The Meaning of "Relationship" in Interpersonal Communication

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

dimensions are anchored by Column III. Thus, one could say, quite literally, that Agee's narrative turns on Colunm III. From one point of view, the singing trio (episode 3) and the young black couple (episode 16) were submissive in the face of requests from those who were more powerful. However, in contrast to the voluntary actions depicted by the young white couple (episodes 7, 8, 9) talking to Agee on their porch and the young black couple (episode 14) when they passed by Agee and Evans at the church, the trio (episode 3) and the couple startled by Agee (episode 16) seemed not only submissive but also compelled to act as they did -- as if they had no choice. Finally, the singing trio (episode 3) and young African-American couple (episode 16) were also closed when seen in contrast to the relatively open responses of the young white couple (episodes 7, 8, 9).


SUMMARY

My objective has been to demonstrate a unique approach to the study of relationships, a qualitative approach that is at once dialectical, structural, and narrative. To summarize, the approach began with Ricoeur ( 1971) essay subtitled "Meaningful Action Considered as a Text," in which he differentiated action from discourse and, within discourse, oral from written. Given this basis, I argued that a simpler and more direct way to bring the resources of discourse studies to relationship studies required reversing Ricoeur's subtitle to read, "Discourse Considered as Meaningful Action." Then, I claimed that documentary narrative depicts relationships and, thus, provides a unique means of observing the interpersonal communication that constitutes them. Finally, I conducted a dialectical, structural, narrative study to illustrate some of the kinds of insights into relationships afforded by the approach.

Specifically, the analysis revealed three dialectical dimensions at work in the relationships under consideration: Agee's conversations across daunting differences in race, class, and region. Agee's discourse depicted his relationships as oscillating between the polar oppositions of dominant- submissive, compelled-volunteered (indigenous ones), and closed-open (conventional). These intercultural relationships swept back and forth across the dialectical dimensions, creating the social domain or field of play on which the relationships were contested.

By contrast, the analysis also revealed an instance of dialectical stasis where, momentarily, normal dialectical movement halted in the face of a relational impasse. Also, contrary to dialectical thinking, the analysis

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