Memorable <meta>discourse bites
A living collection of significant quotations on communication, linked to related resources. Contributions are welcome. Contributors should provide a full bibliographic reference to the source of each quotation.
"... we live in what might be called a 'communication culture'. By that I do not mean merely a culture that communicates, nor one that regulates communication behavior (all cultures do those things). Rather I mean a culture that is particularly self-conscious and reflexive about communication, and that generates large quantities of metadiscourse about it. For the members of such a culture it is axiomatically 'good to talk' - but at the same time it is natural to make judgements about which kinds of talk are good and which are less good. People aspire, or think they ought to aspire, to communicate 'better'; and they are highly receptive to expert advice."
"Perhaps an ideal, 'user-friendly' way of representing communication theory would be in the form of an interactive hypertext that would allow us to pursue the subject on myriad paths through hyperlinks within and across levels to hybrid traditions and alternative schematizations, cognate disciplines, and multimedia recordings of communication practices linking theory to practical metadiscourse."
"Our models of communication ... create what we disingenuously pretend they merely describe. As a result our science is ... a reflexive one. We not only describe behavior; we create a particular corner of culture - culture that determines, in part, the kind of communicative world we inhabit."
"In the everyday world of organizations in which I usually work, the imaginings about communication are taken very much for granted. Members of these organizations usually present their concerns to me as centered on the need to improve communication, or to resolve some problem of communication. They expect that this can be done in a straightforward, technical manner. What they want to do is 'get their message across better', 'improve the information flow from the top down' or make sure that others 'comply with their instructions'. These requests reflect a certain imagining of communication that is predominant in our society and that by its very imagining precludes other possibilities from being. In this common imagining, communication is a relatively straightforward activity that we use to achieve effects - sending messages or controlling others. In this imagining, communication is merely an instrumental activity."
"Have you ever said to yourself, "I
wish I had spoken up"? Or, "If only I had introduced myself"? Or,
"Did I say the wrong thing"?
~verbalAdvantage (advertisement in The New Republic, March 12, 2001)
"'Communication' is a registry of modern longings. The term evokes a utopia where nothing is misunderstood, hearts are open, and expression is uninhibited. Desire being most intense when the object is absent, longings for communication also index a deep sense of dereliction in social relationships. ... 'Communication' is a rich tangle of intellectual and cultural strands that encodes our time's confrontations with itself. To understand communication is to understand much more. An apparent answer to the painful divisions between self and other, private and public, and inner thought and outer word, the notion illustrates our strange lives at this point in history. It is a sink into which most of our hopes and fears seem to be poured."
"A word (or in general any sign) is interindividual. Everything that is said, expressed, is located outside the soul of the speaker and does not belong only to him. The word cannot be assigned to a single speaker. The author (speaker) has his own inalienable right to the word, but the listener has his rights, and those whose voices are heard in the word before the author comes upon it also have their rights (after all, there are no words that belong to no one)."
~M. Bakhtin. Speech Genres and Other Late Essays (Trans. Vern McGee). Austin: University of Texas Press, 1986, pp. 121-122.
"... words communicate to things the spirit that the society imposes upon the words which have come to be the names for them. The things are in effect the visible tangible material embodiments of the spirit that infuses them through the medium of words. And in this sense, things become the signs of the genius that resides in words."
~Kenneth Burke. "What are the Signs of What? A Theory of 'Entitlement'". In Language as Symbolic Action. (Berkeley & Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press, 1966, p. 362).
"Ever since communication--above and beyond the different meanings each era confers on it--undertook its trajectory in pursuit of the ideal of reason, the representation that has been made of it has been torn between emancipation and control, between transparency and opacity. On the one hand, there is the logic of emancipation from all hindrances and prejudices inherited from dogmatic thinking. On the other, there is the logic of constraint imposed by a social and productive order. The means of decentralization that permit escape from confinement and from mental and physical barriers allow both the unleashing of movement and the consolidation of the center with the support of the periphery. The notions of freedom and liberation associated with communication appear in a paradoxical light."
"'Communication' was lodged on the ostensive plane of language, ideology, and meaning only as 'labor' came reciprocally to affix to a seemingly remote arena of energy and action. 'Communication,' that is, became free to demarcate humankind's vast and multifarious potential for symbolic interaction only as 'labor' contracted (as it had long since begun to do) around a sharply restricted range of human effort: physical toil or, later, wage work or, most recently, the endeavors that transpire within heavy industry. These two movements of thought were not simply concurrent, however, but intertwined. At the very historical moment that the separation of hand and brain--and more precisely, of conception and execution--was becoming decisive within the social formation, communication study began to expand into the conceptual space bequeathed by the parallel tendency to separate 'intellectual' and 'manual' labor."
" ... sheer 'neutral' communication (communication being the area where love has become so generalized, desexualized, 'technologized,' that only close critical or philosophic scrutiny can discern the vestiges of the original motive)."
~Kenneth Burke. A Rhetoric of Motives. (Berkeley & Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press, 1969, p. 19).
~Edward Sapir. (1937). "Communication." In Encyclopedia of the social sciences (Vol. 4, pp. 78-80). New York: Macmillan.
"If discursive subjectivity is required for the reproduction of the contemporary social formation, then the fact that discourse and, increasingly, communication have come to define the essence of human nature, social life and the real locus of our subjectivity is itself a further ideological representation. Thus the very importance and power of communication is a form of domination, for particular interests, articulated within a context of ideological practices."
"[The] phrase 'communication skills' names a cultural construct, not a natural phenomenon with an objective existence in the world. Whether some person, or group of people, has good, bad, or indifferent communication skills is entirely dependent on what 'communication' is taken to be, and what is thought to constitute 'skill' in it."
"The motto of communication theory ought to be: Dialogue with the self, dissemination with the other. This is another way of stating the ethical maxim: Treat yourself like an other and the other like a self."
"The need for coordinating perspectives is a source of new meanings as much as it is a source of obstacles. From this perspective, ambiguity is not simply an obstacle to overcome; it is an inherent condition to be put to work. Effective communication or good design, therefore, are not best understood as the literal transmission of meaning. It is useless to try to excise all ambiguity; it is more productive to look for social arrangements that put history and ambiguity to work. The real problem of communication and design then is to situate ambiguity in the context of a history of mutual engagement that is rich enough to yield an opportunity for negotiation."
~Etienne Wenger, Communities of Practice (Cambridge University Press, 1998, p. 84)
January 24, 2010