Publication 3720

Krippendorff K. (1993) Major metaphors of communication and some constructivist reflections on their use. Cybernetics and Human Knowing 2(1): 3–26. Fulltext at
The following essay is about human communication. Traditionally, one would define the concept, proceed to force a variety of experiences into its terms and declare the exercise a success if it appears to capture a great deal of territory. However, while tempting, such constructions of reality also are rather lonely ones devoid of contributions by Others that populate reality as well. In contrast, this essay seeks first of all to listen to everyday expressions of notions of communication. This intent is grounded in the belief that their ordinary nature does not disqualify them when comparable scientific conceptions are available. Indeed, most social scientific theories can be shown to have grown out of ordinary folk wisdom. Scientific conceptions are just more formalized and subjected to different kinds of tests then the notions practiced in everyday life. To listen also means to have an understanding of the language in which these everyday notions arise and an understanding of the communication practices in which they come to be embedded. This essay therefore also is about understanding Others” understanding of the kind of communication practices in which we ordinarily participate. In pursuit of this second-order understanding, I will start the paper with a brief theory of metaphor, one that goes beyond mere rhetorical formulations and links language with the creation of perceived realities. Following it will be a survey of what I consider to be the six most pervasive metaphors of human communication in everyday life. Each turns out to entail its own logic for human interaction and the use of each creates its own social reality. This descriptive account is intended to provide the “data” or the ground from which I shall then develop several radical constructist propositions. These are intended to reflect on how a social reality could be conceived that does afford so many incompatible ways of communicating, on the individual contributions to understanding, understanding of understanding, and viability in practicing such metaphors, on what makes communication a social phenomenon, on three positions knowers can assume in their known and the theories of communication commensurate with these positions. Then I will sketch some aspects of mass communication in these terms and comment on its research. Propositions of this kind should prove useful in efforts to construct scientific communication theories or, to be less ambitious, to understand communication as a social phenomenon that involves each of us with other human beings. For lack of space, the concern for issues of mass communication had to be severely curtailed, leaving the readers to continue on their own.


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