Symbolic Convergence Theory and Fantasy Rock Bands

stock photo of a rock band on stage to depict a fantasy rock band example of symbolic convergence theory.
Matthew Kalapuch / Unsplash

My coworkers and I devised a comical and long-running fantasy communication scenario. I can’t believe someone created a theory (SCT) that explains it.

Developed by communication theorist Ernest Bormann, Symbolic Convergence Theory (SCT) explains how the sharing of narratives or fantasies can create and sustain a group consciousness. Instead of deep diving into theory particulars here, I’ll share my real-life symbolic convergence experience. I’ll also bold Bormann’s key terminology, as a way to point out the main concepts of SCT.

The dramatizing message that started it all was a comment made by my coworker Alex who said, “Miriam has a nice voice too. Maybe you two should sing a duet.” My response was, “Miriam and I sing together all the time since we’re in the same rock band.” Soon, the fictitious rock band and its activities were used by a small group of us to explain everything.

If someone outside the group does something wrong, that person is banned from attending our concerts. When a new hire started working in our department, we decided she needed to audition for the band. And we refer to the kids in the classroom who can’t sit still as the band’s backup dancers. This fantasy chain has been going on for about a month now. People outside the group have no idea what we’re talking about. (I wonder if they really think we’re in a band?)

I can see why building fantasy chains results in group cohesion. The four of us involved have built a group consciousness. We talk about the band every day, but the whole conversation is really an extended metaphor for the workings of our high school special education department. We’ve managed to develop a rhetorical vision as well, with implicit norms and rules for group behavior. For example, group members go to great lengths to be overly pleasant to each other, for fear of getting kicked out of the band.

What I’d like to know is, will “the band” keep going long-term, or will our fantasy chain die off? I don’t think Bormann studied the longevity aspect or other outcomes of fantasy themes, but I wish he did. I’m curious to know when the band’s world tour will come to an end! This points to a weakness of theories of group communication, namely, that they don’t predict outcomes well, if at all. They explain why the communication happens the way it does, but they don’t provide findings that can be applied elsewhere.

That is my practical theory application of the day. I’ve studied dozens of communication theories this year in an Applied Communication Theory graduate course at SUNY Oswego. Another favorite com theory of mine is Situational Crisis Communication Theory (SCCT). Click that link to read all about it.

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