Instructor: Steve Duck, Daniel and Amy Starch Distinguished Research Chair

Office: 151 BCSB  Phone: 335-0579 steve-duck@uiowa.edu Website: http://myweb.uiowa.edu/blastd

Office hours Thursday 12.30-3.30.  You can sign up outside my office, take pot luck, or make another arrangement

Class meets: 10.55-12.10 Tu and Th in E120AJB

Department Office is 105-BCSB; DEO John Peters, 105B-BCSB Phone 353-2264 john-peters@uiowa.edu

For each semester hour credit in this course, students should expect to spend two hours per week preparing for class sessions (This is a three-credit-hour course, and so standard out-of-class preparation per week is six hours). 


This course is based on the premise that relationships are far more than emotional attachments or bonds.  They are not merely happy, emotionally satisfying elements of our lives but they significantly shape our experiences of the world and contribute to our senses of identity, our outlook on life, and even the way in which we think about experiences and life in general.  The course deals with such questions as “How do people know their world?”, “How much of what we know is individual knowledge and how much comes from groups and our personal relationships to other people?” and “How does membership of relationships structure our experience, affect our ranges of knowledge, and organize our daily lives?”.

The course introduces a variety of communicative situations by means of which individuals establish, reconstitute, and demonstrate their membership of communities and relationships.  However, the course will develop the idea that these relational activities serve epistemic functions, which is to say that they construct, constrain, or facilitate means through which a person knows and experiences the world.  Relationships are more than satisfying reliable alliances with others; rather they are communicative loci where the person's knowledge of life is shaped, formed, and interpreted.  Thus relationships are both an influence on our ways of thinking and also are places where we sculpt our identity and learn or modify our worth to others. 


Course Objectives:

(1) To gain basic knowledge of advanced theoretical concepts in relational communication research, in relation to epistemic and rhetorical functions of relational communication.

(2) To develop the ability to analyze a variety of relational theories through application of relevant research concepts and everyday life examples.

(3) To develop an understanding of the role of relationships in the broader activities of communication in a variety of settings.



The main reading will be on a password protected site on ICON and consists of a Manuscript for a book based on this course so you will be test driving the book and feedback will be appreciated.


For advanced enthusiasts a number of other original sources may also prove useful or interesting but are not required.   Graduate students taking this bridge course will be assigned advanced supplementary reading each week.

Davis, M. S. (1983). SMUT: Erotic reality/obscene ideology. Chicago: Univ of Chicago Press.

Duck, S. W. (2007). Human Relationships 4th Edition. London, SAGE Publications Ltd.

Milardo, R. M. and B. Wellman (1992). “The personal is social.” Journal of Social and Personal Relationships 9: 339-42. (And the rest of the Special Issue of that Journal where it appeared)

Stone, L. (1990) The family, sex and marriage in England 1500-1800. Penguin: Harmondsworth.


Course requirements and grading

Course grades will be assigned on the basis of points accumulated throughout the semester.  I do not curve the scores: what you earn is what you get.  Standard point cutoffs will be used to determine final course grades: A = 90% or above; B = 80% - 89%; C = 70% -79%; D = 60 % - 69%; F = 59% and below. I will use + and - grades for scores that are within 3 points near these cutoff values. A maximum of 100 points is possible. Point accumulation will be as follows:

            Essay assignments due Feb. 12th and April 7th             30 points each

            Class presentation due April 14 thru May 7th *            20 points.  [The rest of the class will award Class                                                                                            presentation points]

            Short Note assignments due Feb 5th and March 31st     10 points each

*Graduate students in the class will complete an additional essay assignment, research project or lecture in lieu of presentation and this work will be due on the last day of class.



1. Essays: Two essay assignments will be given. The objective in these essays is to apply class material, whether it be readings, films, or other materials of your own, to a couple of theoretical questions listed later here. Because this is an upper level class your work will be judged in terms of its depth of analysis, application of theory, skill in selecting examples and so on – in short by criteria suitable for advanced work.

2. Class presentation:  You will work on a project, either alone or in a small group, and present the results to the class at the end of semester.  Class members will grade the presentation for a) difficulty; b) quality of preparation; c) quality of presentation, and the resulting points will be calculated into each person's final grade.  In the case of group presentations, all members of each group will assess the contributions that their group members make to the final product and will give those comments to me privately.  The results of this assessment will be used to weight the points awarded by the rest of the class when the presentation is delivered.

