The Meaning of "Relationship" in Interpersonal Communication

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

groundwork for subsequent sequences of behavior. The irony is that the social-cultural world appears stable, almost thing-like -- both external to us and externally encumbering -- yet it is a world totally dependent on our behavioral contributions, our active constructions, our communicational commitments (cf. Berger & Luckmann, 1966). Societal institutions are like this, and so are social relationships.

In brief, an explanation for relationship continuity can be found in the commitments that each act of behavior establishes; subsequent courses of action are constrained not merely by the rules system but also by the interpretive ground formulated by prior action. We are accountable to what we have already done and to what others have coenacted with us. In addition, we project likely future courses of action and relationship trajectories with each behavioral contribution, and temporal continuity is built from these projections and relationship members' adherence to them.


SUMMARY

Relationships from the Communication viewpoint might be studied profitably as categories of meaning regarding the associations between and among persons, but they must be studied as behaviorally or processually engendered and sustained categories of meaning, rather than as fixed states. They may depend upon, but are analytically distinct from, face-to- face interaction (interaction relationships), and they involve an accretion of meanings across space and time.

A social communication analysis of relationship, thus, provides for a three-part investigation: the social-cultural repertoire permitting and constraining behavior and defining each relationship category; the communication activities that accomplish, negotiate, and orient to these resources; and the character, composition, and continuity of the relationships across selected episodes and time frames that are built from the meaning commitments of these communication activities.


NOTES

This chapter is dedicated to the late Ray L. Birdwhistell. As I reread and edited earlier drafts, it was clear that much of what I understand to be a social communication approach to relationships already was provided for by Birdwhistell's writings and teachings at the University of Pennsylvania throughout the 1970s and early 1980s. I also am grateful for conversations with Harold Garfinkel in fall 1990 on matters related to consequentiality. An earlier version of this chapter

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