Social Penetration Theory Analysis Paper
20 November 2017
In Chapter Nine of our Theories of Communication textbook we read and learned about Social Penetration Theory. This theory was developed by Irwin Altman and Dalmas Taylor. In this theory application paper, I will discuss the theory of social penetration and how it applies to a scenario from my personal experience. For this paper I will be taking advantage of the metaphorical onion that is often used in the social penetration theory.
Social Penetration Theory is described by Altman and Taylor as, “the process of developing deeper intimacy with another person through mutual self-disclosure and other forms of vulnerability.” (Griffin, 2009, p. 114). Irwin Altman and Dalmas Taylor also have described the personality structure for this theory as “onion-like layers of beliefs, feelings about oneself, and the world. The deeper the layers are the more protected and central to self-image.” (Griffin, 2009, 9. 114). The outer layer of the onion is what could be described as the public domain or layer. This is the layer that people see first, or after a couple conversations. Like what types of things are they into, how do they look, how do they carry themselves, etc. These are not only easy to “peel back” but they determine if we will continue to socialize with the person further. The inner layers are what we could call the “private domain.” This private domain is what people only show to those they know personally or have socialized with on a deeper scale. These layers can include religious or political beliefs, prejudices and so on. The further you peel into this “onion” the tougher it will be. The important thing about attempting to see a person’s inner layers is that you must reciprocate the action. To know and grow closer to a person you must be willing to self-disclose. This is especially important at the beginning. This penetration is most likely quick at the start but will slow down as it begins to grow closure to the inner layers of the onion.
So how is this theory applicable to my life? Well the scenario I have chosen is my coming to Kansas and slowly being changed by the states culture and the Midwest as a whole. Being from New York I have never been an overly social person. Where I grew up it was not common practice to speak to those that you did not know. And it was certainly not something that I expected upon coming to Kansas. On the bus ride from New York to Kansas I was with people from all around the country but mostly from the north-eastern coast, so the social interaction was lacking (which I did not mind). The instant I arrived in Kansas I found that people were more willing to speak to me, help me, and even offer my guidance. At first this made me uneasy, like they were after something. The social openness was not something I was used to by any means. After a few minutes I had discovered that I was not in the place I had expected to be Wichita, Kansas. I was supposed to be sitting in Arkansas City taking a placement test in two hours and I had reached the end of my purchased tickets. Panicking, I was forced to speak and get help from others. During this I was bombarded with questions, mostly irrelevant. After some time, and fifty dollars later, I was back on the bus and heading toward the Kansas-Oklahoma border. The bus would drop me off at a turn pike just before the border and wish me luck. For a moment I found myself relieved and that perhaps I would make it. Long story short, I had discovered that Arkansas City was fifteen miles away from my location and I had no cell service to call a cab. I had been forced to hitchhike to Arkansas City. A van of elderly people would be my saving grace, but then again, I was bombarded with questions about where I was from, what I like to do, what I would be studying, etc. This annoyed me greatly, but I tried to remain calm and answer their questions. Once I had reached the college, took my placement test, and was offered a dorm room, I would begin my college life. Over the next two years I would be thrown into the deep end of Kansas nicety culture and slowly begin to evolve from the private, antisocial New Yorker that I was.
So how does this experience compare to Social Penetration Theory. Let us begin with the shell of the onion, and peel each layer back while comparing it to my experience. On the outside layer of this onion many people have seen me as a quiet guy, someone that goes to class and then leaves without talking much, a relatively nice guy, kind of tall, and has a few tattoos. A few of these are true but not all of them. I have been denied jobs here in Kansas because of my tattoos, been ignored or looked over as a human being because of my emotional aura, but they do not really know who I am. When I think of myself I am not one to consider myself tall, touch, muscular or attractive. Not to say I am not any of these things but I do not really consider them important to what makes up a human being. When I first came to Kansas I was not willing to let anyone get anywhere near my inner layers. But as I spent time here and grew my accustomed to the culture, these inner layers were easier to access.
The next layer of the onion that is depicted on page 115 of griffin’s text is what we call biographical data. As I have states already I am from New York. But where in New York exactly. Many automatically assume that I am from the big city, or around there. Where I am from a small town of five hundred to six hundred called Kennedy. A town that barely even shows up on maps. I grew up being raised by my father and mother. I have an older brother with autism and a younger sister that has two baby girls. My parents were both born in the same city I was, and much of my family have been stuck in that area not really caring to leave. My father is a motorcycle mechanic and middle school head custodian where he oversees a team of six other custodians. My mother is a house keeper and has been doing house keeping for twelve years. This is the information that would be contained in the second layer of my metaphoric onion.