Intersubjectivity and Community Media

The role of intersubjective understanding is increasingly relevant for community media. Intersubjectivity, which refers to the mutual comprehension and connection between individuals, is essential for effective communication within communities and between communities. This post focuses on the importance of this concept in community media, examining how it can help facilitate clearer and more empathetic exchanges among diverse groups.

Community media, with its focus on inclusivity and representation, relies on the varied experiences and viewpoints of its audience. Intersubjectivity is key in this environment, ensuring that these perspectives are not only shared, but also understood and thoughtfully incorporated. This discussion will highlight the practical aspects of intersubjective understanding, from enhancing communication to bridging cultural and social differences, and its importance in producing media that truly reflects and serves the interests of the community.

Intersubjectivity is a concept used in philosophy, psychology, sociology, and anthropology to describe the relation or connection between people’s cognitive perspectives. It involves the sharing of experiences, knowledge, understandings, and expectations with others. This can occur between separate conscious minds and is accessible to, or capable of, being established for two or more subjects. Intersubjectivity can be understood as the interchange of thoughts and feelings, both conscious and unconscious, between two persons or “subjects,” facilitated by empathy. It has been embraced in psychoanalysis as a way of explaining how one person gains access to another person’s inner world, and is founded assuming that much of our subjective experience shares patterns and traits that are common with others.

Intersubjectivity can be concordant (in sync) or discordant (out of sync), and it has three components: shared emotion/affect (attunement), shared attention, and shared intention. It is often used to highlight and contrast individual personal experiences by emphasising the inherently social nature of humans. In a broader sense, intersubjectivity refers to various types of human agreement, mutual awareness, attribution of intentionality, feelings, and beliefs to each other, implicit or automatic behavioural orientations towards other people, interactive performance within a situation, and shared and taken-for-granted background assumptions.

Intersubjectivity and the subject-object relationship represent two different ways of understanding interactions and perceptions. The subject-object relationship is a fundamental concept in philosophy and psychology, where the subject is the perceiver or actor, and the object is what is perceived or acted upon. This relationship is often seen as unidirectional, with the subject actively perceiving or acting upon the passive object.

Intersubjectivity, on the other hand, refers to the shared, mutual, or reciprocal interaction between two or more subjects. It is a more dynamic concept that involves the interchange of thoughts and feelings, both conscious and unconscious, between individuals, facilitated by empathy. Intersubjectivity emphasises the influence that individuals have on each other’s perceptions and understandings.

While the subject-object relationship often implies a one-way influence from the subject to the object, intersubjectivity suggests a two-way or multi-directional influence among subjects. In other words, in intersubjectivity, individuals are both influencers and influenced, whereas in the subject-object relationship, the subject is the influencer, and the object is the influenced.

Moreover, intersubjectivity usually refers to something that is accessible by more than one individual, while objectivity denotes something whose existence doesn’t depend on any observer. So, while the subject-object relationship focuses on the interaction between a perceiver (subject) and what is perceived (object), intersubjectivity focuses on the shared and reciprocal interactions among perceivers (subjects).

Intersubjectivity can be said, then, to significantly influence forms and practices of communication by creating a shared understanding and subjective experience between individuals, which is essential for mutual understanding, empathy, and connection. It allows people to bridge the gap between their own subjective realities and those of others, facilitating effective communication and fostering mutual recognition and validation.

Intersubjectivity encompasses both verbal and non-verbal communication, including body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice. It is not just about listening to words, but also interpreting and understanding the underlying emotions and intentions. This shared understanding does not necessarily imply agreement but indicates that individuals understand things similarly, which is crucial for defining situations or issues discussed.

In psychotherapy, for example, intersubjectivity is seen as a critical construct, with the intersubjective context of nonverbal communication allowing for empathic connections between patient and therapist. In the context of intercultural work, for example, interventions aimed at improving intersubjectivity can enhance communication by increasing shared understanding and emotional involvement. By focussing on intersubjectivity, it’s possible to promote effective communication by enabling individuals to share experiences, meanings, and intentions, which is fundamental to human connection and social interaction.

Achieving intersubjectivity in communication can be challenging due to several factors:

Unresolved Personal Issues and Biases: Personal biases and unresolved issues can distort the way we perceive and interpret others’ thoughts and feelings, hindering the establishment of a shared understanding.

Cultural and Social Differences: Differences in cultural and social backgrounds can lead to misunderstandings and misinterpretations, as people from different cultures may have different ways of expressing and interpreting thoughts and emotions.

Lack of Effective Communication Skills: Effective communication is a cornerstone of intersubjectivity. Without good listening and communication skills, it can be difficult to understand and share experiences, meanings, and intentions with others.

Understanding Others and Making Sense of the World: One of the main challenges of intersubjectivity is understanding others and making sense of the world with them. This involves not only understanding others’ thoughts and feelings, but also co-constructing a shared reality.

Verbal Exchange Limitations: While non-verbal communication plays a role in achieving intersubjectivity, the primary means remains the exchange of verbal meanings. This can be challenging, especially when individuals have different ways of expressing their thoughts and feelings.

