January 1997

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A ^Rose by Any Other Name

by Peter J. Murray

Umberto Eco, writing in Apocalypse Postponed, said, "A discourse is rarely articulated in such a way that only one function is operative." When we ask ^What is CMC?, are we expecting an answer which suggests that there is one amorphous entity which we can call CMC, that it performs only one function? I don't think this is the case; CMC performs many functions, but it seems to me that, despite the increasing amount of research on and using CMC, many researchers and academics seem to suggest that it can be treated as one entity performing one function.

There are many ^different forms of CMC; it means different things to different people, which is both its strength and the source of some of the problems arising in the research literature. Much of the published research on CMC, particularly until recent years, has taken results from experimental rather than field research. Problems can arise if people take the ^findings from research of a particular type, on one form of CMC, and suggest they can be applied universally to all forms of CMC.

I suggest:

  • There are increasing numbers of forms of CMC.
  • The technologies for mediating CMC are changing rapidly.
  • There is increasing diversity of users and uses.
  • Many forms of CMC, particularly where interpersonal interaction is concerned, seem to explicitly or implicitly serve multiple purposes.

Therefore, ^Wittgenstein's ideas of family resemblances provide a useful way for considering the variety and interrelationships of forms of CMC. Adopting such an approach means accepting that:

  • CMC, as with any form of communication, is socially constructed.
  • Diverse research methods are applicable to any form of CMC.
  • A search for generalizable results is meaningless.


Peter J. Murray ( is Lecturer (New Technology) in the School of Health & Social Welfare at The Open University, Milton Keynes, UK.. He is a qualified nurse and nurse tutor, and is an Associate Editor for Computers in Nursing. He undertook his MSc research on nurses' use of the NURSENET listserv, and is currently a part-time PhD student with the Institute of Educational Technology at The Open University, researching text-based CMC as a medium for nurses' professional continuing education.

Copyright © 1996 by Peter J. Murray. All rights reserved.

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