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Introduction to Communication as an Academic Discipline and to Communication Theory


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Title: Introduction to Communication as an Academic Discipline and to Communication Theory


Introduction to Communication as an Academic
Discipline and to Communication
Theory IICS5152014 Pre-residency MA-IIC
program October 6, 2014
key concepts
  • communication or communication studies
  • the communicational perspective
  • transmission model of communication
  • constitutive or ritual model of communication
  • discourse
  • theoretical metadiscourse
  • practical metadiscourse

  • An introduction to the discipline of
  • 2. Introducing Communication Theory
  • Source Robert Craig article (1999),
    Communication Theory as a Field
  • The Seven Fields of Communication Theory
  • Source Robert Craig article (1999),
    Communication Theory as a Field

1. An introduction to the discipline of
  • We can start with a simple definition of the
    discipline of communication
  • Communication (or communication studies) is the
    interdisciplinary study of language,
    communication, media, culture and technology.
  • This is arguably the simplest definition of the
    discipline you will find
  • Origins of modern communication research
  • Formal communication research, in the modern
    sense of the word, starts in the 1920s in the UK
    (with the culture and civilization model
    developed by Frank and Queenie Leavis) and
    propaganda theory (developed by Edward Bernays,
    Walter Lippmann, and Harold Lasswell)
  • Origins of the institutionalization of
    communication studies at North American
  • A precursor to the establishment of communication
    programs in universities are the rhetoric and
    speech communication departments established at
    American universities in the late 19th and early
    20th century
  • The first comprehensive departments of
    communication at a university are established in
    the late 1940s at the University of Iowa and the
    University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign,
    notably by Wilbur Schramm (the acknowledged
    founder of communication as an academic
    enterprise in the U.S.)
  • The first department of communication at a
    Canadian university is established in the
    mid-1960s at Sir George Williams University (now
    called Concordia) in Montreal
  • More than almost any other discipline,
    communication studies straddles the divide
    between the humanities (e.g., literature,
    history, languages, classics, fine arts) and
    social sciences (e.g., sociology, anthropology,
    psychology, economics)

Definition of communication as a discipline at
the National Communication Association (the major
U.S. organization for communication scholarship)
  • The discipline of communication focuses on how
    people use messages to generate meanings within
    and across various contexts, cultures, channels,
    and media. The discipline promotes the effective
    and ethical practice of human communication.
  • Communication is a diverse discipline which
    includes inquiry by social scientists, humanists,
    and critical and cultural studies scholars. A
    body of scholarship and theory, about all forms
    of human communication, is presented and
    explained in textbooks, electronic publications,
    and academic journals. In the journals,
    researchers report the results of studies that
    are the basis for an ever-expanding understanding
    of how we all communicate.
  • Definition and contextual information at this NCA

Founders of research in communication (the
Leavises and Edward Bernays) and its academic
institutionalization (Wilbur Schramm)
Understanding communication as a discipline
Sub-fields of scholarly and practical enterprise
in communication Interpersonal
communication Speech communication Media
studies Intercultural communication International
communication Political economy of
communication Political communication Media
policy Media history Health communication Organiza
tional communication Conflict resolution and
mediation Visual communication Public
relations Technology studies Journalism and media
  • Note that communication as a discipline
  • The academic study of language, communication,
    media, culture and technology
  • Media production, e.g., radio, TV, film, digital
  • Professional communication, e.g., public
    relations, technical writing, professional writing

Humanities history literary and language
studies, e.g., English, comparative
literature fine arts classics Social sciences
economics political science sociology
anthropology psychology linguistics philosophy
  1. Rhetoric
  2. Semiotics
  3. Phenomenology
  4. Cybernetics
  5. The socio-psychological tradition
  6. The socio-cultural tradition
  7. The critical tradition

