The Nature of Social Interaction:
A Condensed Summary of the Theory

In examining a communication, this theory first asks what images are being enhanced, defended or attacked. It then seeks to determine what other actions are being carried forward when the images in question are enhanced, defended or attacked. It focuses on three sets of actions -- exerting power versus being subordinate; helping versus hurting; cooperating versus opposing.

To take a simple example, let's say someone in an office says to some co-workers, "Mr. Smith never figured out how to work the photocopier," while Mr. Smith is in the room.

In this case: the speaker, A, is attacking the image of (or discrediting) Mr. Smith, B, by depicting him as lacking the quality of competence. There is, in the statement, an act of aggressive domination toward Mr. Smith, which can be expressed by the phrasing "putting him down." So A attacks the image of (or discredits) B and, in so doing, exerts aggressive domination over B.

Now let's say it turns out that someone else in the room, Mr. Jones, C, has a grudge against Mr. Smith and wants other people to put Mr. Smith down. And let's say that the speaker is putting Smith down to win Mr. Jones' s favor. Thus, we now see an additional element to the map or formula: A discredits B and in so doing, exerts aggressive domination over B, while acting subordinate to C.

We can spin out a large number of descriptions like this for all kinds of communications and they turn out to provide a great deal of information about what is going on in interactions.

In the terminology I use in this theory, A is a player, and B and C are both recipients of an action. B is on the receiving end of aggressive domination and C is on the receiving end of an act of subordination. C is a hidden recipient to the extent that the subordination to him isn't acknowledged by the player, A, or other players.

Since even one sentence may involve actions taken toward many recipients who may or may not be present, and who include the internalized images of other people, including the internalized images of parents from childhood, these maps tend to include a great deal of information. For example, it might be that speaker, A, referred to above, wants to win C's (Mr. Jones's) favor because he unconsciously experiences C as his father. Psychoanalysts would say that A is projecting an image of his father onto C. But for the purposes of this theory, the father or, at least the internalized image of the father, is just another hidden recipient, D. Thus: A (the speaker) discredits B (Mr. Smith) and in so doing, exerts aggressive domination over B, while acting subordinate to C (Mr. Jones, who doesn't like Mr. Smith) and D (the speaker's father, who is "projected" onto Mr. Jones.) Or: A discredits and dominates B while acting subordinate to C and D.

One other element should be noted: all the actions described in the theory take place purely as a result of the manipulation of image, which is attacked, enhanced or defended whenever a communicator depicts someone or something as having positively or negatively valued traits (morality, competence, beauty, etc.) To shape image in this way, communicators draw from sets of binary pairs -- honest versus dishonest, clever versus dull, and so on.

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