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MCM 733 – Communication Theory . Chapters 1 & 2 Understanding and Evaluating MC Theory Four Eras of MC Theory. Understanding & Evaluating…. Overview Informed citizens? Satire … Fox News Is there a science of the behaviour? Cognition? Sociality?

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MCM 733 – Communication Theory


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    1. MCM 733 – Communication Theory Chapters 1 & 2 Understanding and Evaluating MC Theory Four Eras of MC Theory

    2. Understanding & Evaluating… • Overview • Informed citizens? • Satire • … • Fox News • Is there a science of the behaviour? Cognition? Sociality? • Why is the link between the above and communication so complicated?

    3. Understanding & Evaluating… • Defining & Redefining Mass Comm • Very divergent theoretical perspectives • Cognitive science … social theory… humanism • Grand theories (TOE’s) vs. specific ones • Mass Comm: “when an organization employs a technology as a medium to communication with a large audience.” • Does this fit with Web 2.0: Facebook? Google? iPhone? Lulu.com? Youtube? Reddit? Dig.com? Etc.?

    4. Understanding & Evaluating… • Mediated communication: a continuum from interpersonal comm (eg. iPhone) to mass comm (eg. CBC). • Hotness/coolness determines placement on this continuum (McLuhan) • New Information & Communication Techs (ICTs) enable audiences to be active and engaged. (eg. myspace, flikr) • “Knowledge Flow” is the new “Knowledge Capital”

    5. Understanding & Evaluating… • Science & Human Behaviour • Physical scientists capture “positive” truths: they uncover the laws of nature. • Social and cognitive scientists construct “representational models” or “snapshots” of the social world. • Social neuroscience may prove to be an exception to this.

    6. Understanding & Evaluating… • Why does the public not trust socsci the same as phys sci? • We don’t like the thought that we are predictable • We like to think of ourselves as mysterious • We don’t like accepting that there are causal relationships in the social. • We prefer to think of things relativistically. • Relativism may feel empowering, but it is a false friend.

    7. Understanding & Evaluating… • Why do scientists have trouble accepting “social science” as scientific? • It is difficult to establish: • Strong causal relationships • Replicability of findings • Falsification • Cumulative nature of findings • People don’t grow up in controlled environments • The “social” and the “cultural” are moving targets

    8. Understanding & Evaluating… • Four Reasons for the Desert of the Real: • Most of the significant and interesting forms of human behaviour are quite difficult to measure • Human behaviour is exceedingly complex • Humans have goals and are self-reflexive • The simple notion of causality is sometimes troubling when it is applied to ourselves

    9. Understanding & Evaluating… • Defining Theory • “Any organized set of concepts, explanations and principles of some aspect of human experience.” (Littlejohn/Foss, 2008) • Comm theories are tricky: • Many of them • Variably testable • Situationally based • Seem contradictory and chaotic

    10. Understanding & Evaluating… • Four major categories of comm theory: • Postpositivism, Hermeneutics, Critical theory, Normative theory • They differ in their view of : • Goals • Ontology: the nature of reality, of what is knowable • Epistemology: how knowledge is created and expanded • Axiology: how values figure in research and theory building

    11. Understanding & Evaluating… • Axiology • Values have a variable place in mass comm theory. • Postpositivists attempt to eliminate them • they cherish epistemic values: high values in R/D • They also confront non-epistemic values (emotion, morals, ethics) • Interpretivists wrestle with the proper application of values through understanding of self and society. Sometimes they “bracket” their values. • Normativists and critical theorists embrace values but have to be careful to not allow values to turn into bias or beliefs. They need the “sanity check” of strong epistemic values.