Taking a communicational perspective on reality
in IICS515
  • We are not merely studying communication in
  • We are more importantly using communication to
    understand reality
  • In this, we are taking a communicational
    perspective on the world
  • What does that mean?
  • Communication is a primary phenomenon that
    explains other psychological, social, economic,
    political, cultural and religious phenomena
    (rather than a secondary behaviour and process
    that we use other disciplines and their research
    to interpret)
  • Communication is not an ephemeral thing, but a
    phenomenon that has tangible and material
    consequences in the world it is a phenomenon as
    real and consequential as anything (e.g., money,
    military power, the state, the market) that we
    otherwise consider sources of change and
    influence in history
  • Communication is best understood not as a means
    to transmit information, but a constitutive
    force through which our selves, our institutions,
    and our larger reality are created, maintained,
    and changed
  • Communication has become a central concern in our
    culture, economy and politics, and is a public
    trust (e.g., our media system, our public sphere)
    that requires effective policymaking so as to
    ensure that the publics interests are protected
    and evolved
  • Communication as a discipline allows us a
    meta-discourse about communication in the
    world it allows us to talk about talk, and
    thus to reflect on the many ways in which we
    communicate and the consequences of that for the

2. Introducing communication theory(from Robert
Craigs argument)
  • Why are we using this long and difficult article
    from 1999, published in the journal Communication
    Theory, as our point of reference here in IICS515
  • This article is arguably the best single overview
    of the discipline of communication that is
    available, and of the place of communication
    theory in the discipline
  • Intercultural and international communication
    are subfields within the larger discipline of
    communication (or communication studies)
  • Also, communication theory is just as much a
    source of influence and ideas in intercultural
    and international communication as it is of any
    area within the discipline of communication
  • We are therefore using this article for two
  • (i) To receive an introduction to the larger
    discipline of communication, in which
    intercultural and international communication are
    distinct fields of study
  • (ii) To introduce the various theoretical
    traditions that make up communication theory, and
    that you will encounter in future readings in the
    MA-IIC degree as these traditions and their
    component theories appear in your readings
  • In this article, we thus hear the discipline of
    communication thinking about itself and what
    its about in a sophisticated way
  • Youre not expected to absorb every point Craig
    makes, but rather just risk your exposure to the
    breadth and depth of what defines theory in the
    discipline of communication

Robert Craigcommunications facultyUniversity of
Colorado Former president, International
Communication Association Robert Craig's website
What is communication theory?
  • Definition of communication theory
  • Communication theory can be defined very broadly
    to include any systematic, critically reflective,
    and relatively abstract discourse about
  • Robert Craig, How We Talk about Talk
    Communication in the Public Interest, p. 663
    (this is not the Craig article we read, but is
    the same author)
  • Communication theory is not synonymous with the
    discipline of communication per se, but it does
    offer the accumulation of ideas that define the
    intellectual centre and rationale for the
  • Communication theory represents the cumulative
    intellectual productivity of communication
    scholars, whatever their particular area of
    interest or theoretical affiliation, in making
    critical and scholarly sense of language,
    communication, media, culture and technology
  • Theory is emphatically part of what it means to
    be a a graduate student, as we get past learning
    information (as is often typical of undergraduate
    studies) and come to a more elevated and
    panoramic view of our studies
  • Theory is something that people often find
    obscure, jargon-ridden, and irrelevant to their
    personal or professional lives
  • The course is taught in such a way as to take the
    fear and loathing out of theory so that you
    will see the personal, intellectual and
    professional value in understanding theory
  • Theory is about pattern recognition, about
    finding answers to difficult questions like why
    and how things happen, and about exploring the
    often invisible forces that animate life and are
    captured in metaphors and concepts like
    structure, system, ideology, discourse, agency,

The problem with communication theory
  • Communication theory does not yet exist as a
    field of study, and it is Craigs role here in
    this article to try to establish a rationale for
    treating it as a field of study within
  • Communication theory is characterized by a lack
    of coherence, consensus, and canon (i.e., a canon
    is the list of books thought to be classic and
    foundational in a given area of interest, e.g.,
    Shakespeare is part of the English literature
  • All communication theories (remember, Craig tells
    us there are 250 of them) are relevant to a world
    in which we already treat the ordinary word
    communication as a rich and meaningful term
  • Each of the seven traditions of communication
    theory Craig identifies (and within which the 250
    theories are sorted) represent different ways of
    conceptualizing communication (and by extension,
    language, media, technology and culture)
  • Communication theory, in this view, is a
    coherent field of metadiscursive practices, a
    field of discourse about discourse with
    implications for the practice of communication.
    (Craig, p. 120)
  • Craig has used the term discourse and
    discursive often herewhat does discourse

