Phatic (Dys)functions

Genosko, Gary 2000. Phatic (Dys)functions: The Shifting Contour of the TV Screen. Semiotics Institute Online lecture.

This lecture is grounded in a debate in communication theory about the functionality of phatic communication [...] (Genosko 2000)
When and where was this debate held?
The lesson of this debate, which shows the inherent dysfunctionality of the concept, is then applied to a further dimension of contact – that is, tactility – and its fortunes in media studies of television, with particular attention to screens themselves. (Genosko 2000)
Huh? Is it dysfunctional because "the phatic function of speech" etymologically amounts to "the speech function of speech"? Because in that case one can refer to precedents in Roman Jakobson's thinking that moot this putative dysfunction. I also have an inkling that this emphasis on "tactility" takes "contact" to mean actual physical bodily touch instead of communicative contact. That is not at all what most theorists and researchers mean by "phatic". Only other case I'm currently aware of that takes it so literally is the glue manufacturer who thought the emphasis on contact could make "Super Phatic'" a good name for a specialty glue.
Again, the consequences of contact with the tactile medium of tv, while full of potential for valorizing in various ways synesthetic experience, tend toward dystopic elaborations in theory as well as in various kinds of popular practices (pop music and film). (Genosko 2000)
I was not aware that TV connects viewers with the visual conten via the sense of touch. In fact it makes very little sense.
Russian linguist Roman Jakobson (“Closing Statement” 1960) derived the Phatic function of his poetic model of communication from Malinowski’s concept of “phatic communion,” the use of language to maintain a social relation through ritualized formulas such as greetings, chit-chat about the weather. (Genosko 2000)
As logical as it is, I suspect that it's not true. I'm suspect that he took the term and the meaning with it's modifications from David Abercrombie, and pretty sure that he added the part about holding attention from Hobart Mowrer and some technical aspects of channel regulation from Gregory Bateson. There is very little left of Malinowski's conception of phatic communion in Jakobson's formulation of the phatic function.
If Jakobson advances this social function, it is by inclusion of the means of discontinuing communication rather than simply prolonging it (including confirmation of the interlocutor’s attention). (Genosko 2000)
As I just explained, Mowrer (1949) and Bateson (1951).
The “mere purport,” as Jakobson puts it, of prolonging communicative contact suggests the emptiness of such contact; the example from Dorothy Parker is illustrative: ‘Well, here we are’, he said. ‘Here we are’, she said, ‘Aren’t we?’ ‘I should say we are’, he said. (Genosko 2000)
Not emptiness but awkwardness. The characters in Parker's short story are newlyweds traveling by train to New York City for the first night of their honeymoon. There are reasons for awkwardness in that particular example. Their dialogue is characterized by semantic emptiness (or referential irrelevance). Their relationship (contact) itself is not empty just because they are nervous.
This not only makes the function susceptible to atrophy in which there is “constant contact without a message,” [Umberto Eco] but in addition suggests that the emptiness of contact has a propitious technical function as a test of the system itself: “Hello, do you hear me?” (Genosko 2000)
Unless there are phatic technologies that make the contact an auxiliary function, there is no contact without a message. The latter part takes one of Jakobson's illustrations way too seriously. My argument is that this is a linguistic reformulation of Bateson's "signals asking for signals to be repeated" (Bateson 1951: 209). This is just one type of metacommunicative signals. It's not the essence of phatics as such.
The Phatic function shares a great deal with the Metalingual function. (Genosko 2000)
This is actually pretty incisive. Both phatic and metalingual function have their beginnings in Bateson's theory of metacommunication, which itself was divided into communication about code (metalingual function) and communication about relationship (phatic function).
Jean Baudrillard has advanced a telling critique of the Phatic function as a “simulation pact” based on “tele-phasis”(Seduction, 163-66). Baudrillard writes: “The phatic function of language, used to establish contact and sustain speech’s formal dimension: this function first isolated and described by Malinowski with reference to the Melanesians, then by Jakobson in his grid of language’s functions, becomes hypertrophied in the tele-dimension of the communications networks. Contact for contact’s sake becomes the empty form with which language seduces itself when it no longer has anything to say.” (Genosko 2000)
I often have a nagging feeling that Baudrillard doesn't really know what he's going on about. Excuse me, Baudrillard's critique, while breaking and tearing through the anatomy of communication, prefaces the postmodern performance of contact with an articulation of the struggle to assure substance in an otherwise rigidly disciplined authority in the rhetorical biomechanic of that particular sanguine system of functions that populist linguistics vexes as a necessary and apparent innovation. Jakobson's scheme of language functions is a schematic, not a grid. What he seems to say is that the scheme of language functions doesn't really work well when applied on televised communication. That makes perfect sense, for it was meant for speech analysis, not makeshift culturology. Contact for sake of contact is as empty as when people who are otherwise strangers exchange formulaic expressions in order to get to know each other and establish some sort of relationship. If that is empty then so be it. Human relations are empty then. But what really irks me is the phrase "with which language seduces itself". Not only is language, that system of signs humans use, given agency and removed from the users of language, by making it reflexive (seduces itself) it also removes language from those whom it is used on. In other words, all human intervention is removed from language and the abstract system takes on a life of its own in some abstract universe that only Baudrillard and other French critics have privileged access to comment upon. For everyone else language is a tool, for them it is a monster.
This is what Eco calls “sports chatter” – vapid phatic communication in which one may be totally immersed but with negative consequences. (Genosko 2000)
Vapid? Define: offering nothing that is stimulating or challenging. Vapid! Hey! That's the thing what this lecture is.
In Seduction Baudrillard has much to say about the phatic function as it hypertrophies in the cold universe of information systems. The zero degree of contact in the tele-dimension: tele-phasis. (Genosko 2000)
Information systems are cold only if you go looking for human contact where there absolutely is none. Information systems are information systems, not social systems. Tele-phasis is what? Tele-speech?
By the time Jakobson revisited the concept he had lost its original symbolic sense in Malinowski, Baudrillard maintains. That is, it no longer involved incessant and metabolic ceremonial challenges and ritual exchanges: “Language has no need for ‘contact’: it is we who need communication to have a specific ‘contact’ function, precisely because it is eluding us.” (Genosko 2000)
By the time Jakobson revisited the concept, phatic communion had devalued in anthropological review into "talk for the sake of talk". Jakobson gave it an inalienable place in the scheme of language functions, acknowledging that speech always involves some form of social contact, be it through speech or writing, it is always another person who receives and decodes it. Language itself, of course, has no need for anything. It has no agency of its own, at least no more than any other human invented tool has. By emphasizing elusiveness and emptyness I get that Baudrillard is trying to be edgy, but it comes across as poignantly polemical over basically nothing of substance.
The phatic function “analytically restores” what is missing in communication, far, far removed from the “frayed spaces” of genuine interpersonal exchange in the pulsing (beyond meaning) “tele space” of networked terminals at the ends of which classical assumptions about “inter-individual logic” no longer make sense. (Genosko 2000)
"What the fuck did you just fucking say about me, you little bitch?" communication systems respond "I'll have you know I graduated top of my class in the Navy Seals, and I've been involved in numerous secred raids on Al-Quaeda, and I have over 300 confirmed kills."
So, Phatic communication is primarily (dys)functional; to put it another way, this function is almost immediately tied to its dysfunction: it holds open the channel but in so doing puts genuine communication at risk. (Genosko 2000)
Thus far I've seen nothing but rhetoric and French demagoguery to substantiate this claim. In actuality the phatic function holds open the channel in order that genuine communication can occur. Genuine communication is unimaginable without some social lubricate to releave the tension of strangeness when confronting a stranger. The phatic function of speech in fact enables communication. The only way it can become dysfunctional is when it stops functioning (when people are unable to engage in it for whatever reason, perhaps due to not knowing the local language and customs) or when it is viewed, on the theoretical plane, as a creature on its own unhinged from the system of communication it is actually a part of. That is, phatic communication is dysfunctional only when it is reduced to being phatic only, which is theoretically possible but practically... unpractical.
One of the most enduring figures in ongoing efforts to decode the experience of television is the medium’s tactility. Whether it is a trope of stickiness, massage, jolts and other body blows, or the effects of a protruding gaze of an eye-window-frame-potato processing, pablum dispensing machine, seems moot. (Genosko 2000)
Words are plaything which which I juggle universes from reality to unreality and back without a connexion to coöperation that complexifies the content in contractable contexts full of convexities and concaves of concatenation. This lecture is potatoe and I refuse to continue reading it.

