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Coordinated management of meaning

In the social sciences, Coordinated Management of Meaning (CMM) provides understanding of how individuals create, coordinate and manage meanings in their process of communication. Generally, it refers to "how individuals establish rules for creating and interpreting meaning and how those rules are enmeshed in a conversation where meaning is constantly being coordinated".

People live in a world where there is constant communication. In communicating with others, people assign meanings in their messages based on past conversational experiences from previous social realities. Through communication, an underlying process takes place in which individuals negotiate a common or conflicted meanings of the world around them, thereby creating a new social reality. CMM advocates that meanings can be managed in a productive way so as to improve the state of interactions by coordinating and managing the meaning-making process.

CMM relies on three interdependent elements: coordination, management and meaning. These elements help to explain how social realities are created through conversation.

The theory of CMM was developed in the mid-1970s by W. Barnett Pearce (1943 - 2011) and Vernon E. Cronen. Communication Action and Meaning was devoted to CMM, is thorough explication of CMM, which Pearce and Cronen introduced to the common scholarly vernacular of the discipline. Their scholarly collaboration at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst offered a major contribution to the philosophy of communication as story-centered, applicable, and ever attentive to the importance of human meaning.

The cluster of ideas in which CMM emerged has moved from the periphery toward greater acceptance and CMM has continued to evolve along a trajectory from an interpretive social science to one with a critical edge and then to what its founders call a "practical theory".

Aware that the intellectual footing for communication theory had shifted, the first phase of the CMM project involved developing concepts that met the twin criteria of (1) adequately expressing the richness of human communication and (2) guiding empirical investigation. Pearce describes the creation of CMM through the following story:

...I think that I am the first person ever to use the awkward phrase "coordinated management of meaning". Of course, tones of voice are often more informative than the verbal content of what is said, and struggle and frustration were expressed in the tones of voice in which "CMM" was first said. For years, I had been trying to bring together what I was learning from social science research, rhetorical studies, philosophy, theology, and, in my father's term, the "School of Hard Knocks". I felt that most of the models of communication that I knew were useful but that all were limited and limiting in some important ways, and that I had to invent something that was better. Communication is about meaning,... but not just in a passive sense of perceiving messages. Rather, we live in lives filled with meanings and one of our life challenges is to manage those meanings so that we can make our social worlds coherent and live within them with honor and respect. But this process of managing our meanings is never done in isolation. We are always and necessarily coordinating the way we manage our meanings with other people. So, I concluded, communication is about the coordinated management of meaning.