Definitions of discourse
  • A discourse can be thought of as a way of
    describing, defining, classifying, and thinking
    about people, things, and even knowledge and
    abstract systems of thought.
  • Philip Smith, Cultural Theory An Introduction
  • A discourse is a group of statements which
    provide a language for talking about a particular
    kind of knowledge about a topic. When statements
    about a topic are made within a particular
    discourse, the discourse makes it possible to
    construct the topic in a certain way. It also
    limits the other ways in which the topic can be
  • Stuart Hall, The West and the Rest Discourse
    and Power
  • A discourse is a socially produced way of
    talking or thinking about a topic. It is defined
    by reference to the area of social experience
    that it makes sense of, to the social location
    from which that sense is made, and to the
    linguistic or signifying system by which that
    sense is both made and circulated.... A discourse
    is then a socially located way of making sense of
    an important area of social experience.
  • John Fiske's essay, British Cultural Studies and

Note this is not from Craig, but here to deepen
your understanding of the concept of discourse
Craigs ambition and structure for this paper
  • Craig offers some general key premises that
    provide the structure for this paper
  • Communication theory has not emerged as a field
    because the different disciplinary perspectives
    that contribute to communication theory create
    obstacles to coherence, i.e., its difficult for
    a communication theory drawn from philosophy to
    relate to one drawn from psychology
  • Communication theory is best understood not as a
    unified theorythat is, one brought within a
    single system of analysis, with every
    contradiction reconciledbut rather as a dialogue
    and a dialectical framework among the seven
    traditions Craig will identify
  • This dialogue and dialectic among the 250
    theories opens up a conceptual space a
    theoretical metadiscourse within which these
    diverse theories can interact
  • What then emerges from the interaction of these
    250 theories, as these theories are sorted into
    categories or traditions reflecting certain
    common and shared patterns among them, are 7
    larger theoretical traditions
  • Craig calls these seven traditions seven
    alternative vocabularies for theorizing
    communication as a social practice

The incoherence of communication theory
  • The thoroughly interdisciplinary nature of
    communication theory is one of its richest
  • However, such interdisciplinarity makes
    communication theory somewhat incoherent, given
    the sheer number (250) theories and their various
    disciplinary points of origin in the humanities
    and social sciences
  • This spirit of interdisciplinarity is still with
    us and deserves to be cultivated as one of our
    more meritorious qualities. The incorporation of
    so many different disciplinary approaches has
    made it very hard, however, to envision
    communication theory as a coherent field.
    (Craig, p. 121)
  • The interdisciplinary nature of communication
    theory is illustrated in the 95 different
    definitions of communication that have been
    collected in the scholarly literature
  • The multitude of theories (250 and probably more
    today, as the article dates to 1999) leaves
    communication theory vulnerable to being a motley
    collection of disconnected theories a sterile
    eclecticism without a means to organize and
    build on them, or to ensure a conversation among
    theories and theorists
  • The incoherence was made worse by attempts at the
    foundations of communication as a discipline in
    the late 1940s, notably under Wilbur Schramm, to
    make communication into a discipline without an
    apparent interdisciplinary context and without
    regard to previous research in other disciplines
    on communication and related topics
  • Most communication research before the founding
    of communication as a discipline, because it
    derived from other disciplines, was really
    embedded in research questions and models in
    those other disciplines, and thus not readily
    incorporated into communication

Dialogical-dialectical coherenceCraigs
alternative to communication theorys sterile
eclecticism and interdisciplinary incoherence
  • Having established the barriers to the coherence
    of communication theory, Craig now seeks to
    create conditions for a genuinely coherent way of
    organizing communication theory
  • He argues that there is no point in trying to
    remove all the differences, contradictions and
    points of tension amid the theories, as this
    would imply that a unified field of
    communication theory were possibleand it is not
  • That said, it is possible to bring the 250-plus
    theories that define communication into coherence
    without reducing their diversity and tension
  • In recognizing that, we can then also appreciate
    that communication itself can be credibly defined
    and organized as a discipline of its own, and not
    just an assemblage of borrowed pieces from other
  • The means by which communication theory (and
    communication as a discipline) might be organized
    coherently is through what Craig calls a
    dialogic-dialectical coherence
  • He defines this dialogic-dialectical coherence
    as follows
  • a common awareness of certain
    complementarities and tensions among different
    types of communication theory, so it is commonly
    understood that these different types of theory
    cannot legitimately develop in total isolation
    from each other but must engage each other in
    argument. (Craig, p. 124)
  • By dialogue here we mean a conversation among
    the 250-plus theories (and ultimately, the seven
    traditions into which Craig organizes these
  • By dialectic here we mean a relationship of
    mutual transformation, where contact between two
    or more theories leads to new content being
    generated, i.e., the dialectic as imagined by
    Aristotle (thesis, antithesis, synthesis)

