Group Communication in Context: Studies of Natural Groups

Group Communication in Context: Studies of Natural Groups

Group Communication in Context: Studies of Natural Groups

Group Communication in Context: Studies of Natural Groups


Given the importance of groups to the social, political, economic, educational, and moral fibre of our society, and the centrality of communication to group life, it is surprising how little we know about the way people communicate in groups. While there are many theories and principles about group interaction, actual research has lagged behind. Equally problematic is that the vast majority of the research is based on student, zero-history groups meeting in a laboratory setting to solve artificial tasks assigned by researchers. The body of knowledge generated from much of this research is questionable, primarily because the significant contextual factors that impinge on groups in the real world do not operate in the lab and because students--unlike their real-world counterparts-- have little investment in these groups. Scholars have thus called for researchers to move away from the laboratory and study real-life groups. This edited text responds to this need by showcasing original communication studies conducted on natural groups. Five sections examine important processes that characterize natural groups:

• how groups create and sustain their identity,

• the effects of the context on group communication,

• group developmental processes,

• destructive group communication patterns, and

• decision-making group interaction.

Within these sections, the researchers examine a wide range of real-life groups, including business, political, health care, and children's groups, as well as groups on the fringes of society--gangs and feminist witches. Taken as a whole, the chapters demonstrate the diverse methodological approaches that inform the study of natural groups, and many also demonstrate how various methods can be employed in a triangulated, multi-methodological study of a natural group. By extending group communication research to natural settings, this book demonstrates how theories and principles operate in real-life groups, poses new and fruitful questions about communication processes that are so vital to the everyday life of groups, and offers alternative ways of shedding light on these questions.


From birth to death, small groups are interwoven into the fabric of our lives. We are born with the help of a team of doctors and nurses, raised in a family, and, for 13 years or so, the state educates us in relatively small classroom settings. Peer groups in high school and at the university exert powerful influence, helping to define who we are and what we value. We work in organizations where decisions are made by task groups and teams. We meet a significant other and marry in the presence of our family and friends. We spend some of our most cherished moments socializing with friends and neighbors, and join support groups that offer the depressed, the overweight, the drug and alcohol addicted, and many others opportunities to share and confront their problems. In the twilight of our years, we may retire to a nursing home, and, as a final farewell, our friends gather together at our funeral to pay their respects.

The small group is clearly the tie that binds, the nucleus that holds society together. Groups of workers dispose of garbage, fly airplanes, fight fires, and grow much of the food that feeds the nation. Parties in dispute often seek to resolve their differences through mediation and arbitration, while a group of peers decides the legal fate in many criminal and civil trials. Government committees decide what policy proposals will reach the floor of the Senate and . . .

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