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Theory or Theories?. To begin …. Is it possible identify a Theory of communication field? There is no canon of general theory to which they all refer ONE specific Theory doesn’t exists yet . To begin …. Scholars of communication apparently neither agree nor disagree about much of anything

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Theory or theories

Theoryor Theories?

To begin
To begin ….

  • Is it possible identify a Theory of communication field?

  • There is no canon of general theory to which they all refer

  • ONE specific Theory doesn’t exists yet

To begin1
To begin ….

  • Scholars of communication apparently neither agree nor disagree about much of anything

  • For the most part, they simply ignore each other

  • There is no consensus on communication theory as a field

An interesting research
An interesting research ….

  • Anderson (1996) analyzed the contents of seven communication theory textbooks and identified 249 distinct “theories”

    • 195 appeared in only one of the seven books

    • the 22% appeared in more than one book

    • the 7% were included in more than three books

Numerous disciplinary fields
Numerous disciplinary fields ….

  • Budd and Ruben’s (1972) anthology of communication highlight 24 severaldisciplinary fields: from anthropology to zoology

Some observation
Some observation …

  • The difficulty in building a specific communication theory is to connect with the attempt to summarize fragments of various disciplines forgetting that the whole is more than the sum of its parts

Some observation1
Some observation …

  • All communication theories are relevant to a common practical lifeworld in which communication is already a richly meaningful term

One hypothesis
One hypothesis ….

  • The potential of communication theory can best be realized, not in a unified theory of communication but in a dialogical-dialectical disciplinary matrix

One hypothesis1
One hypothesis ….

  • Robert T. Craig observes that may be proposed a tentative reconstruction of the multidisciplinary traditions of communication theory

  • He identify 7 “traditional” alternative vocabularies for theorizing communication as a social practice

One hypothesis2
One hypothesis ….

  • Robert T. Craig identifies 7 “traditional” alternative vocabularies for theorizing communication as a social practice

  • A common awareness of certain complementarities among different types of communication theory

The 7 theories
The 7 theories

  • Rhetoric

  • Semiotic

  • Phenomenology

  • Cybernetic

  • Socio-psychology

  • Socio-cultural

  • Critical


  • Littlejohn observes: The primary source of ideas about communication prior to this century, dating back to ancient times was rhetoric (1996)


  • Originated with the ancient Greek sophists, communication has typically been theorized as a practical art of discourse

  • Useful for explaining and under-stand notably “public discourse”

  • In the past also to solve social exigencies


  • Also in modern times, we all know that rhetoric is a powerful force in society

  • It is important to understand how rhetoric works and to cultivate our abilities as critical consumers as well as effective producers of rhetoric


  • We know that some people are better communicators than others

  • Communicators: skill or wisdom?

  • It challenges the commonplaces that mere words are less important than actions


  • Problems bring into question

    • Which places may be attributed to emotion and logic in persuasion?

    • Rhetoric in inherently good or bad or just a neutral tool?


  • Rhetoric can be in part connected to real problems that all of us face in our every-day life

  • For example: how are we swayed by the emotional appeals that pervade political and commercial advertising?


  • In modernist thought, rhetoric has often been cast as the enemy of communication

  • For modernists

    • Communication is all about reason, truth, clarity, and understanding

    • Rhetoric is all about traditionalism, artifice, obfuscation, and manipu-lation


  • The study of signs. It has ancient roots, but can be said to have originated in the language theory of John Locke (1960-1979)

  • In the semiotic tradition, communication is theorized as intersubjective mediation by signs


  • Problems of communication in the semiotic tradition are primarily problems of (re)presentation and transmission of meaning

  • Locke argued that we cannot take it for granted that people ordinarily understand each other


  • Semiotic seems plausible and practical when:

    • It appeals to the commonsense beliefs that communication is easiest when we share a common language

    • The words can mean different things to different people so miscommu-nication is a constant danger


  • Semiotic can seem implausible when it challenges commonplace beliefs such as that:

    • ideas exist in people’s minds

    • words have correct meanings

    • meanings can be made explicit

    • communication is a voluntary act

    • we use signs and media of communication as tools to represent and share our thoughts


  • Communication is theorized as dialogue or experience of otherness

  • Communication theorized in this way

    • explains the interplay of identity

    • and difference in authentic human relationships


  • Communication, or dialogue, is founded on the experience of direct, unmediated contact with others

  • Direct contacts are essentials to prevent the risk of behaviors based on non-authenticity


  • It supports the dialogue as ideal communication method, and under-line the inherent difficulties

  • Considering the “gap” between transmission and reception of messages, Peters argues that No distance is so great as that bet-ween two minds


We have decided to call the entire field of control and communication theory, whether in the machine or in the animal, by the name of Cybernetics (Wiener, 1948)

Extension to diverse areas of interest
Extension to diverse areas of interest

  • Systems and information science

  • Cognitive and artificial science

  • Functionalist social theory

  • Network analysis

  • The Batesonian school of interpersonal communication


  • Communication in the cybernetic tradition is theorized as information processing

  • It explains how all kinds of complex systems, whether living or nonli-ving, macro or micro, are able to function, and why they often malfunction

Is cybernetic plausible
Is Cybernetic plausible?

  • No, if we consider the common-sense view:

    • it points out analogies between living and nonliving systems

    • it challenges commonplace beliefs about the significance of consciousness and emotions

Is cybernetic plausible1
Is Cybernetic plausible?