Toward a new vision for communication theory
(1) the constitutive model of communication as
  • Craig here proposes the idea of offering a
    foundation to the discipline of communication,
    and he calls that foundation or rationale the
    communicational perspective on the world
  • That is to say, Craig suggests that communication
    as a discipline has a unique view of human life,
    one just as singular and comprehensive as any
    other more established discipline
  • Craig then asks where might we look for clues as
    to what is distinctive about a communicational
    view of the world?
  • He begins his inquiry into what elements would
    make for a distinctive communicational view of
    reality by reviewing a famous debate and dualism
    in communication theory that is, the contrast of
    the transmission model and the constitutive or
    ritual model of communication
  • This contrast is identified with one of the major
    figures in communication theory in the U.S.,
    James Carey, and we will explore the two in the
    next slide in a table form
  • For Craig, the constitutive model which argues
    that communication creates reality is the key
    and pathway to taking a communicational
    perspective on the world
  • We can think of the constitutive model in another
    way as a model of communication as social
    constructionas the creation of the meaningful
    social world we live in through discourse, apart
    from the objects, buildings, infrastructure,
    nature and other people (that are themselves not
    discursive, being objectively real and
  • Craig defines each of the two models here in the
    following terms
  • Transmission model
  • a process of sending and receiving messages or
    transferring information from one mind to
    another (Craig, p. 125)
  • Ritual or constitutive model
  • a constitutive process that produces and
    reproduces shared meaning. (Craig, p. 125)

The original essay in which Carey develops these
models, A Cultural Approach to Communication,
published in his book above, is available here in
its entirety
In search of a communicational perspective on
reality the transmission vs. the ritual model
of communication
The transmission model of communication The constitutive or ritual model of communication
This is the original conceptualization of communication when the discipline was founded in the late 1940s It posited that communication was a one-way process, insofar as it was defined by a sender transmitting a message to a receiver For that reason, it is sometimes called the sender-message-receiver model The content of the message was assumed to be transparent, explicit, and not problematic in any way The sender was defined in active and rather powerful terms, the receiver in quite passive terms There was little or no room for feedback by the receiver Success in communication was thus evaluated in terms of whether the message was received accurately or not Much of broadcasting, marketing, PR, and political communication was originally defined in transmission terms The constitutive or ritual model of communication argues that the point of communication is largely not about the transmission of information, but about the creation of social reality While, of course, information is sent in communication, much of communication serves to constitute (that is, to create or produce) the essential meanings, relationships, and structural patterns that make up reality as we know it The meaning of what is communicated is not captured in the message, but rather reflected in the reality that the sender and receiver co-produce Insofar as we co-produce reality every day, and do so in familiar and customary ways, we can consider this a ritual model of communication In the ritual or constitutive model, we recognize that much of what communication does is to reproduce the status quo, as our social reality needs constant maintenance and attention That said, we can also use communication, as seen in the ritual model, to change reality too, e.g., we offer a fresh idea, a provocative political message, a campaign or slogan that compels people to see reality in a new way The example of reading a newspaper each day as an illustration of the ritual model
The original transmission model
Source Claude Shannon and Warren Weaver, The
Mathematical Theory of Communication (1949)
For deeper reference on the transmission model,
see this page at this communication theory site
(No Transcript)
Attributes of the constitutive or ritual model
that qualify it as a way of thinking about the
communicational perspective on reality
  • The constitutive model is one which locates
    communication within a broader context of
    intellectual and cultural history (where the
    transmission model is quite ahistorical, i.e.,
    removed from and indifferent to history)
  • The constitutive model views communication on
    reflexive terms to be reflexive is to be
    self-aware, and thus sensitive to what
    communication is made of, and the conditions
    under which it occurs
  • Here we appreciate that, as viewed through the
    constitutive model, how we communicate influences
    culture, and culture likewise constitutes
  • The constitutive model is sensitive to the fact
    that communication theories have practical and
    political consequences. In its critique of the
    transmission model, the constitutive model
    acknowledges that the transmission model often
    supported the power of the broadcast industries,
    marketing and advertising, etc.
  • The constitutive model is identified with and
    supportive of a communicational perspective on
    reality, notably insofar as the constitutive
    model attaches communication as a human
    phenomenon directly to the larger society
    (insofar as we create or construct the social
    order when we communicate).
  • Theories borrowed from other disciplines to
    explain communication (media, culture and
    technology) are not based on the communicational
  • Disciplines, such as communication studies,
    emerge when our existing ways of explaining
    reality no longer seem adequate
  • Our world today is such that we recognize the
    centrality of language, communication, media,
    culture and technology to it, and thus the
    creation of the disciple of communication studies
    is warranted

