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Class Exercise: Symbolic Interaction Theory

Cipher in the Snow


Attached is a short story by Jean Mizer entitled “Cipher in the Snow”.  Please read the story then analyze it using concepts from Mead’s Symbolic Interaction Theory.  Specifically:


Looking Glass Self:    What do you suppose the boy saw when he “looked in the mirror”?  Why do you think he perceived himself in that way?

Pygmalion Effect:    Do you see the Pygmalion effect working in this story?  How?  How did it affect the boy’s behavior/self concept?  How did it affect his communication with others?

Particular Others:    Who were the boy’s particular others?  How do you think they affected his sense of self?

Generalized Others:    Who were the boy’s generalized others?  How do you think they affected his sense of self?

Self Fulfilling Prophecy:    Was a self fulfilling prophecy operating in this story?  What was it?  How do you think it occurred?


General Questions

1.  Generally speaking, how do you think Mead’s concepts of Mind, Self, and Society operated to “cause” this young man’s death?

2.  Do you think Mead’s Symbolic Interaction Theory provides a good theoretical framework for understanding what happened in this story?  Why or why not?

3.  Can you think of an example from your own life where Symbolic Interaction Theory was at work?





2)    The Coordinated Management of Meaning

A Hypothetical Negotiation Between Two Business Executives


Directions:  Below is a hypothetical negotiation between two business executives.  Read the negotiation and then answer the questions which follow. 


Business Executive #1:                                  Sam from the United States

Business Executive #2:                                  Yoshio from Japan


Sam’s Perspective:         This is a business negotiation.  During a business negotiation it is appropriate to state one’s business, make offers and counter offers, use negotiation tactics to gain as much as possible, and then return home.  Topics of conversation such as families, hobbies, religion, or politics are inappropriate.  Brief inquiries about family or short discussions about sports can be used as small talk to break the ice, but the goal is to get down to business right away.  Sam has been away from home for over a week and is eager to get back to her family.

Yoshio’s Perspective:    This is a business negotiation.  Business transactions are an extension of one’s social and family life.  One would not do business with strangers.  Therefore, a lot of time must be spent developing relationships before negotiating any business contracts.

Here is the Conversation:

Sam:                      It is very nice to meet you.  Shall we get down to business?

Yoshio:                 Fine.  I thought we might go to dinner tonight, then to the Kabuki tomorrow.  I want to show you my country because it is your first visit to Japan.

After several days of social activities, Sam is growing increasingly impatient.  Yoshio is feeling rushed by Sam’s insistence on discussing the contract.  They begin contract talks.

This is the conversation:

Sam:                      This is my last price.  Take it or leave it!  I have to be back at my desk on Monday and this is the best I can do.

Yoshio:                 I know you are trying to give us a good price for our products.

Sam:                      It’s a deal, then…?

Yoshio:                                 (long silence…)…

Sam:                      Fine.  I’ll have my people draw up the papers for your approval.  We’ll meet here again tomorrow.

Yoshio:                 Yes, I’ll see you tomorrow…

Sam’s Interpretation:   Fabulous!  They agreed to all our terms!  The Japanese are easier to negotiate with than I thought.  I’ll be on a plane home by noon tomorrow!

Yoshio’s Interpretation:  How rude Americans are!!  I can see we have our work cut out for us if we are ever going to agree on a contract.  To threaten us with words like, “take it or leave it”!  And, how uncivilized to refuse our hospitality!  Tomorrow will be a very long day!


Discussion Questions:

  1.  Did Sam and Yoshio coordinate meaning?  Not coordinate meaning?  Partially coordinate meaning?
  2. What was the context for the communication?
  3. What were the rules for this context?  For Sam?  For Yoshio?
  4. Let’s look at the speech act “Take it or Leave it!”
    1. What were the constitutive (definition) rules operating?  Did they agree?
    2. What were the regulative (behavior) rules operating?  Did they agree?
  5. Let’s look at the hierarchy of meaning.  How were each of the negotiators creating meaning?
    1. Content?
    2. Speech Acts?
    3. Contract?
    4. Episodes?
    5. Life scripts?
    6. Cultural patterns?
  6. How can an understanding of the Coordinated Management of Meaning prevent a misunderstanding like this one from happening in your life?






