StS of CtSMoP

Scratching the surface of
Communication, the Social Matrix of Psychiatry

After reading Cetta Berardo's paper "Contributions to a Theory of Communication: Berne, Cybernetics, and Linguistic Structuralism" (2014), I caught myself thinking that I really don't know enough about Ruesch and Bateson's Communication... (1951). Despite attempting to read it multiple times (records show that I've made serious attempts in winter 2013 and summer 2014), I've yet to complete the task. I know parts of it (specifically parts which deal with metacommunication and intrapersonal communication) quite well, but the whole of it is still beyond me. And so it will regrettably remain, as I yet again make a feeble attempt to scratch the surface of it. Part of the difficulty, I must admit, is surely the trivial but seemingly insurmountable issue of citation. The book contains chapters coauthored by Ruesch and Bateson as well as separate chapters by either author. Thus, for the first time, I'll at least attempt to get the citations right. So while I will in this post only look at passages that contain the keywords "context," "situation," and "relationship" they'll at least be, well, properly citable. P. S. I have made efforts to buy a physical copy of the book, so it's likely that next year I'll finally get around to reading it in full.

Ruesch, Jurgen 1951a. Values, Communication, and Culture: An Introduction. In: Ruesch, Jurgen and Gregory Bateson, Communication: The Social Matrix of Psychiatry. W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 3-20.

While, in the past, theories of personality were concerned with one single individual, modern psychiatrists have come to the realization that such theories are of little use, because it is necessary to see the individual in the context of a social situation. (Ruesch 1951a: 3)
Keep in mind that this goes for psychiatric theory, and in his own articles (or rather collection of articles, the Semiotic Approaches to Human Relations of 1972) he goes great lengths to emphasize the integration of the individual in the so-called "social matrix" of communication.
We refer particularly to the dialectical difficulties which develop when the scientist operates at different levels of abstraction. To facilitate the consideration of an event, first within the narrower context of an individual organism, and then within the framework of a larger societal system, the concept of the social matrix was used. (Ruesch 1951a: 4)
As the last chapter in this book indicates, in 1951 these levels of abstraction were still "Individual, Group, and Culture". In later revisions, they are the intrapersonal, interpersonal, group, and societal levels.
Regardless of the school of thought adhered to, or the technical terms used, the therapist's operations always occur in a social context. Implicitly, therefore, all therapists use communication as a method of influencing the patient. The differences that exist between the therapist and the patient are differences in their systems of value, which can be traced to differences in the codification or evaluation of perceived events. (Ruesch 1951a: 19)
Something similar to this can be found in the Theses on the semiotic study of cultures (as applied to Slavic texts) (1973). That is, the semiotics of culture simultaneously studies culture and is a part of culture: "Scientific texts, being metatexts of the culture, may at the same time be regarded as its texts" (Lotman et al. 2013[1973]: 77). In other words, even the study of culture occurs in a social context and the semiotician also uses communication as a method of influencing its object of study. This similarity should not be viewed as a continuit, though, for Lotman et al. are probably reflecting Jakobson and Tynyanov's 1928 theses where they say that "The history of a system is also a system."
At first sight, problems of communication seem to be of only secondary interest to the student of individual behavior. People act on their own, they do things alone, and at times they manage, exploit, coerce, or kill others without announcing their intention of doing so. But communication does not refer to verbal, explicit, and intentional transmission of messages alone; as used in our sense, the concept of communication would include all those processes by which people influence one another. The reader will recognize that this definition is based upon the premise that all actions and events have communicative aspects, as soon as they are perceived by a human being; it implies, furthermore, that such perception changes the information which an individual possesses and therefore influences him. In a social situation, where several people interact, things are even more complicated. (Ruesch 1951a: 5-6)
This is a bit loose definition. It would be slightly stricter even if it included the insertion that "all actions and events [of other humans] have communicative aspects, as soon as they are perceived by a human being". Physical events in themselves are informative but not communicative.
Delineation of Universe: The unit of consideration is the social situation.
Social Situation: A social situation is established when people enter into interpersonal communication.
Interpersonal Communication: An interpersonal event is characterized by:
  1. The presence of expressive acts on the part of one or more persons.
  2. The conscious or unconscious perception of such expressive actions by other persons.
  3. The return observation that such expressive actions were perceived by others. The perception of having been perceived is a fact which deeply influences and changes human behavior.
(Ruesch 1951a: 15)
When the phatic function of speech is viewed from this perspective then phatic utterances appear as expressive acts oriented towards ensuring returned observation. That is, the channel is open only insofar as participants in the communication system perceive that their expressive actions have been observed by the other(s). In this sense phatic acts do indeed appear as attention-getting devices.
There is also a more obscure limitation of communication which results from the difficulty of discussing the basic premises and codification of a system of signals in those same signals. This difficulty is shown to be of special relevance in the psychiatric situation, where the patient and therapist have to achieve communication about their own understanding of their own utterances. The same difficulty is also present in all attempts to communicate between persons of different cultural backgrounds. (Ruesch 1951a: 17)
Stuff like this is why I suspect that Roman Jakobson read this book before formulating his concept of metalingual operations (and consequently the metalinguistic function of language). It is doubly pertinent that the very next paragraph is a list of Functions of Communication.
Functions of Communication: Man uses his communication system:
  1. to receive and transmit messages and to retain information;
  2. to perform operations with the existing information for the purpose of deriving new conclusions which were not directly perceived and for reconstructing past and anticipating future events;
  3. to initiate and modify physiological processes within his body;
  4. to influence and direct other people and external events.
(Ruesch 1951a: 17-18)
This is of course cardinally different from Jakobson's scheme, but paradoxically comparable to Bühler's model, at least in that the functions of communication (a) include: operations with representation (b); expression of emotions (physiological processes) (c); and appealing to or affecting the "other" (d).
The values which distinguish patients from other people and from the therapist are a result of the particular social situations in which the patients were reared. Unable to assimilate divergent trends within the home, or between home and surroundings, these patients have never developed satisfactory means of communication. This results in marginal status as compared to the people who make up the core of the group in which the patient lives. (Ruesch 1951a: 20)
Thus, developing a satisfactory means of communication depends on assimilating divergent trends of communication in particular social situations.
The relationship between superpersonal systems on the one hand, and interpersonal and individual systems on the other, is not merely a dialectic fancy of the scientist, but is embedded in the daily needs of the individual, whose life and sanity require that he be able to communicate successfully with other human beings. To the achievement of this end the psychiatrist has dedicated his life. (Ruesch 1951a: 9)
General but valid.

Ruesch, Jurgen 1951b. Communication and Human Relations: An Interdisciplinary Approach. In: Ruesch, Jurgen and Gregory Bateson, Communication: The Social Matrix of Psychiatry. W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 21-49.

The context in which communication occurs. The scientific approach to communication has to occur on several levels of complexity. In a first step we shall be concerned with the definition of the context in which communication occurs. This context is summarized by the laber which people give to specific social situations. Identification of a social situation is important both for the participant who wishes to communicate and for the scientist who aims at conceptualizing the process of communication. (Ruesch 1951b: 23)
This obviously builds on the definition of the situation. The label of a situation indeed summarizes the context of communication. These could very well be called meta-pragmatic labels, and they include "small talk," "chat," "consultation," "discussion," "confrontation," etc. More often than not the chosen label reflects both the ideational conceptualization (what is the situation) as well as emotional implication (how we feel about the situation). The third (conative, sender-oriented) axis is also possible: situations like "work," "instruction," "co-operation," etc. reflect the purposive aspect of a situation. Calling something a "lecture" for example indicates the purpose of the situation (education, dissemination of ideas).
Any social situation is governed by explicit or implicit rules; these rules may be created on the spur of the moment for a particular situation, or they may be the result of centuries of tradition. In the context of communication, rules can be viewed as directives which govern the flow of messages from one person to another. Inasmuch as rules are usually restrictive, they limit the possibilities of communication between people, and above all, they restrict the actions of the participating persons. (Ruesch 1951b: 27)
Aha, so enigmatic (implicit) and paradigmatic (explicit) rules! The contention seems true enough, especially when viewed in cultural contexts: the Japanese routine formulation, yoroshiku onegaishimasu, for example, implements "one's tachiba-role which is mutually recognised between the interactants" (Obana 2012). Likewise, in the so-called pseudophatic communion, where someone takes up small talk with the intended purpose of ultimately asking for a favor, there are implicit rules about how the favor should be asked, how much small talk should preced it, etc.
Punctuation, emphasis, attention-getting, assignment of roles, and the expression of emotion can all be seen as messages about communication, which guide the recipient in his understanding - his decodification and evaluation of the message. The meaning of the word "please," for example, or the significance of the voice raised in a certain conetxt, are part of the shared culture, learned from the outer social matrix, either from mass communication or from personal experience in dealing with other persons of the same culture. The rules for communication about communication - which are also the rules defining human relationship - are presumed to be common to many people, whereas the simpler primary content of the message is presumed to be a matter of the immediate moment and special to the speaker. (Ruesch 1951b: 43)
These are thus metacommunicative or phatic rules, and they are learned from either discourse (here, mass communication) or from (personal) experience. We already see a conflation of metacommunication with the mu-function: communication about communication is simultaneously communication about relationship. Notice that the "primary content" is variable but metacommunicative rules are invariant.
In transmission of messages from person to person information pertaining to the state of the organism of the speaker is frequently transmitted without the awareness of the participants. In social situations, for example, people automatically evaluate the other person's attitude - that is, whether it is friendly or hostile. Without being conscious of their own responses they will be more cautious and alert when facing a hostile individual than when they encounter an apparently harmless person. More complex interpersonal messages, especially when coded in verbal form, require a more conscious evaluation and interpretation. (Ruesch 1951b: 31)
One of the less-discussed functions of phatic communion is to enable this evaluation in the first place. It is more difficult to evaluate the attitude of a silent person than it is to evaluate someone's attitude through the intonation of his speech, the topic of his talk, the facial expressions that accompany speech, etc. It is also the case that when people in a social situation enter into a linguistic exchange they become more attuned to each other's attitudes. Speech is a social lubricant in the sense that it levels the emotional atmosphere.
If "A" adds the word "please" to a verbal request, he is making a statement about that request; he is giving instructions about the mood or role which he desires the listener to adopt when he interprets the verbal stream. He is adding a signal to cause a modification in the receiver's interpretation. In this sense the added signal is a communication about communication as well as a statement about the relationship between two persons. (Ruesch 1951b: 24)
Communication about relationship (mu-function).
The difficult task of therapy at this level is to lead the patient to the discovery that his inarticulate and usually unconscious assumptions about human relationships, about communication, and about the culture in which he lives are incorrect, and to help him learn that mass communications are man-made and that they can be changed. (Ruesch 1951b: 44)
In other words, the therapist helps to correct the patients' habits of meta-social commentary.