3. Short Note assignments:  Two short note assignments, described more fully below, will be given and you will comment specifically about positive and negative relationships that you have, in light of course reading and lecture notes. 


Reminders, warnings and advice

You are all responsible adults who do not need me to be your parent and chase you up to do your work.  I am here to educate you (from the Latin, meaning “to draw out” [your potential]) and it is my job to help you to learn, if you wish to do so. 


Attendance at lectures is expected.  If you attend classes then you will learn more than if you don’t.  I do not formally check attendance (though I have a good  memory for faces and names) because it is up to you, not me, whether you fulfill your responsibility to attend class or not.  Class assignments will require you to include material covered only in lectures in class.  I do not post lecture notes on the Web, so you can get the lecture material ONLY by coming to the lectures.  This is a pedagogical choice appropriate for an advanced level course, because I want this to be an interactive course and one where lectures are responsive to issues raised by students at the time.  This means, in effect, that if you were there you will know what was covered; if you weren’t there, you won’t.  It’s your choice and the consequences are yours.


Class participation is up to you and is expected.  If you have questions or answers and want to have them discussed then please feel free to offer them.  If you just want to sit there, that’s fine with me, though I will learn your name and will ask people for their opinions about reading material or aspects of lectures during the classes.  You won't get credit for participating and you won't get penalized for not participating, because voluntary participation is part of education, not something extra that is worthy of extra reward.  You participate, you learn; you don’t, you don’t.  It’s up to you.


Deadlines are meaningful.  If you miss them then you will not score as well as if you meet them.  In the real world when you leave here if you are repeatedly late with a report for your boss, you will be fired. Your boss will not care how much work you put into the project nor how good YOU think it is nor how much you need to be rewarded for it.  If you are late, you are late.  If it is no good, it is no good, however much you want to argue the point.  Working hard is not a guarantee of a good grade but it is probably a necessary condition for one.  That’s life.


I do not change grades because people come to tell me they worked hard, nor because they think that they really deserved a higher grade or that they need a higher grade to graduate.  I grade what you give me, using my years of expertise as a teacher, and I grade it on quality and evidence of learning and relevance to the course, not on your effort alone nor on your need.  That, again, is life in the real world of adulthood that you have already entered.


Outline of class meeting schedule

Week 1

Tues. Jan 20th  Course introduction: Relationships and communicating as ways of seeing or knowing

We often treat “communication” as obvious, self-evident use of words or nonverbal signaling, and “relationships” as things we are “in”.  By contrast, this course focuses on the non-obvious forms of communication that occur in patterns of relating to other people (for example, the physical limits on the embodiment of relational forms, the effects of low power in a relationship upon the things that we are allowed to know).  The ways in which we interact with others convey and communicate messages about many different aspects of life, all connected to our ways of creating and understanding the structures of social experience.  Basic notions of such understandings and assumptions are introduced in this lecture.


Thurs Jan 22nd   Everyday rhetorics and relationships

This lecture looks at the ways in which relationships create a symbolic form and structure through which we can perform certain sorts of social tasks, for example persuasion.  We will also consider some ways in which relationships are offered to the outside world as symbolic and persuasive or ritual forms of reinforcement of social order (for example, we will examine the wedding ceremony and look at the rhetorical forms which it highlights and the symbolisms of social structures which it communicates).

Week’s reading: Chapter One on ICON.


Week 2

Tues Jan 27th   Communication and relating

A fundamental human tendency is to talk, and moreover to talk about oneself.  People in close relationships evolve their own ways of talking about themselves in their relationship and often adopt communication patterns that are unique to their particular relationship.  This lecture explores the ways in which relational communication channels our thoughts and hence our understanding of the outside world through our inner discourse.


Thurs. Jan 29th    Personal and social orders: Language as representation and presentation

Talk identifies and expresses preferences.  Some things are preferred to others both by individuals and societies. Certain forms of relationships are not acceptable in a society and other are.  In what ways does interaction with other people provoke or reinforce our own and society’s preferences?