Phatic Interpretations

Žegarac, Vlad and Billy Clark 1999. Phatic interpretations and phatic communication. Journal of Linguistics 35(2): 321-346.

In (I), it seems that Mrs. Lancaster would like to have a relatively banal conversation about the weather. Phil Connors makes clear that he recognises this intention and blatantly refuses to comply. (Žegarac & Clark 1999: 322)
In this case there is an explicit metalingual question about the intention, "Did you wanna talk about the weather or were you just making chit chat?", in other terms they are actually negitiating the working consensus about what their conversation is about. As soon Lancaster shrugs, shakes her head and affirms "Chit-chat", the interpretation is fixed and Connors ends the conversation.
These exchanges illustrate the sorts of phenomena to which the term 'phatic' might be applied. It might be said that Mrs. Lancaster attempts to start a phatic exchange and that Connors refuses. Another account might say that both Mrs. Lancaster's comment about the blizzard and Connors's lengthy response are phatic, the difference being that Mrs. Langarster's phatic intentions are 'positive' while Connors's are 'negative'. (Žegarac & Clark 1999: 322-323)
Instead of "pasitive" and "negative" so-called "phatic intentions", I would suggest sociofugal phatic attitude (negative) and sociopetal phatic attitude (positive). But now I'm thinking that perhaps "attitude" is not the best term here. Something like "disposition" (i.e. sociopetal phatic disposition) might go over better because it holds a potentiol for conjunction with Charles Morris's disposition to respond, which is at the core of his approach to interpretation.
This raises a number of questions. How does Connors recognise Mrs. Lancaster's phatic intention? How does he decide how much to say about the weather? Is Roma's utterance ambiguous between a phatic and a non-phatic meaning? (Žegarac & Clark 1999: 323)
Here I'm not sure if "phatic meaning" is the best term. Many hold that phatic utterances are essentially meaningless (referentially irrelevant, asemantic, etc.). I think it may have more to do with a "frame" or something to that effect, i.e. how relevant the meaning of a given utterance is evaluated. this is where Relevance Theory may pay off.
Comparing Connors's response with Aaronow's, why does Connors's over-informativeness communicate something different (his attitude towards Mrs. Connors's chit-chat) from Aaronow's over-informativeness (perhaps just that he has misunderstood, perhaps that he wishes to change the tapic)? (Žegarac & Clark 1999: 323)
Here the authors themselves use the term attitude. Here it also makes sense, because it doesn't characterize so much a social style as attitude towards a particular person's chit-chat.
More fundamentally, what does the term 'phatic' mean and to what range of phenomena should it apply? (Žegarac & Clark 1999: 323)
This is a question we're trying to answer as well, but it's difficult because "phatic" means various things to various theorists and the range of application is by no means limited even to communication as such (i.e. l'image phatique in French visual theory, or phatic fountains in soft architecture theory).
Another important notion is that of MUTUALITY. All assumptions which are manifest to an individual make up that individual's COGNITIVE ENVIRONMENT. The set of all assumptions that are manifest to two individuals is their SHARED COGNITIVE ENVIRONMENT. But an assumption may be manifest to a number of people, without the fact that it is manifest to all of them being itself manifest. In other words, assumptions may be MANIFEST without being MUTUALLY MANIFEST. (Žegarac & Clark 1999: 324)
Malinowski (1923) considered PHATIC COMMUNION in his discussion of the distinction between language as 'an instrument of reflection' and language as 'a mode of action', and made a number of interesting observations, including the following which are frequently referred to in more recent literature:
  1. In Phatic Communion language is used as a mode of action, rather than for the transmission of thoughts.
  2. The various types of Phatic Communion (greetings, gossip, and the like) have something in common: the whole situation in which the exchange takes place consists in, andis largely created by, 'what happens linguistically'.
  3. In Phatic Communion the mere meaning of the words is almost irrelevant. Rather, the linguistic expressions used fulfil a social function.
  4. This social function may be to 'overcome the strange, unpleasant tension caused by silence' and/or to establish an atmosphere of sociability and personal communion between people.
(Žegarac & Clark 1999: 328)
In my own words these aspects concern: (1) the fact that phatic communion is a type of action; (2) that consists of speech; (3) particularly non-referential speech; (4) that aids in overcoming the tension of silence.
There are three common intuitions about phaticness which we aim to capture. First, people have an intuition that the main point of some utterances depends on the fact that the speaker has said something to the hearer more than on exactly what has been said. For example, the main point of an utterance of the string nice weather directed at a stranger at the bus-stop seems to be to convey something like sociability rather than to start a discussion of the weather. Furthemore, uttering a string with quite different linguistic content, such as the bus is late again, would have had a similar effect. Second, there are degrees of phaticness. For example, a string like ho do you know Michael? seems 'less phatic' than a string like how are you? when uttered in the same situation (e.g. to someone you've just met at a party). The phaticness of how are you? may even have become standardised. [...] Third, phatic interpretations seem more likely when the social relationship between interlocutors is in doubt. Suppose, for example, that two partners in a long-term relationship have had an argument and then not spoken for a few days. This would make it more likely that anything either of them says to the other would be understood as phatic (the fact that they have spoken is more important than exactly what they say). This latter possibility is discussied in more detail below. (Žegarac & Clark 1999: 329)
It seems that these authors are attempting to approach the nexus joining asemanticity, autonomy and relationships that looms large over phatics. That is, the fact of communicating is more important than what is communicated (autonomy); thus the content is pretty much interchangeable (asemantic); thus the fact of communicating is most relevant in relation to the relationship between the communicators.
We propose to capture these intuitions by suggesting: first, that the thing which can be phatic or not are interpretations as a whole; second, that what makes an interpretation phatic or not is the extent to which it contains implicatures of a particular type. We begin this section by explaining what type of implicature we have in mind. (Žegarac & Clark 1999: 329)
The implicature part is way too pragmatic for my taste, since it necessitates too extraordinary terms (like manifestness), but the general intent here seems understandable enough. By shifting the phatic weight from utterances to interpretations they are actually kinda resolving the relativity issue (what is sociopetal in one culture is sociofugal in another; what is phatic for some is not so for others).
Recall that, as mentioned above, ostensive-inferential communication involves two intentions:
  1. a communicative intention to make mutually manifest:
  2. an informative intention to make manifest or more manifest a set of assumption.
This means that the speaker of any utterance will make mutually manifest assumptions which contain other assumptinos as sub-parts.
  1. It's ten o'clock.
The speaker of (4), for example will convey all of the assumptions in (5):
    1. It's ten o'clock.
    2. The speaker intends to make manifest that it's ten o'clock.
    3. The speaker intends to make manifest the speaker's intention to make manifest that it's ten o'clock.
(5a) is the PROPOSITION EXPRESSED. (5b) is the speaker's INFORMATIVE INTENTION. (5c) is the speaker's COMMUNICATIVE INTENTION.
Now, some implications of an utterance will depend on the proposition expressed. In this case, these might include:
  1. The film the hearer wants to watch begins in 10 minutes.
Other implications might depend on the speaker's informative intention. In this case, these might include:
  1. The speaker intends to inform the hearer that the film the hearer wants to watch begins in ten minutes.
Still other implications might depend on the speaker's communicative intention. In this case, these might include:
  1. The speaker wants the hearer to think that the speaker cares about whether the hearer sees the film or not.
Notice that the hearer can derive (6) from (5a) alone, while (7) depends upon deriving (5b) and (8) depends upon deriving (5c). There are other implications of this utterance which depend on the speaker's communicative intention (5c) but not upon linguistically-encoded meanings, for example (9).
  1. The speaker is willing to communicate with the hearer.
In the discussion which follows, we will use the phrase 'depends on' in a technical sense. DEPENDS ON X means 'results from an inferential process which takes X as a premise', where X may be: the proposition expressed by the utterance, the informative intention or the communicative intention.
(9) seems to correspond to what people have in mind when they talk about phaticness. We suggest that interpretations are phatic to the extent that they IMPLICATE (i.e do not merely IMPLY) such propositions. In other words, an interpretation is phatic to the extent that its main relevance lies with implicature like (9). (Žegarac & Clark 1999: 329-330)
This exposition made a surprisingly great amount of sense. Let's unpack the bold parts. The phatic implication, that the speaker is willing to communicate with the hearer, is still communicative since it intends to make manifest the speaker's intention to make something manifest, that "something" here being willingness to communicate. But it does not depend upon "linguistically-encaded meanings" because both the proposition expressed and the informative intention are irrelevant to communicate a willingness to communicate. In fact, something nonverbal like a glance could just as well do the job. Thus, by way of very pragmatic means these authors have actually gone to the heart of "phaticness" (although I'd like to protest against this clunky term), that it involves willingness to communicate.
There are two important characteristics of phatic implicatures. First, Relevance Theory distinguishes between IMPLICATED PREMISES and IMPLICATED CONCLUSONS:
Pauline: Do you want to go to the cinema?
Arthur: There's only violent films on tonight.
Implicated premise: Arthur does not want to see a violent film.
Implicated conclusion: Arthur does not want to go to the cinema.