Online Learning and Discourse Analysis: In online learning environments, achieving intersubjectivity can be particularly challenging. Learners need to engage with each other’s thoughts, find common ground, and negotiate or affirm meaning to achieve intersubjectivity.

Future Challenges: As societies and individuals continue to evolve and self-modify, new challenges to achieving intersubjectivity may arise, such as the need for new universal ways of communicating and dealing with vastly different minds.

Addressing these challenges requires active efforts to enhance communication skills, cultivate empathy and understanding, and create environments that foster shared meanings and mutual recognition.

Overcoming cultural and social differences in intersubjectivity involves several strategies:

Open-mindedness and Willingness to Learn: Approaching cross-cultural interactions with an open mind and a willingness to learn about different cultures, customs, and communication styles can enhance understanding and connection.

Cultural Education and Exchange: Actively seeking out cultural exchanges, participating in intercultural events, and engaging in dialogue with individuals from different cultures can help bridge cultural gaps.

Effective Communication Skills: Developing effective communication skills, including active listening and clear expression, is crucial for understanding and sharing experiences, meanings, and intentions with others.

Understanding and Respecting Differences: Recognising and respecting cultural and social differences without discounting the other person once the difference has been identified is essential.

Broadening Horizons: With more exposure to other cultures, communicators can broaden their horizons, reduce cultural distance, and transform intersubjectivity into interculturality.

Transcending Monocultural Ways of Thinking: In establishing interculturality, individuals need to be open to other cultures and transcend monocultural ways of thinking.

Constructing Intersubjectivity: Equal and successful communication between different cultures can be achieved through the construction of intersubjectivity, which involves the interplay between different subjective worlds.

Education and Training Programs: Implementing education and training programs that help deal with vastly different minds can also be beneficial.

These strategies can help individuals navigate the challenges posed by cultural and social differences, fostering a more inclusive and connected society where intersubjectivity can thrive.

Symbolic Interactionism and Intersubjectivity

Symbolic interactionism is a sociological theory that focuses on the role of symbols and language in human interaction. It is closely related to intersubjective communication, as both emphasise the shared understanding and subjective meanings that individuals develop through communication and social interaction. In symbolic interactionism, communication is seen as a process of creating and interpreting symbols, such as language, gestures, and objects, to convey meaning and facilitate social interaction. This process is inherently intersubjective, as it involves the mutual exchange of thoughts, feelings, and shared understanding between individuals.

The concept of intersubjectivity is central to symbolic interactionism, as it highlights the importance of shared experiences, knowledge, and expectations in shaping social reality and the construction of meaning. Within this framework, individuals engage in ongoing social interactions, where they interpret and negotiate the meaning of symbols, and develop a shared understanding of the world around them. Symbolic interactionism and intersubjective communication are closely linked, as both emphasise the role of shared understanding, subjective meanings, and the mutual exchange of thoughts and feelings in shaping human interaction and social reality.

Some practical applications of symbolic interactionism in communication include:

Understanding Meaning Creation: Symbolic interactionism helps in understanding how individuals create and interpret meanings in communication, shedding light on the processes by which people become members of societies.

Building Relationships: The theory is useful for building and maintaining relationships through communication. By understanding the symbolic nature of interactions, individuals can navigate social activities and contribute to the construction of their own and others’ identities. 

Interpreting Symbols: Symbolic interactionism focuses on the relationships between people and symbols, helping to interpret the meanings attached to various symbols in different social contexts. This understanding is crucial for effective communication and social organisation.

Meaning, Language, and Thought: The theory emphasises the importance of meaning, language, and thought in communication. It suggests that meaning is not inherent in objects but is constructed and modified within different contexts through social interaction.

Miscommunication: Symbolic interactionism is valuable for understanding how miscommunication occurs between people. It highlights that a word or phrase can have different meanings in different contexts, and this awareness is essential for improving communication and avoiding misunderstandings.

Symbolic interactionism has practical implications for understanding and improving various aspects of communication, including relationship building, meaning creation, and the interpretation of symbols in social interactions.

This discussion has highlighted the critical role of intersubjective understanding in the context of community media, particularly when combined with the principles of symbolic interactionism. Intersubjectivity, the mutual, shared comprehension between individuals, is essential for creating media that resonates with the experiences and perspectives of the community it represents. Symbolic interactionism, with its focus on the importance of symbols and language in human interactions, complements this by providing a framework for understanding how individuals and communities create and interpret meaning.

Integrating intersubjective understanding with symbolic interactionism offers a powerful model for community media. This approach challenges traditional, ideologically driven communication processes, promoting instead a more inclusive and representative media landscape. By prioritising mutual understanding and the co-creation of meaning, community media can transcend mere broadcasting of information, transforming into a platform for genuine dialogue and understanding. Such a model not only supports the dissemination of diverse viewpoints but also fosters a deeper, more empathetic connection within communities, enhancing the overall impact and relevance of community media.

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