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Coordinated Management of Meaning

Figure 6.3 Griffin 3rd ed.

Explanation of Theory:

Persons-in-conversation co-construct their own social realities by achieving coherence, coordinating actions, and experiencing mystery. Coherence is a unified context for stories told, coordination comes through stories lived, and mystery is a sense of wonder for stories unexpressed. (Griffin 3rd ed., p. 492)

Theorists: Pearce and Cronen

Date: 1980

Primary Article:

     Pearce, W. B., & Cronen, V. (1980). Communication, action, and meaning: The creation of social realities. New York: Praeger.

Metatheoretical Assumptions:

The idea that Pearce and Cronen view “social world” as plural says that depending on specific situations and contexts, the meaning created and understood can be varying. This is the definition of having multiple truths (epistemology). In discussing contexts, varying levels of importance of episodes, relationships, self-concept and culture play key roles. People choose which context is most important in the situation and act accordingly (ontology). Finally because this theory is dependent on people’s experiences and beliefs, the values play a role in each situation and how it plays out.


As a humanistic theory, CMM seems to be both analytically consistent and systematic in its approach. The theory must be applied to each individual case in order for it to work properly (systematically). While it has specific use for certain situations, practical widespread application of the theory would seem to be both time-consuming and overwhelming. Overall, the theory has value because of the way in which it approaches how people within a dyad can create a shared meaning through the exchange of individual ideas.

Ideas and Implications:

Creating meaning in conversation is a mutal responsibility. Both sender and receiver are capable of doing so, and should exercise equal responsibility.


In using e-mail, a couple decides to create abbreviations for many words that appear repeatedly in their conversations (love=luv, etc.). The list of abbreviations is quite long, but each person knows what all of them are. Someone outside of this relationship would struggle to understand an e-mail from one to the other using these abbreviations. This "new language” serves the couple well when interacting with one another, but it would not be useful in trying to communicate with someone outside the relationship. It would only work in the context of the relationship where the meaning of the abbreviations are understood by both parties.

Relevant Research:

     Adler, R. B. (1995). Teaching communication theories with ‘Jungle Fever.’ Communication Education, 44, 157-65.

     Baraldi, C. (1993). Structural coupling: Simultaneity and difference between communication thought. Communication Theory, 3, 112-30.

     Brenders, D. A. (1987). Fallacies in the coordinated management of meaning: A philosophy of language critique of the hierarchical organization of coherent conversation and related theory. The Quarterly Journal of Speech, 73, 329-349.

     Hall, B. J. (1992). Theories of culture and communication. Communication Theory, 2, 50-71.

Location in Eight (8) Primary Communication Theory Textbooks:

     Anderson, R., & Ross, V. (1998). Questions of communication: A practical introduction to theory (2nd ed.). New York: St. Martin's Press.  147-149.

     Cragan, J. F., & Shields, D.C. (1998). Understanding communication theory: The communicative forces for human action. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon. 212-215.

     Griffin, E. (2000). A first look at communication theory (4th ed.). Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill. 64-76.

     Griffin, E. (1997). A first look at communication theory (3rd ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill. 69-82.

      Infante, D. A., Rancer, A. S., & Womack, D. F. (1997). Building communication theory (3rd ed.). Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland Press. 85-88.

      Littlejohn, S. W. (1999). Theories of human communication (6th ed). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth. 187-191.

      West, R., & Turner, L. H. (2000). Introducing communication theory: Analysis and application. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield. 87-102.

       Wood, J. T. (1997). Communication theories in action: An introduction. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth. 160-174.