tion. recall. Our memories are organized according
The second stage of information processing to event models, with recall being closely tied
is central processing, or perception. Here data that to our organization of past events. Long-term
have entered the system are assigned meaning recall is therefore largely a matter of reconstruc-
and prepared for entry into storage or memory. tion. The individual plugs certain recalled im-
An important aspect of perception is the orga- pressions into themodel and rebuilds an entire
nization of the sensory field. Sensations are sequence of events. Often what you “remem-
related to one another and organized into mean- ber” about an event is not what really happened
ingful patterns. It is well known that the con- but your construction of what logically could
textof a stimulus, the background in which it is have happened under the circumstances.
presented, is important to how the stimulus is Recall is a vital link between decoding and
perceived. A number of rules or laws of per- encoding. As messages are decoded, they are
16. Colin Cherry, “The Cocktail Party Problem,” Discov- integrated into an organized structure of mem-
ery, March 1962, p. 32. ories where they reside in association with other

125
THEMATIC THEORIES

aspects of the memory hierarchy. Encoding in- sive number of studies applying cognitive com-
volves the stimulation of a part of the memory plexity to interpersonal communication. 18 The
system so that appropriate data are recalled and concept of cognitive complexity is relevant to
used to formulate messages. several themes of communication. These
theories are placed here because of their direct
Criticism of Standard Theory relevance to information processing, although
Criticizing standard theory as if it were a singu- Crockett’s work could as easily fit in the chap-
lar theory would be unfair. In fact, until the past ters on interpersonal communication. Although
decade or so work in cognitive psychology little work has been done on cognitive com-
could be faulted for failing to develop middle- plexity outside these two domains, the field is

range theories to guide research on information ripe for extensions of research to such areas as
processing. The area of standard theory is a persuasion, group communication, organiza-
good example of research done in bits and tions, and media effects.
pieces without an overarching theory. In recent Cognitive complexity theories attempt to
years, however, a number of theoretical uncover processes by which persons make sense
frameworks for understanding cognition have of their surroundings. They seek correlations
arisen. We will look at two of these in the next and patterns of behavior, but they do not con-
section of this chapter. struct covering laws. Further, they tend to be
Before we two cau-
leave standard theory, process oriented, rejecting fine analysis. As
tions are in order. Although many researchers Schroder and colleagues write: “As the integra-
who contributed to this field know otherwise, tive complexity of the conceptual structure in-
they have a tendency, in looking at the work as creases in regard to a given stimulus domain,
a whole, to image information processing as a . . . the view of man as purely a product of his
linear sequence of events that operate in a ma- past — as reactive creature warding off
a
chinelike fashion. It is a mistake to think of diversity — becomes increasingly erroneous.” 19

cognition as a series of discrete events occurring


over time. “Stages” should be interpreted Levels of Integration. Schroder, Driver, and
loosely as overlapping processes that interrelate Streufert have presented an appealing theory of
to form a whole. Also, information processing cognitive complexity. 20 This theory states that
in humans is highly individual and is not partic- cognitive functioning involves two types of
ularly comparable with machine behavior. 17 elements. The first are the content variables,
17.
consisting of what an individual knows the —
Cognitive Complexity person’s thoughts, attitudes, needs, and so
In this section we will look at two theories of forth. The authors identify these elements as
cognitive complexity, which is the third factor dimensions of cognition. The second kind of
of information processing listed in Figure 7.2. element consists of structural variables, or how
One theory is Harold Schroder
attributable to an individual processes the dimensions. The
and his colleagues and the other to Walter structural variables are rules or programs for
Crockett.
An active group of speech communication 18. This literature is reviewed in part by Claudia Hale,
“Cognitive Complexity-Simplicity as a Determinant of
scholars under the tutelage of Jesse Delia at the
Communication Effectiveness,” Communication Monographs
University of Illinois has produced an impres- 47 (1980): 304-11.
19. Harold M. Schroder, Michael S. Driver, and Siegfried
For an elaboration of criticism, see Geoffrey
this Streufert, Human Information Processing: Individuals and
Underwood, “Concepts Information Processing,” in
in Groups Functioning in Complex Social Situations (New York:
Strategies of Information Processing, ed. G. Underwood (New Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1967), p. v.
York: Academic Press, 1978), pp. 1—22. 20. Ibid.

126
THEORIES OF INFORMATION AND INFORMATION PROCESSING

combining or integrating the content variables. complexity is low. Although a correlation may
In short, dimensions are units of thought, and be present between the number of content ele-
rules are relations among units. ments and the degree of connections among
People vary in terms of the complexity of dimensions, integrative complexity primarily is
their cognitive systems. Where dimensions are the number of connections, including the vari-
numerous and of integration many, cog-
levels ety of rules,among dimensions.
nitive complexity said to be high. Where
is Integration is accomplished through a
dimensions are few and integration simple, hierarchy of rules. The hierarchy can be simple

Dimensions

Relations

A. Low integration index: relatively fixed B. Moderately low integration index: few alternate
organization combinations

C. Moderately high integration index: alternate


combinations and higher-order rules

D. High integration index: possibilities for complex


relationships

Figure 7.3. Levels of integration.

127
THEMATIC THEORIES

or complex. The focus of this theory is on ing is quite programmed, and little creativity or
differences in integrative complexity. Where in- self-initiative is possible. Thinking tends to be
tegration low, the dimensions are integrated
is black and white; conflict among competing
by a single, simple rule. (For example. Never stimuli is minimized since differences are not

cross the street; Fat people are jolly.) Where noted; conclusions are concrete; and com-
integration is high, numerous rules are used to partmentalization is rife. With high integration
relate the dimensions, and rules themselves are comes freedom of choice, high levels of be-
integrated into an abstract hierarchy of relation- havioral adjustment and adaptation, and
ships. We will explore this idea in greater detail creativity.
momentarily. An
important claim of this theory is that the
Before we discuss the levels of integration, levelof integration used in processing informa-
we should note that level of integration is not tion depends on both the predisposition of the
viewed by Schroder and colleagues as a trait. A individual and the conditions of the environ-
single individual has higher levels of integration ment. In other words, how we process infor-
in some areas than in others, and the degree of mation in any given setting depends on the
complexity in one’s knowledge, even in a single complexity of our cognitive system and the
area, may change over time. demands of the situation. This idea leads to
Figure 7.3 contrasts varying levels of integra- Shroder and colleagues’ U curve hypothesis.
tion. 21 These models are not intended to repre- Individuals generally reach their highest level
sent discrete types but points along a con- of integration in processing information at
tinuum of complexity. The first figure (a) we some optimal level of environmental complexi-
see low integration; the dimensions are con- ty. This relationship is illustrated in Figure 7.5.
nected to one another via a single rule. The In this figure the highest level of information
individual has no flexibility or freedom to processing at point X, which is a
is achieved
choose among alternative interpretations. In the moderately complex environmental situation. 22
next figure (b) the integration is moderately The shape and position of the curve, however,
low, the difference being that more than one are not the same for all individuals. The authors
rule comes into play. Here the individual has a hypothesize (1) that individuals with higher
little flexibility in applying connective rules. At levels of integration for a particular theme area
the next level (c) an important difference is ap- will reach their peak of cognitive complexity at
parent. Not only are alternate rules for relating a higher point of environmental complexity
dimensions possible, but another level of than will people with lower integration hierar-
metarules
21. for relating first-level combinations chies; and (2) the difference in complexity of
comes into use. At the highest level (d) an addi- processing between high and low individuals
tional layeris added, and the hierarchical nature diminishes as the environment becomes either
of the information-processing system becomes simpler or more complex, as illustrated in Fig-
apparent. It is also apparent that increased com- ure 1 . 6. 23
plexity of integration brings a greater potential Let’s look at a simple example. Consider the
for abstract versus concrete thinking. Figure 7.4 different ways two drivers would respond to
presents a simplified example of an integrative different traffic conditions. One driver is just
hierarchy. learning to drive. Assume this individual has a
How an individual processes information low level of integration in the area of driving.
depends greatly on the level of integration in The other driver is experienced, having a high
force. With low integration the person’s think-
22. Ibid., p. 37.