Implicated premises depend on the communicative intention and are normally not implied, not even contextually, by the explicit content of the utterance. It is the fact that Arthur can be seen as having the communicative intention of answering Pauline's question that licences the implicated premise, which in turn licences the implicated conclusion. But it is the implicated conclusion which meets Pauline's expectation of relevance. In this sence, the main relevance of Arthur's utterance can be said to depend on the implicated conclusion rather than on the implicated premise. So, we are suggesting that interpretations are phatic to the extent that they contain implicated conclusions which depend on the communicative intention. (Žegarac & Clark 1999: 330-331)
This reinforces the previous point that phatic interpretation does not depend so much on the informative intention but on communicative intention.
Second, by definition, all implicatures depend on the fact that a presumption of relevance is being communicated. What distinguishes phatic implicatures is that they depend to a greater extent on the communicative intention than on the proposition expressed by the utterance. We are now in a position to give a definition of phatic interpretations.
Phatic interpretation
An interpretation is phatic to the extent that it contains implicated conclusions which do not depend on the explicit content of the utterance.
Note that on this definition phatic interpretations are not wholly independent of linguistically-encoded meanings, but they do not follow directly from them: the explicit content of the utterance still provides evidence for some implicated premises which, jointly with other contextual assumptions, licence a particular phatic interpretation. (Žegarac & Clark 1999: 332)
Thus, the phatic interpretation in the last example depends on the implicated conclusion that "Arthur does not want to go to the cinema" and is phatic because... Well, here it gets tricky. Is it phatic here because it communicates Arthur's willingness to go to the cinema and in that way concerns future communication? Pragmatics is very action-oriented, so the action under discussion should ideally be communication itself, or at least something like "willingness to communicate".
While we suggest that the term 'phatic' is most useful as a technical term defined in this way and applied to interpretations as a whole, we will also use it derivatively in the following ways:
  1. A PHATIC UTTERANCE is one which gives rise to, or is intended to give rise to, phatic interpretations.
  2. PHATIC COMMUNICATION refers to acts of ostensive communication which give rise to, or are intended to give rise to, phatic interpretations.
(Žegarac & Clark 1999: 331)
These further definitions of a phatic utterance and phatic communication that depend on phatic interpretations seem a bit tautological. The system is no doubt consistent but how it relates to channel maintenance seems mysterious at this point.
Arthur may well assume that Pauline has mentioned the bill, not because she assumes he does not know about it or will forget to pay it, but because she wants to let him know that she would like to continue the conversation. (Žegarac & Clark 1999: 332)
Oh, there it is. It is also veritably "metacommunicative". That is, Pauline is mentioning the gas bill not because she wishes to communicate about the gas bill but because she wants to continue communicating. By doing so, she is communicating something about their relationship: that there still is willingness to communicate in that relationship. Otherwise she might as well not mention the gas bill and just let it fall silent (vakatada).
Contextual assumptions (2):
  1. Pauline and Arthur are having breakfast.
  2. Following a major row [domestic dispute], Pauline and Arthur haven't spoken for there days.
Given these assumptions the very fact that Pauline has spoken is so relevant that Arthur is unlikely to pay much attention to the linguistically-derived content of the utterance. He will probably derive implications such as: 'Pauline wishes to communicate with me', 'Pauline wishes to make up with me', 'Pauline still loves me', 'Pauline might go on a trip with me', etc. What all these assumptions have in common is that they are implicatures derivable from the act of ostension itself, i.e. from the fact that Pauline has spoken to Arthur. (Žegarac & Clark 1999: 332)
Score for autonomy. Phatic interpretation concerns the very (f)act of communication. (I very much like that "act" and "fact" can be meshed in this way, although it's not very attractive visually.)
The first intuition was that some interpretations depend on the fact that something has been said rather than on exactly what has been said. Our account handles this intuition in terms of a slightly different, and theoretical, distinction between the fact that something has been COMMUNICATED and the fact that something has been LINGUISTICALLY ENCODED. One consequence of this is that our account extends naturally to non-verbal communication. For example, we can distinguish a relatively phatic from a relatively non-phatic interpretation of a nod of the communicator's head. The relatively phatic interpretation is one where most of the implicatures depend on the fact that the nod conveyed a communicative intention. The less phatic interpretation is one where there are more implicatures which depend on the fact that the nod signifies agreement. (Žegarac & Clark 1999: 333)
This is definitely part of why I'm drawn to phatics myself, being naturally a student of nonverbal communication. But here I would like to draw attention to the sociopetal/-fugal dimension again. When we are dealing with a less phatic situation then nod signifies agreement and absence of nod signifies disagreement. But when we have a phatic situation (lets say a completely nonverbal communicative situation, such as passing an acquaintance on the street) then a nod signifies a communicative intention (you effectively communicate to the acquaintance that you are still willing to communicate) and the absence of nod signifies not a lack of communicative intention but a negative one (you effectively communicate to the acquaintance that you are not willing to communicate).
The third intuition was that phatic interpretations become more likely when the social relationship between the interlocutors is in doubt. This intuition has been partly accounted for by our discussion of (11) given the second set of contextual assumptions above (where Pauline and Arthur have had a row and not spoken for three days). Our account presupposed that these contextual assumptions made phatic interpretations more relevant (and non-phatic assumptions less relevant) than they would otherwise have been. (Žegarac & Clark 1999: 334)
This assumption is very reminiscent of John Laver's treatment of the functions of phatic communion. He argues that phatic communion is especially relevant for "the detailed management of interpersonal relationships during the psychologically crucial margins of interaction" (Laver 1975: 217), by which he means openings and closings. Here we have something similar, in that during the margins of the interaction the social relationship between the interlocutors is in doubt, and when Pauline and Arthur have not spoken for three days they are in fact in a psychologically crucial margin of their whole relationship (if they do not make up and continue to not speak with each other then soon there is no relationship to speak of).
Under what circumstances should the hearer go beyond linguistically-dervied meanings of the utterance? Relevance Theory predicts that this should happen only if linguistically-derived meanings manifestly fail to yield enough effects for the criterion of consistency with the Principle of Relevance to be satisfied. An utterance of (11) (Pauline's 'There's a red gas bill') in context 2 (following a major row, where the interlocutors have not spoken for three days) illustrates the extreme situation in which, regardless of any linguistically-encoded meanings, the fact that the speaker has spoken is far more relevant than what is actually said. (Žegarac & Clark 1999: 334)
This actually presents an opportunity to turn around the characteristic of referential irrelevance associated with phatic utterances. That is, instead of viewing phatic utterances as referentially irrelevant, phatic utterances should be viewed as utterances within a context where reference is irrelevant.
So what makes an utterance likely to give rise to phatic interpretations? The answer we suggest is that phatic interpretations are likely for utterances containing a linguistic forms which has the following properties: (a) it is easy to process; (b) it is mutually manifest to the interlocutors in what kind of context the linguistic meaning of the utterance would be highly relevant, and (c) it is mutually manifest that the speaker could not have intended the main relevance of the utterance to lie with its linguistic meaning on this particular occasion. (Žegarac & Clark 1999: 335)
(a) is familiar to me as Herbert Spencer's general principle economy (of least possible mental effort); (b) would explain why my personal illustrations of phatic communion on the dormitory balcony concern discussions of smoking; and (c) seems the properly phatic aspect: that the linguistic content is not really all that important, the fact of talking itself is.
It seems to us that on any given occasion this is possible to the extent that the interlocutor's mutual cognitive environment includes some assumptions about the way conversations are usually conducted: how are certain topics usually relevant? What is thesocial relationship between the communicators? What are the norms for appropriate linguistic behaviour? (Žegarac & Clark 1999: 336)
In example (2), it is mutually manifest to the interlocutors that the question 'How are you' is usually not used to show the speaker's genuine interest in the hearer's welfare, but rather as a vague indication of the speaker's favourable disposition towards the hearer. (Žegarac & Clark 1999: 337)
Disposition or attitude?
Our definition of phatic interpretations makes no reference to social relationships. [...] However, many implicatures which depend upon the recognition of an intention to communicate do concern social relationships. This is because the fact that someone has made manifest an intention to communicate with another person rules out certain social situations, most notably the possibility that the speaker despises the hearer so much that she refuses to interact with him at all. While our definition includes implicatures which are not about social relationships, it also reflects the fact that most phatic interpretations achieve relevance by suggesting something about the nature of the social relationship between the speaker and the hearer. (Žegarac & Clark 1999: 339-340)
Communication about relationship.
As pointed out above, every act of ostinsive communication communicates the presumption that it is worth paying attention to, and that paying attention to it does not put the hearer to a gratuitous expenditure of processing effort. (Žegarac & Clark 1999: 340)
Metacommunication. It is also in stark contrast with Virilio's definition of the phatic image, or at least it seems so (perhaps the "focusing" aspect operates contrary to my current knowledge).

