A Normative Approach to the Study of Uncertainty and Communication



Uncertainty reduction theory (Berger & Calabrese, 1975) was formulated to explain relationships between the frequency of communication behaviors, level of uncertainty, and level of relational qualities. In this essay, I advocate attention to an alternative set of research questions addressed to the meanings and evaluations of uncertainty and communicative responses to uncertainty. This normative approach entails a shift in focus from measuring level of uncertainty to examining multiple and potentially conflicting meanings of uncertainty, a shift from measuring communication behaviors to evaluating communication practices, and a shift from predicting what people will do to predicting and explaining the effectiveness and appropriateness of what they do in response to uncertainty. Four case studies from various sociocultural contexts illustrate phenomena that are explained by a normative approach to uncertainty and communication.