Today, the central social issues have to do with
who participates in what ways in the social
processes that construct personal identities, the
social order, and codes of communication.
(Craig, p. 126)
Toward a new vision for communication theory
(2) communication theory as metadiscourse
  • Thinking of communication theory as metadiscourse
    allows us to avoid the problem of sterile
    eclecticism (or looked at more positively,
    productive fragmentation) because we recognize
    that all these 250-plus theories are all forms of
    reflecting on communication
  • They are, in this sense, all forms of talking
    about talk, of communicating about
    communication, and in this sense have something
    in common despite their incredible diversity of
    subject matter, point of view, disciplinary
    origins, etc.
  • We are familiar with the experience and nature of
    metadiscourse because we engage in metadiscourse
    talk about talk in our everyday lives all the
    time, when we reflect on how someone said
    something, why a misunderstanding has occurred,
    what sex and violence in TV portends, whether net
    neutrality in the Internet is a good thing, etc.
  • Communication theory is therefore an academic,
    self-conscious and systematic form of the very
    metadiscourse we engage in everyday
  • the technical practice of communication theory
    largely derives from our ordinary, everyday
    practices of communication. I envision
    communication theory as an open field of
    discourse engaged with the problems of
    communication as a social practice, a theoretical
    metadiscourse that emerges from, extends, and
    informs practical metadiscourse. (Craig, p. 129)

Theoretical and practical metadiscoursecommunica
tion studies as a practical discipline
Theoretical metadiscourse enriches our practical
metadiscourse, allowing us to test our everyday
ideas about communication against the more
intellectually rigorous nature of communication
theory Communication theory can thus draw
deductively (i.e., reasoning from theory downward
to real life) from theories about communication
in other disciplines, and inductively (i.e.,
reasoning from real life upward to theory) from
practical metadiscourse and direct scholarly
observation of communication in real life
Practical metadiscourse keeps communication
theory honest and in touch with everyday
reality real life is thus imagined as a
laboratory for thinking about and innovating with
communication Moreover, we are already
accustomed to reflecting on communication in real
life, and drawing certain assumptions
(metadiscursive commonplaces, as Craig calls
them) from it, so communication theory is a
natural step forward from that practical
The rich interaction between these two levels of
metadiscourse then influences real life, and real
life these two levels of metadiscourse
3. Introducing the seven fields of
communication theory(from Robert Craigs
  • Craig reminds us of the two foundational premises
    we just explored
  • A constitutive model of communication, i.e., one
    that sees communication as the means by which we
    produce, maintain, and change reality, thus
    providing us with a foundation to understand the
    value of a communicational perspective on the
  • A conception of communication theory as
    metadiscourse in contact with the practical
    metadiscourse we already generate within our
    real lives when we talk and think about
    communication, media, culture and technology
  • There are many ways in which we could organize
    the 250-plus theories that communication theory
  • For instance, we could organize them as follows
  • By disciplinary origin, i.e., what other
    discipline did communication draw the theory
  • The level at which the theory is organized and
    applied, i.e., are we addressing interpersonal
    life, large structures in media, or a global
  • The underlying epistemology, i.e., epistemology
    is the theory of knowledge, and is defined as the
    way in which we know something, e.g., do we know
    something rationally, intuitively, empirically,
  • However, Craig argues that organizing all of
    communication theory into seven discrete fields
    that each demarcate distinctive ways of imagining
    communication has the benefit of bringing all
    these theories into a conversation with each
  • The seven traditions approach divides the
    field according to underlying conceptions of
    communicative practice. An effect of this shift
    in perspective is that communication theories no
    longer bypass each other in their different
    paradigms or on their different levels.
    Communication theories suddenly now have
    something to agree and disagree about and that
    something is communication, not epistemology.
    (Craig, p. 135)

