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Theory Summaries
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The Self and Messages

Symbolic Interaction Theory (Mead)
People are motivated to act based on the meanings they assign to people, things, and events. Further, meaning is created in the language that people use both with others and in private thoughts. Language allows people to develop a sense of self and to interact with others in the community.

Coordinated Management of Meaning (Pearce and Cronen)
In conversations, people co-create meaning by attaining some coherence and coordination. Coherence occurs when stories are told, and coordination exists when stories are lived. CMM focuses on the relationship between an individual and his or her society. Through a hierarchical structure, individuals come to organize the meaning of literally hundreds of messages received throughout the day.

Cognitive Dissonance Theory (Festinger)
The experience of dissonance (or incompatible beliefs and actions) is aversive and people are highly motivated to avoid it. In their efforts to avoid feelings of dissonance, people will avoid hearing views that oppose their own, change their beliefs to match their actions, and seek reassurances after making a difficult decision.

Expectancy Violations Theory (Burgoon)
This theory is concerned with the structure of primarily nonverbal messages. It asserts that when communicative norms are violated, the violation may be perceived either favorably or unfavorably, depending on the perception that the receiver has of the violator. Violating another's expectations may be a strategy used over that of conforming to another's expectations.

Relationship Development

Uncertainty Reduction Theory (Berger and Calabrese)
When strangers meet, their primary focus is on reducing their levels of uncertainty in the situation. Their levels of uncertainty are located in both behavioral and cognitive realms. That is, they may be unsure of how to behave (or how the other person will behave), and they may also be unsure what they think of the other and what the other person thinks of them. Uncertainty occurs at the individual and the relational levels.

Social Penetration Theory (Altman and Taylor)
Interpersonal relationships evolve in some gradual and predictable fashion. Penetration theorists believe that self-disclosure is the primary way that superficial relationships progress to intimate relationships. Although self-disclosure can lead to more intimate relationships, it can also leave one or more persons vulnerable.

Social Exchange Theory (Thibaut and Kelley)
The major force in interpersonal relationships is the satisfaction of both people's self-interest. Self-interest is not necessarily bad and can actually enhance relationships. Interpersonal exchanges are analogous to economic exchanges where people are satisfied when they receive a fair return on their expenditures.

Relational Dialectics Theory (Baxter and Montgomery)
Relational life is always in progress. People in relationships continue to feel the push and pull of conflicting desires. Basically, people wish to have both autonomy and connection, openness and protectiveness, and novelty and predictability. As people communicate in relationships, they attempt to reconcile these conflicting desires, but they never eliminate their needs for both members of the opposing pairs.

Communication Privacy Management Theory (Petronio)
Disclosure in relationships requires managing private and public boundaries. These boundaries are between those feelings that one wants to disclose and those one wants to keep private. Disclosure in relationship development is more than revealing private information to another. Negotiation and coordination of boundaries is required. Decisions regarding disclosure require close monitoring.

Groups and Organizations

Groupthink (Janis)
Groupthink occurs when highly cohesive groups fail to consider alternatives that may effectively resolve group dilemmas. Group members frequently think similarly and are reluctant to share unpopular or dissimilar ideas with others. When this occurs, groups prematurely make decisions, some of which can have lasting consequences.

Adaptive Structuration Theory (Giddens, Poole, Seibold, McPhee)
Groups and organizations create structures, which can be interpreted as an organization's rules and resources. These structures, in turn, create social systems in an organization. Groups and organizations achieve a life of their own because of the way their members utilize their structures. Power structures guide the decision making taking place in groups and organizations.

Organizational Culture Theory (Geertz, Pacanowsky, and O'Donnell-Trujillo)
People are like animals who are suspended in webs that they created at work. An organization's culture is composed of shared symbols, each of which has a unique meaning. Organizational stories, rituals, and rites of passage are examples of what constitutes the culture of an organization.

Organizational Information Theory (Weick)
The main activity of organizations is the process of making sense of equivocal information. Organizational members accomplish this sense-making process through enactment, selection, and retention of information. Organizations are successful to the extent that they are able to reduce equivocality through these means.

