Symbolic Convergence Theory: History, Description, Structure, & Example

Symbolic Convergence Theory: History, Description, Structure, & Example. Examples of Symbolic such as Code Words, Phrases, Slogans, and Gestures.

Table of contents:

  1. What is Symbolic Convergence Theory?
  2. History of the Symbolic Convergence Theory?
  3. Description of Symbolic Convergence Theory.
  4. History, and Example 

1. What is Symbolic Convergence Theory?

According to Symbolic Convergence Theory,  People share common fantasies and visions and these collections of individuals are merged into a cohesive group. SCT presents an explanation for the appearance of a group’s cohesiveness, consisting of shared emotions, motives, and meanings. Symbolic Convergence Theory consists of three words such as symbolic, convergence, and theory. Group members cooperatively create and sustain a shared consciousness including shared meaning through interaction.

1.1 What is Symbolic?

Symbolic is serving as a symbol that represents or expresses something else such as an idea, an action, quality without using words such as Code Words, Phrases, Slogans, and Gestures.

Example of Symbolic:

Code Words: What does FF: AC stands for?

FF: AC stands for “Final Fantasy: Advent Children”. Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children is a 2005 Japanese computer-animated science fantasy action drama film.

For example,  K.L = Kuala Lumpur, K.G= Kilogram, A.C= Air Conditioner

Phrases: Friday becomes a cool, wet afternoon.

Slogans: Think different is an advertising slogan used from 1997 to 2002 by Apple Computer, Inc.

Gestures: The common thumb up sign represents something approved and accepted.

Symbolic Convergence Theory (SCT)- Code Words Phrases Slogans Gestures

1.2 What is Convergence?

Convergence means forming a new unified whole or evolving into one through coming together two or more things. Convergence comes from the prefix con- and verb verge. Here, prefix con means together, and the verb verge, that means to turn toward. We can use convergence to explain things that are in the process of coming together, like the slow convergence of your opinions with those of your mother, or for things that have already come together. For example, a crowd of mass people all move together into a group.

1.3 What is Theory?

Theory is a set of principles on which the practice of an activity is based. It is a formal concept or set of ideas that is aimed to explain something. For example, the Tw0-step flow of communication theory, Groupthink Muted Group Theory, SOCIAL IDENTITY THEORY,  Tubb’s Theory- Small Group Communication, and so on.

Symbolic convergence: When 2 or more private symbol worlds incline toward each other, come closer, or overlap, it is called a symbolic convergence. 

2. History of the Symbolic Convergence Theory?

Ernest Bormann established Symbolic Convergence Theory in 1972. SCT was first proposed by Ernest Bormann in the Quarterly Journal of Speech in 1972. Bormann and his colleagues at the University of Minnesota introduced SCT as a framework for discovering, describing, and explaining the dynamic process by which humans come to share symbolic reality.

SCT is a communication-related theory introduced by Ernest Bormann who is a Professor at the University of Minnesota in the United States. American communication theorist best known as the originator of symbolic convergence theory (SCT) and its attendant method, fantasy theme analysis, which both explore how the sharing of narratives or “fantasies” can create and sustain group consciousness.  He argued that group consciousness can occur at any level of communication, from within small groups to mass media. Thus, he identified symbolic convergence as a general theory of communication.

3. Description of Symbolic Convergence Theory

Symbolic Convergence Theory offers an elucidation for the appearance of a group’s cohesiveness, consisting of shared emotions, motives, and meanings. Through SCT, members of the group can build a community or a group consciousness which grows stronger if they share a cluster of fantasy themes. Although this theory allows theorists and practitioners to anticipate or predict what did happen and what will happen but it does not allow for control of human communication.

It attempts to explain how communication can create and sustain group consciousness through the sharing of narratives or fantasies. To foster this cohesiveness, dramatizing or using fantasy stories are significant types of communication involved in SCT. SCT explains that meanings, emotions, values, and motives for action are in the communication contexts by people trying to make sense out of a common experience. It is a process through which collectives create and share a consciousness and develop a common symbolic reality.

Symbolic Convergence Theory has a three-part structure:

Firstly, elucidation of the recurring forms of communication involved in a shared group consciousness.

Secondly, the illustration of why group consciousness begins rises and is maintained.

Thirdly, an explanation of the process of how an individual begins to share (or stops sharing) a common symbolic reality.

Anatomy of symbolic Convergence Theory:

The social sciences and the communication discipline readily accept the use of several metatheoretical concepts (for example, power and scope, heuristic and isomorphic, elegance and parsimony, and validity and utility) to evaluate the quality of theories. There is less agreement about the metatheoretical concepts that would allow us to compare the anatomy (muscles, bones, arteries) of one theory with the anatomy of another.

A diagram of the Anatomy of the symbolic Convergence Theory has given below.