    12. Understanding & Evaluating… • Postpositivist theory • Positivism: knowledge can only be gained through empirical, observable, measurable phenomena examined through the scientific method • Post-positivism: all of the above + the fact that humans are not deterministic and constant in the same way gravity (Dennet)

    13. Understanding & Evaluating… • Hermeneutic Theory • No wish to explain, predict, control social behaviour • Wish to understand how and why that behaviour occurs in the social world • Hermeneutics: the study of understanding, especially through the systematic interpretation of texts and actions. • Social hermeneutics: how those in an observed social situation interpret their own lot in that situation • “Texts” are writ large: any product of social interaction • Relies on “subjective epistemology” the researcher as “interacting with the community” (cognitivism – Pinker)

    14. Understanding & Evaluating… • Critical Theory • Know the social world so that you can change it • Openly political: challenges existing way sof organizing social world and the people and institutions that exert power within it • By reorganizing society we can give priority to the “most important” social values • “are concerned with how power, oppression, privielge are the products of certain forms of communication throughout society” (Littlejohn/Foss, 2008)

    15. Understanding & Evaluating… • Critical Theory (cont.) … • Knowledge is only useful when it is used to free the oppressed • The “real” the “knowable” are the product of the interaction between structure (political and social organization of the world) and agency (how humans behave and interact in the world). • Reality is simply the product of the dialectic (struggle) between the two. Control the struggle and you control reality. • Emancipated people have taken control of the struggle

    16. Understanding & Evaluating… • Normative Theory • Postpositivism and hermeneutics are representational. • Critical theory is non-representational it focuses on struggle. • Normative media theory is neither: it sets an ideal standard against which the operation of a given media system should operate to conform/realize an ideal set of social values • Ontology: the real is situational • Epistemology: comparativist • Axiology: Value-laden

    17. Understanding & Evaluating… • Evaluating Theory: Postpositivism • How well does it explain the event, behaviour or relationship? • How well does it predict future events, behaviours, relationships? • How testable is it? • How parsimonious is it? • How practical or useful is it?

    18. Understanding & Evaluating… • Evaluating Theory: Hermeneutics • How much new insight into the event, behaviour or relationship does it offer? • How does it clarify the values inherent in the interpretation, not only embedded in the object, but of the researcher? • How much support does it generate among other researchers? • How much aesthetic apeal does it have?

    19. Understanding & Evaluating… • Evaluating Theory: Critical Theory • All of the hermeneutic questions plus these : • How useful is the critique of the status quo? • How effective is it in providing a critique of elite power? • Does the theory enable individuals to oppose elite definitions of the social world?

    20. Understanding & Evaluating… • Evaluating Theory: Normative Theory • How stable and definitive are the ideal standards of operation against which the media system under study will be measured? • What and how powerful are the economic, social, cultural and political realities surrounding the actual operation of a system that must be considered in evaluating its performance? • How much support do other researchers lend it?

    21. Understanding & Evaluating… • Mass comm theory is really: • … • Mass comm theories

    22. Four Eras of Mass Comm Theory • Convergence is a buzzword (Googlezon) • However, convergence also entails “reorganization” and “profound change” in society, culture, economics, politics and even cognition. • Technology evolves in a continuum • New media and AI have expanded our consumer choices, but also reshaped our social and cognitive landscape

    23. Four Eras of Mass Comm Theory • We will take a “historical” look at the evolution of mass comm theory • Social, cognitive and even physical/mathematical theories are the product of the metaphors we live by (George Lakoff). • New theories respond to old ones, the change is jerky, and chronologically unstable • Social theories are the product of people and they are dynamic. They flow through collective consciousness like water, filling gaps and eroding the banks of society and cognition. (epigenetics)

    24. Four Eras of Mass Comm Theory • We will survey the following four eras: • Era of Mass Society & Mass Culture • Era of Limited Effects • Cultural Perspectives Challenge Limited Effects • Meaning-Making Perspectives on Media

    25. Four Eras of Mass Comm Theory • Era of Mass Society & Mass Culture • Move to urban environments, growth of print media that produced cheap, accessible newspapers • Some theorists were optimists: more info, better citizens • Most were pessimists: industrialization was a disruptive force, detaching people from the land to objectify them as workers in factories, mines or bureaucracies.