Week’s reading: Chapter 2 on ICON


Week 3

Tues Feb 3rd  Reasons for relating: The seven provisions of relationships

Traditional theories of the basis of relationships assume that relationships are based on attraction to others, similarity and personal and human needs.  This lecture takes some of those understandings, based on Weiss’ Provisions of Relationships, and exposes the underlying importance of communication in satisfying interpersonal needs but also in creating membership and hence a sense of identity that is central to our understanding of the world.


Thurs Feb 5th Theories of relating and knowing: What has Personality got to do with it?

Although we may perhaps understand “personality” as the way a person is, this course proposes that personality is a way in which people understand their circumstances and respond to that understanding.  Taking the point of view of Attachment Theory (a theory that presumes that later patterns of relationships are based on the sort of relationship formed with early love figures) this lecture proposes the view that personality is a form of knowledge of other people.  Hence personality influences our ways of dealing with others, communicating with them, and understanding social situations.

Week’s Reading: Chapter 3 on ICON

1)       First short note assignment due today: List all your important positive relationships (you decide what “important” means); classify them into groups that make sense to you {the relationships in each group seem to have something in common and that group is different from the other groups}; indicate for each group 3 reasons why you have relationships like that.

2)       Find a newspaper clipping, magazine article or other media (song, TV, Ad …) that shows how relationships shape our understanding of the world and experience in it.


Week 4

Tues Feb. 10th George Herbert Mead and the bodily materiality of relating

George Herbert Mead emphasized the materiality of knowledge, that is to say the ways in which our physical and material circumstances influence our ways of understanding things.  This class will explore the material side of relating and the ways in which, for example, forms of relationship differ between the young and the very old, the sick and the well, those who have easy access to one another and those living in Long-Distance Relationships.  How (and why?) do these material differences affect our senses of self, of relationship, of our satisfaction with life, and our communication patterns?


Thurs. Feb. 12th Identity as a consequence of the physical and spatial materiality of life

How is the ability to conduct relationships affected by physical aspects of self, such as Physical Attractiveness or physical illness (especially chronic illness or disability) and how does that material restraint affect a person’s styles of communication, sense of self, and ability to be a member of the social community?  We will also briefly consider the relationship patterns of physically attractive people and consider the role of physical appearance in the accessibility of relationship forms and styles.

Week’s reading: Chapter 4 on ICON pages 1-20 (stop before the heading about “Physical materiality”)


FIRST ESSAY ASSIGNMENT DUE AT THIS CLASS THOUGH YOU MAY SUBMIT ESSAYS EARLY.  Email submissions preferred, but your attachment file must be titled [yourname]176E1.doc {or docx} (eg SimoneDavis176E1.docx.

Essay topic: In what ways are relationships NOT about “Emotion”?  Take any relationship that is important to you and – with reference to the material covered in the lectures and the readings that you have done – indicate ways in which you can reformulate or have reconsidered its meaning, performance or status.  The more theory-based your answer the more points you will get.  The number of pages you write is up to you but more than 7 is overenthusiastic.


Week 5

Tues Feb 17th Wealth, place and the structure of social experience

The notion that close relationships are private enclaves away from the sight of others has already been challenged earlier in the semester, but the notions that relationships should be “intimate” and that they are based on privacy are also relatively modern.  Until only some 200 years ago, people conducted all of their lives in the gaze of other folks and had virtually no privacy, as we understand the term today.  Furthermore, they often believed that relationships were based on loyalty rather than liking.  Also, poverty changes one’s access to places for conducting relationships, which necessarily occur in more public and open places, since one lacks the resources to seclude oneself in a big mansion or private grounds.  This class will consider the restrictions on communication that are imposed by access to “place”


Thurs. Feb. 19th: Use of symbols and signs of relating

This lecture will pick up on some of the themes that have been introduced by Mead and take us into the realm of symbolism with a look at some of the communicative forms of relationship such as symbols of connectedness, “tie-signs” (e.g., wedding bands), patterns of communication that suggest competing loyalties in relationships, and the redistribution of time during the building up of new relationships.

Week’s reading: Chapter 4 (pages 20-43) (“Physical materiality” section onwards)


Week 6

Tues Feb 24th  Love and the double sexual standard as ways of knowing

It is all too easy and simple to see love as an emotion that we just feel the way it is, but in fact love is experienced in some different ways by men and by women, indicating that even this is a relational way of knowing.  This lecture will explore those things and consider also the existence of sexual double standards as ways of knowing and being in the world.  Some recent work on “hook-ups” will also be considered.


