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).


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