Adapted from ibid., p. 15, 18, 20, 22. 23. Ibid., p. 40.

128
THEORIES OF INFORMATION AND INFORMATION PROCESSING

level of integration. In an extremely simple sit- cept to that of Schroder and his colleagues 24 .

uation, say a red light at an intersection in low His notion of cognitive complexity is not as
both drivers would process the sensory
traffic,
ramified, but his main concern is to apply this
information at a low level. They would also aspect of information processing to interper-
process information at an equally low level in a sonal perception. Here we see a direct relation-
highly complex situation such as a traffic acci- ship being made between information process-
dent just ahead in heavy traffic in foul weather. ing and communication behavior. In fact, a
At moderate conditions in between these ex- good of research has applied Crockett’s
deal
tremes, however, would be vast differences in cognitive complexity idea to other communica-
the degree of integration with which the two tion variables.
drivers would process information. Crockett, like Schroder, recognizes that a

Cognitive Complexity and Impression Forma- 24. Walter H. Crockett, “Cognitive Complexity and Im-
pression Formation,” in Progress in Experimental Personality
tion.In his well-known treatment of cognitive
Research, ed. Brendon A. Maher (New York: Academic
complexity, Walter Crockett uses a similar con- Press, 1965), vol. 2, pp. 47-90.

Fruit Vegetables Meat

129
THEMATIC THEORIES

cognitive system consists of content elements realm of information processing in particular,


and relationships among elements. Complexity person perception. He is interested in how indi-
or simplicity in the system is a matter of the viduals process information about other peo-
relative number of constructs (dimensions) and ple. Since communication involves interper-
the degree of hierarchical organization of the sonal interaction, this line of work is especially
constructs. The number of constructs used by relevant. The main hypotheses of the theory
an individual to organize a perceptual field is the follow:
degree of cognitive differentiation. More cogni-
First, individuals with complex cognitive systems
tivelycomplex individuals are able to make
with respect to other people need not necessarily
more distinctions in a situation than cognitively have complex systems with respect to other do-
noncomplex people. mains. Second, those individuals for whom interper-
Crockett agrees that cognitive complexity is sonal relations are functionally important should
not a general trait. Individuals vary in their own have more complex cognitive systems with respect
to other people than those for whom interpersonal
complexity across topics and over time. Fur-
relations are less important. Third, a particular indi-
ther, cognitive complexity is a matter of human
vidual may show differential complexity in his inter-
development. Small children typically are cog- personal constructs with respect to different
nitively simple, processing information in categories of other people, depending upon the ex-
tent of his interaction with them 25
rather global, undifferentiated terms. With .

growth and maturity they come to understand What, then, is the relationship between the
events with greater discrimination and with cognitive complexity of interpersonal impres-
more sensitivity to the relationships among as- sions and how information about others is
pects of an event. Likewise, as adults develop processed? Crockett makes several claims.
more familiarity and experience with a new First, a relationship does not appear to exist
content area, they become more cognitively between cognitive complexity and the ability to
complex in that area.
Crockett is especially concerned about one 25. Ibid., p. 54.

Figure 7.5. U curve hypothesis.

130
THEORIES OF INFORMATION AND INFORMATION PROCESSING

accurately predict another’s behavior. How- Although these theories take a step toward
ever, cognitively complex individuals seem to understanding the structure of cognition, they
distinguish more between people in impression do not go far enough in relating cognitive com-
formation than do simple individuals. They plexity to other facets of information process-
also assume less similarity between self and ing. The work of Schroder and his colleagues
others. In brief, cognitively complex individ- centers almost entirely on the curve U
uals seem to be less susceptible to stereotyping hypothesis. The work of Crockett and his fol-
than are noncomplex individuals. lowers extends the concept into the realm of
In addition, cognitively complex individuals person perception, which, although a first step
tend to attribute both positive and negative in the right direction, is still somewhat limited.
qualities to others, and they are therefore less Such questions as the following are worth pur-
likely to divide people into good and bad suing: How does complexity affect perception
groups than would cognitively noncomplex of complex stimuli? By what strategies do indi-
people. Another correlation involves the recon- viduals with high (versus low) integration un-
ciliationof discrepant perceptions in another derstand verbal and nonverbal messages? How
person. Because cognitively complex individ- is complexity of integration related to problem

uals are able to put perceptions into a broader solving? What is the effect of integration on
network of understanding, they have a greater information storage and retrieval? How do de-
ability to reconcile contradictory attributes of velopmental factors, including such predisposi-
others. tions as values and attitudes, affect cognitive
As indicated, much research has sought to complexity? Of course, the theorists should not
discover how cognitive complexity affects be faulted for failing to touch every base in their
interpersonal communication. 26 The general original formulations, but the heuristic value of
upshot of this research is that cognitively com- the theory could have been heightened by not-
plex individuals are more able than noncomplex ing potential connections between cognitive
individuals to take the perspective of another complexity and other information-processing
communicator. Thus their messages to others variables. Ironically, these theories could them-
tend to be adapted to the other communicator’s selves be discussed at a higher level of integra-
constructs, making communication more effec- tive complexity.
tive. The second concern relates to the notion of
hierarchy. Both of the approaches discussed
Criticism of Cognitive Complexity here rest on the central claim that cognitive
Cognitive complexity theories are appealing for structure is hierarchical (as illustrated in Figure
a variety of reasons. They meet almost all of the 7.3).This notion is appealing because it is par-
criteria for good theory. They provide a basis simonious and aesthetically elegant. Yet there is
for understanding information processing from no particular reason to believe that actual cogni-
an actional or constructivistic point of view. tion is always
this neat. In fact, the hierarchy of
They present a reasonable explanation, without cognitions difficult to prove (or disprove, for
is
falling into mechanistic reasoning, for how that matter), and these authors seem to take it as
humans differ in conceptualizing events and in self-evident. There is no doubt that cognitions
making judgments about people. In considering are organized, but that they are grouped syste-
ways these theories might better serve our un- matically into increasingly abstract sets is uncer-
derstanding of cognition, we note two con- tain. As an alternative organizational model,
cerns. The first relates to scope, the second to consider the possibility of a network of clusters
validity. of associated cognitions without definite hierar-
26. Hale, “Cognitive Complexity-Simplicity.” chical order.

