Spiral of silence theory

Theory one: Spiral of silence theory

Originally, the theory focused on traditional types of media such as newspapers and television. Yet, as the theory attracted new attention over the years, the application of its concepts to new media emerged (Eilders & Porten-Chee, 2015). Later in the chapter, we will include a brief discussion of the newer research integrating online communication and the Spiral of Silence Theory.

Noelle-Neumann’s Spiral of Silence Theory is important to address for several reasons. The theory “directly relates to speech freedom, which is the cornerstone of our democracy” (Liu, 2006). Further it is a theory that weaves communication and public opinion, two critical areas in virtually any democracy around the globe (Donsbach, Salmon, & Tsfati, 2013). Third, it has intellectual roots in six fields (Donsbach, Tsfati, & Salmon, 2014). Finally, Spiral of Silence scholars have made efforts to make their theory culturally relevant in societies where media remain important and influential (Neill, 2009). To this end, while the theory resonates with those interested in public opinion, it also has relevancy for those interested in the effect that media has upon us.

Although many years have passed since the theory’s original expression, the concept of public opinion “is particularly encumbered by the thicket of confusion, misunderstandings, and communication problems” (Noelle-Neumann & Petersen, 2004, pp. 339–340). Further, writers continue to state that public opinion is more important than ever (Claussen & Oxley, 2016). Attempting to provide some understanding of this key term in the theory, Noelle-Neumann (1984, 1993) has provided some clarity. She appropriately separates public opinion into two discrete terms: public and opinion.

She notes that there are three meanings of public. First, there is a legal association with the term. Public suggests that it is open to everyone, as in “public lands” or “public place.” Second, public pertains to the concerns or issues of people, as in “the public responsibility of journalists.” Finally, public represents the social-psychological side of people. That is, people not only think inwardly but also think about their relationships to others. The phrase “public eye” is relevant here.

An opinion is an expression of an attitude. Opinions may vary in both intensity and stability. Invoking the early French and English interpretation of opinions, Noelle-Neumann notes that opinion is a level of agreement of a particular population. In the spiral of silence process, opinion is synonymous with something regarded as acceptable.


Putting all of this together, Noelle-Neumann defines public opinion as the “attitudes or behaviors one must express in public if one is not to isolate oneself; in areas of controversy or change, public opinions are those attitudes one can express without running the danger of isolating oneself” (p. 178). So, for Carol Johansen, her opinion on spanking would not be regarded as acceptable by her breakfast club. Because she fears being isolated from her particular early-morning community, she silences her opinions.

With public opinion as our backdrop to the theory, we now explore three assumptions of the Spiral of Silence Theory. Noelle-Neumann (1991, 1993) has previously addressed these assertions:

·         Society threatens deviant individuals with isolation; fear of isolation is pervasive.

·         This fear of isolation causes individuals to try to assess the climate of opinion at all times.

·         Public behavior is affected by public opinion assessment.

The second assumption of the theory identifies people as constant assessors of the climate of public opinion. Noelle-Neumann contends that individuals receive information about public opinion from two sources: personal observation and the media.

Noelle-Neumann (1991) states that people engage in a quasi-statistical ability to appraise public opinion. A quasi-statistical sense means that people are able to estimate the strength of opposing sides in a public debate. They are able to do this by listening to the views of others and incorporating that knowledge into their own viewpoints.

The cumulativeness of the media refers to the process of the media repeating themselves across programs and across time. Frequently, you will read a story in the Page 378morning newspaper, listen to the same story on the radio as you drive to work, and then watch the story on the evening news. You may also pull up a website during the day and find the story there. Noelle-Neumann calls this a “reciprocal influence in building up frames of reference” (1993, p. 71). It can become problematic when the original source is left unquestioned, and yet, four media (newspaper, radio, television, and the Internet) rely on that source. The theory suggests that conformity of voice influences what information gets released to the public to help them develop an op Finally, consonance pertains to the similarities of beliefs, attitudes, and values held by the media. In fact, events or news items are frequently shared by multiple news agencies (e.g., the Associated Press, etc.).

The Train Test

For Spiral of Silence theorists, examining whether or not people will speak out requires a methodology that is clear, testable, representative, and replicable. To support her claims, Noelle-Neumann conceptualized the train test (or plane or bus as well). The train test is an assessment of the extent to which people will speak out with their own opinion. According to the Spiral of Silence Theory, people on two different sides of an issue will vary in their willingness to express views in public. Text following: There are various ways of speaking out—for example, hanging posters, displaying bumper stickers, and distributing flyers.