Part I:  Multiple Choice (worth 1 point each)



Directions:  Below are 30 multiple choice questions.  Please indicate the best answer from the selections given.



1.  One of the issues to consider in defining communication is intentionality.  Which of the following best exemplifies the belief that communication must be intentional?


a.  communication is goal-oriented behavior

b.  communication is any interpretation of meaning

c.  communication is the perception of power

d.  communication is a means by which truth is established



2.  Having a conversation with someone over walkie-talkies is an example of which model of the communication process?


a.  linear

b.  interactional

c.  transactional

d.  Information transfer



3.  Communication is considered transactional when


a.  a person waits to hear feedback after sending a message

b.  the people communicating send and receive messages simultaneously

c.  one person is responsible for sending the message; the other  person is responsible for understanding the message

d.  each element of the communication process is not connected to the others



4.  Selecting the word rage to label your feeling of anger is a process known as


a.  feedback

b.  decoding

c.  encoding

d.  semantics







5.  I define communication as “the social process of creating meaning.” Based on my definition of communication, which of the following theoretical questions is most likely to interest me?


a.  does increasing the strength of the arguments in a message lead to an increase in that message’s persuasiveness?

b.  what are the communication strategies people use to defend themselves when someone is insulting them?

c.  how do communicators reduce apprehension when they meet someone for the first time?

d.  how do lovers co-create meaning within their relationships?



6.  Littlejohn defines a theory as “any conceptual representation or explanation of a phenomenon.”  Based on our class discussion, why is it important to notice the word “OR” in this definition?


a.  it narrows the definition by making it too inclusive

b.  it broadens the definition by including many approaches to theory

c.  it strengthens the definition by making anything a theory

d.  all of the above

e.  none of the above



7.  The ultimate goal of communication theory development is to produce an accumulating body of reliable knowledge enabling us to


a.  predict, explain, and control communication behavior

b.  explain, predict, and manipulate communication behavior

c.  predict, understand, manipulate communication behavior

d.  explain, manipulate, dominate communication behavior



8.  A theorist wonders, “What are the communication strategies people use to end relationships?” In which goal of theory is the theorist primarily interested?


a.  understanding

b.  explanation

c.  prediction

d.  control



9.  How do the concepts and theories people use in their everyday lives differ from what communication theorists try to do?


a.  theorists’ concepts are more abstract; everyday concepts are more concrete

b.  everyday concepts are more abstract; theorists’ concepts are more concrete

c.  theorists try not to generalize because they want to explain specific communication behavior

d.  everyday theories are falsifiable (i.e., can be found to be incorrect), academic theories are not




10.  Conclusions drawn from metatheoretical discussions determine


a.  what communication phenomenon the theorist observes

b.  how the theorist should observe the phenomenon

c.  what perspective on communication (laws, rules, systems. Rhetoric, etc.) the theorist will take

d.  all of the above

e.  none of the above



11.  “Communication is a social endeavor” is a(n)                             assumption


a.  ontological

b.  epistemological

c.  axiological

d.  none of the above



12.  A theorist who asks, “Should I develop a theory that will change society’s view of gay marriage?” is asking him/herself a question that pertains to the area of


a.  ontology

b.  epistemology

c.  axiology

d.  phenology



13.  According to class discussion, we have so many different communication theories because


a.  communication scholars hold different metatheoretical assumptions

b.  communication scholars define communication in many different ways

c.  communication scholars adhere to different assumptions that guide ways of knowing or discovering the world

d.  all of the above

e.  none of the above



14.  A communication scholar who uses the covering laws approach is essentially trying to uncover


a.  the social norms that influence our communication behaviors

b.  cause and effect relationships between communication variables

c.  why certain people achieve success in communication and others do not

d.  cognitive schemata people use to interpret events



15.  As classroom size increases, level of student participation decreases.  This hypothesis is an example of a


a.  a contextual law

b.  a reliable law

c.  a positivistic law

d.  a probabilistic law


16.  Communication rules tell us


a.  whether a problem is historical or psychological

b.  the difference between encoding and decoding

c.  what behavior will result under a given set of circumstances

d.  what kinds of behavior are appropriate in a given context or relationship



17.  Which type of data would a rules perspective theorist be most happy analyzing?


a.  responses to paper and pencil tests or surveys

b.  actual dialogue from two people in conversation

c.  responses to yes/no questions answered over the phone

d.  frequency data from polling people individually



18.  The following are possible explanations for the amount of distance between two people when they are speaking to one another.  Which of the following best represents a rules approach?


a.  if you violate an individual’s personal space they will feel threatened

b.  people who want others to like them should use the distance between them to show how they feel

c.  if you violate an individual’s personal space, he or she will move away from you

d.  Our reaction to someone violating our space is the end result of being confronted with negative stimuli.