Phatic Architecture

Robertson, Lisa 2003. Occasional Work and Sever Walks from the Office for Soft Architecture. Astoria: Clear Cut Press.

We bent to drink from it, and the fountain was dry. But then the category of fountains opened. Many would be invisible, phatic, fountains we passed daily but could not recall, dormant, removed, seasonal, lapsed, somewhat shy or retiring or spurting contrary to intention. Our fountains would possess pathos. They would be wallflowers (Robertson 2003: 57)
Here "phatic" basically means "useless" or "uncommunicative". Phatic architecture here constitutes the kind that was intended as significant but remains invisible, a failed message, so to say. Curiously, in using the metaphor of "wallflowers" it does point to something interesting: that people show up to social events just to be there, in a very phatic way, only to be in contact without actually communicating.

Eco, Umberto 1997. Function and Sign: Semiotics of Architecture. In: Leach, Neil (ed.), Rethinking Architecture: A reader in cultural theory. London; New York: Routledge, 173-193.

But architectural messages display also the five other communicative functions [aside from the aesthetic function] listed by Jakobson: architecture involves communication that is connative [sic] (or imperative, making one inhabit it in a certain way), emotive (think of the calm of a Greek temple, the turbulence of a baroque church), phatic (obviously in the many attention-getting devices of architecture - the phatic function might be found to be predominant, then, in such messages as obelisks, arches, and tympana - but also at the level of urban fabric, where 'channels' are opened and established for architectural messages, as in a piazza's ensuring continued attention to the facades of the buildings that surround it), metalingual (where, for one example, to relieve any confusion about the code for interpreting the message architecture assumes a self-explaining, or 'glossing', function - think of the benches built into certain otherwise inhospitable American plazas), and of course referential (what we will be concerned with here for the most part - that is, the denotations and connotations of architectural objects). (Eco 1997: 191; note 3)
This is the already familiar exposition of Eco's architectural semiotics as it applies Jakobson's linguistic scheme. Phatic is here understood in the sense of "attention-getting", which Jakobson derived from Mowrer. This is most likely also the source for the idea of phatic image.

Chandler, Daniel 2002. Semiotics: The Basics. Second Edition. London; New York: Routledge.

A textual code can be defined as a set of ways of reading which its producers and readers share. Not everyone has access to the relevant codes for reading (or writing) a text. The phatic function excludes as well as includes certain readers. Those who share the code are members of the same 'interpretive community' (Fish 1980: 167ff., 335-336; 338). Familiarity with particular codes is related to social position, in terms of such factors as class, ethnicity, nationality, education, occupation, political affiliation, age, gender and sexuality. (Chandler 2002: 194)
It is curious that here the phatic function regulates access by way of code. In a sense it is classical "interaction management" applied on textual matters. But the suggestion itself is noteworthy, for it affirms the "common core" aspect of "communization". I.e. that social contact and "interpreter families" (to use Morris's term) are related.

Krampen, Martin 1991. Environmental Meaning. In: Zube, Erwin H. and Gary T. Moore (eds.), Advances in Environment, Behavior, and Design. Vol 3. New York: Plenum Press, 231-268.

Jakobson called his six functions of linguistic messages the emotive, referential, conative, aesthetic, phatic, and metalinguistic. Preziosi (1979a, 1979b) adapted these six functions to architecture. He called Jakobson's emotive the expressive, his referential equally the referential, his conative the exhortative, his aesthetic equally the aesthetic, his phatic the territorial, and his metalinguistic the allusory function of architecture. (Krampen 1991: 244)
This interpretation is close to the theme of access control (or interaction management), but is condensed into one word, territoriality.

Nöth, Winfred 1995. Architecture. In: Handbook of semiotics. Bloomington; Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 435-439.

The phatic function is the environmental framing of interpersonal interactions, the aspect of architectural "territoriality". (Nöth 1995: 436)
Nöth's conclusion on the same papers by Preziosi further clarify the point. The phatic function of architecture is involved with how architectural design influences the social interaction within that built environment. In that sense the newfangled notions of sociopetal and, conversely, sociofugal phatic dispositions actually make a whole lot of sense, at least when applied on a spatial medium.

Burke, Kenneth 1975. Words as Deeds. Centrum: Working Papers of the Minnesota Center for Advanced Studies in Language, Style, and Literary Theory 3(2): 147-168.

Malinowski then turns to a different anecdote that brings out a different aspect of language - and his name for this is "phatic communion," not to be confused with what Austin calls a "phatic act." Here "we turn our attention to free narrative or to the use of language in pure social intercourse; when the object of talk is not to achieve some aim, but the exchange of words almost as an end in itself." Verbalizing as so denominated involves "a type of speech in which ties of union are created by a mere exchange of words. [...] The whole situation consists in what happens linguistically. Each utterance is an act serving the direct aim of binding hearer to speaker by a tie of some social sentiment or other."
These two anecdotes struck me as almost classic in the simplicity and suggestiveness of their relevance to thes ubject. And it made good sense to me that the strategic instrument in so major an activity as the gathering of food (a co-operative function that can equally well serve to the ends of competition) should be, we might say, enjoyed for its own sake; for the typically symbol-using animal might be expected to exercise its prowess as the typically symbol-using animal, as fish take to swimming and birds to flying. (Burke 1975: 150-151)
This merely affirms the "speech for sake of speech" that is Malinowski's phatic communion, but the colourful metaphor of the symbol-using animal is worth recording for its own sake.
In abandoning his two-term start, Austin (p. 95) works with "three rough distinctions between the phonetic act, the phatic act, and rhetic act," which relate thus:
The phonetic act is merely the act of uttering certain noises. The phatic act is the uttering of certain vocables or words, i.e. noises of certain types, belonging to and as belonging to, a certain vocabulary, conforming to and as conforming to a certain grammar. The rhetic act is the performance of an act of using those vocables with a certain more-or-less definite sense and reference.
Two pages later: The same "pheme, e.g. sentence" (that is, the same "phatic act") "may be used on different occasions of utterance with a different sense of reference, and so be a different rheme" (that is, a different "rhetic" act). (I've wondered if there should be a term such as "phatic praxis" (and joked that it could be telescoped as "phraxis"), but was not aware that Austin already had "phatic act".: 155)
I've wondered if there should be a term such as "phatic praxis" (and joked that it could be telescoped as "phraxis"), but was not aware that Austin already had "phatic act". This is indeed not to be confused with phatic communion. It seems that Austin went to the Weston La Barre school of "phatic communication" (i.e. he understood "phatic" in the sense that Trager understood "paralanguage").

Karimzadeh, Abdollah; Alireza Khosravi and Hamid R. Rabie Dastgerdi 2013. City and citizen as a text and its author: A Semiotic Reading. Planum. The Journal of Urbanism 27(2).

Phatic Signs of Identity. Jakobson describes phatic signs as those that are oriented toward contact. In language this includes phrases which facilitate communication. For example, "It's a nice weather!" is not a statement, but an invitation to a conversation. Other examples include questions like "You know what I mean?" which function as tests of the connection between the addresser and addressee. Applied to visual signs of urban landscape, phatic signs can be those that serve as an inducement to social interaction. They are the indicators that this neighbourhood or urban space belong to us that our socio-cultural practices are acceptable here. The following examples show the semiotic example of urban landscapes which serve as phatic signs of identity: (Karimzadeh, Khosravi & Dastgerdi 2013: 2)
Although aberrant in details (Jakobson never used the term "phatic signs") this is generally pretty good. Only quibble here is that it's one-sided: the phatic function concerns both inducing as well as preventing social interaction. Here only the sociopetal aspect is obverved, while the sociofugal is neglected. The phatic signs of identity themselves have a weak basis, as they include muslim shops and arabic labels in communal environment. That's more of a code issue, although definitely with a "territoriality" aspect to it.

