From System to Skill: Palo Alto Group’s Contested Legacy of Communication
In the past few decades, the notion of “communication skills” has become increasingly dominant in cultural discourse, as such skills are deemed crucial for success in seemingly various professional occupations and in diverse aspects of an individual’s life. This study traces the development of the notion of communication as skills that emerged from the theoretical and experimental work of the Palo Alto group in the 1950s and 1960s. It analyzes the shift from the cybernetic, system-oriented, and technology-inspired conceptualization of communication by the group to the current widespread perception of communication as a self-centered, emotions-directed, reflexive and conscious set of skills. The study argues that, more than a misrepresentation of the group’s ideas, this shift reflects a tension already embedded in the work of the Palo Alto group between theorizing and practicing communication.