131
THEMATIC THEORIES

heavily by memory; but, second, memory


What Do We Know about Information more than simple recall of stored data. Memory
is

Classical information theorists define informa-


seems to involve organized reconstruction of
tion in terms of uncertainty. They
present a events. This fact suggests, third, that all
theory whereby engineers can develop systems cogni-
tive processes are governed by
that will transmit
organizing
messages from one location schemes. Thus, for example, perception is
to another via signals along channels.
Although structured by certain organizing principles, and
the concepts of the technical theory of
infor- memory is consistent with our notions
of how
mation are vital in understanding machine
events should happen. Fourth, cognitions are
communication, they tell us little of the ways
never isolated but exist in a complex web of
humans use information. More recent devel-
interrelationships. Fifth, most cognitive pro-
opments in information theory help us under-
cesses seem to be tied to language. Our linguis-
stand the role of information in human life.
We tic categories affect how we perceive, recall,
know that semantic information helps individ-
and think. Sixth, attitudes and emotions cannot
uals reduce uncertainty in the
environment, be separated from cognition: Perception,
facilitating adaptation to complex
mem-
situations. ory, problem solving, and other cognitive
This process involves removing unknowns in a
processes are affected by these.
stimulus situation. Information of this type has
Unfortunately human information process-
the potential for affecting in a number of ways ing difficult to study. It suffers from some
is
the choices people make. Information can
of
affect the same problems as does the work on lan-
the individual’s perception of how well
various guage and meaning outlined in the last section.
options will work in achieving goals. It can help
The basic problem is that we must infer from
people affect systems in such a way as to observed responses to unobservable processes.
achieve a goal more readily. Information can The alternative is to assume that human infor-
also have a direct effect on one’s goal priorities, mation processing is similar to machine infor-
causing a redirection of energy toward new mation processing, which can be observed di-
goals.
rectly. However, great doubt exists as to
Information processing consists of a com- whether this assumption is valid. Besides, even
plex set of interrelated processes. Several
machines can process information in a variety
generalizations about these processes are war-
of ways, and they therefore provide little clue to
ranted. First, all cognition seems to be affected how humans actually think.

132
CHAPTER

Theories

8 of Persuasion

Until the mid-1970s persuasion was most at these phenomena for centuries. The roots of
often conceptualized as a process by which one our understanding of communication processes
person or group affects, influences, or changes in general and persuasion in particular go deep
another person or group. Although social into the historical soil. Typically, persuasion has
influence is still the central element of most been examined in two broad ways. The histori-
persuasion, the unidirectional, one-person- cal scholar has contributed by examining histor-
changes-another-person concept is now gener- ical artifacts, including treatises, papers, and
ally seen as inadequate. 1
This approach has been speeches.With the advent of modern pscyhol-
replaced by an information-processing ap- ogy and the behavioral sciences in the twentieth
proach that focuses more on the information century, persuasion began to be studied by be-
receiver than the message source. In short, per- havioral scientists as well. Using empirical
sonal change seen as a consequence of infor-
is methods, psychologists and others have tested
mation processing. many hypotheses that grew out of theories of
This chapter divides persuasion into four sec- the past. We will attempt to experience the
tions. The first provides a general humanistic flavor of both the humanistic theories that
background contemporary theories of per-
for began in ancient Greece and the contemporary
suasion. The second summarizes behavioristic behavioral theories.
research that springs from the humanistic tradi- When we think of theory as described in
tion. The two remaining sections divide the Chapter1, we normally focus on the scientific
mainstream of contemporary persuasion theory type of the present century. Yet it is clear that
into two basic groups. The first group, found in many of the qualities of theory outlined earlier
the third section of this chapter, are theories that in the book are present in ancient explanations
link persuasion with information processing. of communication. The most important histor-
The second group, found in the last section of ical theory of communication and persuasion is
the chapter, consists of theories of persuasion Aristotelian rhetorical theory.
through cognitive reorganization. 2
Aristotelian Rhetorical Theory
Aristotle, considered to be a seminal figure in
Humanistic Foundations: Rhetorical philosophy, laid a classical groundwork for
Theory much of modern philosophy. For years Aris-
The study of communication and persuasion is theory was the primary conceptual
totelian
not a new interest. Humans have been looking framework used in the field of speech, and
1 For discussions of this conceptual shift, see Gerald Mil-
.
many psychological investigations found their
ler and Michael Burgoon, “Persuasion Research: Review original hypotheses in the works of Aristotle
and Commentary,” in Communication Yearbook 2, ed. Brent
Rubin (New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Books, 1978),
and his numerous interpreters.

PP- 29-47; and Kathleen Reardon, Persuasion: Theory and


Context (Beverly Hills: Sage, 1981), chap. 1. lent integrative work of Mary John Smith, Persuasion and
2. This organization and review rely heavily on the excel- Human Action (Belmont, Calif.: Wadsworth, 1982).

133
THEMATIC THEORIES

Aristotle was a great scientist, philosopher, totle and most other rhetorical theorists are
and social interpreter of his age. During the primarily concerned with artistic proofs that are
fourth century B.C., he produced many classical directly controlled by the speaker. Artistic
works related to the nature of things and the proofs include three types: ethos, pathos, and
nature of people. His work thatmost concerns logos. Ethos, ethical or personal appeals, in-
communication and persuasion is Rhetoric. 3 cludes all of the ways a person projects personal
This work is “generally considered the most on the part of the
qualities so as to elicit belief
important single work in the literature of audience. Such factors as character, knowledge,
speechcraft.” 4 As a manual for speech making, and goodwill can be projected as ethical proofs.
Rhetoric relates most centrally to persuasion as a Interestingly, much of the research since the late
domain. In fact, Aristotle defined rhetoric as the 1940s on source credibility has tested Aristotle’s
faculty of discovering the available means of original hypotheses about ethos. The second
persuasion in any case. 5 For many years in the proof, pathos, consists of the emotional appeals
field of speech rhetoric was equated with per- brought to bear in the rhetorical act. The pur-
suasion. We need to keep in mind, of course, pose of emotional proofs is to involve the audi-
that this theory, along with the other persuasion ence’s feelings and to call on its sympathies.
theories, apply to personal change in all Aristotle spent considerable time in Rhetoric
contexts —interpersonal, group, organization- discussing emotions and how they relate to
al, and mass. people’s lives. The third proof, logical appeal,
Rhetoric is a description of the processes of was important to Aristotle and other classical
speech making as well as a textbook on how to theorists, for it was seen
as the essence of rea-
make speeches. It is important to realize that the soned discourse.
primary mode of persuasion and mass commu- Logic consists of the use of examples and
nication in ancient times was public speaking. enthymemes. Examples help the audience see the
As a result theorizing at that time dealt with validity of generalizations about the speaker’s
speech as communication channel.
a topic.Enthymemes, partial syllogisms, are im-
For Aristotle rhetoric was essentially the portant in eliciting audience participation in the
same as persuasion is for us today. In fact, many reasoning process. A syllogism is defined as a
scholars, particularly in the fields of speech logical device of deduction in which conclu-
communication and English, still prefer the sions of a specific nature are inferred on the
term rhetoric to more recent labels. Aristotle basis of assumptions or premises. Syllogisms
defines rhetoric “as a faculty of discovering all are used to demonstrate the truth or validity of
the possible means of persuasion in any sub- conclusions that a scientist might make. The
ject.” 6 In Rhetoric Aristotle points out the two enthymeme, on the other hand, is a practical
broad kinds of proofs or appeals that affect per- device that is particularly useful in persuasion
suasion, artistic and inartistic. Inartistic proofs because of its appeal to listeners in the commu-
are the aspects of the situation and qualities of nication process. The enthymeme does not in-
the speaker that are not directly controlled by clude all premises and conclusions; instead it
the speaker. Although inartistic proofs enter the requires audience members mentally to fill in
process of persuasion in important ways, Aris- missing logical steps, and thus it stimulates in-
3. Aristotle, Rhetoric , trans. W. Rhys Roberts (New York: volvement. Contemporary rhetorical scholars
Oxford University Press, 1924). Other translations are have discussed the enthymeme in depth and
available.
have demonstrated that it is a device used in
4. Lester Thonssen and A. Craig Beard, Speech Criticism:
The Development of Standards for Rhetorical Appraisal (New most practical persuasion.
York: Ronald Press, 1948), p. 57. Suppose, for example, that you are involved
5. Aristotle, Rhetoric ,
p. 1. in a recycling campaign and want members of
6. Ibid. your community to see the value of recycling

