Bormann, Ernest G. "Symbolic Convergence Theory"

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Brief Summary

Symbolic Convergence Theory, a general theory of communication developed by Ernest G. Bormann, can be defined succinctly as a human community’s collective use of common symbols to make sense of the human world around them.

Bormann explains SCT as a method by which individuals and groups make sense of the world around them (53). Bormann refers to “fantasy themes” and “fantasy types” (51-52); fantasy, he states, is a term having a very different meaning from the normal notion of fantasy as we tend to think of it in the context of video games, film, and literature. A fantasy theme is a word or set of words that symbolically represent events or an idea removed from the "here and now" of a group (e.g. the American Dream). A fantasy type is a fantasy theme that occurs across cultural boundaries or between communities (e.g. the stereotype of "daddy issues.")

In Bormann’s terms, fantasy has less to do with imagination or non-reality and more to do with how groups construct their own realities (he cites the Greek etymology of the word "fantasy"). Humans assign deep (symbolic) meaning to other humans’ actions, thereby translating concrete motion into symbolic motion with abstract meaning (51). Convergence occurs when multiple individuals ascribe the same meaning to things; they now have something in common, and they develop communication cultures (ie, inside jokes) based on these commonalities (52). Fantasy themes and fantasy types can be thought of as cognitive stereotypes - we observe a situation, and in order to understand it, we relate it to a fantasy type (a commonly recurring situation) and thereby categorize it according to previous knowledge (52).


Symbolic Convergence Theory: a Communication Formulation
The Symbolic Convergence Theory of Communication: Applications and Implications for Teachers and Consultants

Applications of Theory

Bormann states that the Symbolic Convergence Theory of communication is “well-adapted to a mass media society” (60), and that SCT is universally applicable as a communication theory (51). Whether "universally applicable" communication theories still hold up as mass media evolves and transforms the way people communicate is a common point of contention among media scholars, notably Henry Jenkins.

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