Ruesch, Jurgen 1951c. Communication and Mental Illness: A Psychiatric Approach. In: Ruesch, Jurgen and Gregory Bateson, Communication: The Social Matrix of Psychiatry. W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 50-93.

Psychiatrists who devote their time to psychotherapy believe that the rehabilitation of patients suffering from psychopathology can only be carried out within the context of a social situation; they think that contact with human beings is a therapeutic necessity. If one attempts to analyze the events which take place in a social situation, the interaction between patient and doctor, and the efforts directed at influencing the patient by means of psychotherapy, one must arrive at the conclusion that these events fall into the realm of communication. Therefore one can state with certainty that the therapeutically effective agents contained in psychotherapy are to be found in communication. (Ruesch 1951c: 80)
One can readily see why this approach is called "communication psychology".
The old psychopathological diagnoses become rather meaningless in view of the flux in the means of expression which these patients use. The only thing that the psychiatrist really can rely upon is the state of communication as it is obverved at a given moment, within a given context, and involving specific people. At a different date, in a different context, and with different people, the means of communication of the patient may appear in a totally different light. It seems that criteria which denote the range of disturbances of communication as well as the optimum level of functioning which a patient can reach are operationally more useful criteria than statements describing a given candition at a given moment. After all, a diagnosis always implies that a given condition is present most of the time; it introduces a typology rather than a functional appraisal of the patient's system of communication, and typologies, though useful at times, often introduce undesirable distortions. And this the therapist attempts to avoid. (Ruesch 1951c: 91)
It would appear that a functional appraisal involves taking account of the state of the system, the participants in the system, and the context of the system.
Another difficulty of the psychiatrist in establishing valid theories of causation involves his particular personality and the role in which he governs a social situation. A verbal statement perceived by an observer can be interpreted in different ways. For example, a compulsive or legalistic mind might confine itself to purely syntactical or semantic interpretations, omitting all pragmatic considerations. In contrast, the psychologically oriented person will listen to the same statement in an attempt to detect the implied values of the speaker. A politically minded person with common sense will in turn interpret the statement as an expression of the feeling of the population at large and without particular consideration of the individual who makes the statement. Thus the legalistic mind acts primarily as an observer, the psychologically minded person as a particiant, and the politically minded person, while he may pretend to participate, is in reality manipulating, campaigning, and observing the effects of his actions. (Ruesch 1951c: 76-77)
The dichotomy between participation and observation has its own phatic implications, but it seems early to attempt even a sketch on the matter.
The tourist, when he tries to engage in a conversation with people of a foreign country, has to explore their system of communication. He may have learned the foreign language at home, but missing the many associations which are necessary for a meaningful interpretation of the messages received from others, he is at a loss to understand what is going on and especially to understand the emotional shadings of human relationships. This experience is familiar to the American who may visit England. He hears approximately the same language, but in no way does he understand the subtle shadings of behavior and expression of the Englishman until he has mastered, through a long series of experiences, the necessary cues which enable him to interpret the Englishman's messages correctly. (Ruesch 1951c: 81)
This is why habits of meta-social commentary are not enough. Commentary covers discourse but neglects experience. I don't think even "meta-phatic" does it full justice. Metacommunication is a difficult subject matter to tacle.

Ruesch, Jurgen 1951d. Communication and American Values: A Psychological Approach. In: Ruesch, Jurgen and Gregory Bateson, Communication: The Social Matrix of Psychiatry. W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 94-134.

Briefly, the policeman is simultaneously a social authority and a human equal. The common denominator of these two apparently conflicting ideas is the notion of the policeman as another guy who is doing a job. Within the limits of this premise a certain amount of human can enter and even sharp dissension can be expressed. A similar situation is encountered in offices, where the procedure labeled "sassing the boss" expresses the benevolent and friendly teasing of the man in charge because of his function as authority. As soon as a man is labeled an authority he becomes unequal, and every effort must be made to bring him back to the fold of the group and make him an equal again. (Ruesch 1951d: 107)
Phatic communion, especially the creation of an atmosphere of sociability, is a part of this process. And where there's speak of the wolf:
Sociality, or the tendency to form social groups, has its roots in the herd instinct of the individual. In America foremost recognition is given to this group need; as a matter of fact it has resulted in a culture of living which vividly contrasts with certain foregn civilizations, which cater to the development of object systems. (Ruesch 1951d: 108)
Group need indeed.
In America the process of living and of interacting with others is sought as a goal in itself. Americans treat others always as people, while Europeans in many situations will treat other people like objects or as if they did not exist. (Ruesch 1951d: 108)
That's harsh, man. Living and interacting with others as a goal in itself is pure cut phatics.
The definition of identity, therefore, is not independent of the social matrix in which a person operates. On the contrary, the ways in which a person can relate himself to others are usually defined by the culture in which a person lives. Circumstances may be favorable or unfavorable in transmitting to an individual this knowledge of social practices, roles, and techniques which are necessary in coping with others; and as a result of continued contect with others the internal personality of an individual is gradually shaped. (Ruesch 1951d: 125)
This is profound. The first aspect concerns the sociocultural definition and determination of phaticity. Knowledge of social practices, roles, and techniques amount to meta-phatics, i.e. meta-social commentary. And although there are other theories of identity which also emphasize the "weakly constitutive mechanism" of negative contrast (I/not-I), this approach here emphasizes the positive aspect of social contact gradually shaping identity.
What a person does in terms of action always has an impact on the environment and an effect on other people, and as soon as therapy and rehabilitation are concerned with action they must also in some ways be concerned with social concepts of normality, and rules pertaining to the regulation of social situations. (Ruesch 1951d: 130)
More detail would be nice.
The value which is placed upon smooth functioning and a friendly front, low intensity and avoidance of deep involvement, as well as readiness to disengage from the existing relations and to enter new human relationships, may be termed sociability. In America this personality feature is frequently taken as one of the most important criteria in assessing adjustment. (Ruesch 1951d: 110)
Quite phatic stuff here. All three aspects of Jakobson's more technical part are present. Engaging communication = smooth functioning and a friendly front. Maintaining communication = low intensity and avoidance of deep involvement. Discontinuing communication = readiness to disengage from the existing relations.

Ruesch, Jurgen 1951e. American Perspectives: An Integrative Approach. In: Ruesch, Jurgen and Gregory Bateson, Communication: The Social Matrix of Psychiatry. W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 135-149.


Ruesch, Jurgen and Gregory Bateson 1951a. Communication and The System of Checks and Balances: An Anthropological Approach. In: Ruesch, Jurgen and Gregory Bateson, Communication: The Social Matrix of Psychiatry. W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 150-167.


Bateson, Gregory 1951a. Information and Codification: A Philosophical Approach. In: Ruesch, Jurgen and Gregory Bateson, Communication: The Social Matrix of Psychiatry. W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 168-211.

In daily life and psychiatric experience, it is common to observe that a person may see and evaluate similar events in one way in one set of circumstances and in quite a different way in another set of circumstances; and the contrast of circumstances which determine such a change may be either internal (for example, a shift of mood) or external (that which is approved and valued in war may be regarded with horror in time of peace). Trouble arises the moment the individual fails to make due allowance for the contexts of his evaluation and equates, for example, certain actions which are appropriate in war with certain similar actions in peacetime. He thus creates for himself a concept or Gestalt (e.g., "violence") which is charged with both positive and negative value. (Bateson 1951a: 192)
This concerns the integration of contexts of different levels (e.g. how a societal context influences the interpersonal context). Lemon's (2013) example of the diplomatic and the intimate intertwining is a good illustration. It is notable that such contrast of circumstances is observable in American political landscape: evaluations have changed radically during these 8 years of democratic presidency since the 8 years of republican presidency that preceded it. For example, some counter-cultural tendencies that were prominent during Bush years have become the status quo during Obama years. (For one thing, the revolutionary mood has significantly decreased.) Another aspect here is that the "concept of Gestalt" can readily be compared to Peircean ground, or even to the Hamiltonian "ground of Reason" (i.e. data). On that last note, it may be hypothesized that the context of evaluation is at least partly unconsicous: "The grounds of our judgments are often knowledges so remote from consciousness that we are not always able to bring them promptly into view, and yet, without them, the judgments would have been impossible." (Clay 1882: 313)
Perhaps if human beings were capable of maintaining clarity about the contexts of perception and evaluation, they might avoid the complex internal and interpersonal conflicts which result from such contradictions. (Bateson 1951a: 192)
This seems to reinforce my previous hypothesis. People are not very clear about their contexts of evaluation.
We shall describe as "metacommunication" all exchanged cues and propositions about (a) codification and (b) relationship between the communicators. We shall assume that a majority of proposition about codification are also implicit or explicit propositions about relationship and vice versa, so that no sharp line can be drawn between these two sorts of metacommunication. (Bateson 1951a: 209)
Somehow Jakobson did manage to draw a sharp line between the metalingual and the phatic function. But he could do so because he reduced relationship to communicative contact. Later commentators, like Dell Hymes, consequently protested and suggested that contact or psychological connection should be viewed in much broader terms, i.e. like a relationship.

Bateson, Gregory 1951b. Conventions of Communication: Where Validity Depends upon Belief. In: Ruesch, Jurgen and Gregory Bateson, Communication: The Social Matrix of Psychiatry. W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 212-227.

