communication theories

Topics: Rhetoric, Media studies, Communication Pages: 89 (26090 words) Published: October 11, 2013
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Rhetorical tradition
Socio-psychological tradition

Symbolic Convergence
of Ernest Bormann

In the introduction to this section on group communication, I refer to Harvard social psychologist Robert Bales’ work to categorize comments made in smallgroup discussions. On the basis of his research with zero-history problem-solving groups in his lab, Bales discovered that dramatizing was a significant type of communication that often fostered group cohesiveness.1 The late University of Minnesota communication professor Ernest Bormann picked up on Bales’ finding and undertook a more extensive study of newly formed groups to examine leadership emergence, decision making, norms, cohesiveness, and a number of other features of group life.2

Similar to Bales, Bormann and his team of colleagues observed that group members often dramatized events happening outside the group, things that took place at previous meetings, or what might possibly occur among them in the future. Sometimes these stories fell flat and the discussion moved in a different direction. But at other times group members responded enthusiastically by adding on to the story or chiming in with their own matching narratives. When the drama was enhanced in this way, members developed a common group consciousness and drew closer together. On the basis of extensive case studies, Bormann set forth the central explanatory principle of symbolic convergence theory (SCT): Sharing group fantasies creates symbolic convergence.3

When she read about Bormann’s theory, Maggie had no difficulty illustrating this core claim. Two weeks before my communication course began, she served as a student leader in the “Wheaton Passage” program for new freshmen that’s held at a camp in Wisconsin’s Northwoods. One of the stated goals of this optional offering is to build intentional community. In her application log, Maggie wrote of unplanned communication that achieved this end.

Cabin 8 was the rustic, run-down cabin that my group of Passage students was assigned to live in for the week. My co-leader and I decked the cabin out with decorations by hanging Christmas lights and origami doves, yet there was no


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escaping the massive holes in the screens, sticky messes in the drawers, and the spiders residing in the rafters. The night students arrived, we walked our group of girls past the brand new cabins, arrived at our old cabin, and presented Cabin 8— their home for a week. Needless to say, they were less than pleased. The next day as our group was trekking to our morning activity, one of the girls brought up what she thought the perfect cabin would look like. Others jumped in with their ideas. For 10 minutes, each girl contributed something to the discussion of the fantasy cabin. Hot tubs, screened-in porches, soft carpet, lounge chairs, and a glass roof for stargazing were all mentioned as features in their ideal cabin. Looking back on this experience, I see how this shared fantasy played a role in our cabin bonding. As the week went on, our dream cabin became a running joke within our group that helped students develop a sense of closeness—what they deemed “hardcoreness.” While living in the crummy cabin, they frequently revisited the image of the ideal cabin they created in their conversation.


Dramatizing message
Imaginative language by
a group member describing past, future, or outside events; creative interpretations of thereand-then.

Many comments in task-oriented discussion groups offer lines of argument, factual information,...
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