Coordinated Management of Meaning


The Coordinated Management of Meaning theorizes communication as a process that allows us to create and manage social reality. As such, this theory describes how we as communicators make sense of our world, or create meaning. Meaning can be understood to exist in a hierarchy, depending on the sources of that meaning. Those sources include:

  1. raw sensory data -- the inputs to your eyes and ears, the visual and auditory stimuli you will interpret to see images and hear sounds;
  2. content -- interpreted stimuli, where the words spoken are understood by what they refer to;
  3. speech acts -- content takes on more meaning when it is further interpreted as belonging to a speaker who has specific communication styles, relationships with the listener, and intentions;
  4. episodes -- in common terms, you may think of this as the context of the conversation or discourse where when you understand the context you understand what the speaker thinks he or she is doing;
  5. master contracts -- these define the relationships the communicating participants, or what each can expect of the other in a specific episode;
  6. life scripts -- the set of episodes a person expects they will participate in; and
  7. cultural patterns -- culturally created set of rules that govern what we understand to be normal communication in a given episode.

Persons use two types of rules to coordinate the management of meaning among those seven levels of meaning. First, we use constitutive rules to help understand how meaning at one level determine meaning at another level. Second, we use regulative rules to help us regulate what we say so that we stay within what we consider to be normal communication in a given episode.


For detailed information read:

Pearce, W. B., & Cronen, V. (1980). Communication, action, and meaning: The creation of social realities. New York: Praeger.


Cronen, V., & Pearce, W. B. (1982). The Coordinated Management of Meaning: A theory of communication. In F. E. X. Dance (Ed.)., Human communication theory, 61-89. New York: Harper & Row.

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