We are, in fact, coining the boginning of a set of formal categories for describing character structure, and these descriptions are derived not from what the subject has learned in the old simple sense of the word "learning," but from the context in which the simple learning occurred.
This is the level at which learning experiments become relevant to psychiatry, and the hypothesis of deutero-learning provides the bridge between simple psychology and psychiatric theory. The psychiatrist is not concerned with the question of whether the patient is able to write, to use a typewriter, to play the piano, to walk, or to do any other thing; but he is concerned with the description of the context in which the patient learned, for example, to typewrite or to control his sphincters. IF the patient learned his lesson in a context of threatened punishment, that fact may throw light upon the character structure of the patient, not the mere fact of his having learned the appropriate actions. (Bateson 1951b: 217)
For me this is mostly extraneous matter, but by analogy it may be important to draw attention to the contexts in which phatic expressions, for example, are learned (in second language acquisition, for example, whether they were learned through repetition in a classroom or in a natural interaction with native speakers). On another level, one of the reasons for my keeping this blog and struggling to keep citations in order is to keep a record of where and when I learned any given piece of valuable information. It's not enough to just read something and get the gist of it, for I may transform it into something else, even something contradictory, in my mind. But if I have a record, I can always look it up and confirm if I retained the correct idea. Then, as an added bonus, I can refer to the exact page I first met the idea.
Many sorts of games are of interest in this connection. An implicit message which is exchanged at bridge tables and on tennis courts is the affirmed agreement between the players as to the rules and goals. By participating in the game, they affirm the fact of communication, and by competing, the affirm the fact of shared value premises.
Similarly, every courtesy term between persons, every inflection of voice denoting respect or contempt, condescension or dependenci, is a statement about the relationship between the two persons. (Bateson 1951b: 213)
What these sorts of metacommunicative signals really affirm is the willingness to communicate.
Among the premises of human relationship as culturally defined, we include the premises which define the family constellation and all the premises of role and status, class and caste, which define the process of interaction. And, in addition to all these, we have to include the conventions of international and cross-cultural conduct - even the tedious and hateful conventions leading up to and ending in international warfare. Not only the premise of smooth interpersonal relationship but also the premises of hostility are carried upon the stream of more objective communication and action; and what is true of persons applies also to international relations where the gradual breakdown of a modus vivendi is slowly documented at a metacommunicative level. (Bateson 1951b: 221-222)
Both diplomatic and intimate relations are relationships borne of interaction.

Bateson, Gregory 1951c. Psychiatric Thinking: An Epistemological Approach. In: Ruesch, Jurgen and Gregory Bateson, Communication: The Social Matrix of Psychiatry. W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 228-256.


Bateson, Gregory 1951d. The Convergence of Science and Psychiatry. In: Ruesch, Jurgen and Gregory Bateson, Communication: The Social Matrix of Psychiatry. W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 257-272.


Ruesch, Jurgen and Gregory Bateson 1951b. Individual, Group, and Culture: A Review of the Theory of Human Communication. In: Ruesch, Jurgen and Gregory Bateson, Communication: The Social Matrix of Psychiatry. W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 273-289.

Even in the relationship between a person and a tihng, interaction occurs: the person is self-corrective as a result of his observations of the effect which his actions seem to have upon the thing (see ref. 134). (Ruesch & Bateson 1951b: 287)
I thought that ref. 134 would be Charles Morris, since this is eerily similar to his discussion of the artist's self-stimulation while painting, but it's this: Rosenblueth, Arturo; Norbert Wiener and Julian Bigelow 1943. Behavior, Purpose, and Teleology. Philosophy of Science 10(1): 18-24. (JSTOR).

Thoughts on Peeple app

For over a month now I've been looking into phatic studies and inching towards a semiotic or communication theory approach to social media networks. There's a lot of literature about phatic aspects in social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, but the new app, Peeple, presents completely new challenges. Here I'd like to dwell a bit on it, even though the app has not yet officially launched. My opinion is that if Peeple does launch and people do start using it, it will introduce something very new into the social media landscape. At the core of this novelty, I think, is our understanding of social networking in itself.

Before reading some opinion pieces about it, I'd like to phrase my concern, which has a lot to do with agency. On social media sites like Facebook and Twitter it is the primary user ("me") who is in the position of agency. My online activities are my own making. So whatever blunder I make I am responsible for. But Peeple presents a completely different model: agency now falls on secondary users ("other") who are in position of reviewing me.

When Peeple is described as "Yelp for people" it pretty much captures this dichotomy, because on Yelp people review businesses and establishments. These are made by or constituted by people, but they are not people themselves (unless you take the "corporations are people" view seriously, which you can only do in a legal sense). With your negative review of a business you can offend people who work for said business, but you can't offend the business itself, because it is not a person.

So when this "Yelp for people" launches, people in a sense become like businesses. It is a salient paradigm shift from viewing personal interactions as personal - "private" in a sense - to a view of personal interactions as public - "commodified" would be the term. Although I dislike the term "commodification" due to its overuse by polemical writers who more often than not subscribe to some form of Marxist ideology, here I think it might actually be apt.

That is, communication itself - our personal interactions, our social relationships - become like economic commidities, marketable items. It transforms your everyday interactions with people into "goods" and "services" that can be review as such. I may think that I'm living my own private life and interaction with other people is just part of that, but all of a sudden these interactions are under public scrutiny. Any and every faux pas I commit that would otherwise have remained private could now become attached to my public self, visible in a public record about my person.

This is the greatest "threat to face", to use Erving Goffman's phrase, imaginable. It opens up the floodgates to what social psychologists call "attribution error". Let's say that I'm having a bad day. I'll be grumpy and irritable and this will show in my interactions. Currently, if I'm having a bad day and annoy others with my bad mood, that is that. I was just having a bad day. But if everyone annoyed by my bad mood takes to Peeple and writes a negative review of me, my bad mood will become my public "face", a quality infinitely "attributed" to me.

Ultimately, there will be two broad outcomes: A) I will have to manage my interactions more closely, will have to pretend to be likeable even when I'm having a bad day, lest I will garner too many negative reviews. Or, B) I will begin limiting my interactions with other people so as to diminish negative outcomes. While it would be ideal to live in a world where all people are happy and sociable all the time, that's not the reality we live in.

Another concern that I have right off the bat is related to the cumulative effect of social traces that once again has to do with agency. All of us do stupid things when we're young. It is often said of Facebook that it will record everything we do and will embarrass us in the future. But you have control over the public content of your Facebook profile. Once you've grown up and realized that your Facebook timeline no longer reflects you as you now are, you can actually just delete your account and begin again. Not so with a public profile composed by others.

Just think about the long-term effect of a public record of yourself that you can't control. Forget "having a bad day" and receiving a few negative reviews. What if you happen to be down on your luck for several years, perhaps due to illness, being out of work, or something else. What you do when you're down on your luck will reflect your person even when you do manage to struggle out of that sinkhole and become a better, well-off person.

This concern is reflected in criminal records. If you come from a poor income family and you have to do something illegal to get by, if you get caught and punished it will depend on the severity of your crime whether it will follow you for ever. I was once young and dumb and stole a can of bug spray from a store. I had to pay a fine, disappointed my parents, and learned from it - I never stole again. There wouldn't be any way to know this aside from me confessing this now because it was such a small crime that it got erased from my record after some time(I was underage and in my country they do that for kids).

But imagine a permanent record that isn't as lenient, and not for crimes but for your social character. That is what we are dealing with here and that is why I think people are so angry about Peeple. It would be a fine thing to have in a perfect world full of happy well-off people who can enjoy life to the fullest. But we live in a world that is as of yet still imperfect, where even the best of us are sometimes deeply unhappy, and where social conflict is a frequent occurrence. I do not think that we are ready for an app like Peeple.

That is what I currently think about this issue, and why the title of this post begins with "thoughts on" - which is rather exceptional in this blog, otherwise almost completely dedicated to review. But now I will continue with my routine and review what others thing about it.

Ed West, 02.10.2015 "Now you can rate people like hotels" online comment on London Evening Standard.

Easily the most terrifying thing I’ve discovered this year is a new app that allows individuals to be rated like restaurants or hotels. Peeple, launched next month, will give users the chance to mark others out of five. It’s all very interesting for evolutionary biologists.
According to Richard Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene human society is a never-ending battle between three types of people, suckers, grudgers and cheats, but technology is making life impossible for the latter. I suppose the biggest worry is not getting bad marks but lots of ironic five-star reviews, like David Hasselhoff’s musical oeuvre on Amazon.
Alternatively, perhaps having no reviews at all would be worse. Oscar Wilde said something along those lines — but then look what happened to him.
These few paragraphs are all that pertains to Peeple in this article. "Terrifying" seems to be the correct adjective for describing the idea of Peeple (we have not yet seen Peeple in action so I emphasize "the idea of"). Going on what La Barre wrote about types of socio-cultural agents, I'd say that the idea of Peeple is not very consoling. The idea that others will be able to write reviews about me without my consent does not make me more at ease with where social media might be heading (the commodification of social interaction, see above). To paraphrase La Barre: "Rather, [it] increases our anxiety."

And why does even the idea of an app like Peeple increase our anxiety? Because it doesn't seem to be thought through. Even this journalist here has caught on to at least one pertinent way to cheat the system as it has been introduced thus far: this idea of "ironic five-star reviews" is not off the mark. A youtuber going by the username MisterMetokur has noted in a video titled "Peeple: The Worst Kind Of People" that a negative review would be a two-star review, and the person reviewed would have 48 hours to contest this kind of review. But what would stop someone from giving a three-star review and writing, as MisterMetokur put it, "He fucks kids. I'd have given him a five-star if he maybe stopped banging ten-year-olds. Didn't want to give him two stars, I thought that might be too mean because I know him in real life."

It's not a good sign that long before an app has been launched people already know full well how to cheat the system and make it into a social weapon. And "weaponization" is definitely what some people are afraid of. There are plenty of means to ruin someone's life if a collection of like-minded individuals decided to do so. What would stop so-called Social Justice Warriors from utilizing Peeple to completely tarnish the reputation of someone they, according to god-knows how ideologically bent views, consider to be sexist, racist, homophobic, transphobic, ageist, ableist, etc. There are already well-documented cases of public shaming on social media that ruined lives of innocent people whose off-hand comments were misinterpreted as malicious (fork those repos, fork 'em!).

Rachel Johnson, 03.10.2015 "I suppose new people-rating app Peeple was inevitable" online comment on Mail on Sunday.

I suppose new people-rating app Peeple was inevitable, as it is now compulsory to assess everything and everyone. I’m a four-star passenger on Uber. Someone once reviewed me on Amazon with the words: ‘I only gave this book one star as it didn’t let me give it no stars.’ And when I met my son’s headmaster at a party once he gazed at me in contemplation and said: ‘A seven, yes, very much a seven out of ten.’ (As a parent.) Hell is other Peeple, but do we really need to tell them every five minutes how awful they are? This app truly is the pits.
I now have to acknowledge that the selection of items reviewed here are very limited because I didn't use Google to find them, but EBSCO. Since this post is so inconsequential I have no problem with this selection - at least they're easy to reference (there is a reliable record of them). The idiom, that something "is the pits", means that this something is the worlt of all possible worlds, or the worst or most despicable example of something.