Men (ages 45–59) from large cities are more likely to speak out.

People are more likely to voice an opinion if it agrees with their own convictions as well as fits within current trends and the spirit of the era.

People will voice an opinion if it aligns with societal views.

People tend to share their opinions with those who agree with them more than with those who disagree.

Theory two: Face-Negotiation theory

Kevin’s conflict with Professor Yang underscores much of the thinking behind Face-Negotiation Theory (FNT) by Stella Ting-Toomey. The theory is multifaceted, incorporating research from intercultural communication, conflict, politeness, and “facework,” a topic we explore later in the chapter. Face-Negotiation Theory has cross-cultural appeal and application because Ting-Toomey has focused on a number of different cultural populations, including those in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, China, and the United States. As Ting-Toomey (1988) comments: “Culture provides Page 461the larger interpretive frame in which ‘face’ and ‘conflict style’ can be meaningfully expressed and maintained” (p. 213). Ting-Toomey asserts that members from different cultural backgrounds have various concerns for the “face” of others. This concern leads them to handle conflict in different ways. These comments form the backdrop to Face-Negotiation Theory (FNT).

Ting-Toomey bases much of her theory on face and facework. Face is clearly an important feature of life, a metaphor for self-image that pervades all aspects of social life. The concept of face has evolved in interpretation over the years. It originates with the Chinese who have two conceptualizations of face: lien and mien-tzu, two terms describing identity and ego (Ho, 1944).

Erving Goffman (1967) is generally credited with situating face in contemporary Western research. He noted that face is the image of the self that people display in their conversations with others. Ting-Toomey and her colleagues (Oetzel, Ting-Toomey, Yokochi, Masumoto, & Takai, 2000) observe that face pertains to a favorable self-worth and/or projected other worth in interpersonal situations. People do not “see” another’s face; rather, face is a metaphor for the boundaries that people have in their relationships with others. In essence, then, face is the desirable self-image that a person wishes to convey to another based upon society’s interpretation of what is “appropriate and successful” (Samp, 2015, p. 1).

Goffman (1967) described face as something that is maintained, lost, or strengthened. At the time of his writing, Goffman did not envision that the term would be applied to close relationships. As a sociologist, he believed that face and all that it entailed was more applicable to the study of social groups. Over time, however, the study of face has been applied to a number of contexts, including close relationships and small groups.

As we noted earlier, Ting-Toomey was influenced by research on politeness. In a general sense, politeness is concerned with appropriateness of behavior and procedures as they relate to establishing and maintaining harmony in relationships (Kerbrat-Orecchioni, 2012). In particular, politeness theorists (Brown & Levinson, 1978, 1987) contend that people will use a politeness strategy based on the perception of face threat. Politeness theory suggests that a single message can provoke more than one face threat and can both support and threaten face needs simultaneously, and that politeness and face threats influence subsequent messages. Drawing on over a dozen different cultures around the world and based on field work of at least three languages (Feng, 2015), politeness researchers discovered that two types of universal needs exist: positive face needs and negative face needs. Positive face is the desire to be liked and admired by significant others in our lives; negative face refers to the desire to be autonomous and unconstrained.

When communicators’ positive or negative face is threatened, they tend to seek some recourse or way to restore their or their partner’s face. Ting-Toomey (1994a), following Brown and Levinson, defines this as facework, or the “actions taken to deal with the face wants of one and/or the other” (p. 8). Ting-Toomey and Leeva Chung (2005) also comment that facework is “about the verbal and nonverbal strategies that we use to maintain, defend, or upgrade our own social self-image and attack or defend (or ‘save’) the social image of others” (p. 268). In other words, facework pertains to how people make whatever they’re doing consistent with their face. Ting-Toomey equates facework with a “communication dance that tiptoes” between respect for one’s face and the face of another.

The paper will be organized into the following sections:

1.      Introduction

2.      Summarize Theory One. Be sure to include citations from the orange text and other sources to explain the theory and also be sure to include any key elements that you will be using in your application.

3.      Apply the theory by providing two examples from your home life, work life, current or historical events, or film/television to illustrate the theory.

4.      Summarize Theory Two. Be sure to include citations from the orange text and other sources to explain the theory and also be sure to include any key elements that you will be using in your application.

5.      Apply the theory by providing two examples from your home life, work life, current or historical events, or film/television to illustrate the theory.

6.      Conclusion

In addition to citing your text, you must cite at least three other sources.


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