Thurs Feb 26th Sense and sexuality: The relationship between sexual activity and knowledge of the world

Curiously, society chooses to regulate the public enactment of sexual behaviors.  The reasoning often offered for this is that it would break down the structure of society if such regulation were not carried out.  This class will explore the relationship between “private behaviors” and “public structure”, examining the ways in which sexual behavior is represented as a way of knowing the world and therefore as something in which society at large has an interest

Week’s reading: Chapter 5 [Grads may also choose to read Davis 1983: SMUT. Chicago U Press]  


Week 7

Tues. March 3rd: Ritual and symbolic gifts in relationships

Many behaviors and forms of communication in relationships are based on the celebration of the relationship itself.  This class will examine the importance of family rituals and rituals of gift giving in the maintenance and structuring of relationships.  The role of religious forms in representing relational forms is also considered (for example the Tudor belief that the family was a microcosm of the order of the World’s relationship to God).


Thurs March 5th Involuntary relationships at work and home: The symbolic strength of weak ties

Not all relationships are with people with whom we choose to associate: indeed in many cases we have little or no choice but to interact with them whether we wish to or no (teachers and classmates, In-laws, friends of friends, neighbors, for example).  At more extreme locations are such relationships as those between prisoners and guards.  This lecture will explore the implications of such relationships and will examine ways in which these relationships are regulated informally and as ways of enacting knowledge.

Week’s reading Chapter 6 on ICON


Week 8

Tues. Mar 10th  Relational Rhetorical Terms (RRTs) and persuasion/education/knowledge acquisition

In some communication the “who” is as important as the “what”.  Our relationships to specific other people structure our reactions to and performance of various social tasks.  For example we are more likely to be persuaded by a friend than by a stranger to do something inconvenient.  Also the fear of being gossiped about is a persuasive social experience and one that moderates behaviors.  How do relationships communicate a sense of the propriety of certain behaviors and why?


Thurs Mar 12th Stories as symbols: The narrative and the epistemic in stories of breakdown

Most couples have a story about the way in which they met, and the form of those stories itself communicates to other people the key elements of their relationship as well as the basis for that relationship (love, friendship, support, common fate, and many other “reasons”).  When people tell stories about their relationship they are also communicating something about the nature of the relationship and its structure.  During the reporting of the breakdown of a relationship, people restructure their narratives in order to communicate something about the reasons for the breakdown and their sense of loss.  We will look at these complex, but interestingly informative, issues.


Week’s reading: Chapter 7 DRAFT on ICON.  This is a bit rough.


Week 9

March 17th and 19th Spring Break

Conduct your own field-work/beach-work on relationships.


Week 10

Tuesday Mar 24th  is set aside from lectures so that you can prepare your coming assignments

Groups should meet for the class time in order to plan their presentations and begin work on these.  I will be in the regular lecture room in case anyone needs to consult about their plans.


Thursday March 26th Interconnectedness and embedding

We have already seen that we live our lives not only in dyadic pairings but also as members of larger networks of association.  Such networks can be supportive in times of need and are resources for advice and guidance, but also impose demands on us to respond to others’ needs.  In these cases the link between the epistemic (how we know the world or think about particular issues) and our membership of personal relationship is quite direct: our associations influence our beliefs. 

Reading on ICON is “Dragok7” a different style of chapter than before but don’t worry about details and stats; just get the ideas.


Week 11

Tues. Mar 31st    Talking and maintenance

We maintain relationships in all sorts of ways, some ritual (“We always call each other at noon”) and some unconscious (routines of daily life can structure our behavior).  Even politeness is both a relationship and a way of knowing (… one’s place, for example).  We will look at the ways in which maintenance of relationships is a manner of conduct and simultaneously a way of understanding the world.



1)       Second short note assignment due today: List all your important negative relationships (you decide what “important” means and what is negative about them); classify them into groups that make sense to you {the relationships in each group seem to have something in common and that group is different from the other groups}; indicate for each group 3 reasons why you have relationships like that.

