Communication as … Perspectives on Theory. Minneapolis: Sage Publications, Inc, 2005. Print.

Introduction:  Taking a Stand on Theory

St. John, Striphas, and Shepherd

I thought this was an interesting introduction.  While much of the scholarship in rhet/comp does actually engage in the “buffet” method, St. John make it a point that all theory is not created equal.  They recognize that there are a lot of different explanations about what communication is (cultural, symbolic, material, ontological, etc.); however, they don’t necessarily see them all as equal.  They also see that communication theory matters – which is a nice way of saying that it’s relevant.

Chapter One:  Communication as Relationality

Celeste M. Condit

Condit’s argument is that all communication should be conceived of in relationships.  In other words, all “subjects” (not autonomous mind you) are constituted in a 4 dimensional weave of social relationships.  These relationships are what define us as individuals.  Hence, to study communication, one should look to the way that relationships are working.  This theory rejects a couple of different positions.  First, it rejects the idea that words relate to things (Saussure).  Next, it rejects essentialist definitions of anything.  Finally, it rejects post-structuralist critiques of presence.  In Derridean deconstruction, the metaphysics of presence, or the existence of a transcendental signified (TRUTH) are shrugged off in favor of the existence of absence.  Relationality disrupts this idea by stating that all communication and all things are both present and absent.  To some degree it’s very kairotic in that it is a constant process of emerging.

Chapter Three: Communication as Transcendence

Gregory Shepherd

Shepherd’s explanation of communication sounds strikingly like the relationality that Condit discusses in Chapter One except that Shepherd’s theory of communication is much more pragmatic.  As he mentions in the first line of his essay, “Communication is the simultaneous experience of self and other.  That’s what I mean by transcendence” (22).  After grounding reality as experience of the self and other (again, communication as a kairotic becoming or being-together), S. notes that communication is a miracle, if a mundane one.  S. next connects communication and freedom by noting how communication and its potential is always dependent on one’s will to communicate.  Hence, communication is something that happens because of you, not in spite of you.  Finally, as communication is the definition of who you are, I can’t reject you based on previous notions, but on the experience of you through communication – on other words, you are not an essential self but emergent in the act of communication.  If we all adopt sympathetic approaches to communication as an act of becoming, then communication is the act of democracy because of its possibility.  Again, very pragmatic.

Chapter Eight:  Communication as Embodiment

Carolyn Marvin

I had a really hard time getting into this chapter at first.  The author’s contention is that the world has, and to some degree will always be, a division between the textual and the bodily.  While much scholarship has placed an emphasis on the importance of the textual (think Eisenstein and Havelock), the bodily is usually neglected in conceptions of communication.  After grounding the act of communication in the bodily through the gesture – the earliest of human communicative tactics – the author makes the argument that textualization (covers up the body in media) counteracts dramatization (the things we do to enhance the communicative nature of the body – clothes, makeup etc.).  Where Marvin’s argument gets interesting for me is in her discussion of Capitalism and the textual/bodily tension.  Essentially, she makes the argument that the Reformation made the first shifts away from the body to the text.  As such, as literacy spread, the body was considered the vulgar and the textual was more respected by ruling elites.  This textual preference led to the breakup of socialist/communist/labor oriented actions because collective bodily action was eschewed in the interest of promoting the notion “of well-behaved ‘independent-minded’ literates as the only fit civic participants” (72).  Because of this preference for the textual, the bodily class (read lower socioeconomic classes and all the ethnic/race issues that entails) became detached from the political process – and rendered invisible.  Pretty neat argument.\

Chapter Nine:  Communication as Raced

Judith N. Martin and Thomas K. Nakayama

This chapter makes the contention that communication, as a discipline, is raced.  The authors use three premises to illustrate their argument.

  1. Racial histories and demographics inform and reflect communication behaviors – This states that communication, as a discipline, has always been raced.  From as far back as the ancients, communication and participation in the polity was an endeavor for the white elite ruling classes of ancient Greece and Rome.  As such, this tradition has, for the most part, carried on into contemporary communication.
  2. The conceptualization and study of communication is raced – historically and contemporaneously.
  3. The field of communication is raced – Using stats from academic studies, the authors demonstrate that the field is racially white – roughly 87% so.  As such, whites tend to study the communication they are conversant in – white communication.  The authors wonder what effect this is having on communication as a discipline and also speculate that, if nothing changes, the rapidly changing demographics of the university will make communication as a white enterprise basically irrelevant.