134
. —
THEORIES OF PERSUASION

aluminum cans. Your reasoning might follow requires a description of the speaker’s audience, and
this syllogism: (1) The earth is worth protect- of the leading ideas with which he plied his
ing; (2) Saving natural resources protects the hearers —
his topics, the motives to which he ap-
pealed, the nature of the proofs he offered. These will
earth; (3) Recycling helps save natural re-
reveal his own judgment of human nature in his
sources; (4) Therefore recycling helps protect
audiences, and also his judgment on the questions
the earth and is worthy. Since you probably which he discussed. Attention must be paid, too, to
would not state all of the steps in this reasoning, the relation of the surviving texts to what was actu-
an enthymeme would suffice: (1) The earth is ally uttered: in case the nature of the changes is

worth protecting, and known, there may be occasion to consider adaptation


(2) Recycling saves natu-
ralresources. Or, to have the audience think
to two audiences —
that which heard and that which
read. Nor can rhetorical criticism omit the speaker’s
through the reasons for recycling, you might mode of arrangement and his mode of expression,
say: Protect the earth: Recycle. The audience nor his habit of preparation and his manner of deliv-

will fill in the rest. ery from the platform; though the last two are
In addition to the three kinds
of proof, Aris-
perhaps less significant. “Style” —
in the sense which
corresponds to diction and sentence movement
totle also discusses three other aspects of public
must receive attention, but only as one among vari-
persuasion: delivery, style (the use of language), ous means that secure for the speaker ready access to
and organization. The principles of Aristotle the minds of his auditors. Finally, the effect of the
have been discussed and expanded throughout discourse on its immediate hearers is not to be ig-

the ages in many ways. Some theorists have nored, either in the testimony of witnesses, nor in the
record of events. And throughout such a study one
focused on style, others on logic, still others on
must conceive of the public man as influencing the
the responsibility of the speaker in different per- men of his own times by the power of his discourse 8 .

suasive situations.
Aristotle has been rediscovered periodically. 7 Contemporary Approaches
One such rediscovery occurred early in this cen- Rhetorical theory has undergone considerable
tury. In the last century speeches were treated development in the twentieth century. One of
primarily as literature, but as the contemporary the most important contemporary theorists is
view of communication developed, it became Kenneth Burke, whose theory is summarized in
clear to scholars
of rhetoric that speeches should Chapter 4. The work of I. A. Richards, pre-
be seen from a functional viewpoint. The shift, sented in Chapter 6, is also associated with rhe-
which stimulated a return to the Aristotelian torical theory. Several other major figures have
model, was articulated most clearly by Herbert presented theories of rhetoric. Scholars often
Wichelns in his classic 1925 article, “The Liter- make a sharp distinction between “rhetorical”
ary Criticism of Oratory.” In the article he re- theory and “communication” theory, a distinc-
pudiates the literary study of speech making tion that seems false. We do not have space to
and calls for a return to the rhetorical perspec- pursue rhetorical theories here; several excellent
tive. The following
quotation, the heart of his books provide summaries. 9 The following criti-
discussion, outlines the basic parameters of cism is limited to Aristotelian theory.
neo-Aristotelian rhetorical theory as it is used 8. Herbert A. Wichelns, “The Literary Criticism of Ora-
today: tory,” in Studies in Rhetoric and Public Speaking in Honor
of
James Albert Winans (New York: The Century Company,
Rhetorical criticism is necessarily analytical. The 1925), pp. 212-13.
scheme of a rhetorical study includes the element of 9. For excellent summaries of twentieth-century rhetori-
the speaker’s personality as a conditioning factor: it cal theory, see Bernard L. Brock and Robert L. Scott,
includes also the public character of the man
what he was, but what he was thought
not — Methods of Rhetorical Criticism (Detroit: Wayne State Uni-
versity Press, 1980); James L. Golden, Goodwin F. Ber-
to be. It
quist, and William E. Coleman, The Rhetoric
7 For a detailed survey of the development of rhetorical of Western
Thought (Dubuque, Iowa: Kendall Hunt, 1976); Douglas
theory throughout history, see Nancy L. Harper, Human
Ehninger, Contemporary Rhetoric (Glenview, 111.: Scott,
Communication Theory: The History of a Paradigm (Rochelle Foresman, 1972); Richard L. Johannesen, Contemporary
Park, N.J.: Hayden Book Co., 1979). Theories of Rhetoric (New York: Harper & Row, 1971).

135
..

THEMATIC THEORIES

Criticism The goal of the Yale program was to discover


Aristotelian theory probably was effective in its ways that communication variables operate
day. problems result primarily from
Its within the attitude change situation. The inves-
modern-day applications. Because the theory tigators hypothesized that in addition to the
employs a linear model in which a strong dis- specific communication-bound variables affect-
tinction is made between rhetor (source) and ing persuasion, certain general persuasibility
audience (receiver), it leaves little room for in- dimensions were also present. This hypothesis
teraction among communicators. As such it ne- arose out of the relatively commonsensical idea
glects the process nature of communication. that some people are easier to persuade than
This failure is serious because of its adverse others, regardless of the topic or situation.
effecton much of our recent thinking about The model illustrated in Figure 8.1 outlines
communication. In the next section you will see the major types of persuasion variables investi-
how this linear model is continued even in re- gated by the Yale group. 11 This model is an
cent psychological research. This criticism is excellent outline of the antecedent, inter-
primarily one of theoretical appropriateness mediate, and outcome variables in the persua-
Aristotelian theory has also been criticized sion paradigm. The model begins on the left
because of its three-fold analysis of ethos, with observable communication stimuli and
pathos, and logos. In actual practice separating ends on the right with various kinds of persua-
information into these categories is difficult. sion effects. The two middle blocks are particu-
Any argument or appeal may, and probably larly interesting, for they center on the mediat-
does, involve a combination of personal regard, ing and predispositional factors between cause
feelings, and logic. Aristotle presents these and effect. These two factors are extremely im-
three elements as descriptors of message parts, portant in understanding persuasion, because
but they probably more accurately relate to di- they occur inside the person and facilitate or
mensions of perception that do not correspond inhibit persuasion.
perfectly with specific message appeals. This The Yale studies, including the theories of
objection relates to our criterion of validity persuasibility, illustrate well the deterministic,
behavioristic quality of much persuasion re-
search. One
immediately perceives a qualitative
Contemporary Applications: The Yale difference between the theories from cognitive
10.
Tradition psychology in the previous chapter and theories
of social psychology, represented here by the
An Organizing Model Yale work. The former are concerned with what
One of the most prolific research programs in people do with information, while the latter focus
persuasion was the Yale Communication and on how people are affected by information.
Attitude Change Program, conducted primar- Much research on persuasion took place in
ily in the 1950s. This work is interesting to the Yale program. Summarizing the work is
study in conjunction with Aristotelian theory beyond the scope of this book; reviews of the
because it represents a contemporary oper- literature are readily available elsewhere. 12
ationalization of the classical linear model. 10
Change (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1960);
The monographs in the Yale series include Carl I.
Muzafer Sherif and Carl I. Hovland, Social Judgment (New
Hovland, Irving L. Janis, and Harold H. Kelley, Communi- Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1961).
cation and Persuasion (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University 1 1 . Irving L. Janis et al., Personality and Persuasibility (New
Press, 1953); Carl I. Hovland et al. The Order of Presentation
,
Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1959).
in Persuasion (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 12. For a brief summary of the findings of the Yale re-
1959); Milton J. Rosenberg et al., Attitude Organization and search, see Smith, Persuasion, pp. 219-36.

