Reclaiming uncertainty: The formation of new meanings

Leslie A. Baxter, Dawn O. Braithwaite

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

4 Scopus citations


The purpose of this chapter is to reclaim uncertainty along different conceptual lines from the traditional approach evidenced by many of the chapters in this volume. In particular, we reconceptualize (un)certainty away from an individual’s ability to predict and explain outcomes, viewing it instead as a characteristic of discourse; more specifically, uncertainty is framed as the interplay of different, often competing, discourses. This reconceptualization is grounded in relational dialectics theory (RDT), which extends the dialogism work of the Russian cultural and literary theorist Mikhail Bakhtin to communication in familial, personal, and social relationships. In contrast to the traditional conceptualization in which communication is positioned as a strategy by which to reduce or manage uncertainty, a dialogic reconceptualization argues that uncertainty is an inherent feature of communication and the key process through which meaning is created. Thus, uncertainty is framed positively, not negatively, in an RDT reconceptualization. Totalizing certainty is to be guarded against, for it holds potential for calcification of meaning and thus potentially can extinguish creativeness by relationship parties. The chapter opens with a discussion of the traditional conceptualization of (un)certainty and then articulates in the second section a dialogically grounded reconceptualization. The third section of the chapter examines implications of this reconceptualization for researchers of communication and relationships.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationUncertainty, Information Management, and Disclosure Decisions
Subtitle of host publicationTheories and Applications
PublisherTaylor and Francis
Number of pages19
ISBN (Electronic)9781135890568
ISBN (Print)9780415965163
StatePublished - Jan 1 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities(all)
  • Social Sciences(all)
  • Psychology(all)


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