Chapter Ten:  Communication as Social Identity

Jake Harwood

This article makes the contention that looking at the communicative practices of social groups can let us in on some of the reasons why certain social groups do what.  I think this article is more of an invective or indictment of the current communication field rather than a positive claim piece.  The author makes reference to how in the West, we concentrate on social identities in negative situations (rioters) instead of all intergroup relations (rioters, riot police, bystanders, etc.).  By looking at the goals and communicative acts of “ingroups” and “outgroups,” communication scholars can gain a far broader understanding of human behavior.  The author hopes this shift from the individual to the collective identity will be adopted as it can yield a lot of useful and enlightening research.

Chapter Twelve:  Communication as Dialogue

Leslie A. Baxter

Some familiar territory here.  I’ll hit these in list form.

  1. Words are not originary with the speaker but are laced with the interplay of meaning-traces from prior conversations and from prior utterances within the same conversation
  2. Utterances respond to anticipated reactions – addressivity.
  3. Language use is also highly situated (or chronotoped).  Words are uttered at a particular cultural epoch by interlocutors who occupy particular social locations.
  4. Tensionality – what is deemed a problem in conventional comm. Theory – is key to the dialogic because it is a site for productive happenings.
  5. Communications is not an expression and replication of the self, but a fluid social interaction that is shaped by interlocturos, context and history.
  6. Communication shouldn’t be about a study of individual minds but the “between” practices of joint interlocutors.

Chapter Fifteen:  Communication as Complex Organizing

James R. Taylor

Taylor’s mission in this article is to find out where the concept of “organization” comes from and how that concept relates to communication – or, how communication constitutes organization.  Taylor’s contention is that communication – even between two interlocutors – constitutes the beginning of organization because all creatures capable of learning follow patterned, redundant ways of behaving in order to exist in a hierarchy.  What is confusing is how this organization changes from a micro to a macro level.  Taylor attributes “organization” on the macro level to the meta-authoring of texts-as-agents in large scale communication communities.  The use of narrative as meta-authoring structure by individuals in macro organizations is paradoxical because the organization is a unity made up of single agents authoring single texts to create unity on the macro level.  As Taylor notes, “An organization-in-the-large is thus a complex mix of segmented – potentially fragmented – local conversations that are loosely joined by an ongoing metaconversation out of which the identity of the organization and its network of agents emerges” (139).

Chapter Twenty:  Communication as Social Influence

Frank Boster

To some degree, this seems like a straight-forward theory, but it’s pretty interesting nevertheless.  Boster is making the argument that social influence is the goal of ALL communication.  Social influence is usually, according to Boster, referred to as a “change in belief, attitude, or behavior or some combination of these three factors.  The author defines those terms thusly:

  1. Belief – the acceptance of a proposition or fact
  2. Attitude – the manner in which persons evaluate concepts or objects
  3. Behavior – the putting of belief or attitude into action

The author takes the Spinozan idea of action as a ready acceptance of what is said then a quick evaluation to see if it works or not.  This evaluation may occur incredibly quickly.  The reason we study this is because the change from belief to attitude is a great predictor for actions.

Chapter Twenty-Four:  Communication as Articulation

Jennifer Daryl Slack

This was a great read.  Slack’s premise is that articulation – as espoused by cultural critics like Stuart Hall – is the best way to envision communication.  Articulation is composed of two parts: 1) the context (values, feelings, beliefs, practices, structures, organizations, ideologies, etc.) and 2) how the conjunctures of #1 make some sorts of movement possible and others not possible.  The author then uses this articulation of articulation to explain the development of communication as a field.  Finally she ties these conjunctures to a social justice imperative.  What would be especially useful is to perform an articulated analysis of rhet/comp history.  Finally, there is a tendency to ignore some of the context from the first part of articulation in the interest of finding results that you want to find, so be careful!

Chapter Twenty-Six:  Communication as Communicability

Briankle G. Chang

Communication isn’t perfect.  The act of sharing implies division.  When you share, you divide the original message before sharing because sharing implies division.

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