Informal Soc-Com

Festinger, Leon 1950. Informal Social Communication. Psychological Review 57(5): 271-282.

The importance of strict theory in developing and guiding programs of research is becoming more and more recognized today. Yet there is considerable disagreement about exactly how strict and precise a theoretical formulation must be at various stages in the development of a body of knowledge. Certainly there are many who feel that some "theorizing" is too vague and indefinite to be of much use. It is also argued that such vague and broad "theorizing" may actually hinder the empirical development of an area of knowledge. (Festinger 1950: 271)
A timely sentiment, seeing as La Barre - contemporaneously - extolled on the virtue of theorization vs theory for the sake of theory.
It is probably correct that if a theory becomes too precise too early it can have tendencies to become sterile. It is also probably correct that if a theory stays too vague and ambiguous for too long it can be harmful in that nothing can be done to disprove or change it. This probably means that theories, when vague, should at least be stated in a form which makes the adding of precision possible as knowledge increases. (Festinger 1950: 271)
This (vagueness and ambiguity) is the problem with phatics. I'm not even sure if formulating "phatic studies" would rectify the situation, but an attempt must at least be made.
This program of research concerns itself with finding and explaining the facts concerning informal, spontaneous communication among persons and the consequences of the process of communication. It would seem that a better understanding of the dynamics of such communication would in turn lead to a better understanding of various kinds of group functioning. (Festinger 1950: 271)
I read "informal, spontaneous communication" as synonymous to phatic communion. The dynamics of it and its effects on group functioning are indeed pertinent problems.
One major source of forces to communicate is the pressure toward uniformity which may exist within a group. These are pressures which, for one reason or another, act toward making members of a group agree concerning some issue or conform with respect to some behavior pattern. It is stating the obvious, of course, to say that these pressures must be exerted by means of a process of communication among the members of the group. One must also specify the conditions under which such pressures toward uniformity arise, both on a conceptual and an operational level so that in any specific situation it is possible to say whether or not such pressures exist. (Festinger 1950: 272)
Always that emphasis on affirmation and consent, or in other words, agreement concerning some issue or conformance with respect to some behavior pattern.
1. Social reality: Opinions, attitudes, and beliefs which people hold must have some basis upon which tehy rest for their validity. (Festinger 1950: 272)
The firste major source of pressures toward uniformity is social reality, on which they base their opinions, attitudes, and beliefs. In a sense this definition of social reality amounts to common ground (or "background knowledge").
This continuum we may call a scale of degree of physical reality. At one end of this continuum, namely, complete dependence upon physical reality, we might have an example such as this: A person looking at a surface might think that the surface is fragile is unbreakable. He can very easily take a hammer, hit the surface, and quickly be convinced as to whether the opinion he holds is correct or incorrect. After he has broken the surface with a hammer it will probably make little dent upon his opinion if another person should tell him that the surface is unbreakable. It would thus seem that where there is a high degree of dependence upon physical reality for the subjective validity of one's beliefs or opinions the dependence upon other people for the confidence one has in these opinions or beliefs is very low.
At the other end of the continuum where the dependence upon physical reality is low or zero, we might have an example such as this: A person looking at the results of a national election feels that if the loser has won, things would be in some ways much better than they are. Upon what does the subjective validity of this belief depend? It depends to a large degree on whether or not other people share his opinion and feel the same way he does. If there are other people around him who believe the same thing, then his opinion is, to him, valid. If there are not others who believe the same thing, then his opinion is, in the same sense, not valid. Thus where the dependence upon physical reality is low the dependence upon social reality is correspondingly high. (Festinger 1950: 272)
This is extremely interesting, because I've never before met someone viewing physical and social reality as a continuum of (social) objects. It undermines dualism in this sphere quite well. It is also in some measure comparable to the topic of abstract and concrete reference. According to Buyssens (1988: 191), "concrete" even "characterizes a material object, something that can be perceived by at least one of our senses", while "abstract' refers to "constituents", e.g. shape, size, color, etc. on which we may have disagreements in the social dimension (what is "small" for me may be "big" for another). Moreover, "A concrete referent cannot be communicated; it must be known or present." (Buyssens 1988: 196)
It is not necessary for a Ku Klux Klanner that some northern liberal agree with him in his attitude toward Negroes, but it is eminently necessary that there be other people who also are Ku Klux Klanners and who do agree with him. The person who does not agree with him is seen as different from him and not an adequate referent for his opinion. The problem of independently defining which groups are and which groups are not appropriate reference groups for a particular individual and fora a particular opinion or attitude is a difficult one. (Festinger 1950: 273)