2)       Find a newspaper clipping, magazine article or other media (song, TV, Ad …) that shows how negativity in relationships shapes our understanding of the world and experience in it.


Reading on ICON is “Dragok09” and just like before, don’t worry about details and stats; just get the ideas.


Thurs April 2nd No Class Meeting so that you can work on your essay assignment


Week 12

Tues April 7th  :  Membership and membering: Relational contracts in business [and relationships]

The corporate world, into which many of you will depart in the future, has a growing interest in the forms of relationships.  Some companies are trying extra-hard to establish “friendly” relationships with customers and some are going even further to try and treat customers as friends.  We will look at some of the research on these issues and consider how the circumstances of consumption communicate something about the brand and the product to would-be consumers.

Second Essay assignment due at this class: Email submissions preferred, but your attachment file must be titled [yourname]176E2.doc {or docx} (eg SimoneDavis176E2.docx.

Essay topic: How do material circumstances and communication within material constraints influence relational processes?


Thurs. April 9th   Language, power, inclusion and exclusion

We are going to look at relationships of power, not just in terms of how they are executed but also in terms of the implications for knowledge.  Relationships of power affect not only how you talk with others but how you feel about them, what you get to know and what you are permitted to do or know.  Included in this class are slavery and  “performance” of masculine and feminine, as done in particular physical settings.  But we will go wider than that and explore some of your own experiences.


Week 13

Tues April 14th   Talking about life: Intermedia, Internet and TV

In this (post) modern age, one of the omnipresent influences on life is TV and other media/small media and technology as relationship boundary smudgers.  Programming on TV can affect our relational lives in a number of ways: for one thing TV presents us with examples of the ways in which relationships can be conducted; for another, the scheduling of TV programs can affect our social life (“Not tonight, Josephine, I am going to watch my favorite TV show”); for another the shared experience of watching TV together can bring people together; finally the discussion of (and reference to) TV programs forms a large part of our social activity and we are expected to know things about TV programs as we move about the world.  We’ll talk about the influences of TV and other media on relationships and vice versa.


Week’s Reading Is “Dragok15” on ICON. 


Weeks 14-16

Thurs April 16th through May 7th    Presentations by class members

Presentation assignments: Present a talk that relates this course to some other area in which you have an interest.  For example (but do not feel restricted to this list of ideas) how would you now reconceptualize relationships in business organizations? What relationships are there between different companies in business or between businesses and their clients or potential clients?  How should social workers rethink issues of child abuse or family relationships?  What are the Public Relations implications of this course?  How should teachers modify their work on the basis of this course?  What can organizational consultants take from this course?




The following policies are required by the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences to be included here

Administrative Home
The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences is the administrative home of this course and governs matters such as the add/drop deadlines, the second-grade-only option, and other related issues. Different colleges may have different policies. Questions may be addressed to 120 Schaeffer Hall or see the Academic Handbook.

Academic Fraud
Plagiarism and any other activities when students present work that is not their own are academic fraud. Academic fraud is reported to the departmental DEO and to the Associate Dean for Undergraduate Programs and Curriculum who enforces the appropriate consequences. www.clas.uiowa.edu/students/academic_handbook/ix.shtm

Making a Suggestion or a Complaint
Students with a suggestion or complaint should first visit the instructor, then the course supervisor and the departmental DEO. Complaints must be made within six months of the incident. www.clas.uiowa.edu/students/academic_handbook/ix.shtml#5

Accommodations for Disabilities
A student seeking academic accommodations should register with Student Disability Services and meet privately with the course instructor to make particular arrangements. For more information, visit this site:

Understanding Sexual Harassment
Sexual harassment subverts the mission of the University and threatens the well-being of students, faculty, and staff. Visit
www.sexualharassment.uiowa.edu for definitions, assistance, and the full University policy.

Reacting Safely to Severe Weather
In severe weather, the class members should seek shelter in the innermost part of the building, if possible at the lowest level, staying clear of windows and free-standing expanses. The class will continue if possible when the event is over. (Operations Manual 16.14. i.)

It is possible that some Graduate Students from Communication Studies might  wish to invite members of this class to volunteer to be participants in studies.  If that event arises I will announce arrangements for extra credit and the alternative means of obtaining extra credit for those who do not wish to take part or are ineligible.