136
THEORIES OF PERSUASION

The Persuasibility Problem vary in terms of their general persuasibility,


Of particular interest in Figure 8.1 is the small apart from any other specific communication-
block at the top of the second column, labeled related factor.
communication-free. People are hypothesized to The original research in this area attempted

Observable communication Predispositional factors Internal mediating Observable


stimuli* processes communication
effects

The categories and subcategories are not necessarily exhaustive but are intended to highlight the main types of
stimulus variables that play a role in producing changes in verbalizable attitudes.

Personality and Persuasibility by Irving Janis, et al. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1959. Reprinted by permission of the
publisher.

Figure 8A. Major factors in attitude change produced by means of social communication.

137
THEMATIC THEORIES

to discover various personality correlates of and evaluation as an inhibiting factor. High abili-
persuasibility. The researchers wanted to know ties to attend, comprehend, and anticipate will
what kind of person tends to be persuasible or promote persuasibility, but high
a ability to
not persuasible. With a few exceptions, though, evaluate will retard persuasibility.
this line of research reached a dead end. It be- Of course, abilities alone will not determine
came painfully obvious that persuasibility is the degree towhich attention, comprehension,
more a matter of internal processes than traits. and evaluation will occur. Because
anticipation,
Persuasibility appears to be a complex matter the person must be
able not only to do these
involving particular interactions among the things but be motivated to do them, abilities
mediational variables. In attempting to provide and motives are always considered together in
clearer direction for research, Irving Janis and predicting persuasibility. Figure 8.2 is a con-
Carl Hovland developed a theory of per- tingency table outlining the various possible
suasibility to explain the complexity of the combinations of abilities and motives in persua-
problem. 13 These authors hypothesize that in- sion. The table is an adaptation of Janis and
dividuals vary in their abilities and levels of Hovland’s outline of interrelationships among
motivation to process messages. Communica- the basic factors in the model. The theorists’
tion receivers have varying degrees of ability in assumptions, related to Figure 8.2, are as fol-
four areas: attention, comprehension, anticipa- lows: A deficiency in the three facilitating
(1)
tion, and evaluation. Attention involves focus- abilities will decrease persuasibility. A
(2) defi-
ing on the communication stimuli; it involves ciency in evaluation ability will increase per-
the ability to pay attention to aspects of the Low
suasibility. (3) motivation to use facilita-
speaker and the message. Comprehension in- tive abilities results in lower persuasibility.
(4)
volves understanding the message. Anticipation High motivation to use the facilitating abilities
involves the ability to imagine or rehearse ac- results in higher persuasibility. (5) High moti-
ceptance of a message. It requires the ability to vation to evaluate leads to lower persuasibility.
see yourself in the position advocated by the (6) When all four abilities are adequate and the
speaker. Evaluation involves scrutinizing argu- level of motivation is moderate, the individual
ments and identifying attempts to manipulate. will be selective, discriminating, and flexible in
When you evaluate, you criticize what the responding to persuasive messages.
speaker is saying, in your own mind at least. As an example imagine that you have given a
These four can be combined in two
abilities speech to a community group on the topic of
ways for purposesof analysis. The first part of recycling. In your speech you have presented a
the analysis looks at attention and comprehen- number of arguments in favor of recycling, in-
sion together as learning factors and anticipation volving political, economic, and conser-
and evaluation as acceptance factors. In other vationist points. You might expect, according
words, if you are able to attend to the speaker to this theory of persuasibility, to find three
and message and comprehend what is being kinds of members in your audience. Some audi-
said,you are more apt to internalize or learn the ence members would be easily persuaded by
material being discussed. Likewise, if you antic- your speech. These people would be highly
ipategoing along with the speaker and you are motivated and able to pay attention, to com-
not too critical of what the speaker is saying, prehend your speech, and to imagine them-
you are more apt to be persuaded. The second selves going to the recycling center. Such indi-
kind of analysis considers attention, compre- viduals probably would not be particularly able
hension, and anticipation as facilitating factors or motivated to evaluated your arguments. An-
other kind of person would be stubborn and
13. Janis, Personality, chap. 12. resistant to persuasion. Such individuals prob-

138

THEORIES OF PERSUASION

ably would have low motivation and/or ability Again, the issue is important, for it suggests
to attend, to comprehend, and to anticipate. Or that significant individual differences exist in
these individuals might be highly motivated terms of being influenced across situations 14 .

and able to evaluate your arguments. A third We have already seen that influenceability is
group of people in the audience would be adap- the consequence of complex relationships
table and flexible. Such individuals would not among mediating variables within the person
be automatically persuaded or resistant but and situation. McGuire further contributes to
would make a decision based on your argu- this view by defining the main principles in-
ments and their needs. They probably would volved in these mediational relationships. He
have a moderate motivation and ability to at- outlines five such principles. These principles
tend, comprehend, anticipate, and evaluate. are important for our consideration because
This theory conceives of persuasibility as a they illustrate once again that persuasion
condition, not a trait. Persuasibility may be indeed communication — is hardly a simple
caused by any number of interactions among cause-effect relationship.
predispositional and mediating factors. If per- The first principle of influenceability is the
suasibility is not a singular type, then it must mediational principle. This relatively simple
have several variations, depending on the indi- principle restates what we have said above, that
vidual combination of factors present in the persuasibility is mediated by a number of inter-
persuasible or nonpersuasible person. vening variables. One cannot understand the
In reviewing Hovland and Janis’s theory of
persuasibility, we must realize that this attempt 14. William J. McGuire, “The Nature of Attitudes and
Attitude Change,” in The Handbook of Social Psychology,
was thefirst to systematize an approach for the
vol. 3, ed. Gardner Lindzey and Elliot Aronson (Reading,
purpose of structuring research. In a more Mass.: Addison-Wesley, 1969), pp. 136—314; see also
recent treatment William McGuire further McGuire, “Personality and Susceptibility to Social
Influence,” in Handbook of Personality Theory and Research,
amplifies the complexity of the matter of
ed. E. F. Borgatta and W. W. Lambert (Chicago: Rand
influenceability. McGuire notes that persuas- McNally, 1967); McGuire, “Personality and Attitude
ibility is really part of the larger condition Change: An Information-Processing Theory,” in Psycholog-
ical Foundations of Attitudes, ed. Anthony G. Greenwald,
of general influenceability, whether in the form
Timothy C. Brock, and Thomas M. Ostrom (New York:
of persuasion, conformity, or suggestibility. Academic Press, 1968), pp. 171-95.

