(Redwood City, California, USA)
I am a scholar, practitioner, and teacher. If you want to know more about me, an informal self-introduction is available at: http://www.fielding.edu/hod/faculty/pearcestory.htm.
Almost all of my teaching consists of work with adults. In my work at Fielding Graduate University, I work with mid-career adults who have returned to education to work on their Ph.D. degree. The curriculum at Fielding is designed for adult learners and the task of the faculty is to facilitate their learning rather than to be the experts from whom they learn. In addition, I do a limited amount of training for professionals who use my communication theory in their work or who want to learn some of the methods my colleagues and I have developed in our practice.
My professional practice is severely limited because my teaching position is a full-time job. It focuses on helping clients improve the patterns of communication in which they live and work. I believe that if we get the process of communication right, this is the single best guarantee that good things will happen in our personal lives, at work, and in government. I've written extensively about my concept of what it means to get the process of communication right and about ways of intervening and facilitating projects that promote better communication.
As a scholar, I've been one of the central persons in the development of the communication theory called "the coordinated management of meaning," or CMM. I'm pleased that a paper introducing this theory was presented at the second annual conference of the Russian Communication Association and is available at http://www.russcomm.ru/eng/rca_biblio/p/pearce.shtml. More information about the theory is available online at http://pearceassociates.com/essays/research_menu.htm.
The concept of "meaning" is central to CMM, but many people have noted that we don't offer a formal definition of it. When we began working on CMM in the mid-1970's, the social sciences in the United States were still struggling with the tension between those who wanted only to focus on observable behaviors and those believed that, since human social behavior is meaningful, meanings must be a part of our most fundamental units of analysis. We clearly identified with the latter, asserting that there can be no meaning without action and no action without meaning. (For a historical study of the way we positioned ourselves in the milieu of the times, you might want to read the report of what we called "the first phase of the CMM project:" Pearce and Cronen, 1980, Communication, Action and Meaning: The Creation of Social Realities. New York: Praeger, available online at: http://www.cios.org/www/opentext.htm).
The second conceptual choice-point (again, in the intellectual milieu of the social sciences in the United States in the mid-1970s) was between those who thought that meaning is intra-psychic (that is, inside the head of individuals) and those who thought that meaning is social (that is, in language or in social patterns of interaction). We embraced both sides of what many people presented as a dichotomy: like most of those in sociology and anthropology, we realized that individual humans are born into a pre-existing world of customs, language, and practices, and that each of us is shaped by them. However, we thought that this did not imply that individual humans do not become unique social actors, possessing the capacity for private thinking (particularly strategic planning), and differing (whether intentionally or accidentally) from the social groups of which they are a part. As a way of escaping the apparent dichotomy between the intra-psychic and social approaches to meaning, our primary focus -- like symbolic interactionists and ethnomethodologists - was on patterns of interactions among individuals and groups. This focus enabled us to see how the emerging patterns of communication often were nonsummative, unanticipated, and often unwanted results of the interaction itself. As a result, we envisioned persons, individually and collectively, as confronted with the tasks of 1) coordinating their interactions so that they can call into being their preferred meanings and avoid those that the hate or fear; and 2) managing their meanings so that they can understand and at least sometimes anticipate the patterns of interaction in which they are involved.
CMM is not nearly so radical a theory now as it was when first introduced. In the United States, there is general agreement on the importance of looking at meaning. Among the newer developments are the social constructionists' emphasis on language and the transdisciplinary emphasis on narrative and stories. In conversation with these developments, CMM's distinctive elements continue to be its emphasis on interaction; its concept that we are always in multiple meanings, and its concept of fluid, hierarchical relationships among the these meanings. In response to sharp criticism, we published an essay that locates our notion of meaning in the traditions of Wittgenstein, the American Pragmatists, and symbolic interactionism (Vernon E. Cronen, W. Barnett Pearce, and Changsheng Xi (1989/1990), "The Meaning of 'Meaning' in CMM Analyses of Communication: a Comparison of Two Traditions," Research on Language and Social Interaction, 23 1-40) but CMM is a practical theory and the best way of understanding it is to see how it is used in practice. I'd suggest starting with a recent book chapter http://pearceassociates.com/essays/cmm_pearce.pdf and an unpublished compilation of descriptions of how various people around the world are using CMM in their work: http://pearceassociates.com/essays/reports_from_users.pdf.
I'm told that that another question at the recent RCA conference had to do with what is the final outcome or result of CMM. The short answer: to increase our ability to make better social worlds. As I understand CMM, its most radical and useful feature is to invite us to ask, in any given situation, "what are we making in our interaction together?" The value of this question derives fully as much from the perspective that it creates as the answers that it generates. It is a perspective that sees us as coordinating with other people in ways that are affected but not controlled by our own meanings of the patterns of interactions that we collectively produce. The consequences of this perspective include taking other persons' meanings into account; differentiating between our own motives/ intentions/ hopes/ fears/ beliefs and the consequences of our actions; and generating a sensibility about the forms of communication.
From this perspective, it is clear that humans have a propensity to reproduce destructive patterns of interaction. In my research, I've found that "good people" interact in ways that produce "bad patterns of interaction." In Moral Conflict: When Social Worlds Collide (Sage, 1997), Stephen Littlejohn and I explore one category of situation that recurring produces patterns of confrontation, vilification, and the deterioration of potentials for creativity and peace.
One of the purposes of my research and practice is to find ways to increase persons' ability to produce positive, pro-social patterns of interactions. The Public Dialogue Consortium has attempted to develop specific ways of acting into such situations that will make them better. The best description of that work is in a privately-published book by Kim Pearce (2002). Making better social worlds: Engaging in and facilitating dialogic communication. Redwood City, California: Pearce Associates. (Available from Pearce Associates, 214 Yarborough Lane, Redwood City, California, USA; for more information, contact me at email@example.com). As an example of the thinking involved in this work, I wrote an essay including a different version of the speech President Bush gave immediately after the terrorist attack on New York City and Washington, D. C. on September 11, 2001. This essay is available online at: http://pearceassociates.com/essays/our_response.htm.
