The Meaning of "Relationship" in Interpersonal Communication

By Richard L. Conville; L. Edna Rogers | Go to book overview

1 Ants to Elephants: A Comparative Perspective on the Meaning of Relationship

Jo Liska

And we are biologically grounded in relationships, which operate at all the different levels of our beings, as the basis of our natures as agents of creative evolutionary emergence, a property we share with all other species.

-- Goodwin, 1994, p. xiii

There are a number of perspectives from which we can view social relationships. As in the story of the blind men and the elephant, each image is only a piece of the overall pattern. Some perspectives provide closeups of a particular species or species characteristics, and the social sciences typically choose to focus on humans, with emphasis on presumably unique features of human behavior -- language, culture, tools and technology, religion, art, and so forth -- all aspects of behavior deeply interconnected with the ability to use symbols. Human dependence upon symbols in the formulation of social relationships is highly unusual, if not unique, in the animate world. However, grab a wide-angle lens, drop back a few paces, and note the panorama. Species engaging in a wide range of social relationships fill the scene. Some, like many arachnids, come together solely for procreative purposes, and mother-infant bonds end long before the young are born. Social insects such as ants and bees build organized and diversified networks of social relationships that appear remarkably similar to human social systems, but the similarity is more apparent than real, and

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