Preziosi, Donald 1979. Architecture, Language, and Meaning: The Origins of the Built World and its. The Hague: Mouton Publishers.

Any architectonic formation incorporates sets of 'instructions' for proper reading, and directly addresses its users. The means for doing this are widely various, and may also be achieved cross-modally, by means of written signs and graphic devices ('exit', 'don't go down the up staircase', etc.).
By virtue of the fact that an architectonic formation necessarily channels behavior in a variety of ways, the phatic or 'territorial' function of an environmental artifact is often coexistent with its conative or directive function. Buildings induce information regarding the collectivity of a social group, its group identity, and they prescribe, augment, and perceptually enhance that collectivity. But the phatic/territorial and conative functions are not coterminous, and, in part, the distinction between them lies in the vector of emphasis. (Preziosi 1979: 53)
This actually makes sense, both in light of the previously met "phatic signs of identity" as well as not having a firm boundary (coterminous) between phatic and conative. Not only do arabic street labels and businesses announce that this is a muslim neighbourhood to fellow muslims, but at the same time they implicitly say to non-muslims: keep away.

Re-constructing digital democracy

Dahlberg, Lincoln 2011. Re-constructing digital democracy: An outline of four 'positions'. New Media Society 13(6): 855-872.

For well over a decade there has been widespread enthusiasm about the possibility of digital media technolog advancing and enhancing democratic communication. This ethusiasm comes from a surprisingly diverse array of political interests, ranging from government officials to anti-government libertarians. As a result there are very different understandings of the form of democracy that digital media may promote, with associated differences in digital democracy rhetoric and practice. Despite this diversity, digital democracy (or e-democracy) is often talked about as though there was a general consensus about what it is. (Dahlberg 2011: 855)
Compare "advancing" and "enhancing" with various phatic operations like "developing" and "maintaining".
The internet is focused here because it is increasingly becoming the basis for networking all digital communication media and is the central technology in digital democracy rhetoric and practice. (Dahlberg 2011: 856)
Same as with phatic technologies.
It is important to clarify what I mean here by a 'position'. By position I am grouping within a general category a set of phenomena (rhetoric, practices, identities, and institutions) that can be identified as by sharing similar charactecistics. As so described, positions seem to resemble Weberian ideal types. Like ideal types, the positions here are the result of abastraction and generalization. The particular positions of individuals or groups will only ever approximate such generalized positions, which are reconstructed from the complexity of everyday situated experience. However, the positions here are not pure analytical concepts, as is understood to be the case with Weberian ideal types. Rather, the positions provide a general categorization of existing empirical instances. Furthermore, in contrast to Weber, my aim is not to provide a value-free scientific description of social 'reality'. The process of the very determination of description of the positions is necessarily context dependent and value laden, even if such values cannot be clearly or consciously expressed. (Dahlberg 2011: 856)
This is where Clay's "unitive likeness" could be useful.
I have chosen the term affordances as it broadly captures how all the positions tend to understand the human-technology relationship. In general terms, the relationship is one where the technology is seen to have certain features that enable (afford) particular democratic uses and outcomes. (Dahlberg 2011: 857)
Another confluence with phatic technologies discourse.
Liberal-individualistic digital democracy understands digital media as offering a means for the effective transmission of information and viewpoints between individuals and representative decision-making processes (for exampl, Gore 1994, in relation to early internet, and Chadwick 2009, in relation to digital social networking developments). Digital media are understood here as enabling individuals to gain the information they need to examine competing political positions and problems, and as providing them with the means for the registration, and subsequent aggregation (as 'public opinion'), of their choices (through e-voting, web feedback systems, petitions, e-mail, online polls, etc.). (Dahlberg 2011: 858)
Seems logical enough, and pretty close to the Estonian model. References:
  • Gore, A. 1994. The global information infrastructure: Forging a new Athenian age of democracy. Intermedia 22(2): 4-7.
  • Chadwick, A 2009. Web 2.0: New challenges for the study of e-democracy in an era of informational exuberances. I/S: A Journal of Law and Policy for the Information Society 5(1): 10-42.
The [Liberal-individualistic digital democracy] position embraces digital media for enabling and enhancing direct individual-representative communication. It looks to bypass state, corporate, political party, and lobby group interference in this individual-representative relationship. However, it does not go so far as cyber-libertarianism, which celebrates an online democracy free of representative government (see Dahlberg 2010). As such, the liberal-individualist position promotes the realignment of current democratic systems, drawing upon liberal democratic ideals to advance digital media's facilitation of bottom-up, individual participation in democracy. Because such ideals tend to be hegemonic in many places, the liberal-individualist position is often embraced without regard for other digital democracy possibilities, some of which I will now explore. (Dahlberg 2011: 859)
The assumption is that current democratic systems can be realigned through direct individual-representative relationship, which may not always be the case. Especially when there's a group of interns representing the representative in digital media; the representative herself will stay unaffected no matter how many e-mails you send.
The possibility of digital media in general, and the internet in particular, supporting the extension of a deliberative democratic public sphere of rational communication and public opinion formation that can hold decision makers accountable has been of significant interest in digital democracy commentary and practice for some time. [...] The democratic subject here [in the Deliberative digital democracy position] is seen as developing from out of rational deliberation, rather than being pre-defined as in the liberal-individualist position. Such deliberation is understood to constitute a rational public sphere in which private individuals are transformed into publicly oriented democratic subjects interested in the 'common good'. The result is critically informed public opinion that can scrutinize and guide official decision making processes. (Dahlberg 2011: 859-860)
I.e. you don't participate in democracy, democracy participates in you.
Digital media in general, and the internet in particular, are seen as enabling this democratic conception. The two-way, low-cost, user friendly, pliable, and readily moderated form of much digital communication is understood as affording information sharing, rational debate, and public opinion formation (Graham 2009; Janssen and Kies 2005). As a result, there is a growing body of research into the possibility of digital media in general, and the internet in particular, realizing deliberative democracy. (Dahlberg 2011: 860)
  • Graham, T. 2009. What's wife swap got to do with it? Talking politics in the net-based public sphere. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam School of Communications.
  • Jannsen, D. and R. Kies 2005. Online forums and deliberative democracy. Acta Politica 40(3): 384-392.
What I refer to as the counter-publics position emphasizes the role of digital media in political group formation, activism, and contestation, rather than rational individual action or rational consensus-oriented deliberation. The democratic subject here is constituted through engagement in such group formation, activism, and contestation. This is a more affective subject than in the previous positions, moved to act by a perception of systemic exclusion and injustice. The subject is also one that identifies and bonds in solidarity with others, and as such the subject here goes beyond the individual to include groups (or publics). (Dahlberg 2011: 860-861)
A-Raamatukogu and PunaMust.
Democracy here [in the Counter-publics digital democracy position] is based on two major assumptions: first, any social formation necessarily involves inclusion/exclusion relations and associated discursive contestation, where discourse is understood as a contingent and partial fixation of meaning that constitutes and organizes social relations (including identities, objects, and practices); and second, that this antagonistic situation is the basis for the formation of vibrant 'counter-publics': critical-reflexive spaces of communicative interaction (a first meaning of 'publics' here) where alternative identities and counter-discourses are developed and subsequently can come to 'publicly' (second meaning) contest dominant discourses that frame hegemonic practices and meaning, including the boundaries of what is considered legitimate public sphere communication. (Dahlberg 2011: 861)
Most important for me currently is the relationship between discourse and public spaces with social relations and formations.
Two forms of direct online activism are of particular interest to counter-publics digital democrats: electronic civil disobedience, including 'electronic-sit-ins' that slow down or block targeted websites; and digital culture jams, including 'viral' dissemination of reworked-decontextualized signs, website' tagging', and parody sites such as those produced by The Yes Men (Cammaerts 2007; Kahn and Kellner 2005, 2007; Palczewski 2001). (Dahlberg 2011: 862)
What are memes? References:
  • Cammaerts, B. 2007. Jamming the political: Beyond counter-hegemonic practices. Continuum: Journal of Media and Culture Studies 21(1): 71-90.
  • Kahn, R. and D. Kellner 2005. Oppositional politics and the internet: A critical/reconstructive approach. Cultural Politics: An International Journal 1(1): 75-100.
  • Kahn, R. and D. Kellner 2007. Globarization, technopolitics and radical democracy. In: Dahlberg, L. and E. Siapera (eds.), The Internet and Radical Democracy: Interrogating Theory and Practice. London: Palgrave, 17-36.
  • Palczewski, C. H. 2001. Cyber-movements, new social movements, and counter-publics. In: Brouwer, D. and R. Asen (eds.), Counterpublics and the State. New York: SUNY Press, 9-27.
The fourth, autonomist Marxist, position sees digital communication networks as enabling a radically democratic politics in the sense of self-organized and inclusive participation in common productive activities that bypass centralized state and capitalist systems, which are understood to be necessarily anti-democratic. Digital networking is thus positioned as the basis for producing an independent, fully democratic 'commons'.
Democracy here is understood as self-organization autonomous from systems of centralized power. Democratic decision making is seen to take place organically (and rhizomatically) through the collaborative, decentralized productivity of peer-to-peer networking. This conception suggests a political revulotion. It goes beyond the extension of reform of liberal democracy that all three previous positions in some sense support, envisioning instead the formation of an entirely new democratic society - a 'commons' - based socio-economic arrangement as the foundation for democratic community. (Dahlberg 2011: 863)
Perhaps unsurprisingly, due to a common Marxist disposition, this is closest to Julia Elyachar's "phatic labor".
As well as limits resulting from the naturalization of taken-for-granted conceptions of politics, the positions point to explicit political and economic constraints on digital democracy. As indicated in the body of this article, they all note certain limits on digital democracy due to state and capitalist surveillance and control over digital media technology, as well as due to structural inequalities that lead to digital participation inequalities. However, the positions also interpret differently, and emphasize diffeent aspects of, these systemic constraints. In turn, they provide significantly different proposals for how to overcome these limits. Proposals range from the protection of the 'communication rights' of individuals (liberal-individualist), to the resourcing and development of formal and informal online deliberative spaces (deliberative), to the encouragement of direct contestation of state and capitalist domination (counter-publics), to the promotion of networking forms that radically bypass state and capitalist systems (autonomist). (Dahlberg 2011: 866-867)
How do these issues relate to phatic communion and phatic technologies?