  • it questions our usual distinctions between mind and matter, form and content, the real and the artificial

Unquestioned positive aspect
Unquestioned positive aspect

  • Cybernetics points out that communication process can be enormously more complex than commonsense may be understand

In summary
In summary

  • Cybernetics cultivate a practical attitude that appreciates the complexity of communication problems and questions many of our usual differences between human and nonhuman information processing systems


  • Experimental socila psychology theorizes communication as a process of expression, interaction, and influence

    or, in short,

  • Communication is the process by which individuals interact and influence each other


  • Communication may occur: face-to-face


  • Communication may occur: one to many


  • Communication may occur: one to many and many to one



  • In all formats it involves interposed elements that mediate between individuals

Sociopsychology and semiotic
Sociopsychology and Semiotic

  • For semiotics communication is mediated by signs and signs systems

  • For social psychology communication is mediated by psychological predi-spositions (attitudes, emotional states, personality traits, uncon-scious conflicts, etc.), and by the effects of social interactions

Sociopsychology rhetoric cybernetic
Sociopsychology, Rhetoric, Cybernetic

  • Sociopsychology requires rigorous experimental evidence

  • It criticizes

    • Rhetoric for lacking proof that its persuasive techniques really work

    • Cybernetics for reducing all communication to information-processing algorithms that ignore the vagaries of motivation, personality, and emotion

Sociocultural theory
Sociocultural theory

  • Communication is a symbolic process whereby reality is produced, maintai-ned, repaired, and transformed (Carey, 1989)

  • Wherever activities or artifacts have symbolic values that articulate indivi-duals into positions vis-à-vis each other or their collectivities, the com-municative is present (Rothenbuhler, 1993)

Sociocultural theory1
Sociocultural theory

  • Communication in sociology and anthropology is typically theorized as a symbolic process that produces and reproduces shared sociocultural patterns

Sociocultural theory2
Sociocultural theory

  • The word reproduce suggests the reflexivity of this process

    that is,

  • Our everyday interactions with others depend heavily on preexisting, shared cultural patterns and social structures

  • From this point of view, our everyday interactions largely reproduce the existing sociocultural order

A central problem of sociocultural theory is
A central problemof Sociocultural theory is …

  • to find the right balance

    that is,

  • to sort out the complex relations between production and reproduc-tion, particular local culture and universal natural law, in social life

Communication problems in the sociocultural tradition
Communication problems in the sociocultural tradition

  • Problems are thought of as gaps across

    • space - sociocultural diversity and relativity

    • time – sociocultural change

Communication problems in the sociocultural tradition1
Communication problems in the sociocultural tradition

  • Conflicts, misunderstandings, and difficulties in coordination increase when social conditions afford a scarcity of shared rituals, rules, and expectations among members

Sociocultural theory and perturbations
Sociocultural theoryand “perturbations”

* technological change

* breakdown of traditional social orders

* urbanization and mass society

* bureaucratic rationalization

* postmodern cultural fragmentation and globalization, etc.

are disrupt/creative perturbations that produce new meanings of communication

Connections among sociocultural theory an the other communication theories
Connections among sociocultural theory an the other communication theories

  • Hybrids are quite common

  • A relatively “pure” exemplars of sociocultural communication theory may be hard to come by

Some examples
Some examples communication theories

  • Social action media theory melds a range of sociocultural, phenomeno-logical, and semiotic perspectives

  • Conversation analysis has interac-tionist, phenomenological, and semiotic roots

Some examples1
Some examples communication theories

  • Rhetorical theory has also taken a strongly sociocultural turn in which rhetoric has quite often been conceptualized as an instrument for improving human relations

A distinct sociocultural voice
… a distinct sociocultural “voice” communication theories

  • It is the voice that criticizes

    • social psychology for its excessive individualism, and insensitivity to cultural differences

    • classical rhetoric for its naïve assumptions

    • semiotics for abstracting signs from the larger sociocultural context

From a lay point of view
From a lay point of view … communication theories

  • Sociocultural theory is plausible in part because

    • individuals are products of their social environments

    • groups develop particular norms, rituals, and worldviews

    • social change can be difficult and disruptive

Sociocultural theory3
Sociocultural theory .. communication theories

  • … cultivates communicative practices that

    • acknowledge cultural diversity and relativity

    • value tolerance and understanding

    • emphasize collective more than individual responsibility

Critical communication theory
Critical communication theory communication theories

  • The origins: Plato’s conceptions of Socratic dialectic

  • This theory emphasizes a certain instability that inheres in every act of communication

Critical communication theory1
Critical communication theory communication theories

  • Communication that involves only the transmission-reception of ritual sharing of meanings is inherently faulty, distorted, incomplete

  • Authentic communication occurs only in a process of discursive reflection

Critical communication theory2
Critical communication theory communication theories

  • For this theory, the basic problem of communication in society arises from material and ideological forces that preclude or distort discursive reflection

From a lay point of view1
From a lay point of view … communication theories

  • … the critical tradition is plausible when (e.g.)

    • it appeals to commonplace beliefs about the omnipresence of injustice and conflict in society

    • the ways in which power and domination can overcome truth and reason

Critical communication theory3
Critical communication theory communication theories

  • Critical theory runs from Marx ideas, and is associated with new social movements

  • In the tradition of Marx, its point is not to understand the world, but is to change it through praxis, or theoretically reflective social action

Critical communication theory4
Critical communication theory communication theories

  • Critical theory is criticized

    • for politicizing science and scholarship

    • for asserting a universal normative standard for communication based on a priori ideology

Concluding reflections
CONCLUDING REFLECTIONS communication theories

  • Each traditional communication theory is internally complex and open to multiple interpretations

  • Each of them, when magnified, displays a dialogical-dialectical field structure of multiple traditions much like that a communication theory as a whole

Concluding reflections1
CONCLUDING REFLECTIONS communication theories

  • The field of communication theory is not a repository of absolute truth. It claims no more than to be useful.