Symbolic-Convergence Theory

When a group of individuals have similar thoughts about a certain topic in a group conversation, they can relate to similar issues, experiences, and situations. This phenomenon has a term called symbolic convergence theory, developed by Ernest Bormann, John Cragan, and Donald Shields This theory has different levels of communication, which enhance the relationships between people. The symbolic-convergence theory is also known as the fantasy-theme analysis, which can be created in small groups or interaction between two people, thus creating a similar perspective.

This theory states that individuals tend to believe certain things or think a certain way because their point of view has been molded by society. The symbolic convergence theory has different concepts that can be applied effectively to generate articulate conversations. Ernest Bormann’s Symbolic Convergence Theory illustrated a method of looking at a group interaction and cohesiveness. According to “Bormann’s Symbolic Convergence Theory,” by Denise Young she stated that this theory meets the scientific standards of explanation of the outcome, relative simplicity, and practical effectiveness.

But it also meets the humanistic standards considering the community agreement and the reform of society. It brings the group together through symbolic interaction and can continue expanding from one person to the next one. Bormann’s theory provides a straightforward strategy of examining the relationship of group membership. One of the concepts that contribute with the symbolic convergence theory is fantasy themes. They take a small role in the composition of rhetorical visions, which are larger, longer, and more complex stories. Rhetorical visions are related points of view of the past, present, and the future.

Fantasy themes are not considered fictitious stories, but rather experiences that uncover sentiments. They are an important key in persuasion. They are created within small groups and expand their way out from person to person to create a shared worldview. For example, in a family reunion people talk about their children and experiences they had with their spouse, and the other relatives might have experienced the same and that’s what unites them and share a worldview between them. However, unity cannot always be accomplished, either because certain individuals cannot relate to the fantasy theme or common ground has not been established.

According to the book, “Theories of Human Communication,” by Stephen W. Littlejohn and Karen A. Foss stated that fantasy themes and rhetorical visions, consist of characters, plot line, scenes, and sanctioning agent. Characters are the people that are playing the big role such as heroes, villains, or other individuals in general. The plot line would be the development of the story, such as what is the purpose of the story being told. The scenes would be the setting and the location in which the story took place. Finally, the sanctioning agent is a source that helps the person listening to the story believable.

For instance, a person talking about their experience at church, that the priest was preaching in front of everyone with a sense of passion. The character would be the priest, the plot line would be preaching to the group of people, the scenes is the small church and the sanctioning agent is the priest because he is reading off the bible, in which the bible gives off credibility to the story. On the other hand we have the rhetorical visions, which unlike fantasy themes, can be reoccurring, but abbreviated to simple phrases or words that can act as triggers for a particular group.

The triggers are known as symbolic cues, and they help start certain stories or what we call inside jokes. For example, a group of friends that watch Finding Nemo and a week later they re-enact a scene in front of someone who has seen the film at a different time as them, then the scene at hand would bring back memories of the movie. If they would re-enact another scene to a friend that has not seen the movie it would have no meaning or humor to that person. The triggers are the small pieces of stories that do no need to be told from the beginning and will help the other person understand what they are trying to say.

Another example would be a group of friends singing the chorus of a song and another random person walking by and singing the rest of the song. This illustrates how they all become close together without starting from the beginning of the song. A combination of fantasy themes that create high familiarity and consistency are also known as fantasy types. When these stories are being told repeatedly, they can relate to achievements within a community, group, or person, thus taking form of a saga. An example of saga within a family is the story of “La Llorona,” a Mexican myth.

This story has been told for a lifetime to children and continues to be told to the next generation. The myth is about a lady that had children and her husband cheated on her and decided to drown her children. When she passed away she comes back as a ghost and cries for her children. This story takes a form of a saga because it is retold over and over again and it also involves characters that people know in their certain culture. Sagas are not only within the family but also the work organization. Coworkers can tell stories about previous employees and their good working effort and how they made the company successful.

Last but not least, national and societal sagas are historical dates such as Rosa Parks the civil rights activist in the 1950’s. Her story as we all know, she was an African American woman who refused to give up her seat in the front bus for a white passenger. This saga has been repeated several times in history, which have led to the civil rights and liberties of all minorities regardless of race or gender. Overall, there have been moments in history that were powerful enough to have an impact on communities, whether it is fear or power.

Events such as these were powerful enough to be repeated and continue to be repeated throughout history. Fantasy types can also expand throughout a group of individuals also known as fantasy chain reaction. This means that a story being told by one specific person helps another person relate to the same topic. The original story, the fantasy theme, being told is spreading and alternating from person to person. An example for this fantasy chain reaction is an individual saying that they have to attend a baby shower the upcoming weekend.

