General Description of MB 119

Table of Contents


This course is an introduction to the study of interpersonal communication. It is intended to cover both macro-level phenomena (e.g., social networks) and micro-level phenomena (e.g., how do we interpret specific sentences). At the macro level we examine how the structure of communication networks affects organizational and individual outcomes. At the micro level we examine how meaning is constructed and how gender and culture differences relate to meanings. The course is NOT intended as a workshop to improve communication, although a small amount of time will be devoted to active listening techniques.

The course does not involve a great deal of writing or taking of tests -- it is mostly reading and discussion. However, there is a lot of reading, much of which is quite difficult (especially at the beginning of the semester). If you will not be able to keep up with the reading, you should drop the course now. In a seminar-style course such as this one, students must do the reading or there is nothing to do in class.

Overview of Topics

The course is divided into two general parts: macro and micro, a distinction that more or less corresponds to the distinction between structure and content.

MACRO Section

The macro section is basically about social networks. We begin the semester learning the technical aspects of social networks, especially the mathematical terminology and key concepts. We then move on to studying a key concept, centrality, and how it illuminates the issue of optimum communication structure for solving problems. This is followed by an examination of the small world phenomenon and the embeddedness of all economic activity in social relations.

Bridging the macro and micro levels of analysis, we discuss the informal organization and the organizational grapevine.

MICRO Section

The micro section is about how one person communicates with another. We discuss the production of displays and the construction of meaning. As part of this discussion, we discuss how the sexes differ in communication styles, and how shared culture affects communication.


Being a course on communication, this course is conducted utilizing a variety of media. Part of class participation will be to maintain an ongoing discussion via email with the entire class. You are expected to send at least two messages a week to the class. One of your first assignments is to sign up with the class listserv, as well as sign up with some public listservs. Class participation is worth one third of your grade.

Note: there is a great deal of reading in this course. You must keep up or you will be unable to participate in the class discussions, which will make class very difficult. IMPORTANT NOTE: if you have not done the reading, I prefer that you don't come to class at all (however, this will lower your class participation grade).

There are several papers/homework exercises that involve looking at real communication in the world around you. These are worth one third of your grade.

There is a final exam covering the entire course, worth one third of your grade.


The required texts are:

The recommended texts are:

In addition, there are MANY articles in the library that you must look up and read. These are very technical articles in serious journals. Here are the references:

Copyright 1997 Stephen P. Borgatti Revised: January 23, 1998 Home Page