    26. Four Eras of Mass Comm Theory • Era of Mass Society & Mass Culture (Cont.) • Mass Society theory is based on nostalgia • For a rural time • A golden age • Every generation has a version of the Mass Society theory when it feels threatened • Politically, Mass Society theory is embraced by both Left and Right • Theories held interest of social elites (Left or Right) who felt threatened by change (eg. penny press and yellow journalism)

    27. Four Eras of Mass Comm Theory • Science leads to “limited effects” theory • Paul Lazarsfeld began to empirically study communication and society (eg. surveys and field experiments to understand and solve social problems). • He argued that while empiricism was primordial, it was important to not fall into pure modeling or descriptivism • Important finding: rather than being shaped by media, researchers found that people developed ways to resist media influence (eg. religion, family, friends)

    28. Four Eras of Mass Comm Theory • Science leads to “limited effects” theory (cont) • Limited Effects: Media tend to reinforce social trends and strengthen rather than threaten the status quo. So existing trends are amplified through the media. • This gave media a very limited role in the lives of individuals • These theories tend to be labeled “Administrative theories” (i.e. help improve organizations) and their research “Administrative Research.”

    29. Four Eras of Mass Comm Theory • Science leads to “limited effects” theory (cont) • Elite pluralism: blended limited effects notions with social and political theory • Democratic society is made up of interlocking pluralistic groups led by opinion leaders who rely on media for info about the world • Leaders are active and engaged, but followers are apathetic • By the mid-60s communication scientists stopped looking for media effects. The problem was they were looking in the WRONG PLACE (i.e. the rise of cognitive neuroscience)

    30. Four Eras of Mass Comm Theory • Cultural Theory Challenge Limited-Effects • Europeans had to find a way of processing the WW II. • Euros skeptical about scientific approaches: accused them of reductionism. This trend was linked to anti-Americanism • Rise of the Neo-Marxists • Media enable dominant social elites to creat and maintain their power • Mass media is a battleground where elites attempt to convince the oppressed to accept being dominated

    31. Four Eras of Mass Comm Theory • Cultural Theory Challenge Limited-Effects … • British Cultural Studies (based on Neo-Marxism) • Discovered that people resisted hegemonic ideas in media and propagated alternative interpretations of the social world • Hegemony: manufacturing consent without coercion • Cultural theory began as a deterministic model (i.e. media have direct big effects) but eventually established itself as a non-scientific competitor to limited effects model

    32. Four Eras of Mass Comm Theory • Meaning-Making Perspectives on Media • Limited effects models have changed considerably • Influenced by cultural theories but also by new ICTs • Framing theory: expectations of the social world to make sense of the social world). • Media Literacy: the ability to access, analyze, evaluate and communicate media messages • Active audiences use media content to create meaningful experiences

    33. Four Eras of Mass Comm Theory • Meaning Making Perspectives on Media • Media effects are now acknowledged to be long term • Levels of Analysis: where the researcher focuses will influence the scope of the impact of the research • Macroscopic: sociocultural effects • Microscopic: individual effects

    34. Four Eras of Mass Comm Theory • Meaning-Making Perspectives on Media • Limited effects denied that advertising could have sociocultural effects • This enables advertisers, politicians and gov’ts to claim innocence “we are just tapping into existing social trends”, “we are just giving the audience what it wants”. • Critical and cognitive effects should constrain advertising, if these effects are real (eg. we don’t eat things that are poisonous).

    35. Four Eras of Mass Comm Theory • New Frontiers: • The Mind/Brain: the future of communication theory is not socio-cultural. It is cognitive and neuroscientific. • A whole new world of AI-inspired technologies are changing EVERYTHING in our lives. • Knowledge is being transferred to machines • We are beginning to understand the interplay between experience and the biology of our brains

    36. Five?!? Eras of Mass Comm Theory • A Fifth Era: Cognitive Science of Media & Information • Cognitive science and neuroscience will completely reshape the field. • Why: the new ICTs are mostly the result of findings from cognitive science (eg. Bots, neural networks, intelligent search, catered advertising, neurofocus). • Media is being modeled on the human mind/emotions/perceptions/senses.