Transformative Power of Dialogue

Review of:
Stephen W. Littlejohn & Sheila McNamee (Eds.). (2014). The coordinated management of meaning: A festschrift in honor of W. Barnett Pearce. Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press.

by Robyn Penman

In 1980, Barnett Pearce and his colleague, Vern Cronen, published Communication, Action and Meaning, a seminal work introducing scholars to the theory of the coordinated management of meaning (CMM). Over the ensuing decades, CMM theory has continued to grow, reaching a wider and wider audience as the practical and theoretical relevance of Barnett’s work became increasingly acknowledged.

In recognition of Barnett’s outstanding scholarship, a conference, entitled the Transformative Power of Dialogue, was held in his honour in January 2011. The essays in this book collection emerged from that conference. I am one of the contributors to this volume and, as such, this review is more of a commendation than any conventional critical review.

The book opens with an essay written by Barnett shortly before his death, reflecting on what it could take for personal and social revolution to be brought about. As he put it, he has “bet my professional life” on following the risky, high stake path that this evolution “could be promoted by explicit attention to what we are making together in the forms of communication in which we engage” (p. 44).

Barnett’s bet has reaped its rewards, not the least of which is the extent to which he has inspired, encouraged and collaborated with an extraordinary range of scholars and practitioners, a sample of which is contained in the current volume. The very breadth, scholarship and wide-ranging practical import captured in the 15 essays bear witness to the rich offerings to be found in CMM and its broader communication perspective.

For those interested in intercultural dialogue, the central importance placed on dialogue in Barnett’s work, and in the essays in this volume, makes the book especially pertinent. One part of this volume is specifically devoted to the theme of dialogue. The topics include the role of systemic questioning (Victoria Chen), moral conflict and managing difference (Stephen Littlejohn), framing and conflict transformation (Linda Putnam), and generative community dialogue (Stanley Deetz).

Dialogue also emerges as a powerful theme throughout the other parts in the book. For example, I (Penman) consider the core relationship between dialogue and presence and what this means for understanding participation in mediated life. John Lannamann explores the key role of dialogue and its practice in cosmopolitan communication in making better social worlds. And Kim Pearce sums up the volume by talking about the pathway to personal and social evolution in terms of the “life of dialogue…that holds in tension, and compassion, the various stories, actions and people who loves us, or don’t, who are like us. . . . , or aren’t and who may challenge us to the core to remain civil and open” (p. 328).

For anyone interested in dialogue and its role in making better social worlds, this book should be a rewarding read.

CMM Institute Fellows 2013/14

Fellows Program 2013/2014
A Partnership among Villanova University, Fielding Graduate University, and the CMM Institute for Personal and Social Evolution

Topic:  Using the “communication perspective” and CMM for
understanding our lives lived in new media.

Communication is a generative force in the construction of social worlds. In the 21st Century these social worlds are increasingly created within a mediated landscape. These new media include a variety of digital platforms, experienced via a range of devices that offer on-demand access to content, interactive user feedback, creative participation, mobile community formation around specific content issues, and the real-time generation of new unregulated content. The new media, in fact, appear to offer it all and substantial claims have been made about their capacity to contribute to and enhance our contemporary social life.

In this year’s call for Fellows, we seek proposals that take a communication perspective and use the lens of CMM to further our understanding of lives lived in new media and, in particular, address the issue of how new media impacts our capacity to make and engage in social worlds.

Proposals that focus on any of the various types of new media are welcome. These new media can include web-hosted social sites like facebook, mobile supported technology applications like twitter, or the range of different media hosted sites for citizen engagement and democratic participation activities.

We particularly encourage proposals that can demonstrate the practical import of a communication perspective and that enrich our understanding of the value of using CMM to understand the new media context and the types of social worlds these new media are helping to make and foster.

Application Process:  Applications can be downloaded using the “Letter of Intent” form on the CMM Institute website  Applications are due by Friday, November 1, 2013.   Applicants will be notified the week of January 5, 2014.

If you are invited to become a CMM Fellow for 2014, you will be asked to present your work and engage participants in your topic area at the 2014 CMM Learning Exchange in October, 2014 (specific dates and location to be determined).  The three partnering institutions will also post your work on our respective websites. The three institutions will conduct a blind review process and select 3 Fellows for 2014.  Each Fellow will receive a cash award of $2500.00 and will have your travels expenses to the 2014 Learning Exchange paid for.