Communication and self

Harris, Roy 1996. Signs, Language and Communication: Integrational and segregational approaches. London; New York: Routledge.

Modern theories of communication have been dominated by concepts derived from the assumption that the 'standard' communication situation involves at least two individuals, who may alternate in playing the roles of 'sender' and 'receiver'. The classic problem of psychocentric surrogationalism, identified by Locke (Chapter 9), arises from the fact that A cannot know what is going on in B's mind, nor B what is going on in A's, other than through signs of some kind. It is a problem generated essentially by this asymmetry of knowledge and by the associated difficulty of translating into the external, public domain (i.e. by way of signs) an experience (thought, emotion, etc.) of an essentially internal, private nature. Hence, supposedly, the need for a public system of signs equally accessible to both A and B. (Harris 1996: 167)
Other communication models that accommodate autocommunication (like that of Juri Lotman) on the other hand introduce the assumption of asymmetry of knowledge because without it there would be little to communicate. If my knowledge is exactly the same as the receiver's, then what need is there for communication? There is already a pre-given communion. Thus Lotman (as well as Roman Jakobson) introduce the temporal dimension, so that between me the sender and I the receiver there is a temporal distance that allows for asymmetry. On the other hand, the autocommunication model does not assume that a public system of system of signs is necessary. Charles Morris, for example, assumes that private signs are superstructures on public signs and consequently introduces the concept of post-language symbols. I don't see why a person can't autocommunicate with signs that don't have a public origin. Albert Einstein reportedly conducted his thought-experiments with private visual signs that couldn't easily be translated into public linguistic signs.
Little if any of this applies to cases where communication involves only a single individual. For this very reason, self-communication is often regarded as a marginal or degenerate offshoot of interpersonal communication. But when communication processes are considered from an integrational perspective, there is a strong case for saying that this is yet another reversal of the lessons of experience. Far from taking priority over self-communication, interpersonal communication commonly depends on self-communication. (Harris 1996: 167)
We think alike. I've made the case several times that autocommunication precedes, accompanies and succeeds intercommunication. That is, whatever I have to say to another has a good chance of being thought about beforehand, when I'm talking to another I'm also listening to what I'm saying, and when I'm done communicating with another it's very likely that I'll replay the conversation in my mind in some measure, perhaps rehearsing what I'd say to the person next time we'll communicate.
Speech provides the most obvious illustration of this thesis. [...] The speaker is the first listener. And the importance of this aural feedback mechanism is amply demonstrated by the extreme difficulties in learning to talk encountered by those who are born profoundly deaf. What has to happen in such cases, in effect, is that other activities must be integrated into the process of self-communication to take the place of the missing aural activity. But where there is no such impairment, we learn to speak to others by a process which involves speaking also to orselves. And this speaking to ourselves is not a mere bonus, accident or redundancy, but an essential component in the larger enterprise. (Harris 1996: 167)
This has been evidenced by child language acquisition studies which demonstrate that even two-year-olds talk to themselves in their sleep and play with language in what Roman Jakobson calls metalinguistic operations, i.e. saying to yourself what one or another word means or might mean. Language, as a system of signs, can be thought of as a network, and by engaging in metalinguistic autocommunication we in fact gradually enlarge that network, integrate or incorporate new signs for future use.
Nor is the role of self-communication in speech limited to our monitoring the actual sounds we produce. It is often not until we hear ourselves say something that we realize that it is not quite what we wanted to say, that it 'sounds wrong', that it is irrelevant, impolite, potentially misleading, etc. Speech without the possibility of self-correction would be a quite different enterprise from that which we are familiar. For the speaker, self-correction presupposes self-communication. Otherwise there would be nothing to correct. (Harris 1996: 168)
This is also why writing is a very good method of self-communication. Not only can you re-read what you've written and evaluate it objectively, taking your time, and re-reading it several times over, you have the chance to self-correct by way of example, by rewriting your thoughts on the example of your previous writings. Instead of creating the sentence from scratch again you can incorporate what you judge to be good enough.
But speech is only one example of a whole category of cases where processes of self-communication are themselves integrated into processes of interpersonal communicaiton. We make no progress in learning to paint or to draw unless we are able and prepared to carry out that visual monitoring which alone allows us to recognize for ourselves what is not 'right' about this colour or that shading, or the relationship one between contour and another. Asking other people's opinions, getting our drawing teacher's assistance, etc., may help, but is not a substitute for visual self-correction. Again, self-correction implies self-communication. It is when self-communication intervenes that what may have begun as a doodle becomes a drawing. (Harris 1996: 168)
And again this seems to have been inspired by Charles Morris, who discusses self-communication (his term), among other things, in the artist's method of self-stimulation, continually responding to what s/he has already put on canvas.
In 1926 Piaget identified the phenomenon of (what he called) 'ego-centric speech'. This was based on his analysis of the classroom behaviour of six-year-old children. Ego-centric speech is described by Piaget as speech in which the child
does not bother to know to whom he is speaking nor whether he is being listened to. He talks either for himself or for the pleasure of associating anyone who happens to be there with the activity of the moment. This talk is ego-centric, partly because the child speaks only about himeslf, but chiefly because he does not attempt to place himself at the point of view of his hearer. (Piaget 1959: 9)
Piaget's three categories of ego-centric speech are (i) repetition, (ii) monologue and (iii) 'dual or collective' monologue. In the first of these, the child repeats words and syllables
for the pleasure of talking, with no thought of talking to anyone, nor even at times of saying words that will make sense. This is a remnant of baby prattle, obviously devoid of any social character. (Piaget 1959: 9)
In the case of monologue, says Piaget, 'the child talks to himsef as though he were thinking aloud', and does not address anyone else. The somewhat more controversial case of 'dual or collective' monologue is explained as one in which
an outsider is always associated with the action or thought of the moment, but is expected neither to attend nor to understand. The point of view of the other person is never taken into account; his presence serves only as a stimulus. (Piaget 1959: 9)
Piaget compares this to a similar phenomenon among adults - 'a certain type of drawing-room conversation where everyone talks about himself and no one listens'. (Harris 1996: 168-169)
The third type, the 'dual or collective' monologue, is most reminiscent of Malinowski's phatic communion, in which the speaker talks about his or her own personal "views and life history, to which the hearer listens under some restraint and with slightly veiled impatience, waiting till his own turn arrives to speak" (Malinowski 1946[1923]: 314-315).
From an integrational point of view, there are two main objections to Piaget's classification. In the first place, despite the term 'ego-centric', what Piaget's three categories actually have in common is that they - apparently - serve no social purpose. In other words, ego-centric speech is defined negatively with respect to what Piaget calls 'socialized speech', and the latter is tacitly accepted as the norm. This immediately leads to an explanatory programme in which the features of 'ego-centric' communication are to be explained as defects or failures by comparison with the corresponding features of interpersonal communication. (Harris 1996: 169)
Here it could be argued that phatic communion does serve a social purpose, but that social purpose is self-referential or circular: phatic communion involves speaking for the sake of speaking. By doing so the speakers avoid silence, which in many cultures is considered threatening or at least alienating, and bond over the mere fact of speaking. The point of phatic communion is that people often bond due to speaking even when what they speak about is completely irrelevant, or, at least irrelevant for the other person.
The second objection is that because Piaget does not distinguish between the various ways in which his children's speech is integrated into the continuum of classroom activities, and in particular because he ignores the difference between what the integrationist would call communicational initiatives and communicational sequels, he ends up placing genuine examples of self-communication in the same category as examples of a very different kind.
