Original paper

Ethics and Information Technology

, Volume 11, Issue 4, pp 265-278

First online:

From the dialogic to the contemplative: a conceptual and empirical rethinking of online communication outcomes as verbing micro-practices

  • David J. SchaeferAffiliated withDepartment of Communication Arts, Franciscan University of Steubenville Email author 
  • , Brenda DervinAffiliated withSchool of Communication, The Ohio State University

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Traditional approaches to studying communication in public spheres draw upon a product or outcome orientation that has prevented researchers from theorizing more specifically about how communication behaviors either inhibit or facilitate dialogic processes. Additionally, researchers typically emphasize consensus as a preferred outcome. Drawing upon a methodology explicitly developed to study communicating using a verb-oriented framework, we analyzed 1,360 postings from online pedagogical discussions. Our analysis focused on verbing micro-practices, the dynamic communicative actions through which participants make and unmake public spheres. Two questions guided our analysis: (1) How do grounded communicative micro-moment practices relate to consensusing and dissensusing within public spheres? and (2) What are the theoretical implications of these relationships for the quality of dialogue among participants who are discussing controversial topics? Our findings indicate that, contrary to recent theorizing, consensus-building and maintaining behaviors may actually inhibit the communicative processes necessary for the creation of effective public sphere dialogue.


Electronic public spheres Dialogue Sense-making methodology Habermas Consensus Dissensus Verbing Micro-practices