19.  Sophia wants to answer the theoretical question, “Is birth order is related to communication apprehension?”  She asks students who have one or more siblings to complete a survey that measures a person’s level of apprehension.  Which paradigm is influencing Martha’s choice of research methods?


a.  empiricism (i.e., she’s a social scientist)

b.  humanism (i.e., she’s a humanist)

c.  the systems perspective

d.  the rules perspective



20.  True or False?  Systems theorists believe you can study a part of the communication process (e.g., the sender of the message) in order to fully understand how communication functions in the real world.


a.  true

b.  false



21.  True or False?  The property of a system known as calibration is the system’s ability to achieve the same goals through different methods or means.


a.  true

b.  false




22.  Rhetoricians who want to “put things into an intelligible frame” have which of the goals of theory as their primary goal of theory building?


a.  understanding

b.  prediction

c.  control

d.  all of the above

e.  none of the above



23.  Theories about communication phenomena


a.  include definitions of concepts

b.  may include explanations about the relationships between and among concepts

c.  concern abstract ideas

d.  all of the above

e.  none of the above



24.  Imagine, for a moment, two different images:  Imagine (1) Dr. Hubbard giving a lecture last Wednesday, and imagine (2) the use of “effective instructional techniques”.  Which of the following statements BEST distinguishes between these two images?


a.  image 1 is a concept, image 2 is a concrete event 

b.  image 1 is a concrete event, image 2 is a concept

c.  image 1 is a concept, image 2 is a theory

d.  image 1 is a building block of theory, image 2 is not 



25.  All theories must


a.  contain causal necessity

b.  contain practical necessity

c.  be logically consistent

d.  include hypotheses



26.  The statement, “flattery leads to liking” indicates which type of necessity?


a.  causal

b.  practical

c.  academic

d.  temporal







27.  When you flatter a friend because you want that friend to like you, what kind of necessity is operating in your behavior?


a.  causal

b.  practical

c.  academic

d.  temporal



28.  A theory which contains only a few simply stated propositions instead of many elaborate propositions is said to be


a.  heuristic

b.  parsimonious

c.  valid

d.  testable



29.  Edwin went to the library to learn more about a particular theory which attempts to explain the types of communication strategies used by women to end long-term relationships.  In the process of investigating this theory, he discovered that many research studies had been conducted to “test” the theory.   He concludes that the theory is a “good” theory because it passed the evaluation criteria of


a.  scope

b.  parsimony

c.  heurism

d.  validity



30.  When you are unable to see the concepts explained in a theory operating in real life, the theory does not have


a.  precision

b.  scope

c.  validity

d.  power




Please Continue to Part II on Next Page….









Part II.  Ontological, Epistemological, and Axiological Assumptions



Directions:  Please complete the table and then answer the questions that follow. (10 points total)






Social Scientist




Ontological Assumptions


-What are each of the theorist’s assumptions about how communication functions in the real world? What constitutes communication to each of them? 


In other words, how would the two types of theorists answer the three ontological questions? (3 points total)










Epistemological Assumptions


-What counts as knowledge  for each of the theorists?


– How does each theorist acquire knowledge?


In other words, how would the two types of theorists answer the four epistemological questions? (4 points total)







Axiological Assumptions


-What are the assumptions regarding the role of values in one’s theories and research?


In other words, how would the two types of theorists answer the three axiological questions? (3 points total)
















1.  Given the table you just completed, how do you think the social scientist’s and the humanist’s theories of communication will differ?  Specifically comment on (a) how the theorists’ goals of theory will differ, (b) how their explanations will differ, and (c) how they will differ in the methods used to test their theories.  (6 points total)

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