Communication theory

The Television & Movie Wiki: for TV, celebrities, and movies.

Communication is a slippery concept, and while we may casually use the word with some frequency, it is difficult to arrive at a precise definition that is agreeable to most of those who consider themselves communication scholars. Communication is so deeply rooted in human behaviors and the structures of society that it is difficult to think of social or behavioral events that are absent communication.

We might say that communication consists of transmitting information from one person to another. In fact, many scholars of communication take this as a working definition, and use Lasswell's maxim ("who says what to whom to what effect") as a means of circumscribing the field of communication. Others suggest that there is a ritual process of communication that cannot be artificially abstracted from a particular historical and social context. As a relatively young field of inquiry, it is probably premature to expect a conceptualization of communication that is shared among all or most of those who work in the area. Furthermore, communication theory itself is, in many ways, an attempt to describe and explain precisely what communication is.

Image:Communication sender-message-reciever.png

Mapping the Theoretical Landscape

A discipline is defined in large part by its theoretical structure. Instead, communication, at its present state, might be considered a field of inquiry. Theory is often borrowed from other social sciences, while communication provides few examples of theories that have been exported to other disciplines. What is taught as communication theory at one institution is unlikely to be at all similar to what is taught within other communication schools. This theoretical variegation makes it difficult to come to terms with the field as a whole. That said, there are some common taxonomies that are used to divide up the range of communication research. Two common mappings will be briefly presented here.

Many authors and researchers divide communication by what are sometimes called "contexts" or "levels," but more often represent institutional histories. The study of communication in the US, while occurring within departments of psychology, sociology, linguistics, and anthropology among others, generally developed from schools of rhetoric and schools of journalism. While many of these have become "departments of communication," they often retain their historical roots, adhering largely to theories from speech communication in the former case, and mass media in the latter. The great divide between speech communication and mass communication is joined by a number of smaller sub-areas of communication research, including intercultural and international communication, small group communication, communication technology, policy and legal studies of communication, telecommunication, and work done under a variety of other labels. Some of these departments take a largely social science perspective, others tend more heavily toward the humanities, and still others are geared more toward production and professional preparation.

These "levels" of communication provide some way of grouping communication theories, but inevitably, there are theories and concepts that leak from one area to another, or that fail to find a home at all. If communication is a cohesive field of study, one would expect to see a cohesive set of theories, or at least a common understanding of the structure of the field, and this appears to still be developing.

Another way of dividing up the communication field emphasizes the assumptions that undergird particular theories, models, and approaches. While this tends also to be based on institutional divisions, theories within each of the seven "traditions" of communication theory that Robert Craig suggests tend to reinforce one another, and retain the same ground epistemological and axiological assumptions. His traditions include the rhetorical, semiotic, phenomenological, cybernetic, sociopsychological, critical and sociocultural traditions. Each of these are, for Craig, clearly defined against the others and remain cohesive approaches to describing communicative behavior. As a taxonomic aid, these labels help to organize theory by its assumptions, and help researchers to understand the reasons some theories may be incommensurable.

While these two approaches are very commonly used, it seems that they decentralize the place of language and machines as communicative technologies. The idea that communication is (as Vygotsky argues) the primary tool of a species that is defined by its tools remains at the outskirts of communication theory. It is represented somewhat in the Toronto School of communication theory (alternatively sometimes called medium theory) as represented by the work of Innis, McLuhan, and others. It seems that the ways in which individuals and groups use the technologies of communication--and in some cases are used by them--remains central to what communication researchers do, and the ideas that surround this, and in particular the place of persuasion, are constants across both the "traditions" and "levels" of communication theory.

See also: Communication basic topicsde:Kommunikationsmodell ko:통신이론

Personal tools