Facilitative abilities:
Attention, comprehension, Inhibiting ability:
and anticipation Evaluation

High Medium Low High Medium Low

High Not Not


Persuasible Persuasible
persuasible persuasible

Motives

Moderate Adaptive Adaptive

Not Not Not


Low Persuasible Persuasible Persuasible
persuasible persuasible persuasible

Figure 8.2. Combinations of abilities and motives as they relate to persuasibility.

139
— .

THEMATIC THEORIES

relationship between personality and per- involves message elements that are more
suasibility without considering the ways vari- difficult, such as rational argument. Since per-
ous personality factors affect such mediators as suasion requires abilities to attend and compre-
intelligence, age, self-esteem, and anxiety. hend and since people vary in these abilities, a
The second principle is that of compensation great deal of difference exists among people in
This principle states that various mediating fac- terms of how much they will be influenced by
tors will have opposing effects, thus tending to persuasive communication.
compensate or cancel out one another. An im- Fourth, the confounding principle states that
portant corollary of the compensation principle variables cluster together into syndromes. An-
is that the intermediate levels of compensating other way of saying this is that the mediating
variables maximize influenceability. The reason variables within a person will correlate with one
for this is that when a particular person is high another in different ways. For example, re-
on one variable, a compensating low level on searchers have found that self-esteem correlates
another variable may cancel out the effect of the negatively with persuasibility. But since self-
first, but all relevant mediating variables com- esteem correlates differently with other vari-
bine optimally middle of the range. For
at the ables such as depression and withdrawal, the
an overly simple example, consider the investigator cannot really understand the net
hypothetical relationship among three vari- effect of self-esteem on persuasibility without
ables: age, anxiety, and influenceability. Imag- knowing how it intercorrelates with the
first
ine that age is inversely related to influenceabil- other two variables. Suppose, for example, a
ity: Younger people are more easily influenced person who has low self-esteem is depressed
than older people. Imagine further that anxiety and withdraws. Such a person would not ex-
is positively related to influenceability: More pose himself or herself to many communicative
anxious people are more easily influenced than messages and therefore would be a poor mes-
relaxed people. Now,
age and anxiety are
if sage receiver, thus lowering persuasibility.
negatively correlated (younger people tend to Fifth is the interaction principle, which con-
be more anxious), these variables will cancel cerns the mediating variables in the person that
each other out extremes, and influence-
at the create individual persuasibility differences.
ability will be highest in the middle range These variables interact with other external
among middle-aged people who are moder- communication- variables, such as source and
ately anxious. message, to determine the final actual change.
The third principle is the situational-weighting This principle, of course, argues against a
principle, which states that the type of influence strictly general persuasibility factor.
affects how much difference will be found in What these principles mean to our under-
audience influenceability. McGuire discusses standing of persuasion and persuasibility is that
three types of influence: suggestion, conform- the degree towhich a person is influenced by a
ity, and persuasion. By suggestion he means persuasive message depends on a number of
simple messages that require little attention on specific interrelationships among the factors
the part of the listener. Most people are easily within that person. We may never be able to
influenced by suggestion, and there is little dif- find strong singular correlates
of persuasibility
ference between people in their degree of because of the numerous possible combinations
suggestion-influenceability. Conformity is de- of individual-difference variables within the
fined as group pressure influence. People vary person. The more approach thus seems
fruitful
moderately in the degree to which they will be to be to define thebroad principles involved in
influenced by conformity pressure. By persua- the process, as McGuire
has done, and to
sion McGuire means complex discourse that hypothesize specific types of persuasibility, as

140
. .

THEORIES OF PERSUASION

did Janis and Hovland. And so, according to struct attitude has been important in persuasion
McGuire, you could not easily predict who theory. An attitude usually is defined as a pre-
would and who would not be influenced by disposition to act in a positive or negative way
your recycling speech on the basis of their sim- toward the attitude object, although the correla-
ple abilities and motives, as suggested in the tion between attitude and behavior has been
earlier example. shown to be tenuous. At any rate much persua-
sion research has focused on attitude change. The
Criticism information-integration approach is one of the
The Yale work has been criticized primarily most credible models of the nature of at-
because of its theoretical inappropriateness 15 . titudes 16 .

Some have observed, for example, that


critics According to this theory, an individual’s at-
the Yale studies represent a modern-day, empir- titude system can be affected by information
ical elaboration of Aristotelian theory. As such that is received and integrated into the attitude-
the model employed by the Yale group is overly information system. All information has the
linear, ignoring interaction and feedback. The potential of affecting one’s attitudes, but the
underlying model of this work suggests a series degree to which it affects attitudes depends on

of causal links from message to receiver to ef- two variables. The first is valence. Valence is an
fect. The work leaves little room for human individual’s judgment about the degree to
action, since people are seen as behaving which the information is good news or bad
primarily in accord with external pressures and news. If it supports one’s beliefs and attitudes, it

internal mediators. generally will be viewed as good; if not, it

On the other hand, this tradition has been probably will be seen as bad. Of course any
praised forits heuristic value. The original Yale particular piece of information will be evaluated
monographs were filled with research ideas that in terms of a scale from very bad to very good.
for two decades stimulated a great deal of re- The second variable that affects the importance
search on attitude change. Although the Yale of information to a person is the weight as-
studies seem simplistic by today’s standards, signed to the information. Weight is a function
they were a landmark in taking a first step of reliability. If the person thinks the informa-
toward researching actual communication tion is probably
higher weight will be
true, a
variables. assigned to the information; if not, a lower
weight will be given. Valence affects how in-
formation influences attitudes; weight affects
Information-Processing Theories of the degree to which it does so. When the as-

Persuasion signed weight is low, the information will have


little effect, no matter what its valence.
Information-Integration Theory For example, suppose that you have two
General Background The information- friends,one who is strongly in favor of increas-
integration approach centers on the ways ing the United States’ nuclear strength and the
people accumulate and organize information other who is strongly in favor of unilateral arms
about some person, object, situation, or idea to reduction. Suppose further that you and your
form attitudes toward that concept. The con- friends are told that the president is about to
15. My criticism of this work and the following theories is 16. Contributors include Norman H. Anderson, “Integra-
heavily influenced by the excellent distillation of Mary John tion Theory and Attitude Change,” Psychological Review 78
Smith, Persuasion and Human Action I have also relied heav- (1971): 171-206; Martin Fishbein and leek Ajzen, Belief,
ily on Charles A. Kiesler, Barry E. Collins, and Norman Attitude, Intention, and Behavior (Reading, Mass.:
Miller, Attitude Change: A Critical Analysis of Theoretical Addison-Wesley, 1975); Robert S. Wyer, Cognitive Organi-
Approaches (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1969). zation and Change (Hillsdale, N.J.: Erlbaum 1974).

