Traditions of Communication Theory Multiple theories and perspectives will always characterize the field of communication studies. Lacking a unifying theory, the field can be divided into seven traditions We will omit one of them , the cybernetic
The Semiotic Tradition …focuses on signs and symbols. Communication is the application of signs to bridge the worlds of individuals The basic concept unifying this tradition is the sign, sometimes referred to as symbol, defined as a stimulus for designating something other than itself. Semiotics, exploring the importance of signs and symbols as they are used, is the focus of many communication theories.
Semiotics is often divided into three areas Semantics addresses what a sign stands for. Dictionaries are semantic reference books; they tell us what a sign means. Syntactics is the relationships among signs. • Signs rarely stand alone. They are almost always part of a larger sign system referred to as codes. • Codes are organized rules that designate what different signs stand for. Pragmatics studies the practical use and effects of signs.
The Phenomenological Tradition …is the process of knowing through direct experience. It is the way in which humans come to understand the world. Phenomenon refers to the appearance of an object, event or condition in one’s perception. Makes actual lived experience the basic data of reality. Stanley Deetz summarizes three basic principles…
Stanley Deetz Knowledge is conscious. How one relates to a thing determines its meaning for that person. Language is the vehicle for meaning
The process of interpretation is central to most phenomenological thought. Unlike the semiotic tradition, where interpretation is separate from reality, in the phenomenological tradition interpretation forms what is real for the person. Interpretation emerges from a hermeneutic circle in which interpreters constantly go back and forth between experience and assigning meaning.
Three general schools of thought make up the phenomenological tradition Classical phenomenology, associated with Edward Husserl the founder of modern phenomenology, is highly objective and claims the world can be experienced, through bracketing, the putting aside of bias without the knower bringing his or her own categories to bear.
Most contemporary phenomenology rejects the objectivist view… and subscribes to the teachings of Maurice Merleau-Ponty. The phenomenology of perception posits that we can only know things through our personal, subjective relationship to these things. Hermeneutic phenomenology, the interpretation of being, extends the subjective tradition even further by incorporating communication: Communication is the vehicle by which you assign meaning to your experience.
The Cybernetic Tradition is a very common approach in the study of communication, the behavioral sciences, and all social sciences at large. It focuses on the individual in social interaction with others as the definition of the communicator. This tradition emphasizes psychological variables, individual effects, personalities, perception, and cognition.
Most of the current work in this tradition dominated by persuasion and attitude change in communication, accentuating message processing, strategies, reception and effects. Most theories in this tradition are cognitive in orientation, providing insights into the way human beings process information.
The sociopsychological tradition can be divided into three large branches. Behavioral, associated with a stimulus- response approach, concentrates on how people actually behave in communication situations. Cognitive, the mental operations used in managing information that leads to behavioral outputs, is much more in vogue today because many see the behavioral as too simplistic. Communibiology is the study of communication from a biological perspective.
The Sociocultural Tradition addresses the ways our understandings, meanings, norms, roles, and rules are worked interactively in communication. This tradition holds that reality is not an objective set of arrangements outside us but is constructed through a process of communicating in groups, society, and cultures. Sociocultural focuses on patterns of interactions rather than individual characteristics or mental modes. Knowledge is highly interpretive and constructed
There are a number of contributing lines of work within this tradition. Symbolic interactionism from the work of George Mead, emphasizes the idea that social structures and meaning is created and maintained within social interactions. Social constructionism, or the social construction of reality investigates how human knowledge is constructed through social interaction and argues that the nature of the world is less important than the language used to name and discuss it. Sociolinguistics is the study of language and culture.
Closely related to sociolinguistics is the work of Luddwig Wittgenstein and his philosophy of language which suggests the meaning of language depends on its actual use. Language as used in ordinary life is a language game because people follow rules to do things with language. John Austin refers to the practical use of language as speech acts, the idea that when we speak we are actually performing an act.
Ethnography, the observation of how actual social groups come to build meaning through their linguistic and non-linguistic behaviors, is another perspective within the sociocultural tradition.
The Critical Tradition examines how power, privilege and oppression are the products of certain forms of communication. While there are several varieties of critical social science, they are all normative and share three essential features…
three essential features. They seek to understand 1)the taken-for- granted systems, 2)power structures and 3)beliefs- or ideologies– that dominate society. They are interested in uncovering oppressive social conditions and power arrangements in order to promote emancipation. They attempt to fuse theory and action
While critical theory falls within the modernistparadigm, there are three additional branches that break with modernity in various ways. Postmodernism came about as the information age emerged from the industrial society, as the production of commodities gave way to the manipulation of knowledge. Today this line of work is most associated with cultural studies Cultural studies theorists share an interest in the ideologies that dominate a culture and focus on social change and how it is inhibited by group and class relations. Cultural studies places great value on the marginalized and the ordinary
Poststructuralism, another postmodernist impulse, is centered on the study of signs and symbols. Unlike structuralism, poststructuralism seeks to deconstruct the study of signs rather than generate a unified theory. It favors a plurality of methodologies and focuses on the instability of meaning in texts.
Postcolonial theory refers to the study of all cultures affected by the imperial process. Feminist studies is another influential area within the critical tradition. It examines, critiques, and challenges the assumptions about and experiences of gender that pervade all aspects of life.