The Public

The Rhetoric (Aristotle)
Rhetorical theory is based on the available means of persuasion. That is, a speaker who is interested in persuading his or her audience should consider three rhetorical proofs: logic (logos), emotion (pathos), and ethics (ethos). Audiences are key to effective persuasion as well. Rhetorical syllogisms, requiring audiences to supply missing pieces of a speech, are also used in persuasion.

Dramatism (Burke)
Life is a drama. As in dramatic action, life requires an actor, a scene, an act, some means for the action to take place, and a purpose. A rhetorical critic can understand a speaker's motives by analyzing these elements. Further, purging guilt is the ultimate motive, and rhetors can be successful when they provide their audiences with a means for purging guilt.

The Narrative Paradigm (Fisher)
Humans are storytelling animals. Narrative logic is preferential to the traditional logic used in argument. Narrative logic, or the logic of good reasons, suggests that people judge the credibility of speakers by whether their stories hang together clearly (coherence) and whether their stories ring true (fidelity). A democratic judgment of speakers exists because no one has to be trained in persuasion to make judgments based on the concepts of coherence and fidelity.

Cultural Studies (Hall)
The media represent ideologies of the dominant class in a society. Because media are controlled by corporations (the elite), the information presented to the public is necessarily influenced and framed with a profit in mind. The media's influence and the role of power must be taken into consideration when interpreting a culture.

The Media

Cultivation Analysis (Gerbner)
Television (and other media) plays an extremely important role in how people view their world. In today's society, most people get their information from mediated sources rather than through direct experience. Therefore, mediated sources can shape a person's sense of reality. This is especially the case with regard to violence. Heavy television viewing cultivates a sense of the world as a violent place.

Uses and Gratifications Theory (Katz, Blumler, and Gurevitch)
People choose and use particular media. Emphasizing a limited effects position, the media are viewed as having a limited effect on their audiences because audiences are able to exercise control over the media. Uses and Gratifications Theory is primarily concerned with the following question: What do people do with the media?

Spiral of Silence Theory (Noelle-Neumann)
Due to the enormous power of the media, the media have a lasting effect on public opinion. Mass media work simultaneously with majority opinion to silence minority beliefs on cultural issues. A fear of isolation prompts those with minority views to examine the beliefs of others. Individuals who fear being socially isolated are prone to conform to what they perceive to be a majority view. Every so often, the silent minority raises its voices into activism.

Media Ecology Theory (McLuhan)
Society has evolved as its technology has evolved. From the alphabet to the Internet, we have been affected by and affect electronic media. In other words, the medium is the message. The laws of media—enhancement, obsolescence, retrieval, and reversal—demonstrate that technology affects communication through new technology.

Culture and Diversity

Face-Negotiation Theory (Ting-Toomey)
How do people in individualistic and collectivistic cultures negotiate face in conflicts? Face-Negotiation Theory is based on face management, which describes how people from different cultures manage conflict negotiation to maintain face. Self-face and other-face concerns explain the conflict negotiation between people from various cultures.

Standpoint Theory (Hartsock)
People are situated in specific social standpoints—they occupy different places in the social hierarchy. Because of this, individuals view the social situation from particular vantage points. By necessity, each vantage point provides only a partial understanding of the social world. Yet, those who occupy the low rungs of the hierarchy tend to understand the social situation more fully than those on top.

Muted Group Theory (Kramarae)
Language serves men better than women (and perhaps European Americans better than African Americans or other groups). This is the case because the variety of experiences of European American men are named clearly in language, whereas the experiences of other groups (namely women) are not. Due to this problem with language, women appear less articulate than men in public settings. As women create more language to express their experiences and as men and women have similar experiences, this situation should change.

Communication Accommodation Theory (Giles)
This theory considers the underlying motivations and consequences of what happens when two speakers shift their communication styles. During communication, people will try to accommodate or adjust their style of speaking to others. This is done in two ways: divergence and convergence. Groups with strong ethnic or racial pride often use divergence to highlight group identity. Convergence occurs when there is a strong need for social approval, frequently from powerless individuals.

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