For instance, he gives the following examples of ego-centric repetition (or 'echolalia'): (i) while a teacher is teaching one child the word celluloid, another child, engaged in drawing at another table, says 'luloud ... le le loid', (ii) while a group of children are looking at an aquarium, someone says the word triton, which is then repeated twice by a child who was paying no attention to the contents of the aquarium, (iii) a cuckoo clock strikes, and a child repeats after it 'coucou ... coucou', (iv) one child tells another that his pants are showing, and a third child in another part of the room immediately says, 'Look, my pants are showing and my shirt, too' (although in fact they are not), (v) one child hears another say the words 'a funny gentleman' and repeats them, although they have no relevance to what he is busy doing at the time, which is drawing a tramcar, and (vi) one child says 'I want to ride on the train up there' and this sentence is then repeated by another child.
There seem to be various possible motivations for some of these utterances other than merely mechanical 'echolalia'. But what the integrationist would point out is that there is a common integrational factor underlying them all. In each case the child produced a vocal sequel to a preceding auditory sign. Neither from the fact that the preceding sign was addressed to someone else (or, in the case of the clock, to no one in particular), nor from the fact that the child's attention was apparently focussed elsewhere at the time, does it follow that the child's sequel was self-addressed. On the contrary, all these cases could be interpreted as examples of a phenomenon related to what Malinowski called 'phatic communion'. That is to say, selective repetition of what is going on elsewhere in the classroom could be an elementary mechanism of participation. And participation is no more nor less than integration into the activities of others. (Harris 1996: 170)
This "integrationist" perspective sounds interesting. What I glean from this section is that it involves the integration of an individuals activities within the continuum of the activities engaged by others in the social situation. The echolalia aspect is also prevalent in adult dialogue when one interrupts another by taking up and repeating the last phrase the other just uttered.
The form of self-communication which has been most widely recognized and discussed in the Western tradition is one to which, paradoxically, the term communication is rarely applied. This is the self-communication we engage in when thinking. But, when recognized as communication, this is often construed as being simply a private counterpart of public (i.e. interpersonal) communication. (Harris 1996: 171)
I recall vividly how, when discussing Peirce's form of self-communication which concerns giving signs to oneself, a distinguished Italian colleague asked if I meant mental signs, i.e. thoughts, and answered yes, he scoffed and dismissed it as a worthless perspective.
Plato initiated this line of interpretation of thinking by referring to soul 'talking to itself'. It survives into the twentieth century in the behaviourist's dismissal of thought as a kind of speech with the sound turned off. Feats of mental arithmetic are seen as pencil-and-paper calculations, but without the pencil and paper. And although it is generally allowed that a composer may compose a tune 'in his head', this is often regarded as a kind of substitute for having a musical instrument to hand on which to compose it audibly. (It is agreed that Beethoven's deafness did not impar his ability to compose; but this is assumed to be because of his previous hearing experience. A Beethoven deaf from birth would be quite another phenomenon.) (Harris 1996: 171)
Similira problem prevails in relation with autocommunication, as in the case of the so-called "fantasy communication" wherein a person entertains a dialogue with another person who is not actually present. I would argue that the issue is much deeper than that. When I'm conversing with my "head-mates", it's not because I'm substituting an imaginary person for the real thing. Rather, it is because I've acquainted myself with the ideas of another thinker so thoroughly that these act as their own agents, so that I can contrast my own ideas to someone else's in a very intimate manner.
One curious result of this is that self-communication even becomes to be viewed as the ideal form of communication. B. F. Skinner in Verbal Behavior wrote:
When a man talks to himself, aloud or silently, he is an excellent listener [...] He speaks the same language or languages and has had the same verbal and nonverbal experience as his listener. He is subject to the same deprivations and aversive stimulations, and these vary from day to day or from moment to moment in the same way. As listener he is ready for his own behavior as speaker at just the right time and is optimally prepared to "understand" what he has said. Very little time is lost in transmission and the behavior may acquire subtle dimensions. It is not surprising, then, that verbal self-stimulation has been regarded as possessing special properties and has even been identified with thinking. (Skinner 1957; Chapter 19)
It is perhaps difficult to believe nowadays that this was written in support of - and not as a reductio ad absurdum of - the thesis that it apparently advances. Skinner's theory of self-communication is rather like the grounds and generally we make the best bet, and see things more or less correctly. But the senses do not give us a picture of the world directly; rather they provide evidence for the checking of hypotheses about what lies before us. (Gregory 1977: 13)
The metaphor of 'evidence' here confirms that of 'interpretation'. The senses are 'witnesses', but not necessarily reliable ones. In short, this is the familiar Baconian semiology in updated guise, allegedly supported by the latest research from the experimental psychologist's laboratory. (Harris 1996: 173-174)
Argument for consideration.
It is not the quality of the research that the integrationist has any doubts about, but the quality of the semiology. In other words, it may well be true that my brain does many complicated neurological things in order to allow me to have even the most trivial visual experience, like seeing a boiled egg on the breakfast table in front of me. But it is a plain category mistake to suppose that what the brain does for me in this case involves or consists in the interpretation of signs. What I see on the breakfast table is not the sign of an egg; it is an egg, or rather, the visible part of it. At least, I hope it is. It could be of course that I have forgotten it is April 1st and I am staying with a relative who has children of school age, given to upholding honourable traditions. So when I try to tackle the object with my eggspoon it does turn out to be not an egg after all, but a kind of 'egg substitute', i.e. a ceramic or plastic imitation. But neither this nor the possibility of any other visual deception makes it plausible to regard my seeing it there on the table as a matter of interpreting signs. (Harris 1996: 174)
This is Austin's cheese on the table all over again. Harris, like Austin, does not seem to comprehend that an understanding of what an egg or a piece of cheese or any other food item is not "Natural", as the author put it previously, but based on knowledge gained from experience or discourse. In the case of egg it may very well suffice with experience, but with some types of cheeses it may depend upon prior discursive knowledge to identify a white, yellow, gray or green substance as belonging to the type "cheese". Likewise, the identification of an egg as an egg, as opposed to imitations that are used for some tradition, the operation is semiosic - you consider what day it is, and depending on the certainty of sign you interpret the object in front of you as being or not being an actual edible egg. The "integrationist" should in my view rather welcome the idea that everyday objects are integrated into the temporal sequence of events.
Theorists reluctant to concede this make a great song and dance about the difference between 'vision' and 'perception'. There are some who would insist not only that any perceptual judgment involves the application of a concept or concepts, but that it also presupposes a theory (about the external world or some aspect of it). Thus we find arguments like the following.
  1. Any perceptual judgment involves the application of concepts for example, a is F).
  2. Any concept is a node in a network of contrasted concepts, ad its meaning is fixed by its peculiar place within that network.
  3. Any network of concepts is a speculative assumption or theory: minimally as to the classes into which nature divides herself, and the major relations that hold between them.
  4. Any perceptual judgment presupposes a theory.
Proposition 2 in the above is undiluted Saussure, masquerading as cognitive psychology. Proposition 3 is well-cured Bacon, and the butcher's job done without human intervention ('nature divides herself'). (Harris 1996: 174-175)