Another person would interfere and relate to the same topic such as saying that they need to buy baby products before they arrive home. Another person can relate by saying that they need to pick up their children after work. It started off with one-person talk about a baby shower, went on and talk about baby products, and finally about picking up children. This is called a fantasy chain reaction because they are adding information to the same subject matter. According to a video on YouTube called, “Symbolic Convergence Theory,” it gives a clear understanding of the theory itself.

It involves a group of friends coming together with another group and sharing a common interest. It starts off with an awkward silence; the girls didn’t have anything to talk about until another girl comes into the room and talks about swimming. The girls expand on the theme, swimming, to fantasy types such as swimming with sharks and swimming with whales. They are expanding their fantasy theme when they talk about whales and sharks. Throughout the conversation a girls phone rings and the ringtone happen to be a song they all knew. They became comfortable with each other by singing and laughing.

The group of friends become cohesive and was able interact with each other sharing the same fantasy theme. Rhetorical visions are not just sequence of events, but a profound organization that interferes with the perception of reality. They also, along with fantasy themes, make people attentive to the way they are comprehensive to different things, acting as conscious-creating factors. Apart from acting as the factors for consciousness between groups, they maintain the group’s shared consciousness. Therefore, the consciousness sustaining function takes place, which means it helps maintain the commitment amongst a group or community.

At a certain point of this consciousness there tends to be a sense of conformity and loss of individuality, people start thinking in a socialistic manner rather than selfishly. An example for this is people from different departments of a company being competitive with each other, such as trying to see which department is better but they all come close to a conclusion to improve the company and succeed in the future. This is the common shared worldview between them that changes their individuality into a community. Individuals’ tendency would be in terms of “I” and “me” and as they share a common view it changes to “we” and “us”.

The three deep motivating structures for rhetorical visions are righteousness, social, and pragmatic. Rhetorical visions can be motivated by righteousness through morality and sensibility. While social factors such as friends and co-workers induce and support the success of the rhetorical vision. Finally, the advocating of certain behavior by dictation of functional consequences, pragmatism. Basically, people are inclined toward by their necessity for or concern in these perspectives. One obvious example are sororities and fraternities at universities.

These social groups are formed through similar interest such as networking, higher education, admirable jobs, and lifelong sisterhood and brotherhood. This interest is the pragmatic perspective. Individuals looking to join fraternities and sororities lean more towards those focused on certain ethnicities and religions. College students will choose which direction to take depending on what kind of people they want to socialize with. After choosing the right social group, it is their decision whether to stay or leave the group depending on if the proper actions are taken. For example, they can focus on higher education or stereotype and party.

Another example for the motivating sources for rhetorical visions in the work place is a union going on strike. The pragmatic in this type of event is the union itself for a better pay and benefits. Workers join unions to become part of a group that together demand a better working environment. Some workers decide to focus on higher pay during a strike while other focus on better benefits. The employees have the right to choose what to write on their picket signs. The righteous perspective would be their moral views such as, seeking certain rights and not to be belittled by the corporate giants.

The rhetorical visions are the interests that they tend to focus on and can be motivated with these three characteristics. Moreover, another concept that falls in the fantasy theme category is public communication. It disseminates fantasy themes and can also alter the rhetorical visions extending along with changing and elaborating on the fantasy theme. In other words, if the rhetorical vision is being changed, the fantasy themes are also being modified. An example for public communication is Abraham Lincoln’s famous speech, “Gettysburg Address,” delivered in 1863. According to public records the purpose of the speech was

to bring true equality to all citizens, and to create a unified nation in which state’s rights were no longer overriding. Abraham Lincoln covers fantasy themes by asserting equality and share them with the community. He developed a rhetorical vision that convinced people to accept his vision and declared equality. His speech made a big impact that it made changes to the citizens of the United States of America. All in all, it is fair to reinstate that the symbolic convergence theory revolves around fantasy themes. Bormann developed a strategy to analyze a group of communicators who share the same interests to establish bonds within the group.

Once the common interests are discovered then a sense of comfort resides among the group. Without common agreement it is arduous for a group to achieve a certain goal at hand. As previously discussed the levels of communication develop relationships among individuals. The concepts that fall within the fantasy themes and rhetorical visions helps illustrate the way symbolic convergence theory works. Overall similarities and common interests among groups of people helps to dictate if the relationship is going to be successful.