I agree with this author from the very first. I, too, hold that something like Peeple is ultimately inevitable. I'm a bit of a utopian, and in a perfect world I would see little if any downside for such an app. In fact, it would probably be most useful for finding new friends and acquaintances not on the basis of previous real-life exposure, mutual friends or any of the like, but purely according to similar interests and dispositions. In such a world I would imagine using the app for finding people who have a compatible character with mine.

But as it stands, the plan seems terrible from the go. We live in an age when the internet is basically going through puberty. And it doesn't have to be a metaphor: many kids who have been on the internet their whole life are quite literally going through puberty. Even on the technological level, the internet is currently still going through physical and psychological changes. Whether this puberty is metaphorical or literal, the simple fact is that the internet at large is frequently immature, obnoxious, simultaneously offensive and easily offended, and often set on stirring up as much shit as possible.

To introduce such a utopic idea - a centralized registry of personal descriptions - at this time consequently seems to come across as either naive or malicious. One of the problems Peeple raises is anonymity. Personally, I'm a big believer in anonymity on the internet. I see no reason why people should use their given name on websites other than those pertaining to school, workplace, or government. On the internet at large there is no need for given names. I think people should give themselves a unique name when they go on the internet.

But my view on this is conditioned more by practicality than ideology. In my small country there are three people that I know of that have the exact same given name as mine. To make it worse, one of them happened to live in the same part of town where I grew up. Knowing full well that my given name is not a unique identifier I took to the internet with a pseudonym and I still do, when not imposed to do otherwise for whatever reason. In my view real world and the internet are two different universes - virtual and actual - and although they do meet in a lot of ways, in most areas they seem to exist as exclusive domains.

What makes Peeple troublesome in this relation is the insistence on given names and phone numbers, which belong to the real world, not to the internet. Although they should ideally be means to limit the people who can review you to the people you've actually met in real life and who consequently know your telephone number, as it has already been proven by finding out the telephone number of one of Peeple's representatives, it's not all that difficult to cheat this ill-conceived system.

What makes it doubly problematic is that there is currently no precedent for real names. As far as I know U.S. and U.K. don't even have digital registries of their citizens. Estonia does, and if it were an exclusively Estonian app it would be possible to just link the relevant tables in respective databases and voila, every citizen would have a Peeple account by default. But the U.S. is currently struggling to even make voting possible for every single citizen - which seems unconceivably bizarre from across the pond.

The fact that Peeple received 50 thousand dollars from an undisclosed government agency makes all this all the more suspicious. It comes across as a scheming way to collect personal data. In all probability, said government agency probably gives two shits about the ratings, but it may be interested in communication patterns and identities in an exclusionary tactic (say you want to find a terrorist or a foreigner and you have an anonymous list of telephone numbers - an automated comparison with Peeple database would simply exclude people who have been as if "validated" or "corroborated" by Peeple reviews).

This journalist here has actually pointed out another pitfall for Peeple. While the last one pointed out that the system can be cheated, this one points out that its fundamentally slanted. You can't assume people to be honest and positive reviewers. People are full of shit. Peeple will very likely be another channel for that shit to find an output. You will be judged according to your looks and not your personality. You will be given shitty reviews because of innocuous paux pas. You will be judged according to your socio-economic status. It is almost guaranteed.

And on that note, I also have to contradict myself a little. Part of the anxiety and why we find it to be terrifying is exactly the unpredictability. It is currently unforeseeable what social consequences this will have. Will reviewing people on Peeple become a social norm and an obligation? In that case any presumption of honesty will fly out the window. One can already imagine the endless barrage of conversations like "OMG he gave me a negative review!" perhaps followed by an instigation to retaliate with a mass of negative reviews. Not to mention the sexist and racist undertones that will no doubt find new ways to manifest themselves. (I'll treat this aspect a bit more below in relation with personology.)

Elizabeth Weise 05.10.2015. "'Peeple' app lets you rate anyone from 1 to 5" a section on pg 3 in USA TODAY .

As of now, there's no way to stop someone from creating a profile on you
This one is from a paper publication - the link leads to a "viewer" behind a paywall - but EBSCO has the story in plaintext form. Since it's quite a bit longer than the previous two mere "mentions" of Peeple, I'll break it down more and comment as I usually do here. The headline reflects the inevitability aspech, which is a big part of the outrage. Above I dealt with it in terms of agency. But here I'd like to take another angle. In my view Peeple comes at a disopportune time. As far as I know, legally, we are still working out the kinks in what is called "the right to be forgotten".

I think Peeple rubs us the wrong way because it goes against our intuitive right to stay "off the grid" if we so wished. This is not about the right to be forgotten, this is the right to not be remembered in the first place. These may seem to be equivalent on the surface but there's an important distinction I'd like to draw attention to: your right to be forgotten concerns something you've done that you would like not to be remembered; but Peeple goes against our intuitive right to not be remembered when you haven't done anything worth remembering.

See, we currently have public profiles for people who do something, or who have made a public profile because they chose to do so. But Peeple dismisses the treshold for profiling as well as the volition for self-profiling and opens the floodgates for others to decide for us if we should have a public profile or not. Referring back to the aspect of "commodification" above, we are not "businesses" that should have a public mirror for clients to find goods and services. My person is currently my own business. Not so on Peeple, where my person is everyone's business.
It's like a bad nightmare from middle school -- an app that lets people rate anyone they know on a scale of one to five for all the world to see. And it's scheduled to launch in November. The app is called Peeple. As imagined by creators, Julia Cordray and Nicole McCullough, there's no way to opt out.
Here the latter two bold parts conclude the first. To telescope: Peeple is a nightmare because you cannot stop others making a profile for you, you cannot opt out from it, and it's for all the world to see. Compare these aspects to Facebok: you make your own profile, you can delete your own profile, and you can limit who sees your profile. It's a nightmare because it feels like someone has decided to break into your house, now invites everyone to take a look at your shit and judge it, and you apparently can't do anything about it.
The app's tag line is "Character is Destiny." The creators see it as a way for people to learn what the world thinks about them and showcase the content of their character.
But what if you don't want to know what the world thinks about you? What if you don't want to showcase the content of your character? With Peeple, you don't ask for any of it: you are forced to take in what the world thinks of you, and the content of your character is showcased against your will. Above I referred briefly to Erving Goffman and the "threat to face". Consider the word person. The word comes from Latin persona meaning actor's mask, or character in a play. Your person is the "face" you present to other people - as a "mask" it hides your true self, your content, which you are not obliged to divulge just because. Peeple gives others the opportunity to do that for you - to approximate something that they can't possibly know unless you're very intimate, and reduce it to a score and possibly a verbal description.

The tag line, "Character is Destiny", is not as innocent as it would seem. When the world begins communicating about your character and showcasing what they think of you, your character will become your destiny. While you continue to learn, change, and adapt throughout your life, your public character will be nailed in place, fixed, made to stagnate with the momentum of public opinion. What other people think of you will in subtle and novel ways start to influence your trajectory in life.

For example, to create a hypothetical scenario, had the police officer who registered my teenage bug spray theft been malicious enough to use my telephone number to score me on Peeple and wrote a comment to the effect of "this kid is a dumbass low-life", it could have very well years later had an effect on me getting into the university. These kinds of possibilities will be on the table when Peeple becomes a thing. The potential for ruining lives, of making "character" someone's "destiny", is definitely there. Instead of these lovely words the tag line could very well just be "what people think of you will be your lot in life".
The idea is that if you know someone's cellphone number, you can create a listing for them. You then rate them with between one and five stars, saying whether you know them personally, professionally or romantically. If someone creates a listing for you, you'll get a text telling you they've done so. As of now, there's no way to say you'd rather not participate and no way to keep someone from creating a profile on you. That could change. In a posting to the app's Facebook page Thursday, CEO Cordray wrote "We hear you loud and clear. No.1: You want the option to opt in or opt out. No.2: You don't want the ability for users to start your profiles."
At least it seems like the creators are taking the public uproar into consideration. It may be a bold statement, but I don't think it's only that we are not pleased with there being no option to opt out or the fact that others will be able to create a profile for you. It could be that we don't want such a service, point. The bigger question here is: are we ready for a platform of people's opinions of each other?

At issue is again the concept of "person". Currently, social media is oriented to produced content. You take a selfie for Facebook and people like it and comment on it. You write a short quip or share a link on Twitter and people respond to or retweet it. You share a link or write a comment on Reddit and people vote and comment on it. All of it is oriented towards some content. Even on Yelp, it's not (ideally) the business itself you are reviewing, but the "content" of said business: how it's goods and services stand up to standard and compare to other businesses, etc. But on Peeple, you are the content. That's what the issue here is.

And what are you, after all? Is it your self-conception, your private and intimate understanding of yourself, your feelings, your thoughts, your goals in life? Or is it what others think of you, how they perceive you? All other social media sites are oriented towards the first facet: your public profile is what you make it to be. On Peeple you are what others make you out to be. Your person will now have to contend with whatever misunderstandings, misinterpretations, biases and malicious intent others may have.
The app's creators didn't respond immediately to emails Thursday, but on their Facebook page they say to create profiles on the site you must be 21 and have an established Facebook account, and all reviews must be made under your real name. Positive ratings post automatically. Any rating with two stars or less goes to the inbox of the person being reviewed. According to a post on its Facebook page, negative reviews do not go live on the app for 48 hours. "Assuming you can't turn a negative into a positive, the comment goes live and the person can now publicly defend themselves," the creators said.
But do we need any of it? Do we need our lives to contain a platform for constant public negotiation of our characters? Even if there's a possibility of opting out, there's a possibility for Peeple to take off in an unprecedented manner and technological habituation ultimately demanding, due to social norm, for everyone to have a Peeple account. If you don't you're a suspicious outcast with diminished social life and fewer job opportunities.
Only positive reviews show up in the profiles of people who haven't signed up. That creates what appears to be something of a Catch-22. To see what people have said about you, you would have to sign up for the service. But in doing so, you would automatically allow negative reviews about you to go up, reviews that wouldn't be posted if you hadn't gone on the site. The creators say the app will ban profanity, sexism and discussion of private health conditions.
As others have pointed out (above), there is nothing stopping malicious people from giving positive score and writing an ironic review. I'm especially interested in how profanity, sexism and private information will be stifled. The creators apparently underestimate the creativity we can have in various forms of ellipsis and insinuation.

