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246 A g r e e m e n t s u p p l e m e n t s Dialectic Theories a relevant theory is Importance of Theory and Deep Concepts DiAleCtiC theories mAp loCAtion D, 3 threAD loCAtion Page 25 sCApe Author Jaime Snyder Agreement DesCription Other Theories of Conversation Limitations of Pask’s Conversation Theory When looking to theory for support of the basic principles of participatory librarianship, as discussed above, Pask’s Conversation Theory provides a link to the foundations of library and information science by referencing the information theory and system applications research of the 1950s and 1960s. However, Pask’s primary concern was to provide instructional guidelines for implementing his learning system. Pask’s writing style is reminiscent of system specifications, and he focuses on describing and supporting a set of rules that define the core of his proposed educational interface. His perspective is indicative of his times and reflects a confident belief in the ability of the machine to surpass human cognitive limitations if we can only learn to harness that power. While the intention of Conversation Theory resonates with the spirit of participatory librarianship, the technical aspects are, in fact, over thirty years old, and Pask’s specifications do not necessarily help us put our ideas into action today. Nor does Pask’s theory reflect the subsequent decades of communications research that would follow after he originally introduced his system. Here we provide a brief overview of additional theories that address the study of conversation, coming from a range of fields. Our intention is to enrich our definition of conversation and attempt to connect Pask’s work to the present. Understanding Conversation in a Wider Context Generally, theories of human communication that address conversation can be grouped into five broad and potentially overlapping categories : structural/functional, cognitive and behavioral, interactionist, interpretive, and critical (Littlejohn, 1996). All of these categories attempt to explain or describe some aspect of the structure of exchanges between individuals; however, they differ in their level of analysis (individual , group, culture), their unit of analysis (signal, word, utterance , message), and their filters (systems, linguistics, politics). Structural/Functional Theories Conversation research in the structural/functional realm looks at patterns of exchanges and utterances with a goal of constructing frameFigure 119 A g r e e m e n t s u p p l e m e n t s 247 works based on the mechanics of verbal communication. Structuralism is based on linguistics and stresses the organization of language and social systems. Functionalism grew from biology and seeks to understand the ways that organized systems sustain themselves. Functional models assume that the world is comprised of systems that consist of variables in a network of functions (Littlejohn, 1996). This family of theories includes structural linguistics and discourse analysis . Pask’s Conversation Theory also falls under this category, a unique example of system theory built on principles of conversation. Behavioral and Cognitive Theories Primarily focused on the individual, theories of communication influenced by behavioral psychology look at stimuli–response relationships, whereas more cognitive theories look into the information processing that lies beneath these relationships, often taking into account the physiological basis of human perception. Like structural/functional approaches , these theories also try to identify the most important variables associated with communication. However, in addition to focusing on the person over the text for evidence regarding these variables, this approach also focuses on individual human thought rather than collective experiences (Littlejohn, 1996). Hence, the residue of conversation (or participation) in the form of knowledge is not as important as the behavior of individuals. Other approaches refer more directly to socially constructed knowledge, such as interactionist theories discussed below. Interactionist Theories Interactionist theories involving conversation take a slightly more sociological perspective, looking at the influence of actors and environment on outcomes to better understand human communication. Because of the situational nature of this approach, the research tends to focus on specific social groups and cultures and is less generalizable than structural/functional theories (Littlejohn, 1996). Pragmatics is the branch of discourse linguistics that looks at the larger social context of conversation. Conversation analysis, although structural in some aspects (i.e., examination of turn-taking), also seeks to identify social and cultural influences on the content of conversation. Interpretivist and Critical Theories Explanations of conversation-based communication can also be analyzed through an interpretivist lens that seeks to identify power dynamics between actors. These dialectic theories have grown from foundations in interpretivist...


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