COM 270
Introduction to Theories of Human Communication


I. Introduction

A. Dialectical Theory was created to explain contradictions in everyday life.

EX: Why do "Birds of a feather flow together" BUT "Opposites attract."

B. A "contradiction" is the existence of two completely opposite things at the same time.

Ex: "Sweet" vs. "Sour" or "Good" vs. "Bad"

C. "Contradictions" have two properties:

1. Incompatibility -- one side negates or neutralizes the other side

2. Mirror opposites -- the properties of one side are complete opposite from the properties of the other side.

D. Dialectical Theory has its roots in the Chinese philosophy of Yin and Yang -- i.e., all aspects of the universe contains the seeds of its opposites -- as well as the Western philosophy that the world is in constant flux (change), with creative and destructive forces constantly operating upon each other.

E. The application of Dialectical Theory to the study of communication is largely credited to communication scholars, William ("Bill") Rawlins (Purdue University) and Leslie Baxter (University of Iowa).

II. Basic Concepts of Dialectical Theory

A. Communication behaviors and patterns in everyday life can be explained by the presence and influence of dialectical tensions in our daily relationships.

B. "Dialectical tension" refers to the "tugs and pulls" that we normally experience in relationships as a result of the existence of contradictions.

Ex: Feelings of "love - hate"

C. Contradictions in relationships are in constant movement, flux, and change -- (Rawlins, 1989).

Ex: In a relationship, we may fluctuate between feelings of "love" and hate"

D. The behaviors and actions we produce in relationships are responses to the dialectical tensions in the relationship. As the dialectical tensions change, our actions and behaviors change.

Ex: When feelings of "love" dominate the relationship, we want to constantly be around the person and do things with him/her; but when feelings of "hate" dominate the relationship, we don't want to have anithing to do with the person and don't want to do anything with him/her.

III. Examples of Dialectical Tensions in Everyday Life

A. Integration vs. Separation -- the need do things with others (connection) versus the need to have one's own space and do one's own thing (autonomy)

Ex: In a relationship, there are times when we want to be WITH the other person, yet do something ALONE (e.g., read a book or the newspaper) in the presence of that other person (See "Dear Abby" letter).

B. Novelty vs. Predictability-- the need to be consistent, reliable, and steady (predictability) versus the need to be different, unique, and surprising (novelty)

Ex: My wife expects predictability out of me, yet welcomes a little novelty and surprise every once in awhile.

C. Privacy vs. Transparency -- by the sharing of information can help a relationship grow closer and stronger. However, this need for self-disclosure conflicts with the need for privacy felt by each individual in the relationship. When these needs are at odds with one another, a relational tension is created over how much disclosure is desirable.

Ex: TLC song, CREEP (Each member of the couple deals with the dialectic of privacy and transparency in different ways.)




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