ABSTRACT

In his provocative and wide-ranging essay in the recent Handbook of Interpersonal Communication, Arthur Bochner (1985) schematizes various

understandings of and approaches to studying human communication. One of the varieties of "interpretive social science" in which Bochner sees great promise he calls textualism. As he explains, textualism stands at the confluence of the poststructuralist movement (e.g., Foucault, 1984) and current streams in literary criticism (e.g., deconstruction). One of the central insights of textualism-though it is expressed, understood, and translated in a variety ofways-is that, as Richard Rorty (1982) puts it, "all problems, topics, and distinctions are language-relative-the results of our having chosen to use a certain vocabulary, to playa certain language-game" (p. 140). Rorty (e.g., 1979) and other contemporary philosophers (e.g., Derrida, 1976) have sharply questioned the representationalist view of language (and other symbol systems), thus opening up the path for text interpretation to become, in Bochner's (1985) words, "a methodological paradigm for inquiry in the social sciences" (p. 43). This we take as our starting point (and our end point) in the text at hand.