  • Constitutive rules: refer to "how behavior should be interpreted within a given context". It tells us what the given behavior means and linking belief to one another and behaviors to beliefs. In the example above, "I hate you" in some contexts counts as an expression of slight dissatisfaction.
  • Regulative rules: refer to "some sequence of action that an individual undertakes, and they communicate what happens next in a conversation." they are also referred as "cognitive reorganizations of constitutive rules" In other word, it means the behavior that is requested in certain situation. Regulative rules link the meanings in the interaction with the consequences they result to. Our body reaction can reflect on the contents of interaction.
  • "Unwanted repetitive patterns": It refers to "the sequential and recurring conflictual episodes that are considered unwanted by the individuals in the conflict." This phenomenon happens because "two people with particular rule systems follow a structure that obligates them to perform specific behaviors." Several reasons count for unwanted repetitive patterns. First, sometimes people can't find other options than being in conflict. Second, people may feel comfortable in the conflict situation because they have experience on what others will behave in this kind of situation. Third, people may be tired of finding resolution on the conflict situation.
  • "Not everything within communication can be explained." , which is called Mystery. It is the recognition that "the world and our experience of it is more than any of the particular stories that make it coherent or any of the activities in which we engage". Mystery has to do with the sense of awe or wonder when communication leads to a surprising outcome. Put more simply, it is the feeling (anything from attraction to hate) one experiences when engaged in conversation that cannot be linked to the situation as a whole.
  • An illocutionary utterance is speech that intends to make contact with a receiver.
  • A perlocutionary utterance includes speech that intends to alter the behavior of the receiver.
  • Qualitative experiment framework tool
  • Online chat room user experience by applying CMM theory, conduct a textual analysis.
  • Data analysis tool though on how people use complex, multilevel systems of reference to derive meaning and guide behaviors
  • 1: Theories should be evaluated on their ability to produce hypotheses that are consistent with relevant evidence. CMM theory falls short under the criteria of rule 1 as it does not set out to provide measureable hypotheses that can be compared to any other situation. While CMM tries to outline the cause and effect relationship of communication, it fails to create consistencies as the theory dictates that each situation is different.
  • 2: General theories are preferred to less general theories. From the perspective of this rule, CMM theory is very general; however it is also very vague. The theory has difficulty focusing on exactly what is important in each interaction thereby not allowing those who study the theory to understand what is considered critical in a communicative interaction.
  • 3: Theories that produce several hypotheses are preferred to those that produce few. From this perspective, CMM theory fails as it neglects to have even a single hypothesis that is testable.
  • 4: It is more beneficial to evaluate research programs rather than individual theories. As CMM theory focuses on levels of contact between two (or more) persons engaged in communication, these findings from CMM research contribute beyond mere observation it is unsuccessful as a way to evaluate anything other than individual interactions.
  • 5: The overall implications of a theory mean that those with several are preferred over those with few. CMM theory focuses on how we create our social environments in the present, however it fails to predict how the theory can affect future events.
  • 6: Simplicity is considered a virtue. In accordance with this rule, CMM theory falls short. CMM is an extremely broad theory with many different terms, views and loopholes which makes a multifaceted study of communication even more complex
  • Speech act theory: idea that the meaning of a conversation is not limited to the meaning of the words. The words may gain new meaning depending on the situation or how they are used. Language is an action rather than just a means of sharing information. Important people: John Austin, Adolf Reinach, John R. Searle
  • Symbolic interaction: An influential perspective within sociology that purposed people's actions are guided by how they value things, which is in turn influenced by their society. Important people: Mead, Blumer
  • Systems theory: A transdisciplinary study of the abstract organization of phenomena, independent of their substance, type, or spatial or temporal scale of existence. Important people: von Bertalanffy, Ashby, Rapoport, Paul Watzlawick
  • Dialogism: Initially based on the interrelated conversation between works of literature and later expanded to the greater social experience. Important people: Mikhail Bakhiti
  • Structuration theory: Basically talking about how the production and reproduction of social life is fundamentally a recursive process that stretches across potentially great spans of time and space. Important people: Anthony Giddens
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  • Crew Resource Management. RC135 FTU/CT. Crew Training International: 2008.
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  • Cronen, Vernon E., "Practical Theory and the Tasks Ahead For Social Approaches To Communication". In L. Leeds-Hurwitz (Ed.) Social approaches to communication (pp. 217–242) New York: The Guilford Press, 1995
  • Cronen, Vernon E. "Practical theory, practical art, and the pragmatic-systemic account of inquiry". Communication Theory. 11: 14–35. doi:10.1093/ct/11.1.14. 
  • Cronen, Vernon E. Vita, Vernon E. Cronen, Personal Information. 2008. [4] (accessed April 20, 2008)
  • Domenici, Kathy and Littlejohn, Stephen W. "Facework: Bridging theory and practice." Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage (2006)
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  • Littlejohn, Stephen W. and Domenici, Kathy. Communication, Conflict and the Management of Difference. Long Grove, IL, 2007.
  • Moore, Will. "Evaluating Theory in Political Science". Florida State University. [8] (accessed April 19, 2008)
  • Pearce Associates. "Using CMM, "The Coordinated Management of Meaning". January 7, 2004. [9] (accessed April 18, 2008). San Mateo, Ca.: Pearce Associates, 1999.
  • Pearce Associates; Spano, Shawn. Public dialogue and participatory democracy: The Cupertino Community Project. Hampton Press, 2001.
  • Pearce, Barnett. "The Coordinated Management of Meaning (CMM)". In Theorizing About Intercultural Communication, edited by William B. Gudykunst, 35–54. Thousand Oaks, Ca: Sage Publications, 2005.
  • Pearce, Kim A. Making better social worlds: Engaging in and facilitating dialogic communication. Redwood City, 2002.
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  • Rossmann, Liliana, "Remembering the Alamo: Cosmopolitan Communication and Grammars of transcendence". Human Systems: The Journal of Systemic Consultation and Management 15, no. 1 (2004): 33–44. [11]
  • Sundarajan, Nalla, and Shawn Spano, "CMM and the Co-Construction of Domestic Violence". Human Systems: The Journal of Systemic Consultation and Management 15, no. 1 (2004): 45–58. [12]
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  • Wasserman, Ilene. "Making Rules in How We Talk: Civilized Oppression and Civility in the Academy". Paper presented at Interrupting Oppression and Sustaining Justice, Teachers College, Columbia University, Spring 2004, 4. [14]
  • Pearce, W. Barnett, Vernon E. Cronen, and Linda M. Harris. "Methodological considerations in building human communication theory." Human communication theory: Comparative essays (1982): 1-41.
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