141
i a

THEMATIC THEORIES

announce that the United States will initiate a what he terms belief in a thing. When one be-
good-faith arms reduction with the hope that lieves in something, he or she predicts a high
the Soviet Union will respond likewise. How probability of existence. The second kind of
will this information affect your attitudes to- belief, belief about, is the predicted probability
ward U.S. arms policy? If your two friends that a particular relationship exists between the
accept this information as true, they will assign belief object and some other quality or thing.
a high weight to it, and it will affect their at- Again, this is a probability situation, and one’s
titudes toward the president. One of your belief is the predicted probability of the exis-
friends definitely will define the information as tence of a particular relationship. For example,
bad news, and his attitude toward the president one may believe in God, that God exists. One
become more
will likely negative. However,
your other friend will see this information as
may also believe that God is omnipotent —
probability statement of a relationship between
good, and her attitude toward the president God and omnipotence.
may become more positive. You, on the other Attitudes differ from beliefs in that they are
hand, don’t believe this information is accurate evaluative. Beliefs are probability statements of
and therefore you assign it little weight. Con- evaluation or judgment. Attitudes are corre-
sequently, regardless of your initial attitude, the latedwith beliefs and predispose a person to
information probably will not affect your at- behave a certain way toward the attitude object.
toward the president one way or another.
titude Attitudes are learned as part of one’s concept
An attitude is considered to be an accumula- formation. They may change new
as learnings
tion of information about the attitude object, occur throughout life. Furthermore, Fishbein
each piece of information having been evaluated sees attitudes as hierarchically organized. In
as we have just indicated. (The exact way that other words, general attitudes are predicted
information is accumulated to form an attitude from specific ones in a summative fashion. An
is in dispute. 17 ) Thus attitude change occurs attitude toward an object is the sum of the
because of new information or changing judg- specific factors, including beliefs and evalua-
ments of truthfulness or value. tions, in the family hierarchy. This formula is
represented algebraically as follows. 19
Fishbein: Beliefs and Attitudes. One of the best-
known and N
respected attitude theorists is Mar- Ao = 2 Bp
tin Fishbein. 18 Fishbein’s contribution is impor- 1

tant because it highlights the complex and where


interactive nature of According to
attitudes.
Fishbein, there are two kinds of belief, both of 19.
A0 = the attitude toward object o
which are probability statements. The first is Bj = the strength of belief i about o; that is, the
17. For a review of the issues in this dispute, see probability or improbability that o is associ-
Smith,
Persuasion, 245-48. ated with some other concept xj
18. Fishbein has published several articles on this topic. ai = the evaluative aspect of Bj- that is, the evalu-
Among these are “A Behavior Theory Approach to the ation of Xj
Relations between Beliefs about an Object and the Attitude N = the number of beliefs about o.
toward the Object,” “A Consideration of Beliefs and Their
Role in Attitude Measurement,” and “The AB Scales: An
Operational Definition of Belief and Attitude.” These three
The distinctive feature of Fishbein’s formula is

articles are reprinted in Readings in Attitude Theory and Mea- thatit stresses the interactive nature of attitudes.

surement, ed. Martin Fishbein (New York: John Wiley & Attitudes are a function of a complex factor that
Sons, 1967). For an excellent secondary source see David T.
involves both beliefs (probability predictions)
Burhans, The Attitude-Behavior Discrepancy Problem:
Revisited,” Quarterly Journal of Speech 57 (1971): 418-28. For and evaluations. The example in Table 8.1 will
a more recent treatment see Fishbein and Ajzen,
Belief. Fishbein, “A Behavior Theory,” p. 394.

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THEORIES OF PERSUASION

help to clarify this model. According to this Criticism. Most of the negative criticism of infor-
conceptualization, attitude change can occur mation-integration theory relates to the val-
from any of three sources. First, information idity of measurement. Although the idea that
can alter the believability (weight) of particular attitudes consist of accumulated and weighted
beliefs. Second, information can change the beliefs is generally accepted, there is quite a bit
value of a belief. Finally, information can add of doubt that one can measure the overall ac-
new beliefs to the attitude structure. cumulated weight and value of a belief system

TABLE 8.1
A simplified example of an attitude hierarchy according to the Fishbein model

ATTITUDE OBJECT (o)-> JOGGING N = 6 (NUMBER OF BELIEFS IN SYSTEM!

ASSOCIATED CONCEPTS PROBABILITY OF ASSOCIATION EVALUATION


W) (Bi)
(fli)

x x Cardiovascular health Bi J°gg in g promotes cardiovascular a x Cardiovascular vigor is good.


vigor.
x 2 Disease B 2 Jogging reduces the chance of disease. a2 Disease is bad.
x 3 Obesity B 3 Jogging reduces weight. a3 Being overweight is bad.
x 4 Mental health B 4 Jogging promotes peace of mind. a 4 Letting off mental tensions
is good.
x 5 Friendship Bs Jogging introduces a person to new a 5 Friendship is important.
friends.
x 6 Physique B 6 Jogging builds better bodies. A
ab beautiful body is appealing.

Scale for B: 0 — very unlikely association; 1 = highly likely association


Scale for a: 1= strongly disagree; 5 = strongly agree
Scale for A : 0 = very negative attitude; 25 = very positive attitude

HYPOTHETICAL NEGATIVE ATTITUDE HYPOTHETICAL POSITIVE ATTITUDE


TOWARD JOGGING TOWARD JOGGING
PROBABILITY EVALUATION PROBABILITY EVALUATION

Bx = .30 a =t 4 Bx = .95 ar = 5
X2 B2 = .30 a2 = 5 B2 = .60 a2 = 5
*3 B 3 =.50 a3 = 3 B3 = .80 *3= 4
X4 B 4 = .10 a4 = 4 B4 = .80 a4 = 4
X5 B 5 =-20 a5 = 3 Bs = .60 as = 4
X6 B 6 = .70 a6 = 2 B6 = .50 d6 = 2
A0 = (.30) 4 + (.30) 5 + (.50) 3 + (.10) 4 + A0 = (.95) 5 + (.60) 5 + (.80) 4 + (.80) 4 +
(.20) 3 + (.70) 2 (.60)4+ (.50)2
= 6.6 = 17.55

143
THEMATIC THEORIES

with any degree of reliability. In the natural Sherif and his colleagues found that individ-
setting a researcher would first have to isolate ual judgments of things and people are highly
beliefs contributing to an attitude, measure situationaland depend on one’s initial orienta-
them and factor out the influence of
accurately, tion toward the world. The psychological liter-
other elements of the system. Since this process ature shows that people make judgments about
is difficult or impossible to do, most research in things based on anchors or reference points.
and con-
this tradition is artificial, hypothetical, Suppose that you are involved in an exper-
trolled. This problem thus casts doubt on the imental situation in which you are asked to
external validity of the claims. judge the relative weight of five objects. On
The other serious problem among research what would you base your judgment? If the
studies in this area is that serious disagreement experimenter handed you a weight and told you
exists about the way one accumulates informa- it was ten pounds, you would first feel the
tion to form an attitude. The research evidence reference weight and then make judgments
is equivocal on this point. This controversy about the other objects based on the kinesthetic
casts doubt on the internal validity of the ap- feeling you received from the known weight. In
proach. this case the known weight would act as an
The difficulty with criticizing research anchor, influencing your judgment of the
methodology is that every method of observa- others. In fact, with a different initial weight,
tion, in the natural setting or in the laboratory, you would judge the same objects differently.
has weaknesses. One can always question the To demonstrate this idea of anchors, you could
reliabilityand validity of data collection. The try a simple experiment. Take three bowls. Fill
fact is that this theory has been widely the first with hot water, the second with cold
acclaimed in the field. Methodological prob- water, the third with tepid water. Put one hand
lems aside, this theory provides a useful model in the hot water, the other in the cold water; and
for understanding the nature of attitude and after a few moments, place both hands in the
attitude change from an information-processing tepid water. Your perceptions of the tepid water
point of view. will be different for each hand because each
hand had a different anchor, or reference.
Social Judgment Theory Sherif reasons that similar processes operate
Social judgment theory is primarily a product injudging communication messages. In social
of the work of the social psychologist Muzafer perception anchors are internal; they are based
Sherif and his associates 20 This theory finds
. its on past experience. The internal anchor or ref-
roots in the early psychophysical research in erence point is always present and influences the

