A Theory of Resonance

Terence E. McDonnell, Christopher A. Bail, Iddo Tavory

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    The metaphor of resonance often describes the fit between a message and an audience's worldviews. Yet scholars have largely ignored the cognitive processes audiences use to interpret messages and interactions that determine why certain messages and other cultural objects appeal to some but not others. Drawing on pragmatism, we argue that resonance occurs as cultural objects help people puzzle through practical challenges they face or construct. We discuss how cognitive distance and the process of emotional reasoning shape the likelihood of cultural resonance. We argue resonance is an emergent process structured by interactions between individuals that shape each other's interpretation of cultural objects, diffuse objects through interactional circuits, and create opportunities for resonance among people facing similarly shaped problems. Our approach thus identifies new processes at micro, meso, and macro levels of analysis that shape resonance and describes the pathways that might allow resonance to crystallize into broader mobilization and social change.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)1-14
    Number of pages14
    JournalSociological Theory
    Issue number1
    StatePublished - Mar 1 2017


    • cognition
    • culture
    • emotions
    • interaction
    • pragmatism
    • resonance

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Sociology and Political Science


    Dive into the research topics of 'A Theory of Resonance'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this