Symbolic Convergence Theory: History, Description, Structure, & Example

Basic Concepts: (Fantasy themes)

A fantasy theme is a dramatizing message that depicts characters engaged in action in a setting that estimates for and explains human experience. It is not something imaginary, but rather it is a “creative or imaginative interpretation of events which fulfills a psychological or rhetorical need.

Fantasy Theme Analysis is a form of rhetorical criticism. Rhetorical criticism explains the symbolic artifacts of discourse include the words, phrases, images, gestures, performances that people use to communicate. It shows how the artifacts work, entertain and arouse, and convince and persuade the audience. Rhetorical criticism studies and analyzes the purpose of the words, sights, and sounds that are the symbolic artifacts used for communications among people

Collective consciousness refers to the set of shared beliefs, ideas, attitudes, and knowledge that are common to a social group or society.

The basic concept is the fantasy theme and its associated basic concepts include symbolic cue, fantasy type, and saga.

Symbolic Cue:

A symbolic cue is a code word, phrase, slogan, or a nonverbal sign or gesture that works to trigger previously shared fantasies and emotions. Symbolic cues can also heighten a group’s cohesiveness.

Fantasy types:

A fantasy type is a stock scenario used to explain new events in a well-known, dramatic form such as Watergate, Irangate, and Whitewatergate. Taking stock is to think about all the aspects of a situation or event before deciding what to do next. A fantasy type is a fantasy theme that has a large number of rhetorical visions. They help make sense of a new phenomenon by providing known references.

Notable Example of Fantasy types

For example, a fantasy type would be when Richard Nixon was campaigning through his home state of California in 1952. A fund was put together by some wealthy Southern California businessman on behalf of Nixon. The newspapers picked this up and ran headlines such as “Secret Rich Men’s Trust Fund Keeps Nixon in Style Far Beyond His Salary”. The purpose of this fund was to help Nixon pay for expenses that he could not otherwise pay for out of his income. National newspapers were two to one in the favor of dropping Nixon from the ticket after this and his only hope was to find a way to regain public trust and support. Six days after the crisis, Nixon addressed the public by radio to respond to the charges against him.

A fantasy theme emerging from this story would be Nixon presenting himself as the American dream. During his speech over the radio, he emphasized how he made his own way in the world and had to work for living. Richard Nixon also said, “How does a candidate pay for political expenses not covered by the government? First, is to be a rich man, which I am not. I feel that it is essential in this country of ours that a man of modest means can run for President.” He offers autobiographical references that allow him to appear as the average man. This is an appropriate fantasy theme because it developed a response to the allegations that he is not a rich man who is getting money from everyone, but a hard-working man who started from the ground and worked upwards.

Saga:

A saga is a long story of heroic achievement of the life of an individual, group, organization, or larger entity such as a nation. It is a great historical achievement and event for individuals or a nation.  For instance, examples of American sagas include “the spirit of entrepreneurship” and “the power of the ballot box. Symbolic convergence theorists claim that the Soviet Union had difficulty managing the coherence of the fifteen republics due to the weakening of the communist rhetorical vision and decreasing sagas.

Finally, This theory affirms that communities are formed and maintained by the stories they share. The theory also suggests that humans are storytellers and share dramatization of an event. They make sense out of complexities by creating a script or narrative to account for what happened. People share the symbolic facts called fantasies, cues, and types with each other.

Message Structural Concepts: (Rhetorical vision)

A rhetorical vision is a composite drama that unifies people in a common symbolic reality. A rhetorical vision has five elements such as:

  1. Dramatis personae – the actors and players who give life to the rhetorical vision
  2. Plotline – provides the action of the rhetorical vision
  3. Scene – details the location of the rhetorical vision
  4. Sanctioning agent – legitimizes the rhetorical vision
  5. Master analogue – the reflection of a deeper structure within the rhetorical vision

Dynamic Structure Concepts

At the meta-theoretical level of analysis, the dynamic structure concepts of any communication theory refer to the deep structure tension or war underlying a message’s cast, form, or mold. With SCT the war occurs between righteous, social, and pragmatic fantasy themes and ultimately competing for rhetorical visions.

Righteousness is described as “the quality of being morally correct and justifiable. A pragmatic way of dealing with something is based on practical considerations, rather than theoretical ones. A pragmatic person deals with things in a practical way.

Communicator Structure Concepts

At the metatheoretical level of analysis, communicator concepts focus on the names given to communicators from the lens of a particular theory. With RAT, the communicators are called arguers, audiences, and critics. With Symbolic Convergence Theory, the major communicator concepts are fantasizers and rhetorical community along with their attributes such as inclination to fantasize and dramatic communication style.

