Graduation Year

2007

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree

Ph.D.

Degree Granting Department

Communication

Major Professor

Eric M. Eisenberg, Ph.D.

Keywords

Abraham Maslow, Politics 3, Cults, Qualitative methods, Focus group, Autoethnography, Society of the Spectacle

Abstract

This study employs qualitative methods to: (1) compare and contrast public conversations about a complex social phenomenon with my experience of that phenomenon, and (2) explore the nature of those public conversations and their impact on planetary transformation. This study is divided into two parts. Part One of this dissertation compares my personal experience with Landmark Education Corporation, a private personal development company, with how it is characterized in public conversations. The public conversations chosen for analysis include: (1) an episode of the television show, Law and Order: Criminal Intent (Balcer, et al., 2003), (2) a Time Magazine article about Landmark Education Corporation (Faltermayer, 1998 March 16), and (3) psychological research on large group awareness trainings, of which Landmark Education courses are one example.

Each of these public conversations contrasts significantly with my personal experience and therefore fails to account for what I see as the potential for work like Landmark's to transform the conversations that constitute our society, and ultimately, life on our planet. To help account for the value I see in Landmark's courses, Part Two of the dissertation examines the communication of Landmark participants to ascertain whether their communication in fact poses the possibility of global transformation through open, compassionate, reciprocal communication practices learned in Landmark courses. It draws from qualitative interviews, a focus group, and a focus group observation interview. Based on the results of this research, I argue that the communication of Landmark participants has the power to transform society, and that the public conversations about Landmark Education examined here are a drag on global transformation. Most broadly, I respond to the following question: When we examine particular public discourses about unusual social phenomena, what can we learn about the relationship between these discourses and the social phenomena aimed at transforming them?

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