Communication Theory of Identity (CTI)

Communication Theory of
Identity (CTI)
John R. Baldwin
COM 372
School of Communication
Illinois State University
Who Are You?
• I am…
Views of Identity
• Scientific
– “Group” predicts communication
• Women v. men; Blacks v. Whites; straight v.
• Humanistic
– Communication “creates” group
• “Doing” gender
• Critical
– Group differences serve/center/privilege
some groups, disservice/marginalize
But first, Social Identity Theory!
• We perceive ourselves (ID) in terms of
– Personal identity
– Social identity
• Role identities
• Relational identities
• Group identities
Social Identity Theory
• We perceive others on a continuum
from “intergroup” to “intercultural”
– But always, at some level. . .
Social Identity Theory
• The process of “intergroup”
– Categorization
– Evaluation
– Comparison
Communication Theory of Identity
• Multiple, overlapping identities
• Aspects that are enduring, changing
• Content (meanings, norms) and relationship
(feelings) aspects
• “Intersubjective,” continually recreated by
the group
• Expressed, emergent, negotiated
• Lead to expectations, motivations
• Tell us what is “effective”
• Connected to meanings, norms, labels
CTI: Background
• A move away from the scientific
approach, CTI sees cultural groups as
fluid, being constantly co-created through
communication (similar to symbolic
• The theory seeks, in sum, to find out
how people communicatively live out
Communication Theory of Identity
Aspects of Identity
Content (Cognitive/ Behavioral-norms)
Relationship (Affective)
Salience (and Centrality)
Labels, Core symbols
Avowed versus ascribed
Communication Theory of Identity
Levels of [Jewish] Identity
Communication Theory of Identity
Variables ??? Hypotheses???
Communication Theory of Identity
• Note: What follows
is an “on-line” power
presentation, with
font too small for
public presentation.
It will “fill in” the
notes in class.
• 1988: Mary Jane Collier & Milt Thomas write a
chapter that summarizes many of the principles.
• 1993: Michael Hecht summarizes his view of
ethnicity, which is similar, in a Communication
Monographs essay.
• 1993/2003: Hecht works together with Collier
and Sidney Ribeau to draft a book on African
American Communication. In 2003, Hecht
revises it with Ronald Jackson, II.
• 2005: Collier has moved in a different direction,
more critical and postcolonial. Hecht and
colleagues summarize the latest development of
the theory in an essay in Gudykunst’s Theorizing
Intercultural Communication
Main Assumptions
• In terms of reality, CTI holds that reality is
intersubjective—that is, socially created
between subjects or people (neither fully
objective nor subjective)
• Epistemologically, writers differ. While Collier’s
work tends to merely describe the realities of
groups, Hecht makes predictions with statistics
in some articles, and merely reports interview
findings in others. The main notion is that, since
reality is intersubjective, the best method is to
gain many perceptions and then find common
Main Assumptions
• Axiologically, the theory leans towards critical
theory by admitting the role of history and
context on communication, but is not fully
• Methodologically, the writers have tended to
prefer open-ended methods, such as
questionnaires or communication diaries,
interviews, and focus groups to try to come up
with “realities” in the groups’ own terms
(“grounded theory”). Again, some simply
describe the categories, and others show how
some categories relate to others.
Some Key Terms
• Meanings and Norms: Researchers often seek to find
out what certain symbols mean to a group or what the
norms for appropriate group behavior are. (Norms and
rules are treated interchangeably in this theory)
• Core symbols, “Symbols” that “tend to pervade cultures
broadly, forming symbol ‘galaxies’ that cluster around
core symbols” (Collier & Thomas, 1988, p. 103).
• Labels: Names that a group chooses to call itself or
others, with specific symbolic meanings, feelings, and
expected behaviors
• Intercultural effectiveness: When people negotiate well
the norms and meanings of both groups AND when
avowal matches ascription (two different definitions—the
original theory in 1988 is not consistent!)
Some Key Terms: Example
Meanings and Norms: There may be
specific things in an African American
community that have specific meanings
within that culture—and specific ways of
behaving that mark one as culturally
“African American.”
Core symbols: Johnson (2002) suggests
that individualism and personal expression
might be core symbols that are
demonstrated in many parts of AA culture.
Labels: Hecht’s work shows that, at least in
1989, those who preferred the label African
American different in terms of some
expectations of White communication than
those who called themselves Black. So also,
“Latino” and “Mexican American” might
actually represent different types of cultural
Intercultural effectiveness: If Whites can
negotiate and respect personal expression
and Black expressiveness with respect,
intercultural effectiveness is more likely to
occur. But there is more….