which persons were tested in their ability to way a person responds in communication with
judge physical stimuli. Using this paradigm as others. The more important the issue is to one’s
an analogy, Sherif investigated the ways indi- ego, the stronger the anchor will influence what
viduals judge nonphysical objects or social is understood.
stimuli. He learned that many principles of We will now look at the central concepts of
psychophysics hold for social judgment as well. social judgment theory. These include the
20. The first major work in this area was Muzafer Sherif latitude of acceptance ,
rejection, and noncommitment.
and Carl Hovland, Social Judgment. See also Muzafer Sherif,
In a socialjudgment experiment you would be
Carolyn Sherif, and Roger Nebergall, Attitude and Attitude
Change: The Social Judgment-Involvement Approach given a large number of statements about some
(Philadelphia: W. B. Saunders, 1965). For a brief overview issue. You then would be asked to sort these
of the theory, see Muzafer Sherif, Social Interaction Process — messages into groups according to similarity of
and Products (Chicago: Aldine, 1967), chaps. 16, 17, 18.
Several secondary sources are also available; see, for exam- position. You could use as many groups as you
ple, Kiesler, Collins, and Miller, Attitude Change, chap. 6. wished. Then you would order these groups in

144
THEORIES OF PERSUASION

terms of position on a negative-positive scale, because it explains two important behaviors of


and you would indicate which groups are ac- audiences in receiving messages. First, we
ceptable to you personally, which are not ac- know from Sherif’s work that individuals judge
ceptable, and which are neutral. The first mea- the favorability of a message based on their
sures your latitude of acceptance, the second own internal anchors of position and ego-
your latitude of rejection, and the third your involvement. On a given issue, such as legaliza-
latitude of noncommitment. We can see that an tionof marijuana, a person will distort the mes-
individual will approach real-life messages in sage by contrast or assimilation The contrast ef-
.

the same way. While a person has a particular fect occurs when individuals judge a message to
attitude about the issue, there will be a range of be farther from their point of view than it actu-
statements, pro or con, that the person can tol- allyis. The assimilation effect occurs when per-

erate; there will also be a range that one cannot sons judge the message to be closer to their
accept. point of view than it actually is.
Another important concept from social Basically, when a message is relatively close
judgment is ego-involvement. Previously, an at- to one’s own position, that message will be
titude was thought to be measured primarily in assimilated. In the case of relatively distant mes-
terms of valence (direction, pro or con) and the sages, contrast is likely to occur. These assimila-
degree of agreement or disagreement. But tion and contrast effects are heightened by ego-
Sherif demonstrates that ego-involvement is involvement. For example, if you were
from either of these other two
significant apart strongly in favor of the legalization of
dimensions of attitude. Ego-involvement is the marijuana, a moderately favorable statement
degree to which one’s attitude toward some- might seem like a strong positive statement be-
thing affects the self-concept. It is a measure of cause of your assimilation; while a slightly un-
how important the issue is to the individual. favorable statement might be perceived to be
For example, you may have read a great deal of strongly opposed to one’s view because of con-
material supporting the viewpoint that trast. you were highly ego-involved in the
If
marijuana should be legalized. You may feel issue, this effectwould be even greater. Sup-
strongly on the issue because of the literature pose, for example, that someone told you that
you have read. Thus you would have a strong they thought possession and smoking of
positive attitude toward legalization, but your marijuana should be legal but that growing the
ego-involvement might be very low if your life plant on a commercial basis should be against
is relatively unaffected by the issue. But if you the law. If you were highly ego-involved in
are a regular marijuana smoker and have been your belief that the drug should be legalized,
arrested for possessing the drug, no doubt you might perceive this statement to be
you would be highly ego-involved. Ego- strongly against marijuana, even though it is a
involvement makes a great deal of difference in rather middle-of-the-road position.
how you respond to messages related to the The second area in which
judgmentsocial
issue. There is a relatively high correlation be- theory aids our understanding of communica-
tween involvement and extremity, but it is not tion is attitude change. The predictions made
a perfect correlation. In fact, it is possible for a by social judgment theory are the following: (1)
person to be neutral on an issue, yet highly Messages falling within the latitude of accep-
ego-involved. tance facilitate attitude change.(2) If a message
Now let us consider what social judgment isjudged by the person to lie within the latitude
theory says about the communication process. of rejection, attitude change will be reduced or
The social judgment theory is a fine contribu- nonexistent. In fact, a boomerang effect may
tion to our understanding of communication occur in which the discrepant message actually

145
.

THEMATIC THEORIES

reinforces one’s own position on the issue. (3) Person A would be open to communications
Within the latitude of acceptance and noncom- ranging from positive to negative on the issue.
mitment, the more discrepant the message from We would predict that Person A would be
the person’s own stand, the greater the expected influenced to shift the position in the direction
attitude change. However, once the message of the message. Person B, on the other hand,
hits the latitude of rejection, change will probably would have a large latitude of rejec-
not be expected. (4) The greater one’s ego- tion. Ego-involvement would cause this person
involvement in the issue, the larger the latitude to reject almost all messages discrepant from his
of rejection, the smaller the latitude of non- or her own. Since the latitude of rejection is so
commitment, and thus the less the expected large in Person B, most messages would not be
attitude change. In summary, social judgment acceptable, and attitude change would not be
theory predicts a curvilinear relationship be- predicted.
tween discrepancy and attitude change, as indi-
cated in Figure 8.3. Criticism. The major strength of social judg-
In our example of the legalization of ment theory is its parsimony It presents an intui-
marijuana, imagine thattwo people receive the tively believable setof claims based on just a
same message opposing legalization. Assume few important constructs. Although this theory
this message is only moderately opposed. Per- is no longer in vogue, its aesthetic elegance

son A believes that the possession of marijuana elicited great popularity in the 1960s, and it
should not be a crime; Person B adamantly stimulated a good deal of research, which
favors legalization and is highly ego-involved. speaks well for its heuristic value. Ego-
These two people, while both on the positive involvement, which the theory presented as a
side of legalization, would respond differently core construct, has since become a mainstay in
to the message opposing it. The first individual persuasion literature.
would have a large latitude of acceptance, a The basic problem with social judgment
relative large latitude of noncommitment, and a theory is that it begs the question on some
very small latitude of rejection.