(1) Rhetoric or the rhetorical tradition
  • Definition of rhetoric
  • Rhetoric is the collaborative art of
    addressing and guiding decision and
    judgmentusually public judgment that cannot be
    decided by force or expertise. (Craig, p. 135)
  • Rhetoric is the art of speaking and writing
    effectively, and often but does not necessarily
    imply persuasive and performative communication,
    e.g., a political stump speech, an op-ed in a
    newspaper, a lecture in a university class
  • We can also speak of visual rhetoric, inasmuch
    as images persuade and perform meaning for us
  • Rhetoric is the oldest form of communication
    theory, and dates to the practices of the
    rhetors (professional speakers, as in courts of
    law or in politics) in Ancient Greece
  • Rhetoric defines as its task the solution,
    through effective speech or writing, of problems
    or exigencies(i.e., urgent needs) in society
  • Rhetoric is thus a means through which
    communication directly intervenes in the
    decision-making processes in society, notably in
    democratic societies where public opinion can be
    appealed to and moved to action
  • What aspects of practical metadiscourse or common
    sense does rhetoric support?
  • We acknowledge the value of hearing different
    opinions in society
  • We recognize that some people are more
    rhetorically gifted than others, and acknowledge
    public eloquence and effective rhetoric when we
    encounter it
  • What aspects of practical metadiscourse or common
    sense does rhetoric challenge?
  • Rhetoric challenges the idea that words are less
    important than action, that truth is somehow
    separate from opinion, and that telling the truth
    is somehow separate from rhetorical performance

Copy of Aristotles Rhetoric
(2) Semiotics or the semiotic tradition
  • Semiotics is a tradition of communication theory
    that also dates to the Ancient World, e.g.,
    Hippocrates and St. Augustine, and is later
    further developed in writing by the 17th century
    political theorist John Locke
  • Ferdinand de Saussure, a Swiss linguist, is
    acknowledged as the major modern figure in
  • Here is Saussures own definition of semiotics
    from his 1916 book, Course in General
  • It is... possible to conceive of a science which
    studies the role of signs as part of social life.
    It would form part of social psychology, and
    hence of general psychology. We shall call
    it semiology (from the Greek semeîon, 'sign'). It
    would investigate the nature of signs and the
    laws governing them.
  • Semiotics is the science of signs, and it views
    social reality as something constituted by
    structures of meaning that have language
    (notably, signs) as their basis
  • Signs are the building blocks of reality, and as
    they aggregate together, create the world around
  • Craig makes a number of points about semiotics
  • Signs construct their users, i.e., they create
    our identity or subject positions
  • Meaning is public and fluid in nature
  • The nature of understanding is not a matter of
    our interior consciousness, but a reflex as we
    encounter a sign in the world
  • Codes (e.g., the English language) and media
    (e.g., books, TV) are not neutral vehicles for
    the transmission of meaning, but have semiotic
    properties of their own and shape meaning

Semiotics for beginners site
(3) The phenomenological tradition
  • Definition of phenomenology
  • The study of structures of conscious experience
    as experienced from the first-person view, along
    with relevant conditions of experience it is
    the study of experience or consciousness
  • From the entry for phenomenology at the
    Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
  • Phenomenology is the philosophy of experienceof
    the existential texture of life and our contact
    with other people and the objective world there
  • Phenomenology distinguishes between the phenomena
    (the world of our senses and consciousness) and
    the noumena (the world of other people, and of
    objects, meanings, and experiences in the world)
    the noumena is something we only make contact
    with on rare and extraordinary occasions
  • As Craig describes it, it is a dialogue or
    experience of otherness
  • As it applies to communication, a
    phenomenological approach is interested in what
    it means and how to achieve authentic, unmediated
    contact with others and the objective world
  • We sense the idea of phenomenology when we feel
    we really understand someone, or are ourselves
    understood or when, whether in society or in the
    presence of nature, we feel truly connected
  • Phenomenology sets aside such conventional
    dualisms as body/mind, subject/object, believing
    this act as obstacles to authentic experience
  • Phenomenology argues that authentic communication
    is achieved when we set aside our own agendas
    and goal-seeking, and just try to be in the
    presence of someone or thing
  • What aspects of practical metadiscourse or common
    sense does phenomenology support?
  • Phenomenology holds open the possibility of
    authentic communication and experience, the
    desirability of a lack of mediation, and the
    emotional and psychological benefits of dialogue
    and benefit
  • What aspects of practical metadiscourse or common
    sense does phenomenology challenge?
  • Phenomenology points to the fragility of
    communicationthe sheer difficulty of making
    contact with other people
  • Phenomenology reminds us that the body/mind,
    fact/value, subject/object distinction is not
    solid or reliable

