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Eclectic Method and Communication Theory

The Jam Session as the New Symposium

Stephen Stockwell, Griffith University, Australia
Communication theory as the means
to conceptualise the transmission of
information and the negotiation of
meaning has never been a stable
entity. Entrenched divisions between
administrative and critical
tendencies are played out within
schools and emerging disciplines and
across a range of scientific/humanist,
quantitative/qualitative and
political/cultural paradigms.
Of course, this is only the beginning
of the mischief for there are many
other polarities at play and a host of
variations within polar contrasts.
(Dervin, Shields and Song 2005:

The free spirit surveys things, and

now for the first time mundane
existence appears to it worthy of
contemplation (Nietzsche 2001:

This paper argues that the play of

contending schools with little
purchase on each other, or anything
much, has turned meta-discourse
about communication into an
ontological maelstrom. Perhaps the
only way to ride out this storm is to
look towards particular
communication practices that, like the
Greek symposium, draw together
disparate elements to see how their
particular theoretical underpinnings
may offer safe moorings while the
worst of the storm passes by.

From its roots in jazz and blues to its

contemporary manifestations in rap
and hip-hop and throughout the
communication industries, the
improvised reorganisation of
traditional themes into new and
striking patterns confronts the
ontological possibilities in music, and
life, by taking the flotsam flung up by
the storm to piece together the means
to transcend the downward pull into
the abyss.

Five theses on theory-jamming and

1. Eclecticism requires
Ethnography: the eclectic is the
ethnographer loose in their own mind.
2. Enculturation and Enumeration
need each other: qualitative and
quantitative research work best when
they work off each other.


The jam arose as a spin-off of the

dance music circuit in the 1930s.
After the main, professional show
was over, small groups would gather
together in all-night dives for
informal, spontaneous sessions of
unrehearsed improvisation, playing
for their own pleasure, in accordance
with their own esthetic (sic)
standards. (Cameron 1954: 177).
Experimentation is mandatory and
formal rules become suspect because
they too quickly stereotype and
ossify. (Cameron 1954: 181)

5. Extravagance and Exuberance:

dont stop until youve got enough.
Theory-jamming opens the possibility
for a unified theory of communication
that starts, not with a false narrative
certainty, but with the gaps in
communication: the distance between
what we know and what we say,
between what we say and what we
write, between what we write and
what others read back, between what
others say and what we hear.
Cameron, W. B. Sociological Notes on
the Jam Session. Social Forces. 33. Dec,
1954. pp. 17782.
Dervin, B. , Shields, P. and Song, M.
More than Misunderstanding, Less than
War. Paper at International
Communication Association annual
meeting, New York City, NY, 2005.
Nietzsche, F. The Pre-Platonic
Philosophers. Urbana: University of
Illinois Press, 2001.

3. Ephemera and Esoterica tell us

the most: the back-story is the real
story as we stumble on the greatest
truths as if by accident.
4. Experimentation beyond
Empiricism: more than testing our
sense of our sense data of the world.
Communication theory extends from
infra-red to ultraviolet, from silent to
ultrasonic, from absolute zero to
complete heat, from the sub-atomic to
the inter-galactic.

Jelly Holt and friends jam, 1957


The intellect must not only desire

surreptitious delights; it must become
completely free and celebrate
Saturnalia. (Nietzsche 2001: 6).