I quite like Harris's style. He is, for the most part, very clear, and in this case up front about his interpretation and criticism. I like this because it is much easier to proceed from this than from very slick writings that obfuscate the major points with pretty language. I would reply to both of these criticisms on the basis of what I've learned from E. R. Clay, a markedly non- (or rather pre-)Saussurean. Let's proceed with the egg example. (1) In order to judge the object on the table to be an egg, I need to have a conceptual remembrance of the general idea of an egg. So far so clear. (2) Judging the object on the table thus obtains little more conscious knowledge than the name, egg. But here's the tricky part: Clay holds that at the same time the judgment begets unconscious knowledge of the relations the object possibly be in, i.e. that it's probably something edible, but it may not be (it may be an imitation), that one comes from a chicken farm and the other from a plastic factory, what day it might be for it to more likely be an imitation, etc. That is, instead of a static (or even dynamic) network or system of concepts Clay introduces us to a version of Peircean sign-process where signs are not so much fixed beforehand with meanings but constantly evolving towards more certainty. And this is where it really gets interesting: (4) Clay also allows for a speculative assumption or theory but calls it "thesic affection", i.e. "a kind of mental affection of which tendency-to-become-knowledge is the differentia". When I look at the object on the table I have a thesic affection to know what it is. If I also have the "cognitive complement", i.e. "the knowledge needful to convert a thesic affection into a knoweldge". Had I previous experience with eggs and egg imitations, the process is quick and painless, perhaps only the name of the object appearing to consciousness. But were I a child with no such experience, studying the object - perhaps tackling it with an eggspoon as I've seen parents do with similar objects - the experience would supply the relevant cognitive complement. Therefore, according to this interpretation of Clay, (4) Perceptual judgment not only presupposes knowledge, but oftentimes leads to a thesis, i.e. a knowledge of an objective thing that is verbally expressible by a proposition (i.e. "This is an egg"). To drive the point home, consider this illustration by Clay: "Imagine yourself seeing at a distance a person who so affects your faculty of identification as to beget in you a faint opinion that he is your father, imagine that the opinion alternates for a time with the opposite opinion until, getting near to the object, you become certain that it is your father." (Clay 1882: 32). To go over the steps once more: (1) you see an object on the table that "so affects your faculty of identification as to beget in you a faint opinion" that the object is an egg; (2) this opinion alternates - you consider, whether consciously or unconsciously, between the possibilities - that whether it is an actual egg or an imitation egg, possibly taking the date into consideration; (3) and finally you become certain that it is indeed an egg. Peirceans will no doubt sense the progress from Firstness (here "faint opinion) to Secondness (here "alternating opinions" related to something other, such as the date) to Thirdness (here, "certainty" in the form of a thesis).
It is not worth arguing with 'cognitive' theorists of this persuasion, since all they would achieve if their persiasions were succeful is a pointless devaluation of terms like concept and theory. Fortunately, we do not need either psychologists or philosophers to tell us when we are dealing with signs and when we are not. Our senses do not have to have signs to interpret: they can get on perfectly well without them. (Harris 1996: 175)
But it does help to turn to psychologists and philosophers for authority. We don't have to devalue concept and theory if there are suitable alternatives out there. I agree that our senses do not have to have signs to interpret, but consciousness does, and it's difficult to imagine consciousness without the senses.
What confuses many people (and gives the Baconian semiologist the opportunity to put an oar in) is that we do often fasten upon some obvious or characteristic feature(s) of a complex object or event in order to identify it. (Harris 1996: 175)
E.g. Jakobson's "distinctive feature", but also Clay's "unitiveness".
This happens frequently in circumstances where a more careful investigation is either out of the question or considered unnecessary. But the fact that, for instance, I recognize a certain familiar smell and take it as a sign that someone is making coffee in the kitchen - and that this more often than not turns out to be correct - does not somehow provide proof of the philosophical thesis that coffee itself is an unknown substance of which all the perceived properties are merely 'signs' conveyed by our senses to our brain. For there is a huge gap between the inference which links the presence of the smell to the presence of the coffee and the doctrine that whatever we know about the external world is a sum total of sensory impressions, about which our cerebral cortex constructs a 'theory'. Nor does the fact that I would doubtless fail to recognize the object on the breakfast table as an egg unless I saw its shape, size, colour, etc. support the metaphysical contention that this combination of visual clues is a complex message in a code which, fortunately, my brain is equipped by Nature to decipher (having somehow previously acquired the right 'concepts'). (Harris 1996: 175-176)
The gap is artificial. It's like saying that there's a gap between me smoking a cigarette and the tobacco industry. It seems like Harris is obfuscating the relation between part and whole. Redintegration (smelling coffee and inferring that there is coffee nearby) is not unrelated to consciousness; it is just one part of the latter's operations. The part about "a complex message in a code" introduces needlessly structural concepts into an area where they have no place. That's just kohatu.
There are indeed cases where my sensations become signs. Groping my way through a familiar room in the dark (because the lights have fused), what my fingers feel and my feet encounter become signs of chairs, tables, walls, doors, etc. There is no semiological mystery here. These sensations become signs because - and insofar as - they integrate past memories with a current programme of action - i.e. crossing the room in the dark. What Bacon and his intellectual heirs seem to suppose is that all sense perception is a matter of groping one's way in the dark through a physical universe otherwise unknown and unknowable. (Harris 1996: 176)
Yes, exactly. That is an awesome metaphor. The thing is, this conflict can be surpassed by introducing a gradient, a gradual development from light to dark. It's not just black or white - clearly visible and groping in the dark - integrating past memories with current programmes of action occurs every step of the way, it is merely more noticeable, more foregrounded, in groping through the dark. I don't have to consider the relations between furtniture in the light consciously as much because it's easy, but I do consider them, unconsciously. In the dark this process still occurs but because there is more resistance, more unfamiliarity, more strangeness and unpredictability, I have to make more of a conscious effort to achieve the same result. In my small and open-spaced room I don't even have to grope around that much in the dark because it's easy to navigate; but in a completely new setting I'm groping and stumbling about in the daylight. It's not that the universe is absolutely unknown and unknowable outside of my comfort zone; it's that there are degrees of distinctness and indistinctness to everything.
But is not the misting of the glass a natural phenomenon? Yes. But so is the expansion of mercury in the thermometer. the question is not whether these effects arise from natural causes, but how they are integrated into a circumstantially relevant generation of signs. When I dip my toe in the water I simply feel something which is wet and hot, or cold, or lukewarm, etc.; but these sensations and my judgments as to the wetness, heat, etc. require no intermediating sign. Nor do they have any semiological function at all until I treat them as signs for purposes of some further activity.
Is there any intermediating sign involved when I hear the sound of my own voice? In the auditory sensation, no. But having an auditory sensation is not monitoring. The whole difference is that monitoring implies circumstantially relevant criteria of judgment. So it is with the temperature of the water. That my toe feels something hot, cold, etc. is not a sign. But if I judge from the sensation that the temperature of the water is right or not right, that it is an indication of the temperature of the larger body of water of which my toe made contact with only a small part etc., then I take that sensation as a sign. 'Right' means in relation to some activity projected as part of a potentially integrated sequel. In checking the temperature with my toe, I construct an assimilative sequel, which may, in the right circumstances, be integrated with an enactive sequel (e.g. taking a bath, going for a swim, or deciding not to). (Harris 1996: 177)
But what about the enactive sequence involves another person asking me how warm the water is and I, perhaps due to already having my shoes off, dip my toe in the water and tell him or her how warm it is? The sequence comes to a close with that, for the next step is unknowable - perhaps we are considering to go for a swim, but maybe we have nothing of the kind in mind and are just passing time?This integrative approach seems too heavily oriented towards action, i.e. energetic interpretants. It doesn't seem to reach Thirdness yet.
Just as self-communication is not interpersonal communication restricted to one person, nor is interpersonal communication self-communication shared. (Harris 1996: 180)
I would argue that both cases can be. I may write a letter to another person but not send it, and return to it myself at another time when my person has changed and I am another to my previous self who wrote the lettel. Or I may write a note for myself but choose, for whatever purpose, to share it with others. In these cases the intended addressee is the dominant feature.
This is eminently clear from the motivation he attributes to Crusoe at this point in the narrative. The castaway is not concerned about leaving any records for others. He merely hopes, by setting out his condition in what he calls the 'debtor and creditor' format, to 'deliver my thoughts from daily poring upon them'. (Harris 1996: 184)
This remark concerns the curious phenomena of "getting leave" from obsessive thoughts once they are written down.