Communications Theories - the continuing saga

Apr 16 2016 Published by under Information Science

The dissertation was accepted by the grad school and is on its way to the institutional repository and PQ to be made available to all (I will link to it as soon as it's available). Yet I still fight the battle to own and, if not ever be a native to theory, then at least be semi-fluent.

Late in the dissertation I identified this book: Theories and Models of Communication (2013). In Cobley P., Schulz P. J. (Eds.). Berlin: De Gruyter. I browsed it a bit on Google Books and then requested it from another library. I'm just getting the chance to look at it more carefully now. A lot is not new, but it is well-organized here.

Chapter 2:

Eadie, W. F., & Goret, R. (2013). Theories and Models of Communication:  Foundations and Heritage. In P. Cobley, & P. J. Schulz (Eds.), Theories and Models of Communication (pp. 17-36). Berlin: De Gruyter.

Communication as a distinct discipline emerged after WWII. Theories and researchers came from psychology, sociology, philosophy, political science... I guess probably engineering and physics, too. Then again, physicists turn up everywhere 🙂

This chapter described 5 broad categories of approaches to communication

  1. communication as shaper of public opinion - this came from WWII propaganda work. Main dudes: Park, Lippman, Lazarsfeld, Lasswell
  2. communication as language use - this is like semiotics. Main dudes: Sassure, Pierce
  3. communication as information transmission - this would be where you find the linear models like Shannon & Weaver as well as updates like Schramm and Berlo. From those came Social Learning/Social Cognitive Theory (Bandura), Uses and Gratifications, Uncertainty Reduction Theory (Berger and Calabrese), and eventually Weick, who we all know from the sensemaking stuff.
  4. communication as developer of relationships - Bateson, Watzlawick "interactional view", Expectancy Violations Theory (Burgoon), Relational Dialectics Theory (Baxter)
  5. communication as definer, interpreter, and critic of culture - this is where you get the critical theory (like critical race theory, etc.). Frankfurt School (Marcuse, Adorno, Horkheimer, Benjamin), Structuralism, Gramsci, Habermas

Chapter 3:

Craig, R. T. (2013). Constructing Theories in Communication Research. In P. Cobley, & P. J. Schulz (Eds.), Theories and Models of Communication (pp. 39-57). Berlin: De Gruyter.

"A scientific theory is a logically connected set of abstract statements from which empirically testable hypotheses and explanations can be derived." (p.39)

"Metatheory articulates and critiques assumptions underlying particular theories or kinds of theories" (p. 40)

He uses words in a different way than I think I learned. Like metatheory - his is like meta about theories, but I think other people may use it like overarching big mama theory with baby theories?

Anyhoo. He says there are these metatheoretical assumptions useful to understand the landscape of communications theories.

  1. about objects that are theorized (ontology)
  2. basis for claims of truth or validity (epistemology)
  3. normative practices for generating, presenting, using theories (praxeology)
  4. values that determine worth of a theory (axiology)

Ontology - what is communication? Basically transmission models or constitutive models.  "symbolic process whereby reality is produced, maintained, repaired, transformed" (Carey, 2009)

His constitutive metamodel of communication theories (these were described better in chapter 2, but reiterated by the author himself in 3)

  1. rhetorical - communication is a practical art
  2. semiotic - intersubjective mediation via signs
  3. phenomenological - experiencing otherness through authentic dialog (or perhaps BS - no it doesn't say that 🙂 )
  4. cybernetic - communications = information processing
  5. sociopsychological - communications = expression, interaction, influence
  6. sociocultural - communications = means to (re)produce social order
  7. critical - discursive reflection on hegemonic ideological forces and their critiques

Theory means something different in physics than it does in sociology. This is due to the objects of study and how and what we can know about them as well as by what values we judge the theory. Two main approaches to constructing theory in comms are: empirical-scientific and critical-interpretive.

Functions of a scientific theory: description, prediction, explanation, and control.

Two kinds of explanation: causal and functional. Communication explanatory principles: hedonistic (pleasure seeking), understanding-driving, consistency-driven, goal-driven, process-driven, or functional (cites Pavitt, 2010).

Criteria to judge quality: empirical support, scope, precision, aesthetic (elegance), heuristic value.

Theory != model|paradigm . Model is a representation, theory provides explanation.  Paradigm is a standard research framework used in a particular field.

Epidemiological assumptions.

  • Realist - underlying causal mechanisms can be known
  • Instrumentalist - scientific concepts correspond to real things and can be useful in making predictions
  • Constructivist - phenomena can't be known independently of our theories  - paradigm determines how empirical data will be interpreted.

A classical issue is level of analysis - do you go biological or psychological or do you go more sociological? Small groups? Societies?

Also do you build the whole theory at once or add to it as you go along to build it up?

Critical-Interpretive - these are like from humanities like rhetoric, textual criticism, etc. "Purpose has been ideographic (understanding historical particulars) rather than nomothetic (discovering universal laws)" p. 49

Interpretive. Methods (praxeology) - conversation analysis, ethnography, rhetorical criticism. Emphasize heuristic functions of theory. Not generalizable causal explanations, but conceptual frames to assist in interpreting new data. It's accepted to use multiple theories to better understand "diverse dimensions of an object" instead of insisting on one right path. Carbaugh and Hastings 1992 4 phases of theory construction

  1. developing a basic orientation to communication
  2. conceptualizing specific kinds of communicative activity
  3. formulating the general way in which communication is patterned within a socioculturally situated community
  4. evaluating the general theory from the vantage point of the situated case (p.51)

Critical. purpose of critical theory is social change.

Anyway, more to follow as I hopefully continue on in the book.

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