View of Identity & Communication
Much of CTI is based around a set of
assumptions (explanations, not predictions,
like in many theories), about relationships. I
will explain and apply as I go. Essentially, we
can say that:
Multiple identities: Each person has different
identities that overlap or perhaps contradict
(religious, age, sex/gender, race/ethnicity,
political, professional, etc.)
Fluid identities: Identities are fluid—they are
created by communication and thus always
changing. The theory admits that there might
be multiple ways of acting out any identity, but
does not profess to be postmodern!
Emerging identities: Identities are negotiated
in communication, for example, when
someone makes a remark, communicates in a
certain way, or refers to a group. Thus, in a
single conversation, one may move between
different important identities.
Aspects of Identity
The assumptions of CTI suggest that identities:
• Have an affective (emotional), cognitive
(thought), and behavioral component.
• Can be avowed (claimed) or ascribed (assigned
to others)
• Can vary in terms of:
– Scope (how many people hold the
– Salience (how important the identity is
to a person at a given point in time)
– Centrality (how important the identity is
usually to a person’s self-esteem—
Gudykunst, 2004)
– Intensity (how vocal or expressive one
is about an identity)
– Changeability (some aspects of
identities change and others do not)
Aspects of IfIdentity:
we think of the identity of gender in the
Sahara, we can state that:
– Scope: Sex has a much broader scope
than, say, Jewish people
– Salience: A woman might be a
professional, a student, a researcher, or a
Muslim. In some contexts, one identity
will be more relevant or in the front of her
mind than others.
– Centrality: Because of the emphasis on
gender in the Sahara, this identity is
probably “salient” all or most of the
time—thus, it has more centrality.
– Intensity Women may express their
identity either more or less vocally. By
wearing a head-covering, especially when
such is optional, as it is in some
countries, the women is expressing
identity more explicitly. She is “out”
about her religious identity
– Changeability: Clearly, as expressed in
the photo to the left, gender identity in
parts of the Saharan region is changing—
but likely in other ways staying the same
Aspects of Identity:
In addition, we might say that:
Women in the Middle East will have
– Thoughts about what it means to be a
woman (cognition)
– Feelings about being a woman in the
specific cultural context (and these
feelings might surprise many American
– Behaviors that they feel enact their
womanhood in culturally appropriate
Women will enact their female identities
in some ways, but may enact other
identities (professional, strictly
religious, role relationships) in other
Some Research
The research in this field, very diverse, has looked at a number of things,
such as:
• Issues that Blacks and African Americans perceive in communication with
Whites, who is responsible for the issues and possible strategies for resolving
(open-ended diaries with statistics to show differences between those who use
different labels to describe themselves).
• Communication rules for what makes for competent communication both
within groups (White, Mexican, and African American) and between people of
different groups (open-ended questionnaire)
• Competence issues perceived by Whites, Latinos (closed-ended questionnaire
based on earlier research applied to new sample); demonstrates that Blacks
often see identity in terms of both political and cultural dimension, while Whites
to do not perceive a political dimension to their identity
• Representation to representation of Jewish Identity on Northern Exposure
and rules for when and how one “comes out” about his or her Jewish identity
(interviews, focus groups)
In sum, this research is multi-method, using both qualitative and quantitative
research, with elements of both scientific and humanistic assumptions.,1
Doing Research in CTI
• Some research uses closed-ended
• Some research uses in-depth interviews
• Some research uses diaries of
communication, or open-ended
questionnaires, with thematic analysis
and sometimes statistics
• Some research is now using media
Making Communication Better
How this theory might help communication (Baldwin’s take):\
1. It is a useful theory to help me understand and research how a group
creates and defines its own culture, what behaviors, thoughts, and
specific aspects help define cultural membership.
2. Avowal and ascription are very important. The theory says that
effective communication is when the identity I ascribe to a person
matches the identity she or he wants to claim in a situation. Thus, if a
woman comes to the workplace as a business professional, I should
treat her in that identity.
3. Even within my own perceived identity, I can see that there may be
different ways to act out that identity. I should also seek to understand
the avowal of identity that one of my own group holds.
Some Strengths & Limitations
• Gives a new, more humanistic view
• While it admits role of power, does
not say much about hatred, grouplevel power. Might be more critical.
•While says that different labels may
be related to different ways of being
Black, Latino, etc., much research still
groups all people of the identity group
•Some later research seeks to apply
and interpret “realities” and issues of
earlier groups (e.g., African American)
on later groups, which seems contrary
to earlier assumptions of the theory
of how communication creates reality
•The new view of communicative
construction of identity has become
widely accepted
•Very practical in helping people to be
better communicators
•Allows for difference within groups,
instead of assuming homogeneity
•A diversity of research on friendship,
competence, conflict, and
representation, on different identities,
some quantitative and some
qualitative. Multi-method!