Edmund Husserl, founder of phenomenology
(4) The cybernetic tradition
  • Definition of cybernetics
  • Communication in the cybernetic tradition is
    theorized as information-processing, and explains
    how all kinds of complex systems, whether living
    or non-living, macro or micro, are able to
    function and why they often malfunction. (Craig,
    p. 141)
  • The major early figures in the cybernetic
    tradition are Alan Turing, Claude Shannon, and
    Norbert Wiener, all pioneers of computing who
    were also interested in communication
  • Cybernetics is best represented by the
    transmission model, as previously introduced in
    the lecture
  • Cybernetics looks to the world of computers and
    also biology to draw insight into how human
    communication works
  • What aspects of practical metadiscourse or common
    sense does cybernetics support?
  • Cybernetics acknowledges the analogies or points
    of comparison between machines and biological
    organisms and human processes like communication
  • What aspects of practical metadiscourse or common
    sense does cybernetics challenge?
  • Cybernetics challenges commonplace assumptions
    about the nature of consciousness and humanity
    itself (given our growing intimacy with
  • Cybernetics challenges the distinctions between
    mind and matter, the real and the simulated

In general, then, cybernetics cultivates a
practical attitude that appreciates the
complexity of communication problems and
questions many of our usual assumptions about the
differences between human and non-human
information-processing systems. Craig, p. 142
(5) The socio-psychological tradition
  • The socio-psychological tradition views
    communication as a process of expression,
    interaction, and influence (Craig, p. 143)
  • The socio-psychological tradition has been the
    dominant tradition in communication for much of
    its history, notably within what is called the
    theory of media effects
  • The socio-psychological tradition has a strong
    emphasis on the scientific method, and the use of
    empirical and experimental evidence in its
  • This tradition has defined much of the research
    into sexuality, violence and body image in media,
    and likewise has had significant influence on
    defining the general publics understanding of
    communication and media
  • Communication, in short, is the process by which
    individuals interact and influence each other.
    (Craig, p. 143)
  • Communication is here imagined as that which
    explains the causes and effects of social
    behaviour, and seeks to understand how we might
    influence that behaviour
  • What aspects of practical metadiscourse or common
    sense does the socio-psychological tradition
  • The socio-psychological tradition appeals because
    we recognize that personality is a large part of
  • The socio-psychological tradition acknowledges
    how much social context and our existing beliefs,
    attitudes and emotional states are involved in
    defining communication
  • What aspects of practical metadiscourse or common
    sense does the socio-psychological tradition
  • The socio-psychological tradition challenges our
    common-sense belief that we are rational beings
    and are highly autonomous it recognizes how much
    we are driven by our subconscious and
    non-rational parts of our being

Famous still from the Great Train Robbery, a 1903
silent movie that featured the first violent
scenes in film
(6) The socio-cultural tradition
  • This is the tradition most strongly influenced by
    sociology and anthropology
  • Among the major theories in the sociocultural
    tradition are symbolic interactionism and
    Pragmatism, both originating in the U.S. in the
    early 20th century, and various kinds of
    discourse analysis
  • This tradition defines communication as follows
  • Communication in these traditions is typically
    theorized as a symbolic process that produces and
    reproduces shared socio-cultural patterns. So
    conceived, communication explains how social
    order (a macro-level phenomenon) is created,
    realized, sustained, and transformed in
    micro-level interaction processes. (Craig, p.
  • The sociocultural tradition recognizes how much
    of communication is concerned with the
    reproduction of the social order
  • That said, we also recognize in this tradition
    ample room for creativity and challenge to the
    social order
  • The socio-cultural tradition is this interested
    in the balance of these thingsthe reproduction
    of social order and yet capacity for creativity,
    challenge and subversion of that same order
  • What aspects of practical metadiscourse or common
    sense does the socio-cultural tradition support?
  • The socio-cultural tradition is sensitive to the
    understanding that people are products of their
    social environments, that social change can be
    disruptive, and that much of our behaviour and
    identity can be explained in terms of group
    norms, beliefs and practices as they influence
    the individual
  • The socio-cultural tradition is particularly
    sensitive to diversity

