Writing: Research The Conduit Metaphor
Original Conduit Metaphor Article
The text of my groundbreaking article on a coherent, underlying "folk model" for human communication found in the English language follows. Comments are turned on here, so feel free to make them or ask questions. You can also read a summary of this work in Wikipedia. MR
The conduit metaphor: A case of frame conflict in our language about language.
by Michael J. Reddy
I should like to respond to Professor Schön’s chapter by replaying his theme several octaves lower. In my opinion, he has struck exactly the right set of notes. “Problem setting” should indeed be considered the crucial process, as opposed to “problem solving.” And the “stories that people tell about troublesome situations” do set up or “mediate” the problem. And “frame conflict” between various stories should be studied in detail, precisely because it is quite often “immune to resolution by appeal to the facts.”
It is hard to think of a better overture to genuine advance in the social and behavioral sciences than this. At the same time, it seems to me that Schön has managed to sound these excellent notes only in their overtones, so that the fundamental frequency is barely to be heard—even though, to my ears at least, Schön’s kind of thinking is real and long awaited music.
Quite simply, what I believe is missing is the application of Schön’s wisdom—this paradigm-consciousness—to human communication itself. It may seem predictable that I, a linguist, would take such a position. But, if I do, it is hardly disciplinary narrow-mindedness that motivates me. In 1954, Norbert Wiener, one of the originators of information theory, and the “father of cybernetics,” stated quite flatly: “Society can only be understood through a study of the messages and communications facilities which belong to it” (Wiener, 1954, p. 16).
I have never thought of this statement as referring to things like the size and adequacy of the telephone system. Wiener was talking primarily about the basic processes of human communication—how they work, what sort of wrinkles there are in them, when and why they are likely to succeed or fail. The problems of society, government, and culture depend ultimately on something like the daily box score of such successes or failures to communicate. If there are too many failures, or systematic types of failure, troubles will multiply. A society of near-perfect communicators, though it would no doubt still face conflicts of interest, might well be able to avoid many of the destructive, divisive effects of these inevitable conflicts.