The bona fide group theory, originally developed by Linda Putnam and Cynthia Stohl, identifies a set of theoretical concepts that enable researchers to move away from studying small groups as if they were isolated, decontextualized, and without history and study groups in context. This perspective was first articulated in a special 1990 issue of the journal ommunication Studies, in which several well-known communication scholars called for the discipline to pay greater attention to groups within their natural environments. These scholars argued that groups form the foundation of our social lives, our work endeavors, and our cultural and political experiences. Group communication facilitates or hinders a society’s ability to thrive. After decades of studying small groups as if they were completely distinct from contexts, it was time for communication researchers to move beyond “container models” of group communication. Collectively, they agreed there was a need to have theories and constructs that enable an understanding of the multilevel, embedded, interpretive, emotional, and rational processes of groups.

Since the early 1990s, several theoretical perspectives have emerged that provide richer, deeper, and more nuanced understandings of groups in context. Going beyond functional approaches, researchers have incorporated structurational, interpretive, feminist, critical, and bona fide theories into smallgroup studies. Bona fide theory has been used to explore communication processes in contexts such as juries, surgical and health teams, environmental collaborations, management boards, community theater, fund-raising, online support, and adolescent peer groups. Research methodologies have also become more diverse. Discourse analyses, ethnographic studies, quasi-experimental designs, surveys, and laboratory experiments all have been used to study groups from a bona fide perspective.
Bona fide group theory posits that all groups manifest permeable boundaries and interdependence with context. The theory provides a set of concepts and relationships to explore these essential characteristics regardless of whether groupsare experimentally created and manipulated, occurnaturally in face-to-face environments, or are computer mediated. The bona fide group theory is a nascent theory insofar as a standard set of postulates and theorems have yet to be developed. However, over the past 18 years, numerous theoretical papers and empirical studies have illustrated the ways in which it is a useful and vibrant framework for the study of group processes as they emerge and are embedded in larger contexts.

Littlejohn, Stephen W and Karen A.Floss. (2009). Encyclopedia of Communication Theory.USA:SAGE.178-179

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