Finally (after god-knows-how-many-years of being aware of it) a quotable near-definition of a reference group.
From the preceding discussion it would seem that if a discrepancy in opinion, attitude, or belief exists among persons who are members of an appropriate reference group, forces to communicate will arise. It also follows that the less "physical reality" there is to validate the opinion or belief, the greater will be the importance of the social referent, the group, and the greater will be the forces to communicate. (Festinger 1950: 273)
"Social referent" sounds like a workable notion. So there are physical referents and social referents. Could there also be idiosyncratic referents, i.e. references - or perhaps allusions - to one's own previous semiotic activity (thinking, writing, etc.)? - Actually, that would basically be self-referentiality. Biological referents could probably be lumped in with physical referents, given common ground between the living and non-living. In any case, "social referent" (i.e. the group) seems like a cool notion.
Communications which arise from pressures toward uniformity in a group may be seen as "instrumental" communications. That is, the communication is not an end in itself but rather is a means by which the communicator hopes to influence the person he adresses in such a way as to reduce the discrepancy that exists between them. (Festinger 1950: 273)
This is what I would have called communization. But it's still pretty much in line with Morris's definition of communication, given that the means of reducing discrepancies involve achieving common signification.
Remembering that we are considering only communication that results from pressures toward uniformity, it is clear that if there are no discrepancies in opinion, that is, uniformity already exists in the group, there will be no forces to communicate. It would be plausible to expect the force to communicate to increase rapidly from zero as the state of affairs departs from uniformity. (Festinger 1950: 274)
This is a pretty significant caveat, since it's a special case of communication (in the group).
Cohesiveness of a group is here defined as the resultant of all the forces acting on the members to remain in the group. These forces may depend on the attractiveness or unattractiveness of either the prestige of the group, members in the group, or the activities in which the group engages. If the total attraction toward the group is zero, no forces to communicate should arise; the members may as easily leave the group as stay in it. As the forces to remain in the group increase (given perceived discrepancies in opinion and given a certain relevance of the item to the functioning of the group) the pressures to communicate will increase. (Festinger 1950: 274)
Cohesiveness sounds like one of those criteria that are relevant for any kind of discussion of groups but which is less prevalent these days since the term itself feels outdated. I may be wrong, though, it's just a feeling.
We have already stated in Hypothesis 1a that the pressure to communicate in general will increase as the perceived non-uniformity in the group increases. In addition the force to communicate will be strongest toward those whose opinions are most different from one's own and will, of course, be zero towards those in the group who at the time hold the same opinion as the communicator. In other words, people will tend to communicate to those within the group whose opinions are most different from their own. (Festinger 1950: 275)
In other words, dissidents are targeted for reeducation.
Infreuent contact in the ordinary course of events tends to erect restraints against communication. It is undoubtedly easier to communicate a given item to a person whom one sees frequently or to a person to whom one has communicated similar items in the past. The structuring of groups into hierarchies, social clusters, or the like, undoubtedly tends to restrict the amount and type of contact between members of certain different parts or levels of the group and laso undoubtedly restricts the content of the communication that goes on between such levels in the ordinary course of events. These restrictions erect restraints against certain types of communication. (Festinger 1950: 280)
A familiar sentiment from the intersection of communication routines and personal relationships.
EMOTIONAL EXPRESSION - An important variety of communications undoubtedly results from the existence of an emotional state in the communicator. The existence of joy, anger, hostility and the like seems to produce forces to communicate. It seems that communications resulting from the existence of an emotional state are consummatory rather than instrumental. (Festinger 1950: 280-281)
Unsurprisingly, just like the phatic function, consummatory communication is related to emotions. Define:consummatory - of, relating to, or being a response or act (as eating or copulating) that terminates a period of usually goal-directed behavior.
By a consummatory communication we mean one in which the reduction of the force to communicate occurs as a result of the expression and does not depend upon the effects it has on the recipient. Certainly in the case of such communications the reaction of the recipient may introduce new elements into the situation which will affect the force to communicate, but the essence of a consummatory communication is that the simple expression does reduce the force. (Festinger 1950: 281)
In this sense consummatory communication is in itself a releaser of tensions. (Compare to the factor of interpersonal tensions in Malinowski.)
Communications arising from the existence of emotional states. In this area data are almost completely lacking. Some theoretical distinctions were made and an experiment which is now in progress in this area was outlined. (Festinger 1950: 281)
The similarity with phatic communion is truly astounding.


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