1. (transactional models, transactive models, transactional communication) A nonlinear framing of communication as a process geared to mutual understanding and influence in the context of the relationships between the participants (see also convergence model; power relations; relational communication), in particular contrast to linear transmission models. Writing in 1974, Schramm argues that normative expectations regarding the function of the relationship (see communicative functions; communicative purposes; communicative relationships) determine the roles played by the participants, and that performances are governed by an implicit contract. Social psychologists stress the involuntary behavioural coordination involved (rather than individual purposes), and see relationships as dynamic systems—a conceptualization which strains the affordances of the static spatial representation of such models. Within the constitutive model, relational forms (relationships) and processes (patterns of communicative acts) can be seen as mutually constitutive. See also communication models; recursive communication theory; systems theory; compare communication game; interaction model.
2. (semiotics) Saussure's conception of meaning as dependent on the relation between signs. A word makes sense as part of a formal, generalized and abstract system of language rather than having an inherent value in and of itself or an intrinsic (extralinguistic) relationship to a referent in the world (see also arbitrariness). Language, for Saussure, is a system of functional differences and oppositions. Advertising furnishes a good example of this notion, since what matters in positioning a product is not the relationship of advertising signifiers to real-world referents, but the differentiation of each sign from the others to which it is related. Saussure's concept of the relational identity of signs is at the heart of structuralism. See also bracketing the referent; Saussurean model.