And this is exactly the topic I want to finish on. I mentioned at the beginning of this post that modern social media or networking sites have revitalized so-called phatic studies, i.e. the study of contact and relationships in computer-mediated communication. Even in Peeple there is a phatic component. For example, will it necessitate more connected presence? What if I go on a week-long nature hike without internet connection and return to a bunch of negative reviews, since I couldn't connect within 48 hours to defend my honour? Other such issues are imaginable.

But there's another aspect I'd like to mention. If Peeple becomes successful, which at this point seems like a pretty big if, there is potential for another half-way forgotten academic subdiscipline to revitalize. I'm refering to what the Soviet semioticians Piatigorsky and Uspenski call personology. I emphasize their variety of personology, because it's not exactly what Westerners call personality psychology.

Personological classification as a semiotic problem becomes relevant in relation with Peeple because it would in fact be the first site that is primarily oriented towards descriptions of the type "this person is lucky," "this person is decent," or "this person could be decent". Our local extinct socal (dating) site rate.ee and Google's now defunct Orkut did have something like this, a feature that enabled one person to characterize or describe another. I'm not aware if Facebook, Twitter, etc. have something like this, but it's quite possible that an unofficial, widely unrecognized, form of this exists in these sites.

Peeple, on the other hand, foregrounds what people think of each other. It would in effect create the first fully personological database, in time perhaps becoming a comprehensive registry of everything anyone could actually say about another person (what a hyperbole). In any case it would present linguists with a novel type of corpus. Most likely it would be taken up not by personology (there is no explicit need for such a field as an autonomous entity) but by something like personological discourse studies.

What I'm saying is that it would be possible to data-mine and study what people think of each other and how they express their opinions of each other. While this could very well be done on the basis of other sites, Peeple would present a pure, unadulterated, corpus of such data. By way of paranoid speculation it is even possible to imagine what this data could be used for. Imagine a world in which news articles are indeed written by algorithms. Let's say that someone has contributed a large sum to skewer public opinion of a celebrity or a politician. How would this go about?

Presently we have only our intuition to go on when it comes to ways to describe other people. But with a corpus such as Peeple, enough computing power and fine-tuned algorithms, the successful ways to describe a person so as to either uplift public opinion about said person or to subtly tarnish that person's reputation through well-targeted keywords could be elucidated and manipulation of public opinion take on a quite more sophisticated form. But this is just conjecture.

In any case it is a bit terrifying. Partly because it's affiliation with an undisclosed government agency is suspicious. Partly because it doesn't seem to be well thought out and seems to enforce a future regime of centralized public humiliation and character negotiation. Partly because it introduces unpredictable social responsibilities. Since Peeple is not yet launched and we don't yet see what it looks like and how it operates the imagination runs wild through a nightmarish terrain. Let's see how it goes.

Timescales of Entrainment

Fusaroli, Riccardo; Marcus Perlman; Alan Mislove; Alexandra Paxton; Teenie Matlock and Rick Dale 2015. Timescales of Massive Human Entrainment. PLoS ONE 10(4): e0122742.

The past two decades have seen an upsurge of inetrest in the collective behaviors of complex systems composed of many agents entrained to each other and to external events. In this paper, we extend the concept of entrainment to the dynamics of human collective attention. We conducted a detailed investigation of the unfolding of human entrainment - as expressed by the content and patterns of hundreds of thousands of messages on Twitter - during the 2012 US presidential debates. (Fusaroli et al. 2015: 1)
Entrainment in this context means something like "putting into motion". Much like in Powys's line "as the enthroned Moon bears in her train" it refers back to the etymology of Latin trahere which is "pull, draw" which lead "to ‘line of traveling people or vehicles,’ later ‘a connected series of things'". Thus, entrainment of attention in massive human scales means pulling in the attention of a massive amount of people.
By time-locking these data sources, we quantify the impact of the unfolding debate on human attention at three time scales. We show that collective social behavior covaries second-by-second to the interactional dynamics of the debates: A candidate speaking induces rapid increases in mentions of his name on social media and decreases in mentions of the other candidate. Moreover, interruptions by an interlocutor increase the attention received. (Fusaroli et al. 2015: 1)
A phatic approach focusing on (collective) attention would make sense, but would reduce the breath of phatics to the attention-getting device view espoused by Paul Virilio in his concept of the phatic image.
In a canonical case, Strogatz and Stewart highlight firefly behavior as illustrative of fundamental principles underlying entrained systems. In parts of Southeast Asia, one may happen upon a sea of fireflies, in which each firefly's intrinsic oscillatory dynamics have become entrained to others around it. The result is a large-scale collective behavior: The fireflies fire in sync in an impressive display brought on by subtle mutual influences. They are entrained in that the match their behavior to the temporal structure of events in the environment. (Fusaroli et al. 2015: 1)
How is this different from "integration"?
These events [US presidantial debates] were thus (a) shared at a massive scale, via Twitter, (b) induced the rapid spread of social behavior across a network of agents. (Fusaroli et al. 2015: 2)
In other words, breath and depth.
The enormous magnitude of public attention has turned the debates into major events in the US presidential elections, as candidates have the chance to sway millions of voters through the discussion of controversial issues and planned policies. (Fusaroli et al. 2015: 2)
This more hope and fanfare than substance, as the majority of voters make up their minds in the party elections and very few change their opinions in the interparty elections.
Twitter is widely used by marketers, public authorities, and the general public and has become a major mechanism for the rapid spread of information. As such it offers an unprecedented window into how large populations collectively experience and respond to a wide range of real-world events. Researchers have used social media to describe - and sometimes anticipate - epidemics, earth-quakes, stock options, the effect of time and weather on mood, reality show outcomes, and political elections. (Fusaroli et al. 2015: 3)
Collectively experience? Isn't it more like individually experiencing and collectively discussing? These authors seem to conflate discourse and experience.
Both experimental settings and real life analyses showed that human beings tend to perceive and support leadership in individuals with extroverted personalities and relatedly in those who display assertiveness, boldness, initiative, proactivity, and risk-taking. (Fusaroli et al. 2015: 3)
Bad news for introverts.
Content entrainment. Besides this ebb-and-flow dynamics of interaction, debates are also rife with pointed or "salient" remarks that propagate through social media - often as "memes" that cascade through communications in forums like Twitter. Indeed, viewers pay attention to the content of the debates, focusing their attention on particularly salient, amusing, or controversial elements. (Fusaroli et al. 2015: 3)
Exactly how my blog works. Also probably human attention in general.
Interestingly, the model parameters individuated can be used to characterize subtle distinctions in the memes. For example, our results suggest that some memes may resonate more strongly in the social media sphere: the salient event 'binders," despite having a lower raw tweet rate relative to the other two salient events, had both the slowest decaying and the most rapidly rising meme formation. This resonates with analysis by Lin et al showing that the "staying power" of a meme is not only related to the raw quantity of mention, but also other social factors like conversational vibrancy (i.e., the prominence of the tweeters involved) and the interactivity of their audience. (Fusaroli et al. 2015: 14-15)
That is, the quality of the mention.
Three dimensions in particular seem to be crucial for the current case study: i) emotional valence; ii) networks of political affiliation and pre-existing beliefs; and iii) impact on public opinion. (Fusaroli et al. 2015: 15)
I will keep these in mind.

Phatic Gesture

Schandorf, Michael 2012. Mediated gesture: Paralinguistic communication and phatic text. Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies 19(3): 319-344.