(7) The critical tradition
  • The critical tradition is identified with a
    number of theories in communication, including
    the Frankfurt School, cultural studies, feminism,
    the political economy of communication, and
    post-colonial theory
  • The critical tradition has a significant home in
    the work of Karl Marx, and the philosophical
    lineage there relating to his critique of
  • The critical tradition, in Craigs view, can be
    traced to Platos explanation of Socrates view
    of the dialectic
  • As reflected in this idea of the dialectic, we
    have the view that communication is inherently
    unstable because it is always subject to
    contradiction, self-critique and transformation
  • Authentic communication thus proceeds within what
    Craig calls a process of discursive reflection,
    and one that moves toward a transcendence that
    cannot ultimately be achieved
  • This interest in discursive reflection in a
    critical self-consciousness about communication,
    among other things is very similar to the
    metadiscourse that Craig speaks of in his article
  • The basic problem that the critical tradition
    explores is the role of ideology and the issue of
    socio-economic inequality and material forces in
    our lives
  • The critical tradition is thus sensitive to how
    communication can both serve the status quo,
    e.g., propaganda, and also seek to change it,
    e.g., media strategies as used by social
  • In this sense, following Marxs famous dictum
    that philosophers have only interpreted the
    world, but the point is to change it, the
    critical tradition also believes communication
    theory to be a source of social change and
    praxis (theoretically informed action in and on
    the world)

Concluding thoughts in Craig
  • Organizing communication theories the 250-plus
    that exist in this seven-fields approach means
    that we can articulate themes and problems in
    communication theory on a higher, more systematic
  • Each of these seven traditions in themselves is
    subject to an internal process of dialogue and
    dialectic, insofar as the theories within a given
    tradition are in constructive tension with each
  • With this seven-fields way of organizing theory,
    we can also better locate communication theory
    (and the discipline of communication studies)
    within the even larger context that is the social
    sciences and the humanities in general
  • The seven fields are not exhaustive, inasmuch as
    there are other fields one could imagine as
    standing alone, e.g., a feminist tradition or a
    spiritual tradition of communication theory
  • Scholars, as they do communication research,
    should try to do so with an awareness of the
    entirety of communication theory, not their tiny
    specialized corner of the discipline
  • The theoretical matrix Craig developed has the
    benefit of illustrating both the
    interdisciplinary origins and the disciplinary
    nature of communication studies
  • Graduate students benefit by seeing the totality
    of the legacy of their discipline what Craig
    calls the disciplines social knowledge -- and
    thus can locate their work within the seven
    fields, as well as innovate within and challenge
    the field structure too
  • The field of communication theory marks out a
    common discursive space a space for theoretical
    metadiscourse in which more specialized
    theoretical discourses can engage with each other
    and with practical metadiscourses on questions of
    communication as a social practice. (Craig, p.

The young Marconi with his wireless telegraph,
late 19th century
Selected sources on the history of the discipline
of communication and of communication theory
  • 2013 interview with Robert Craig about the future
    of communication theory and theorizing
  • Hanno Hardt. Critical Communication Studies
    History Theory in America.
  • Everett Rogers. A History of Communication Study.
  • John Durham Peters. Speaking into the Air A
    History of the Idea of Communication.
  • John Durham Peters, Elihu Katz, and Tamar
    Liebes. Canonic Texts in Media Research Are
    There Any? Should There Be?
  • Wilbur Schramm. The Beginnings of Communication
    Study in the United States.
  • Dan Schiller. Theorizing Communication A
  • Veikko Pietila. On the Highway of Mass
    Communication Studies.

Communication theory sites
  • Geena Davis Institute on Gender in the Media
  • Media Education Foundation (premier media
    education site for videos on theory and issues
    relating to media)
  • McLuhan and Innis site at the National Library in
  • Communication Studies, Media Studies, and
    Cultural Studies site (CCMS)
  • Media and Communication Studies site (MCS)
  • Media theory resources at University of Twente 
  • Semiotics for Beginners
  • Critical Media Study
  • Cultural Studies and Critical Theory 
  • Voice of the Shuttle (see the media studies and
    cultural studies section of this much larger site
    for many links to resources)
  • (a very playful theory site)
  • Changing Minds (a site devoted to persuasion and