Uses of 'Structure' in Communication Studies

Uses of 'Structure' in Communication Studies

Uses of 'Structure' in Communication Studies

Uses of 'Structure' in Communication Studies


Conville has assembled a collection of essays that share a consideration of "structure" as it manifests itself in human communication. Personal stories, accounts of events, narratives, diaries, and unstructured interviews are ever more widely appreciated today as valid data for understanding human cognition and human interaction. Some chapters present solutions to the problem of how to analyze such materials and how to conceptualize them as data. Other chapters argue for the inevitability of structure in communication study. Still other chapters demonstrate structure in human communication. What ties all of the chapters together is the idea that structure is ubiquitous in communication literature, even in the face of postmodern and poststructuralist critiques alleging the disappearance of structure, the fragmentation of culture, and the impossibility of communicating across boundaries. As the authors demonstrate, the concept of structure enters the scholarly conversation by way of such diverse and sometimes,unexpected vehicles as dialectical theory, relationship development, deconstruction, relational communication, and narrative theory.


One of the intriguing things about the human mind is that it seeks structure in a world that can be chaotic. Hierarchy has been observed as a fundamental element of human thought by Kenneth Burke, and our most cherished assessments of human progress are based on notions of civilization and order. Indeed, the very notion of progress itself implicates a notion of structure implicit in the act.

From the ancient Greek philosophers to the present day, human thinkers have been intrigued both by the need for structure that is apparent in individual human life, whether in daily activity or in thought itself, and by the ubiquity of that need for structure in human social life, whether in language, agreed symbols, or society at large. Without some form of structure there could be none of these things, and, indeed, society itself would be a logical impossibility for all except the anarchists. The early Gestalt psychologists were themselves intrigued in their own way by this issue, and similar notions of structure, set, pattern, and ordering have run through much of the social sciences in one way or another since the beginnings of study of the human mind at the individual and the social levels and at the conjunction of the two.

Others have been fascinated by the different shapes that structure takes in different societies or social organizations, while academic disciplines themselves in their own ways deal with the different sorts of structures that human beings create at the social level. Cultures, societies, rituals, symbols, languages, and rules of social behavior are all forms of structure to behavior that are shared between people, rather than being characteristic of single minds in isolation, and as such they are of interest to a wide range of scholars.

While there is some debate about whether humans uncover an existing structure in the world or impose upon the world a structure of their own devis-

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