- Professor, School of Human and Organization Development, Fielding Graduate University (www.fielding.edu) since 1997.
- Professor and Chair, Department of Communication, Loyola University Chicago, 1990-1997.
- Professor and Chair, Department of Communication, University of Massachusetts at Amherst, 1975-1990.
- Associate Professor, University of Kentucky, 1972-1975. Associate Professor and Director of the Communication Program, 1969-1972.
- Ph.D., Ohio University, 1969.
- M.A., Ohio University, 1968.
- B.A., Carson-Newman College, 1965.
Selected special projects:
- Senior Visiting Scholar, Linacre College, Oxford University, 1989.
- Director, collaborative project in "Public dialogue and democracy" between Loyola University Chicago and the University of Lagos, Nigeria, sponsored by the United States Information Agency.
- Visiting Scholar, Fundacion Interfas, Buenos Aires, Argentina, sponsored by the Council for International Education (the "Fulbright" program), 1997.
W. Barnett Pearce and Stephen Littlejohn, Moral Conflict: When Social Worlds Collide. Sage, 1997.
W. Barnett Pearce, Interpersonal Communication: Making Social Worlds. HarperCollins, 1994.
Michael Weiler and W. Barnett Pearce, Eds., Reagan and Public Discourse in America. University of Alabama Press, 1991.
Uma Narula and W. Barnett Pearce, Eds., Cultures, Politics and Research Methods: An International Assessment of Field Research Methods. Erlbaum, 1990.
W. Barnett Pearce, Communication and the Human Condition. Southern Illinois University Press, 1989. Translated as Comunicazione e Condizione Umana, Milano: FrancoAngeli, 1993.
Uma Narula and W. Barnett Pearce, Development as Communication: A Perspective on India. Southern Illinois University Press, 1987.
W. Barnett Pearce and Jeremy Kearney, Eds. (2004). Coordinated Management of Meaning: Innovations and applications. Human Systems. 15, whole issues 1, 2, and 3.
Kevin Barge and Barnett Pearce (2004) A reconnaissance of CMM research. Human Systems, 15: 13-32.
W. Barnett Pearce (2001). "Introduccion a la teoria del Manejo Coordinado del Significado" (Introduction to the Theory of the Coordinated Management of Meaning), Sistemas Familiares, 17: 5 - 16.
Kimberly A. Pearce and W. Barnett Pearce (2001). "The Public Dialogue Consortium's school-wide dialogue process: A communication approach to develop citizenship skills and enhance school climate." Communication Theory, 11, 105-123.
W. Barnett Pearce and Kimberly A. Pearce, (2000). "Extending the theory of the coordinated management of meaning ("CMM") through a community dialogue process." Communication Theory, 10, 405-423.
W. Barnett Pearce and Kimberly A. Pearce (2000), "'Diventare pubblico:' Lavorare sistemicamente in contesti pubblici," (Going Public: Working Systemically in Public Contexts), Pluriverso, 2: 85 - 99.
W. Barnett Pearce and Kimberly A. Pearce (2000), "Combining Passions and Abilities: Toward Dialogic Virtuosity," Southern Communication Journal, 65: 161-175.
W. Barnett Pearce and Kimberly A. Pearce (1998), "Transcendent Storytelling: Abilities for Systemic Practitioners and their Clients." Human Systems. 9, 167-185.
W. Barnett Pearce (1998), "On Putting Social Justice in the Discipline of Communication and Putting Enriched Concepts of Communication in Social Justice Research and Practice," Journal of Applied Communication Research, 26: 272-278.
Chapters in books:
W. Barnett Pearce (2004). "The Coordinated Management of Meaning," pp. 35-54 in William Gudykunst (Ed.). Theorizing Communication and Culture . Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
W. Barnett Pearce and Kimberly A. Pearce (2004). "Taking a communication approach to dialogue," in Anderson, R., Baxter, L. & Cissna, K. (Eds.) Dialogue: Theorizing difference in communication, pp. 39-56. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
W. Barnett Pearce (expected 2003), "Civic maturity: Musings about a metaphor." In Peter Park & Robert Silverman (Eds.). Fielding Graduate Institute
Action Research Symposium: Alexandria, Virginia July 23-24, 2001: http://www.fielding.edu/research/ar_papers/Pearce.pdf
W. Barnett Pearce (2002). "New Models for Communication: Shifts from Theory to Praxis, from Objectivism to Social Constructionism, and from Representation to Reflexivity," pp. 197-208 in Dora Fried Schnitman and Jorge Schnitman (Eds.) New Paradigms, Culture and Subjectivity. Cresskill, New Jersey: Hampton Press. Originally published as "Novos modelos e metaforas communicacionais: a passagem da teoria a pratica, do objectivismo ao construcionismo social e da representacao a reflexividade," in Dora Fried Schnitman, Ed. (1994), Novos Paradigms, Cultura, e Subjetividade. San Paulo, Brazil: Artes Medicas.
W. Barnett Pearce (2001), "Toward a National Conversation about Public Issues," pp. 13-38 in William F. Eadie and Paul E. Nelson (Eds.). The Changing Conversation in America: Lectures from the Smithsonian. Sage.
W. Barnett Pearce (1995), "Bringing News of Difference: Participation in Systemic Social Constructionist Communication." Pp. 94-116 in Lawrence R. Frey (Ed.). Innovations in Group Facilitation: Applications in Natural Settings. Cresskill, N.J.: Hampton Press.