Medium Structure Concepts

This metatheory concept allows us to understand of medium as a propagating matter, such as in the statement: corn grows best in sandy loam soil. For example, IST grows best in open and mixed communication systems and not well in closed communication systems. RAT grows differently in field invariant and field-dependent media. URT operates differently in high-context, collectivist cultures than it does in low-context, individualist cultures. Likewise, NPT grows best in an open, democratic society and does not do well in a closed, totalitarian state. Fantasies (and thus SCT) grow best in a medium that fosters group sharing or public sharing as opposed to just personal fantasizing.

As Bormann (1972) noted, fantasies that begin in small groups often are worked into public speeches, become picked up by the mass media, and “spread out across larger publics”. With both group and public sharing the tendency for fantasies to be embellished, reconfigured, reworked, and evolved increases. The result is that members of groups and public rhetorical-communities come to have a stake in the symbolic construction. The resultant symbolic construction has then entered their consciousness through the causative entity.

Evaluative Concepts

At the metatheoretical level of analysis, all communication theories posit one or more technical concepts that allow for the evaluation of communication that falls within the purview of a particular theory. For example, with IST, the primary evaluative concepts are fidelity, capacity, and uncertainty reduction.

With SCT, three primary technical concepts enable the evaluation of the quality and effects (outcomes) of fantasy-sharing among the members of rhetorical collectivities:  shared group consciousness, and rhetorical vision reality-links, and fantasy theme artistry.

Shared group consciousness

A shared group consciousness must exist within a rhetorical community in order for a fantasy theme to chain out, a rhetorical vision to develop, a saga to exist, or a symbolic cue to imbue meaning. Some terms that portray a shared group consciousness are a common ground, mutual understanding, created social reality, meeting of minds and empathic communication. Once a group has reached shared group consciousness, they no longer think in terms of “I” or “me” but in terms of “us” and “we.” After all, communication is the drive that allows groups of people to move towards their goal. A shared group consciousness also reduces uncertainty by allowing groups to develop an identity that shapes their culture. By shaping their own culture, this can influence norms, roles, and even decision making.

Rhetorical vision reality link

A rhetorical vision reality link allows for a viable rhetorical vision that chronicles an authentic account of the phenomena along with tangible evidence. The lack of a rhetorical vision reality link, with no clear observational impressions of the facts, may lead to disprovable fantasies, characterized by rumor, innuendo, gossip, and even paranoia.

Fantasy theme artistry

Fantasy theme artistry is the rhetorical ability to present situations in a form that appears attractive to people so that they will share them. By presenting situations in a form that appears attractive to an audience, or showing that you have an understanding of the stories that group shares, you can speak to their stories and turn their opinions into your favor.

Strengths and Weaknesses of the Symbolic Convergence Theory

Strengths of the Symbolic Convergence Theory

The stories or fantasies of symbolic convergence theory can help businesses, corporations or politicians. Because SCT is a general theory built on the method of natural sciences. It can be applied to many different cultures and timelines. It has been used to account for the communicative processes, created by a group, used to foster the creation and sustenance of the group’s so-called “consciousness.” Below are a few points of how and why SCT can be useful in everyday situations. Determining communication malfunctions. A question that happens a lot within SCT is, “Why do some fantasy themes spark a chain of sharing while others fail?”

Groups fate as a part of a group have common experiences that predispose them to share fantasies which relate to their concerns. Therefore, these groups will have successful fantasy chains because they have more in common and are able to share more. When issues of power, sexism, role conflict, social rejection, and other touchy topics come into play, group members often find the direct confrontation of such issues to be unsettling. These fantasy chains may begin, but often do not last very long. Assessing communication efforts and persuasive campaigns. This theory can provide insight within small groups, meetings, lectures, and speeches, but it provides a greater use of assessing effects within the media. It is most heavily used within political campaigns.

In the 1976 campaign, the investigators included the relationship between the media messages and the audience’s effects in their study. These studies analyzed the extent to which actual voting behavior can be anticipated by participation. By being able to predict the voting behaviors, political representatives could carefully craft their messages for different groups of people before giving their speeches and lectures to best benefit themselves. The role of consciousness. Within fantasy chains, there are three phases that keep the chains going. They are consciousness creating, consciousness-raising and consciousness sustaining. In the first phase, people to come to create a commonality among their group. If the groups share this common fantasy, consciousness-raising will often fall in line next. And lastly, the two first points combined will create a sustaining fantasy chain that will last.[9] A

 Weaknesses of the Symbolic Convergence Theory

Dangerous Phenomenon An important element of Symbolic Convergence Theory is the propensity of the phenomenon it illustrates to be used against the public good. Whether unintentionally or intentionally, SCT can be seen at work in revisionist history. The intentional malevolent use of SCT principles against the public good can be seen in the rash of “Fake News” campaigns in which false perceptions are feed to society in order to create a false, but widely believed, consensus (convergence) of belief. This is tantamount to intentionally creating false representation on the walls of Plato’s cave.

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