Coordinated Management of Meaning

Barnett Pearce (Loyola University in Chicago) and Vernon Cronen (University of Massachusetts), were both frustrated by the cause and effect models of the behavioral scientists. Came up with the theory of coordinated management of meaning, (Griffin, 2000).

According to most communication scholars, CMM is the most comprehensive statement of social constructivism, (Griffin, 2000). CMM is concerned with how humans construct meaning for their communication and how we use rules to coordinate meaning in out interaction with others, (Wood, 2000).

This theory owes its intellectual debt to symbolic interactionism, whose fundamental assumptions it shares and uses to develop its own claims, (Wood, 2000).

SOCIAL CONSTRUCTIVISM: We are curious participants in a pluralistic world.

Certainty versus Curiosity:

Constructivists are curious how individuals act out their lives under ever-changing circumstances.

Spectator knowledge versus Participant Knowledge:

Detached spectator compared to active involvement in what is being studied.

Social world as Singular versus Social World as Plural

Empirical researchers want to discover a reality out there. Social contstructivists are convinced that events are objects that are made rather than found. Since diverse people are involved in creating the social universe, it is clearly pluralistic.

CMM explains a variety of complex communication situations including family counseling, addiction counseling, cross-cultural encounters, and political discourse and conflict mediation.

Communication is seen as a process. For example, a mediator provides an atmosphere and process, which allow the disputants to arrive at agreement in their own words and resolve their dispute as they define it.

When we communicate, we are not just talking about the world we are literally participating in the creation of a social universe.

Pearce and Cronen are social ecologists who raise questions about the long-term effects of our communication practices. For example, if I win this argument, what kind of a person will I become?


Pearce and Cronen believed that there is an inherent tension between storied told and story lives.

  1. Stories told are how persons use conversation to achieve meaning or coherence in life.
  2. Stories lived are how we try to coordinate our lives with others.
These two human endeavors of stories told and stories lived are the basis for the theory’s Coordinated Management of Meaning.

COHERENCE: The process of interpreting the world and assigning meaning to our lives.

  1. Episode is a communication routine with specific boundaries-greetings.
  2. Relationship is how we interpret any given speech act-friends.
  3. Self Concept is how you see yourself is how you communicate-business cards.
4. Culture is the recognition of insiders who share common practices-yuppies.

EPISODE is the first and the narrowest of the four constructs in which we interpret any given speech act. An episode is a communication routine that has definite boundaries or routines. Episodes are recurring routines of interaction that are structured by rules, (Woods, 2000). They help us determine what is inside and outside a given routine. For example: Friendly banter

RELATIONSHIP is the state of being interrelated, (Griffin, 2000). Relationships are ways we interact with others, (Woods, 2000).

SELF-CONCEPT is a type of autobiography. It is the way we view ourselves from others. It is our own intrapersonal dialogue. Mead called it minding, and I.A. Richards called it feedforward. In other words, how you see yourself influences how you communicate, and at the same time, and how you communicate with others is how you perceive yourself, (Woods, 2000).

CULTURE is where members recognize each other as insiders who believe that they share a common set of practices and values and who see themselves as different from others.



According to Pearce, coordination refers to the process by which persons collaborate in an attempt to bring their vision of what is necessary, good and noble to avoid fear or hate. The problems start when two people have two different views of what is necessary, noble and good.


CMM also uses the term mystery as a reminder that there is more to life than the mere fact of daily existence. There should be a sense of art, poetry, religion, myths,

Pearce explains the three concepts of coordination, coherence and mystery as:

Coordination - interaction

Coherence - impose meaning and order

Mystery - a reminder that everything is ultimately an arbitrary distortion

Ultimately, CMM is a practical theory that provides a way to intelligently join into the activities of the world so as to enrich it. It is an impressive macro-theory of fact to face communication.


Encarta, Microsft. (1996).

Griffin, Em. (2000). A First Look at Communication Theory. Fourth Edition. The McGraw-Hill Company, USA.

McClish, Glen. (1997). "Instructor's Manual" to Accompany EM Griffin's: A First look at Communication Theory. Third edition. The Mcgraw-Hill Companies Inc.

Movie "American Pyscho"

Wood, T. Julia. (1997). Communication Theories in Action. Wadsworth Publishing Company, USA.