Listening with Ricoeur: A Hermeneutic for Listening Theory

Publication Date


Type of Culminating Activity


Degree Title

Master of Arts in Communication



Major Advisor

Marvin Cox


Ed McLuskie


Rick Moore


Listening theory and research methodology are examined in this thesis, with specific focus on the activity of "assigning meaning" and the problem of comprehension. Paul Ricoeur's hermeneutic philosophy is considered and proposed for the contribution his theorizing might lend to listening theory. Ultimately this answers to the need in listening research to consider currently tacit assumptions respective to comprehension and interpretive theory, and also challenges that social consequences stem from listening theories and the motives underlying its research. Examining researchers' views of listening to comprehend, two general approaches taken by researchers are scrutinized; one approach is seen to exclude the relevancy of comprehension or understanding to listening processes, while a second approach presumes comprehension and understanding as the intent of listening. Neither of these two approaches articulates a formal view of hermeneutics or interpretation theory, despite interpretive maneuvering being at the core of theorizing and defining. Comprehending is featured in this thesis as interlocutors grasping together--for meaning--an outcome of interpretation, and a component--of both written and oral discourse. Ricoeur's notion of distanciation speaks to the primary concern of distanced meanings; "the purpose of all interpretation is to conquer [this] remoteness." He contends that dialectic tension between explanation and understanding induces comprehension. Hermeneutic inquiry has to do with attempting understanding of meanings through interpretation; different hermeneutic views are thus reviewed to help distinguish notions unique to Ricoeur. Following his reasoning that interlocutors are confronted by "indirect reference" and the "surplus of meaning," necessitating theories of language, discourse, and interpretation, the argument is made that his theorizing of the "dissociation of meaning" from the "event of discourse" has application for listening theory. Despite that oral discourse permits occasion for ostensive reference, it is nonetheless encumbered with problems of indirect reference; Ricoeur cites the creativity in language, which is marked by polysemy, ambiguity, and semantic innovation, as both an avenue and impedance to meaning. In either form of discourse the media of meaning is language and its users' values, at which point the symbolic and the semantic coincide with pragmatics. Though derived from observing distanciation in oral discourse, Ricoeur's model of the text posits correspondences between the text and meaningful action that can resituate listening theory emphasis from psychological performance to social performance. In Ricoeur's view semantic-linguistic structure stands permeable to the work of explanation and understanding, though not more so nor apart from the agency of interlocutors; such agency exists as defined by social relations; the self is understood, again through indirect reference, that is, through another; intersubjectivity is basic. Discourse is the event of language, allowing interlocutors' meanings to be objectified, rather than human psychology alone; meanings can be shared, experience cannot; "hermeneutics is self understanding by means of understanding others," this the unique focus and scope of his interpretive theory. Having shown that meaning comprehension factors into hermeneutics, and that hermeneutic maneuvers factor into listening theories, a threshold is then sought to explicitly enjoin their activity.

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