An Interview with Gerald Miller

By Metts, Sandra | Communication Studies, Fall 1999 | Go to article overview
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An Interview with Gerald Miller

Metts, Sandra, Communication Studies

Introduction: Occasionally the [ISSPR, see below, ed.] Bulletin recognizes a special scholar whose work has been pivotal in the area of close relationships. These individuals are selected on the basis of their role in shaping current views of relational phenomena, the number of other scholars they have influenced through their teaching and writing, and their relentless intellectual curiosity. Gerald Miller is a scholar who fully deserves such a tribute.

Professor Miller [as of 1991, ed.] has spent most of his long and productive career at Michigan State University in the Department of Communication, where he has been chair since 1984. Professor Miller's distinctions and awards are many. He has been the editor of Communication Monographs and president of the International Communication Association. In 1987 a young scholar's award was named in his honor by INPR and in 1990 he won the Michigan State University Distinguished Professor Award in recognition of his significant and enduring contributions to teaching and research.

The comments below are based on an interview with Gerald Miller done in July, 1991 by Sandra Metts. Questions were contributed by a number of friends and former students of Professor Miller. (Special thanks to William Cupach, Steve Duck, Paul Mongeau, and Malcolm Parks.) These excerpts are pulled from a much longer interaction--a delightful two hour excursion through the life and times of Gerald Miller. The excerpts presented here are intended to capture at least some of the wit, wisdom; and spirit of that conversation.

SM: What brought you into the field of communication rather than a related field of the social sciences such as psychology or sociology?

GRM: I was an undergraduate major in political science and international politics. During my time in the masters program in international politics at the University of Iowa, I was offered an opportunity to be a critic-teacher at what was then called the University High School. So, I took the job and was given an assistantship in the Speech and Dramatic Arts department, as it was known then. Even though I was not in that department, I always had some interest in communication, had been a debater in high school and so I knew something about that aspect of communication and I was impressed that they were willing to give me an assistantship. Since I was running out of things to study in Political Science, but wasn't ready to cut the umbilical cord and leave school, I decided I would pursue a Ph.D. in communication. So, I think I came in as much of a result of an unexpected positive act that someone, specifically Hugh Seabury, had done for me than tot any more idealistic or abstract reason. And of course, I have always been interested, as are most people whether they study it formally or not, in communication. Wasn't it the linguistic Benjamin Lee Whorf who said that people in general are fascinated with communication? I have always been interested in what affects the outcomes of communication, whether one is relatively successful in his or her attempts to communicate, no matter what those goals are.

SM: What do you perceive to be the most enduring contribution or the greatest legacy you've contributed to the field?

GRM: In a broad sense I can think of two legacies, if I can use such a grandiose term for my work. One would be--and I can't say this is my work since these people would have succeeded whether or not I was around--the number of very productive and influential students that I've had the opportunity to work with and whatever research contribution I may have made is certainly to be dwarfed by the cumulative contribution these people have made and will make. I'm particularly proud of the fact that almost all of them know how to do some things better than I do, so I don't see most of them as just being clones of myself. If you look at scholars like Joe Cappella, Chuck Berger, Frank Boster, Michael Burgoon, and a host of others they have advanced both methodologically and substantively and know a lot of things I don't know and I'm happy about that.

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