“What do nonscientists hear when scientists speak?”
This question, posed by communications theorists James Weber and Charlotte Schell Word in a 2001 paper, highlights a critical contemporary concern. “Language,” as Gregory Bateson wrote, “commonly stresses only one side of any interaction.” And thus, as Weber and Word caution, “Scientists do not stand above the process of negotiating meaning.”
These thoughts came back to me as I listened to Klaus Krippendorff’s talk on communication within and across discourse communities. Krippendorff spoke at the American Society for Cybernetics conference and summarized his talk with these “Propositions and Definitions in the Discourse of Cybernetics”:
- Theories need to be afforded by what their proponents do with them.
- Faced by a theory that predicts their behavior, humans can always disobey it. It is a choice to conform to its predictions.
- Everything said or done is said or done in the expectation of being held accountable for it.
- Discourses are manifest in self-constrained conversations and writings.
- Discourses are kept alive by what their discourse community does.
- Discourses construct their own artifacts.
- Discourses continuously reconstruct their artifacts (material, social, and discursive) subsequently constraining some developments while enabling others.
- Discourses institutionalize their recurrent practices.
- Discourses draw and maintain their boundary.
- Discourses need to be able to justify their actions to outsiders.