Digital and social media text is conversational text that fulfills the phatic needs of typical social interaction: 'keeping in touch" does not in any way constitute a cultural regression but represents the fundamental ground of human cognition, which is inescapably both social and technologically dependent. (Schandorf 2012: 319)
So this is written contra Vincent Miller? The part about social media text being conversational also makes sense in a manner this author probably didn't intend: in this blog I am quoting and commenting but the format is that of a conversation. The quotes enact the role of the communication partner, and I respond, although the author of the text cannot respond (it is up to the text to supply a tentative response - as when my comment contains an idea that the next paragraph in the text actually does discuss).
Despite early techno-utopian visions of virtually embodied interactions in virtual worlds, the wide accessibility of mobile phones and VoIP technologies, the popularization of video conferencing (e.g. Skype) and the most recent availability of mobile video communications (e.g. Apple's Facetime), most digital media communication remains firmly text-based. Computer-mediated communication began with text messaging and, as the recent spate of digital culture doomsayers are quick to remind us, it has not lost its roots. To take a recent example, Sherry Turkele's Alone Together (2011), the Lonely Crowd for the 21st century, points out, yet again, the growing propensity of text instead of talk, and the inherent inadequacy of rapid-fire, decontextualized messages compared with sustained, semantically and emotionally rich face-to-face interaction. (Schandorf 2012: 319-320)
B-but face-to-face interaction and even VoIP are more focused, time-consuming, and fatigueing than sending an e-mail or leaving a quick message in Facebook chat.
The performance of identity is, in fact, the primary affordance of social media, which allows participants to 'validate and engage with others' (boyd et al. 2010) generating a widely dispersed intersubjectivity (Crawford 2009) through active audience construction (Marwick and boyd 2011) to build a 'faceted identity' (boyd 2001). (Schandorf 2012: 320)
That is, you can select who receives your messages. which without phatic technologies would have been difficult if not impossible in present scale (in an actual crowd you can't control who hears your speech, and sending a written message on paper out to dozens of people is time-consuming and expensive).
The mediated/embodied binary underlying the worrying of 'shallow' new and social media is a false dichotomy. All communication is embodied as all cognition is embodied. (Schandorf 2012: 321)
I would still hold that the distinction is valid. Unlike oral and bodily communication, mediated communication can be intercepted, manipulated or transformed. No-one can pretend to be me in real life without extensive auditioning for body type, applying a lot of make-up and teaching my mannerisms, but it's not all that difficult to hijack my online accounts and take actions under my username. Embodied communication is always authentic or genuine in this minimal sense, but mediated communication is not.
Papacharissi argues that 'Given the level of control over verbal and non-verbal cues in a variety of online conetxts, individuals may put together controlled performances that "give off" exactly the "face" that they intend' (2009: 210). (Schandorf 2012: 321)
Exactly what I mean. Reinventing one's offline self is a lot of work (i.e. joining a gym, eating healthy, going out and making new friends and acquaintances, etc.) but reinventing one's online self is a matter of creating a new account or updating one's profile.
for Carrie Noland (2009, relying on Massumi, 2003), what makes an act a 'gesture' is the involvement of the body in a double process of active (muscular) displacement and (sensory) information gathering: we send information as we receive information; we enact our spaces of communication (Lefebvre 1991), our cognitive and cultural environments. (Schandorf 2012: 322)
"Latin gestus, a masculine noun derived from the verb gerere (meaning to carry or to bear), refers to physical bearing or body movement."
The use of more conventionally paralinguistic forms in digital and social media communications have been previously addressed as mediated forms of 'emotional graaming' (Ling et al., 2005) that function as 'phatic fillers and backchanneling [...] employed in a similar way to FTF conversations' (Quan-Haase 2009: 39; citing Herring 1999b; see also Baron 2004; Schandorf 2011). (Schandorf 2012: 324)
Here "phatic" could very well be replaced with "meaningless" and the effect would be the same.
Retweets (RTs) point back to the original source of a message, while also (like all forms of indication) implicitly pointing to the person doing the RTing and making explicit a connection between two interactants, however loose. (Schandorf 2012: 325)
This reminds me of a passage from an article about the recent school shooting in Oregon: "Officials found a document written by the shooter that "tracked the often desperate and depressed writings from members of a loosely affiliated group ... members associated with the group share profound disappointment with their lots in life and the lack of meaningful relationships." What they mean is that the shooter visited 4chan, an anonymous image board, and the authors of that article consider it a loosely affiliated group. There's not much looser you can get when the group is constituted by visiting the same website.
More broadly, avatars (by, for example, drawing attention to specific phenomena, cultural references, or corporate/collective identities) and Facebook gestures (e.g. 'Like', 'Poke') can be understood as deictic gestures calling attention to the one doing the 'poking' as much as to what is 'liked'. (Schandorf 2012: 325)
The truly phatic aspect here is not drawing attention to the one doing the poking (emotive) nor to what is liked (referential) but the the act of poking itself. Essentially, it is drawing attention to the fact of drawing attention.
The basic format of a tweet is, arguably, a link and a brief contextualizing comment. The deictic aspects instantiate a set of relations between the 'tweeter', the 'tweeted', and the potential audience of followers. (Schandorf 2012: 325)
instantiate: represent as or by an instance - isn't this the same idea? By re-tweeting someone's tweet you're representing by an instance of retweeting that you re-tweet this particular tweeters' tweet? By "a set of relations" it points to the fact that there may be other, non-re-tweeting, forms of relationships between the tweeter and re-tweeter.
To date, only a few 'tweet typologies' have been published, and while those available (e.g. Honeycutt and Herring 2009; Mischaud 2007; Naaman et al. 2010; Oulasvirta et al. 2009) vary widely, they have several commonalities. Common categories include greetings, weather, small talk, emotion, and meta-commentary, among others. These are immediately recognizable as categories of phatic communication, and the phatic character of social media has been noted by others (Miller 2008; Parks 2010; Stankovic 2009; Stankovic et al. 2010). (Schandorf 2012: 334)
Emotios is emotive; meta-commentary is cognitive-referential. References:
  • Parks, M. R. 2010. Social network sites as virtual communities. In: Papacharissi, Z. (ed.), A Networked Self: Identity, Community, and Culture on Social Network Sites. London: Routledge, 105-123. [TÜR]
  • Stankovic, M. 2009. Faceted online presence: A semantic web approach. Unpublished masters thesis, Universite Paris-Sud, Orsay, France.
  • Stankovic, M.; A. Passant and P. Laublet 2009. Directing status messages to their audience in online communities. Pre-proceedings of Coordination, Organization, Institutions and Norms Workshop. Torino, Italy September 7-11.
Parks argues that 'For online settings such as social networking sites, the most relevant [...] requirements are engaging in shared rituals, social regulation, and collective action through patterned interaction and the creation of relational linkages among members that promote social bonds, a sense of belonging, and a sense of identification with the community' (Parks 2010: 111). (Schandorf 2012: 334)
It seems like Parks is dealing with the phatic community aspect Laver hints towards and Blanco treats lightly. Tartu University has the collection, A Networked Self, wherein Parker's paper is published, but it is lent out until mid-January.
The emphasis on what the Oxford English Dictionary describes as communication 'that serve[s] to establish or maintain social relationships rather than to impart information, communicate ideas, etc.' has led many scholars subject to the high-culture bias of writing (e.g. logocentrism) to understand phatic communication as trivial. Miller, for example, argues that 'in phatic media culture, content is not king, but "keeping in touch" is', and that this represents a worrying dilution of culture and society (2008: 395).
But there is a strong argument to be made that phatic functions influence all social interaction and are fundamental to human communication generally. As Zeyney Tufekci argues, 'that's what humans do' (Tufecki 2011). (Schandorf 2012: 334)
That's the Jakobsonian definition in the OED, and carries a pejorative connotation. The phatic necessity is more akin to La Barre's understanding, but he is usually not included in contemporary phatic studies (Wang et al. is an exception but even they probably stumbled upon him because the words "phatic" and "technology" appearod on the same page in La Barre's book).
But the importance of the emotional identification (or repulsion) enacted in phatic communication runs even deeper because the 'rational' thought and language production that defines human being is based on and grounded in emotion (Damasio 1994; 2003; Ramachandran 2011; Ramachandran & Blakeslee 1998). (Schandorf 2012: 335)
It's that word again (identification), but nothing significant is detailed here about it.
Gesture is the way we enact our identities, the way we think [of] our selves. It is the embodiment of our attitudes and our negotiated assumptions and expectations of our social environments. And if gesture is phatic communication, and new media communication is gestural, then the phatic communion of ambient co-presence is 'the way we interact, and the way we feel each other out there in the realm of the World Wide Web' (Stankovic 2009: 1). (Schandorf 2012: 336)
I'm not so sure about these propositions.
Where early electronic communication technologies such as the telephone and television, combined with transportation technologies such as automobiles and airplanes, centrifugally extended our communities and social networks while geographically dispersing them (Carey 1992; Innis 1950; 1951), new mobile internet communication technologies are generating a centripetal effect that is drawing us all closer together into a variety of overlapping digital 'spaces'. At the same time, 'augmented reality' technologies that combine digital imaging and motion capture with the search and database capabilities of the internet, are overlaying digital 'spaces' upon our physical environments. (Schandorf 2012: 336)
Neat contrast, though.
We currently inhabit an interesting transitional moment in the dynamic evolution of communication technologies, which continue to shape us, individually and socially, as we shape them, through both production and use. (Schandorf 2012: 336)
What is phatic technological habituation?
In his foreword to the book [Rotman, Brian 2008. Becoming Beside Ourselves], Timothy Lenoir writes, 'Not only is thinking always social, culturally situated, and technologically mediated, but individual cognition requires symbiosis with cognitive collectivities and external memory systems to happen in the first place' (Lenoir 2009: xxvii). (Schandorf 2012: 337)
Peirce (thought is social) + Lotman (culture is memory).
In the 'ambient co-presence' of networked digital communications technologies, the compressed, extensive, paralinguistic emotional connections of phatic gesture are embodied in new forms afforded by the new ways of 'keeping in touch' that are appropriate to the distributed, networked agency made possible by these environments. (Schandorf 2012: 338)
And the term "phatic text" doesn't appear anywhere in this article besides the title.

Pseudophatic Communion

Haverkate, Henk 1988. Politeness strategies in verbal interaction: An analysis of directness and indirectness in speech acts. Semiotica 71(1): 59-71.

Metalinguistic politeness serves two purposes: creating or preserving sociability, and observing the rules of discourse etiquette. In the former case, the primary aim of the speaker is to avoid the type of interactional tension that arises when, in a potential communication situation, no verbal exchange takes place. In order to avoid silence, speakers often have recourse to the kind of verbal behavior which Malinowski called 'phatic communion'. (Haverkate 1988: 59)
This author has a weird understanding of Jakobson's functions. He conflates the phatic function and the metalinguistic function. This is of course not without precedent: both functions have their origins in metacommunication. But metalinguistic communication should be communication about language, not communication about communication. In that sense he conflates language and communication. But in another way, it is also understandable: saying something in order to avoid silence does communicate not only about the communicative contact but also about the linguistic context: there was none, but let's create some.
For present purposes, the following observation by Leech is worth quoting:
We may, indeed, argue for an additional maxim of politeness, the metalinguistic 'Phatic Maxim' which may be provisionally formulated either in its negative form 'Avoid Silence' or in its positive form 'Keep talking'. It is the need to avoid silence, with its implication of opting out of communication, which accounts, at a rather trivial level, for the discussion of stock subjects such as the weather, and less trivially, for the occurrence of uninformative statements such as You've had your hair cut (Leech 1983: 141).
It follows that keeping silence implies the performance of a face-threatening act in that it is associated with lack of consideration or negative feelings toward the interlocutor. Phatic communion, then, is a polite strategy for saving or maintaining face. (Haverkate 1988: 59-60)
So the confusion comes from Leech identifying the "Phatic Maxim" as being "metalinguistic". He's not absolutely wrong, because any and all of Jakobson's functions can indeed be interpreted as metalinguistic - as linguistic functions they are indeed meta-level concepts. Moreover, the latest additions in the linguistic function scheme - poetic, metalinguistic (proper), and phatic - do indeed communicate more about language and language use than about the participants in the exchange (addresser, addressee) or about anything external (referential). But it cannot be taken seriously without too much exposition about linguistic functions. Much like Christiane Nord's innovations, this is idiosyncratic.
The second form of metalinguistic politeness bears upon discourse etiquette - that is, the set of normative rules that govern conversational interaction. Corresponding communicative behavior is reflected by sich maxims as: don't shout, don't show a lack of attention, and don't interrupt. Obviously, the latter maxim underlies the system of turn-taking in conversation; it is verbally expressed by such formulas as 'Pardon me for interrupting, but...', which indicate the speaker's awareness that he/she potentially threatens the hearer's face. (Haverkate 1988: 60)
This is more like the "channel function" that Jakobson actually espouses, though with a distinctive aftertaste of the "regulative function". That is, this concerns the smooth flow of conversation and the turn-taking issue.
The maxim 'don't show a lack of attention' refers to both conversational-internal and conversational-external behavior. In the latter case one may think of the speaker mentioned in note 3, who violates the maxim because he whistles for his dog while his interlocutor is speaking. The rules involved are general rules which do not bear specifically upon conversational structure. In the former case, we are dealing with what Stati (1982: 193) calls 'il codice dell'interscambio verbale', which is centered upon the conversation partners' obligation to reach properly to each other's speech acts, such as reciprocating a greeting, answering a question, and indicating one's reason(s) for not complying with a request. (Haverkate 1988: 60)
This almost sounds like that infamous "language band" whose source I cannot recover. That is, when you are communicating then you have what I would now call "phatic responsibilities" - to keep the channel open because the channel is already open. Without proper fading-out or leave-taking, not reacting properly or not complying is impolite. Reciprocating is a bit more difficult, because greeting in itself does not constitute people as conversation partners - often that is not a conversational opening but a politeness in itself. By not reciprocating you are definitely impolite, but such "conversations" are purely phatic: they validate or affirm acquaintance or being in the situation, but does little beyond that.
A typical example of a macro speech act is a request preceded and/or followed by a presequence and postsequence which respectively serve to motivate the directive core act. It is interesting to add that presequences may also consist partially or entirely of phatic communion. In this caes, perhaps, it is more proper to speak of pseudophatic communion, since the speaker pretends to achieve no other aim than displaying a socially appreciated form of interactional behavior, whereas in actual fact his/her behavior serves to reduce the negative face involved in the ultimate request. (Haverkate 1988: 61)
This is exactly the case with Jerry requesting money from Summer but failing in his presequence by approaching her with the overly phatic "Whatcha doing?" In light of this concept of pseudophatic communion, it would appear that much of Julia Elyachar's "phatic labor" is actually just pseudophatic communion. It can even be said that hers exposition is "pseudo" in this sense also on the metalevel, since she emphasizes that the ultimate request is not at all important. If that were so, then going from house to house to chat up neighbourhood women would not be undertaken. It may have been a secondary, relegated or hidden motivation but still a motivation.

