Dialectic of Community and Fragmentation in Organizing for Social Change
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Attempts to describe the process of organizing for social change from the
perspective of communication theory require consideration of the nuances,
contradictions, and dialectics that emerge when people attempt to change
their behavior at the individual or collective level. Social change seldom flows
directly and immediately from participation in organizational activities that target
a specific group of people. Rather social change emerges in a nonlinear,
circuitous, and dialectic process of struggle between competing poles of
People who are part of an organizational system that sparks social change
may create a social learning environment in which new behavior options are
considered but they discover that what seems possible in theory may not work so
easily in real-life situations in which there is community resistance to new
behaviors. Certain community members may develop a sense of collective
efficacy in solving a social problem, but the solution they devise is not effective.
Although a person may say that they believe in performing a certain action,
these beliefs may not be reflected in his or her actions.
Everyday human relationships are riddled with paradoxes and
contradictions. Several communication theorists have attempted to explain this
particular feature of communicative relationships (Conville, 1998; Dindia, 1998;
Rawlins, 1998; Van Leer, 1998). Most prominent in this discussion has been the
work of Leslie Baxter (1988; 1990; 1992; 1993; Baxter & Montgomery, 1996;
Montgomery & Baxter, 1998) who has developed and tested a dialectical theory
of communication that explains particular dynamics in personal relationships.
During the past decade, Baxter and associates have tried to explain the inherent
tensions between everyday contradictory impulses or dialectics in relationships.
Baxter’s perspective is informed by the work of Russian philologist Bakhtin
(1981, 1984) who explained that dialectical tensions are inevitable and present in
all personal relationships. The historical roots of a dialectic perspective can be
traced further back to the works of Marx and Hegel who were of the opinion that
dialectics as oppositions could ultimately be resolved through reconciliation. They