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Communication Pragmatics /Interactional View

Explanation of Theory:

"Relationships within a family system are interconnected and highly resistant to change. Communication among members has both a content and relationship component. The system can be transformed only when members receive outside help to reframe the relational punctuation." (Griffin 3rd, p. 494.)

Theorist: Watzlavick, Beavin, & Jackson

Date:  1967

Primary Article:

     Watzlawick, P., Beavin, J., & Jackson, D., (1967). Pragmatics of Human Communication. W. W. Norton: New York.

Individual Interpretations:

The Interactional View is also known as the theory of pragmatics because of the dependence on the particular situation at hand. Miscommunication occurs because people are not "speaking the same language." These languages contrast because people have different points of view from which they are speaking. When people's content and relationship component do not match up, miscommunication is likely to occur.

Metatheoretical Assumptions:

While this theory uses axioms, it seems that the theory is more humanistic. The axioms provide a framework for how communication takes place, but these axioms are only a framework. The theory is dependent upon the situation in order to explain what is really taking place, Each situation is unique, so there are multiple truths. Ontologically, the theory leans more toward free will. While the axioms are a framework, in a situation, people can choose to communicate in certain ways. Axiologically, the theory is value-laden since it is so dependent on independent interpretation.


Many of the critiques of this theory are based upon scientific criteria, but since the theory is more humanistic, the humanistic criteria will be applied. The theory does seem to have analytical consistency, and heuristic value. Its methodological rigor is questionable since applying it to individual situations can make approaching this theory systematically difficult. While the theory seems practical, its application can be somewhat difficult. There have been many questions surrounding the axioms on which the theory is loosely based. These criticisms are not of great value since the actual axioms are supports for the theory, but not the sole basis.

Ideas and Implications:

This theory has many implications for everyday life. Since families often suffer from miscommunication, this thoery is able to explain why such things take place. The theory's suggestion to reframe problems in order to gain a better understanding of what is going on seems like sound and practical advice.


A man and his wife are having a difficult time talking to one another about issues surrounding their child. The wife believes that the problems are a result of not having both parents around enough at home. The father feels that the problems are a normal part of adolescence and that the child will grow out of it. In fact, the child is suffering because of tremendous pressure to succeed at school. The pressure is coming from the child's teacher, not from the parents. Watzlawick would suggest that a discussion that would involve the child and both parents would prove beneficial because it would allow the parents to reframe their misinformed position and take action that would address the true problem. The parents could then speak with the teacher and reassure their child that he/she should try to perform their best, without feeling pressure from others.

Relevant Research:

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. 163-168.

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

     Griffin, E. (2000). A first look at communication theory (4th ed.). Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill. 151-162.

     Griffin, E. (1997). A first look at communication theory (3rd ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill. 168-178.

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

      Littlejohn, S. W. (1999). Theories of human communication (6th ed). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth. N/A

      West, R., & Turner, L. H. (2000). Introducing communication theory: Analysis and application. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield. N/A

       Wood, J. T. (1997). Communication theories in action: An introduction. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth. 187-202.