Phatic Negotiation

Coupland, Justine; Nikolas Coupland and Jeffrey D. Robinson 1992. "How are you?": Negotiating phatic communion. Language in Society 21: 207-230.

Since its introduction by Malinowski in the 1920s, "phatic communion" has often been appealed to as a concept in sociolinguistics, semantics, stylistics, and communication, typically taken to designate a conventionalized and desemanticized discourse mode or "type." (Coupland, Coupland & Robinson 1992: 207)
Conventionalization touches upon the routine and standard nature; and desemantization is aligned with the asemanticity, referential irrelevance, etc. of phatic utterances.
But a negotiation perspective, following the conversation analysis tradition of research on greetings and troubles telling, fits the discursive realities better. Phaticity is a multidimensional potential for talk in many social settings, where speakers' relational goals supercede their commitment to factuality and instrumentality. (Coupland, Coupland & Robinson 1992: 207)
I understand potential (e.g. phaticity enables future communication due to earlier contact), but how is it multidimensional? What dimensions are there? (Could organon orientations be such directions?) Elsewhere I've met a lot of talk of relations and relationships, but relational goals is a new one. Jumping a bit ahead of myself, "pseudo-phatic" communion would in this sense be a communion wherein relational goals do not supercede instrumental ones. And "factuality" is just as weird as La Barre's insistence on semantic communication being about "genuine or verifiable statements about the structure of the universe". It's weird for me because I don't think in terms of truth value. In my opinion people don't go around spouting facts about the universe.
Although phatic communion is a concept that has surfaced quite regularly in semantics, sociolinguistics, and communication research, there have been very few systematic attempts to draw on or elaborate on the concept in sociolinguistics or discourse studies, the main exception being Laver's series of papers in the 1970s and 1980s (see later discussion). Consequently, phatic communion remains an often appealed to but underanalized term in an implicit taxonomy of discourse "types." (Coupland, Coupland & Robinson 1992: 207)
This is all too true for phatics in general. Too frequently one meets quotes from Malinowski or Jakobson and some slight variation in the choice of terms, but in-depth analysis of the issues involved is rare. (Meltzer & Musolf 2003 is a commendable exception in this regard.)
On the assumption that the need for the mere presence of others is "one of the bedrock aspects of man's [sic] nature in society," speech can be seen as "the intimate correlate of this tendency" (Malinowski 1972: 150). Therefore, communion among humans will often be marked in speech - "phatically." (Coupland, Coupland & Robinson 1992: 208)
Why is "man's" earmarked with [sic]? It seems pretty clear that Malinowski means man here in the archaic general sense of human. Likewise, there's a slight shift in the word "society" which we today understand more abstractly than mere "company of others". This is one of the biggest issues with Malinowski - his language is so archaic that in modern contxts it becomes fluid. There have been so many shifts in language use.
In this initial delimitation, we find the origins of the interpretation of phatic communion as a form of "small talk," discourse operating in a limited domain and dislocated from practical action and what Malinowski thought of as "purposive activities" (which include hunting, tilling soil, and war in "primitive" societies). (Coupland, Coupland & Robinson 1992: 208)
How limited is the domain of phatic speech?
"But though the hearing given to such utterances is as a rule not as intense as the speaker's own share, it is quite essential for his [sic] pleasure" (Malinowski 1972: 150-151). (Coupland, Coupland & Robinson 1992: 209)
Would a phrase like "his or her pleasure" be better? I have a rather hard time getting the details of the sentence as a whole: what does "the speaker's own share" refer to? The intensity of hearing? I don't quite understand what's going on there. Through all these Malinowski quotes I'm actually thinking that it might be a good idea to perform an "intralingual translation" of the relevant pages (the excerpt in Laver's 1972 edition, for example) and update the language. Even for just the exercise of it.
Inquiries about health [our emphasis, since the expression relates directly to the data we consider later], comments on the weather, affirmations of some supremely obvious state of things - all such are exchanged, not in order to inform, not in this case to connect people to action, certainly not in order to express any thought. (Malinowski 1972: 151)
The legacy of Malinowski's treatment is therefore a somewhat ambivalent view of phatic communion - talk that is aimless, prefatory, obvious, uninteresting, sometimes suspect, and even irrelevant, but part of the process of fulfilling our intrinsically human needs for social coheniveness and mutual recognition. (Coupland, Coupland & Robinson 1992: 209)
I emphasize their emphasis on inquiries about health because it validates my previous opinion that almost all authors pick one or other aspect of Malinowski's "somewhat ambivalent" exposition and run with it. La Barre takes "commens on the weather" and turns it into interpersonal atmosphere. Blanco takes up the affirmation aspect and shows how families re-affirm their membership through family pictures.
In the many later uses of the term phatic communion, it is the negative valuation that predominates, particularly when talk is analyzed to be referentially deficient and communicatively insignificant. (Coupland, Coupland & Robinson 1992: 209)
So the case is similar with its namesake, phatic function, which in some corners has become synonymous with any "attention-getting device".
Wolfson (1981) discussed how foreign students in the United States complain about "phoney" invitations to social events offered insincerely as part of phatic small talk. (Coupland, Coupland & Robinson 1992: 209)
While reading Meltzer & Musolf (2003) I had a similar connection regarding sociability and fugal/pedal dispositions. Foreign students from cultures with a sociofugal dispositions in a social environment with a sociopetal disposition can indeed feel like all the smiling, handshaking and welcoming language is really a thin facade of sociability substantiated by nothing more than convention. Reference: Wolfson, N 1981. Invitations, compliments, and the competence of the native speaker. International Journal of Psycholinguistics 8: 7-22.
Cheepen (1988) revived Malinowski's distinction between language as a mode of action and phatic communion. She renamed phatic communion "chat" (Cheepen 1988: 14ff), though she took the category to include narrative as a key element (which Malinowski in fact considered a separate category). (Coupland, Coupland & Robinson 1992: 209)
Depends on the definition of "narrative" though. Isn't "life-history" a kind of narrative? Reference: Cheepen, C. 1988. The Predictability of informal conversation. London: Pinter.
Hudson (1980) glossed phatic communion as "the kind of chit-chat that people engage in simply in order to show that they recognize each other's presence" (Hudson 1980: 109). (Coupland, Coupland & Robinson 1992: 209)
That's actually a pretty good approximation. The emphasis is not only on affirmation and consent but on the actualy function of greetings, the show of recognition and acknowledgement. Reference: Hudson, R. A. 1980. Sociolinguistics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Turner (1973) saw it as semantically "empty." In his view, we should "give the name 'phatic language' to all language which is designed more to accommodate and acknowledge a hearer than to carry a message" (Turner 1973: 212). (Coupland, Coupland & Robinson 1992: 210)
Similar to the last, but with an emphasis on sign systems. In historical context it is actually a step back: expressive language, for example, became the emotive function over time, as did ideational language become referential function. That phatic function should become phatic language is unprecedented due to starting out in Malinowski's treatment as a language function, but can indeed be viewed also as a subset of language, if language is understood more like a system of code (in Jakobsonian sense).
Taken as a whole, these later treatments tend to underplay Malinowski's insistence on the human embeddedness of phatic communion - indeed his motivation for using the term communion rather than communication and speech. (Coupland, Coupland & Robinson 1992: 210)
I have attributed this to Jakobson's influnce, this underplaying of "communion" in phatic communion. Part of it is probably the crypticness of both "communion" and "embeddedness".
But beyond this, the assumptions underlying many of these contemporary approaches raise their own difficulties. Phatic communion is taken to designate some sort of minimalist communicative practice, though along several possible dimensions. The "mereness" of phatic communion (which is clear enough in Malinowski too) by virtue of its low interest value, low information value, low relevance, perhaps also its low trustworthiness, presuposses an alternative mode of "true" or "authentic" discourse from which phatic talk deviates. (Coupland, Coupland & Robinson 1992: 210)
Don't they know that true and authentic discourse consist of genuine and verifiable statements about the structure of the universe?
What might "proper," "full," or "accelerated" communicative interaction involve? Taking the converses of the (consensual) defining attributes of phatic talk, we would have to identify talk that involved: (1 factual information exchange, (2) intrumental goals, (3) serious key, and (4) unwavering committment to openness, truth, and disclosiveness. These characteristics are not dissimilar from those referred to in Grice's well-known maxims of cooperative talk. But there are many reasons to doubt (and Grice himself was far from claiming) that we can identify such a mode of talk in action let alone treat it as a communication ideal (see Brown & Rogers 1991, for a parallel discussion. The most important reason is that it is demonstrably the case that even our most instrumental, transactional encounters are pervasively organized around multiple interactional goals that go well beyond the transmission and reception of factual information (see Tracy 1991; Tracy & Coupland 1991). Goals of talk that relate to building, modifying, or dissolving personal relationships, and, on the other hand, those that have to do with the definition and redefinition of one's own and others' identities as interacting beings, are no less intrinsic to the enterprise of talking. (Coupland, Coupland & Robinson 1992: 211)
The latter two goals are very much to my interest. Namely, "talk that relates to [...] personal relationships" is a broad conception of "communication about relationship" (a variant of metacommunication that Bateson terms the μ-function). The narrow concept that Bateson actually subscribes to involves the current relationship between the interactants, while the broad concept involves all kinds of relationships. In this sense, a speaker divulging information about his or her relationship to his or her parents is a form of phatic communication. Dell Hymes remarks that the "psychological connection" seems to him "significantly independent of the nature and state of the channel". How independent? Surely, independent enough to be about the social relationship between the participants that extends outside of the current communicative interaction. But if we took a truly "network"-oriented stance, then the "psychological connection" between the participants depends not only on their own mutual relationship but on the various types of relationships and networks of relationships that they are a part of. That is, phatic speech would involve not only speech about speaking in the current interaction (i.e. "Were you going to say something?") but also about relationships external to it (i.e. Laver's example, "Say hello to Jeanie for me"). This is what Laver describes as "a web of social solidarity with the speaker by the ties of common acquaintance" and I don't think this aspect has been developed enough in phatic studies. The second goal, the transformation of identities, comes to the foreground when we treat the relationship between phatic communion and autocommunication, but this will have to wait. (Roy Harris wasn't as useful in this regard as I would have hoped. I hope I find a better treatment of it somewhere somewhen.)
