Coordinated Management of Meaning

CMM: Coordinated Management of Meaning – Barnett Pierce and Vernon Cronen

People co-construct their own social realities and are simultaneously shaped by the worlds they create.

  • Goal: help people enhance their understanding of communication to improve quality of life.
  • Their theory starts with the assertion that persons-in-conversation co-construct their own social realities and are simultaneously shaped by the worlds they create.
  • When engaged in a conversation with others, these theorists find it useful to ask: What are we doing? What are we making together? How can we make better social worlds?
  • CCM theorists have not discovered ironclad communication principles, but a set of concepts to help us enhance our understanding ad act more effectively in a wide range of communication situations.

CMM in Action – Stories from the Field.

  • Mediation
    • CMM concepts can be used to understand disputants’ and mediators’ constructions of episodes, relationships, identities, and cultural patterns.
  • Family Therapy
    • A child with a autism: What relationship do you want with your son? When is it useful to think of this behaviour as autism, and when is it now?
  • Cupertino Community Project
    • An ethnically diverse community with racial tensions: dialogic communication: speaking in a way that would make the community members want to listen

CMM can be described as follows:

  • The experience of persons-in-conversations is the primary social of human life.
    • Communications forms who you are and creates relationships. The Cupertino Community Project altered the community, not by changing what citizens wanted to talk about but by changing the form of their communication.
  • The way people communicate is often more important than the content of what they say.
    • The mood and manner that person-in-conversations adopts plays a large role in the social construction process.
    • Consider this familiar experience: you say something, and I respond. That response makes you feel that you must instruct me about the error of my ways, but I don’t feel that I should take instruction from you. So I inform you that you are not qualified to have an opinion on this topic, and that information conflicts with your self-concept as an intelligent, knowledgeable person, so you lash out with a bitter insult. In just five turns, we’ve moved into an escalating pattern in which we are competing to see who can say the most hurtful things to each other.
  • The actions of persons-in-conversations are reflexively reproduced as the interaction continues.
    • Reflexivity means that our actions have effects that bounce back and affect us.
    • “If I win this argument, what kind of person will I become?”
    • Much like environmentalists say we will live in the world we produce, Pearce and Cronen say “we are literally participating in the creation of the social universe.”
  • As social constructionists, CMM researches see themselves as curios participants in a pluralistic world.
    • They are curious because one cannot profess certainty when dealing with individuals acting out their lives under ever-changing conditions.
    • They are participants rather than spectators because they seek to be actively involved in what they study.

Stories Told and Stories Lived

  • Stories we tell and the stories we live are always tangled together yet forever in tension. That’s because one is the stuff of language and the other of action. In stories told, a cocky young man can envision being faster than a speeding bullet and able to leap over tall buildings. But in stories lived, inertia, gravity, and the witness of other people impose lower limits on what he can do.
    • That is why it is called management of meaning. We have to adjust our stories told to fit the realities of our stories lived—or vice versa.
    • They put coordinated in the title because we have to constantly make these adjustments when interacting with others.

Bringing Coherence to Stories Told

The hierarchy model of meaning

  • Storytelling is the central act of communication, but every story is embedded with multiple contexts, or frames. The words of a story will only make sense if they are understood within the framework of a specific episode, the relationship between the parties, the self-identity of the speaker, and the culture from which he or she comes.
    • These concepts rarely have equal significance when trying to figure out what a person means, so Pearce suggests we rank order their importance for interpreting a given speech act.
  • Utterance: the words spoken
  • Speech act: what the words do
    • E.g. criticizing or helping?
  • Episode: Communication routine with definite boundaries and rules
  • Relationship: Who participants are to each other
    • Suggests how a speech act might be interpreted.
  • Identity: Self-concept
  • Culture: Web of meanings and values shared by a group.
    • People who come from different cultures won’t interpret messages exactly the same way.

Everything in a conversation is connected to everything else. Coherence is possible only when we perceive the flow of conversation.

Me –> Culture + Speech Act

You –> Culture + Speech Act

The coordination is the combining of two things that are similar, (above)

Using CMM

  • Use to understand what persons-in-conversation do when they communicate.
  • Refuse to simplify communication.
  • Each person uses his/her own hierarchy of meaning. (can use whichever order)
  • Cosmopolitan Communicators recognize and value such differences.
    • Cosmopolitan Communication: a citizen-of-the-word who interacts comfortably with people who come from diverse cultural backgrounds, hold different values, and express discrepant beliefs.

Critique to CMM:

  • Must use all of these to understand communications
  • Inconsistency in how they define their terms or in the way they state their claims. For example, they sometimes use the word coherence to label the process of people making sense of their own stories lived. Yet in other cases, the theorists use the term to refer to persons-in-conversations sharing a common interpretation of their social universe—a meeting of minds.

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