Download relevant files here:

For more information, contact Kim Pearce.

– See more details here.

CMM Institute Fellows Award

Applications for the 2012-2013 CMM Institute Fellows Program are due by September 30, 2012.

The three Institutions listed below are proud to announce the second annual Fellows Program for 2012-2013. We will be honoring and supporting the work of two Fellows who are engaged in research and/or practice in the broad area of taking the communication perspective. The 2013 Fellows will receive $5,000.00 and have their work featured on the websites and newsletters of the three sponsoring institutions.

If you would like to explore the 2011-2012 Fellows’ final presentations, please visit:

The information below provides the details of the program and the application process.

The CMM Institute for Personal and Social Evolution, Fielding Graduate University’s Institute for Social Innovation, and The Waterhouse Family Institute for the Study of Communication and Society at Villanova University Invite you to apply for the 2012/2013 Fellows Program

The CMM Institute for Personal and Social Evolution advances compassion, empathy, and civility by cultivating traditions of thinking and action based on the communication theory the Coordinated Management of Meaning (CMM). The non-profit Institute provides intellectual leadership and sponsors activities in research, theory-development, and education; the development of practice; world-wide networking and project and information sharing; and fresh insights regarding CMM’s capacity to overcome contemporary social issues and intractable conflicts.

One of the Institute’s greatest priorities is to promote research and interventions that take “a communication perspective” and contribute to the common good. By “taking a communication perspective” we mean projects that treat communication as substantive (an object in itself, not just a means of transmitting information about other things) and constitutive (its characteristics generate the social worlds in which we live).

In partnership with Fielding Graduate University’s Institute for Social Innovation and the Waterhouse Family Institute at Villanova University, we will recognize two Fellows for 2012/2013.

Fellows Program Description
A Fellow is a distinguished scholar and/or practitioner who is recognized for 1) demonstrating a unique understanding of what it means to take and apply a communication perspective; and, 2) finding creative and impactful ways of using a communication perspective to address real-world challenges.

The focus for the 2012-2013 Fellows program is “Transforming Communication.”

As we all know, social worlds are not all alike. Some support lives of compassion, love, dignity and joy better than others. Several taxonomies for naming these distinctions have been developed by theorist such as Robert Kegan and Ken Wilbur.

Communication is the generative force in the production of social worlds. The “communication perspective” directs attention to those patterns of communication. Once we look “at” communication, then we can ask the follow-up question: How can we change patterns of communication that produce less desirable social worlds in our families, schools, workplaces, and communities into those that produce more desirable social worlds?

Barnett Pearce describes this as an “upward” move (as distinguished from the “backward” and “forward” moves) in the first chapter of Making Social Worlds: A Communication Perspective (2007, Wiley-Blackwell).

We are interested in research projects that help us better understand the “upward” move. Relevant questions might include:
•     How can we identify patterns of communication that make better social worlds (or higher levels of personal and social development)?
•     How can we change patterns of communication in order to produce more desirable social worlds in our families, schools, workplaces, and communities?
Proposals that focus on innovation in dialogue and deliberation are also welcome. In this approach, new types of dialogue work would be seen as one of the methods needed to transform communication. For example, research in this area might focus on intergenerational dialogue, new tools for large-scale dialogue, and assessing the impacts of dialogic work on social issues.

Application Process
Your desire to become a Fellow is formalized by submitting a Letter of Intent (LOI) form to the CMM Institute by September 30, 2012. The letter should include a 3-page single spaced description of your proposed project, your rationale for this project, your methodology and the anticipated outcomes. The LOI can be found on the CMM Institute’s website, subcategory Fellows Program, by clicking here:

If you are invited to become a Fellow we will inform you by January 1, 2013 and ask that your project be completed by July, 2013. Both Fellows will present their work at a half-day seminar hosted by Fielding Graduate University in July, 2013.

Each Fellow will receive a cash award of $5,000.00 and have their work featured in the newsletters, websites, and other publications of the collaborating Institutes.

For more information, contact Kim Pearce at kimpearce AT

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