This suggests that it is quite wrong to isolate a discourse mode that embodies relational closeness as some partial or minor act of communication. As Malinowski had it, phatic communion may on the contrary be what is communicatively a most human process. Phaticity may be best seen as a constellation of interactional goals that are potentially relevant to all contexts of human interchange. Yet in the majority tradition of analysis, there are interesting allegiances to capitalist and patriarchal ethics. "True" communication is assumed to be geared to productive and efficient achievement through the business of exchanging serious information. This is the critical standpoint from which some feminist writers embrace rather than resist the notion of female gossip. (Coupland, Coupland & Robinson 1992: 211)
In my view phatic communion is the "degree zero" - as the French would put it - of communication. It foregrounds the act or fact of communication. Not only that but it brings human sociality, its sociability, into play by emphasizing that relational closeness is an indivisible part of communication. It could even be said that communication is impossible without some form of relational closeness - an anonymous message unintended for a specific receiver with whom the source has no relationship is as much communication as, to make up a natural metaphor, empty pods can be considered "peas".
The underlying goals of phatic talk are seen as establishing relationships and achieving transition. Because these together are defining characteristics of ritual activities, phatic communion for Laver falls within the scope of this general category. Laver willingly acknowledges the debt his theoretical position owes to Firth's (1972) work on greeting and parting as ritual and patterned routines. But again, ritual sequences, Laver suggests, are far from purposeless and desemanticized. There is the basic consideration that all utterances, phatic or otherwise, mean contrastively by being differentiated from other possible utterances, or from silence, in the context of their use. Hymes (personal communication) also noted that "even if the what of a ritual is predictable [...] there is information in the how. In a perfunctory manner, with feeling, haltingly, masterfully, respectfully, disrespectfully." Laver also argued that the linguistic form of a phatic initiative both constrains the thematic development of the interaction (i.e., it is sequentially meaningful) and confers crucial indexical meanings (i.e., it is socially diagnostic). (Coupland, Coupland & Robinson 1992: 212)
"Meaning contrastively" is a "weakly constitutive aspect" (Bilmes 1994: 77) or what you might call "undiluted Saussure" (Harris 1996: 174-175). Nevertheless, the point about performance rather than content by Dell Hymes stands. If only I could get my hands on Martin Joos's The Five Clocks... In any case, I'm considering reading Raymond Firth's paper next.
There is little to be achieved from setting the traditional, Malinowski-derived "small talk" perspective and Laver's functional, prosocial perspective in opposition to each other. In some respects, Malinowski and Laver addressed (or assumed) independent ranges of interactional situations. (Coupland, Coupland & Robinson 1992: 212)
And other researchers go on to address and assume even more independent ranges of interactional situations (i.e. phatic technologies) and forms of communication (i.e. phatic images, phatic architecture).
It is not difficult to envisage situations where the phaticity of utterances is a matter of cultural definition and where criteria for defining forms of talk as phatic or otherwise will differ across social groups. (Coupland, Coupland & Robinson 1992: 213)
A matter of "cultural definition" or "phatic interpretation".
From the multiple goals perspective we referred to earlier, we might see the fringes of interaction as a natural locus for relational goals to be foregrounded - that is, as sequences where a phatic design or "frame" for talk (Goffman 1974) is particularly salient. On the other hand, by this account, phatic communion would cease to be associated uniquely with the fringes of encounters (Laver) or extended chatting (Malinowski, Cheepen) and we should expect to find instances where a relationally designed and perhaps phatic mode of talk surfaces whenever relational goals become salient - even within sequences of transactional, instrumental, or task-oriented talk. (Coupland, Coupland & Robinson 1992: 213)
This is actually more akin to a Jakobsonian perspective than one would think. Instead of transactional, instrumental or task-oriented talk you would have various linguistic functions, but the essence is same - the phatic function or mode can become dominant or salient whenever emphasis on contact or relational goals surface.
If in phatic communion there is a preference for positivity that, as Malinowski suggested, might lead to false expressions of interest in and engagement with a speaking partner, we must recognize that this can be true of talk in very many contexts of interaction. (Coupland, Coupland & Robinson 1992: 214)
Do you mean "emphasis of affirmation and consent"?
At this point, it is valuable to follow Hymes's critique of Jakobson's taxonomy of speech functions. Jakobson (1960) had acknowledged the multi-functionality of individual speech events, and even acts, but proposed that "the verbal structure of a message depends on the predominant function" (Jakobson 1960: 120). However, Hymes (1968) argued that, "the defining characteristic of some speech events may be a balance, harmonious or conflicting, between more than one function. If so, the interpretation of a speech event is far from a matter of assigning it to one of sever types of functions" (Hymes 1968: 120). Although phatic communion "can be taken as a kind of alternating or reciprocal expressive function of speech" (Hymes 1968: 121, Hymes argued that there need be no simple link between the phatic function and the existence of contact or rapport. "Messages to establish, prolong or discontinue communication may neither intend nor evoke a sense of communion; there may be a clear channel and no rapport" (ibid.). (Coupland, Coupland & Robinson 1992: 214)
Jakobson doesn't subscribe to neither rapport nor communion. His phatic function is more technical, closer to Bateson's metacommunication. But now I have a reference for Hymes's discussion of phatic function: Hymes, Dell 1968. The ethnography of speaking. In: Fishman, J. A. (ed.), Readings in the sociology of language. Mouton: The Hague, 99-138.
So again, phatic communion cannot be defined as a type of talk, though the term can still locate an intriguing cluster of sociopsychological orientations to talk, along at least two key dimensions. Figure 1 is an attempt to illustrate social situations that may typicall, however grossly, be associated with different priorities for talk in terms of expressed or perceived commitment to openness and truth (the vertical dimension) and the degree of foregrounding of relational goals (horizontal dimension). What is of crucial importance here is that no single speech event (let alone speech genre) can be adequately characterized in these terms and that the phaticity of any one utterance is a matter for on-the-ground negotiation by participants as talk proceeds. (Coupland, Coupland & Robinson 1992: 214)
What is crucial, in essence, is that phaticity is a matter of interpretation. What is not crucialy, t would seem, is the choice of dimensions, because I would not put "commitment to openness" and "foregrounding of relational goals" as the primary phatic dimensions. I would rather go for "referential irrelevance" and "willingness to communicate" but even here I have my doubts.
(Coupland, Coupland & Robinson 1992: 215)
Too bad there is no lengthy exposition on this diagram because it's pretty interesting. The fact that phatic communion is set low on the scale of degree of expressed or perceived commitment to open disclosure, seriousness, factuality, etc. is somewhat limiting, because I see no reason why phatic communion can't be disclosive, serious, or factual. In my opinion it can be all of these, but only when it is also marked by a relational goal or emphasis on the autonomy of communication (i.e. I can discuss high concept philosophy not in order to seriously inform my listener but in order to pass time relatively pleasantly, because in some company this is what phatic communion consists of). Likewise, some hold transactional talk like booking a ticket to be phatic, because it is routine, formulaic. Really, the clustering of disclosure, seriousness and factuality into a single dimension seems erroneous.
Important further possibilities are that participants in talk may orient differently at one moment, among themselves but also individually at different moments, to the phaticity of an utterance. That is, we want to suggest that phatic communion may be negotiated relationally, and in real time. A sequence of what we might term phatic exchange may quite feasibly be constructed otu of qualitatively different participant roles that may themselves shift in the course of a single utterance. (Coupland, Coupland & Robinson 1992: 215-217)
I would argue that phaticity is really a matter of multi-levelled interpretation: there are socio-culturally defined situations and speech genres that are considered phatic; there occurs a relational negotiation of phaticity during the interaction; but there is also an intrapersonal interpretation of whether a given interaction was, is, or is going to be phatic or not.
Beyond this and in line with Fawcett's arguments, a more strategic analysis is necessary, allowing for the possibility that phatic talk can be engaged in dissimulatively, with an inherent and often valuable ambiguity. (Coupland, Coupland & Robinson 1992: 217)
Inching towards pseudo-phatic communion?
The data we consider show that establishing phatic/nonphatic modes of talk is indeed a complex, structured process, but one in which speakers feel their way toward or away from phaticity of their conversational exchanges through anything but pure, categorizable responses. We also raise the possibility that negotiating a response to HAY? [How are you?] is more than a simple act of self-disclosure (true or false) and is in fact a creative act toward establishing "tow we are" developmentally. (Coupland, Coupland & Robinson 1992: 219)
This is awesome - a processual approach to phatic communion (instead of the commonplace structural-functional).
But even here, and given that medical consultations need to be bounded with initiatory and perhaps particulary propitiatory talk (to defuse anxiety and establish rapport), HAY? will still need to be negotiated, and phatic processes are likely to present themselves for analysis. (Coupland, Coupland & Robinson 1992: 219)
This is marked up because I need alternative phraseology if I am to "update" the language in Malinowski's original treatment (I'm still considering attempting that).