Communication studies

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Communication studies is an academic field that deals with processes of communication, commonly defined as the sharing of symbols over distances in space and time. Hence, communication studies encompasses a wide range of topics; for instance, the transmission of messages from one point to another through some medium of dissemination--such as face-to-face or conversation, television broadcasting, or the reading of records--but also with how institutions like libraries maintain information over time, how audiences interpret information, and the political, cultural, economic, and social dimensions of related topics.


[edit] Overview

The field is institutionalized under many different names at different universities and in various countries, including "communications", "communication studies", "speech communication", "rhetorical studies", "communications science", "media studies", "communication arts", "mass communication", "media ecology," and sometimes even "mediology" although this latter is a different area of study. Communication studies often overlaps with academic programs in journalism, film and cinema, radio and television, advertising and public relations and performance studies.

In the United States, the National Communication Association (NCA) recognizes 9 distinct but often overlapping sub-disciplines within the broader communication discipline: Communication & Technology, Critical-Cultural, Health, Intercultural-International, Interpersonal-Small Group, Mass Communication, Organizational, Political, and Rhetorical. The International Communication Association (ICA) recognizes a much larger and evolving list of sections, including among others Communication History; Communication Law and Policy; Ethnicity and Race in Communication; Feminist Scholarship; Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Studies; Global Communication and Social Change; Information Systems; Instructional/Developmental Communication; Journalism Studies; Language and Social Interaction; Organizational Communication; Philosophy of Communication; Political Communication; Popular Communication; Public Relations; and Visual Communication Studies.

Communication studies is often considered a part of both the social sciences and the humanities, drawing heavily on fields such as sociology, psychology, anthropology, political science, and economics as well as rhetoric, literary studies, linguistics, and semiotics. The field can incorporate and overlap with the work of other disciplines as well, however, including engineering, architecture, mathematics, computer science, gender and sexuality studies.

The vast breadth and interdisciplinary nature of communication studies has understandably made it difficult for both students and institutions to place it within the broader educational system. Despite intellectual incoherence, the field attracts and sustains large numbers of students, scholarly journals, professional associations, and lively discussions across the academy for researchers, educators, lawmakers, businesses, and reformers. Broadly understood, the contemporary study of communication per se interfaces and overlaps with areas such as business, organizational development, philosophy, languages, composition, theatre, debate (often called "forensics"), literary criticism, sociology, psychology, history, anthropology, semiotics, international policy, economics and political science, among others. The breadth and the primacy of communication in many areas of life is responsible for the ubiquity of communication studies, as well as for the resulting confusion about what does and does not constitute communication. Ongoing debates rage whether communication studies can best be understood as a discipline, a field, or simply a topic.

Most U.S. graduate programs in Communication today trace their history through speech to ancient rhetoric. Programs in Communication, Communication Arts or Communication Sciences often include Organizational Communication, Interpersonal Communication, Speech Communication (or Rhetoric), Mass Communication, and sometimes Journalism, Film criticism, Theatre, Political science (e.g., political campaign strategies, public speaking, effects of media on elections), or Radio, Television or Film production. Graduates of formal communication programs can be found in a wide range of fields working as university professors, marketing researchers, media editors and designers, speech therapists, journalists, human resources managers, corporate trainers, public relations practitioners, and media managers and consultants in a variety of fields including, media production, life coaching, public speaking, organizational, political campaign/issue management and public policy.

[edit] Background

Communication is often recognized as a cornerstone of modern society--it would be hard to conceive of modern life without it. However, communication as an English-language field of study and a subject of social thought took off only in the first part of the twentieth century, and is thus a relatively recent and thus unsettled discovery. In what is sometimes called the "transmission" view, communication is a process by which messages are sent, transmitted, filtered, and received. At core, the transmission view maps closely onto information theory nothingof Communication." A more recent "ritual" view, proposed by the late James W. Carey, holds that communication partakes in central daily rituals that forge meaningful human relationships and communities. While transmission proposes a model of communication as transportation (across space, in one time), the ritual model proposes that meaning can be constituted in repeated media events (across times, in one space). The newspaper, for instance, does not only transmit messages to the reader through text, but reminds and reassures the reader through repeated and meaningful events, such as its morning appearance on the doorstep and a familiar page layout. A fuller conceptualization of communication activity, many scholars (e.g., Packer and Robertson, 2006) contend, lies somewhere between and beyond these two views.

[edit] History, pre-20th century

Various aspects of communication have long been the subject of human study. In ancient Greece and Rome, the study of rhetoric, the art of oratory and persuasion, was a vital subject for students. One significant ongoing debate was whether one could be an effective speaker in a base cause (Sophists) or whether excellent rhetoric came from the excellence of the orator's character (Socrates, Plato, Cicero). Through the European Middle Ages and Renaissance grammar, rhetoric, and logic constituted the entire trivium, the base of the system of classical learning in Europe.

[edit] History, North America

[edit] 1900s-1920s

Though the study of communication reaches back to antiquity and beyond, early twentieth-century work by Charles Horton Cooley, Walter Lippmann, and John Dewey has been of particular importance for the academic discipline as it stands today in the United States. In his 1909 Social Organization: a Study of the Larger Mind, Cooley defines communication as “the mechanism through which human relations exist and develop—all the symbols of the mind, together with the means of conveying them through space and preserving them in time.” This view, which has subsequently been largely marginalized in sociology, gave processes of communication a central and constitutive place in the study of social relations. Public Opinion, published in 1922 by Walter Lippmann, couples this view of the constitutive importance of communication with a fear that the rise of new technologies and institutions of mass communication allowed for the manufacture of consent and generated dissonance between what he called ‘the world outside and the pictures in our heads’ on a scale that made democracy as classically conceived almost impossible to realize. John Dewey’s 1927 The Public and its Problems drew on the same view of communications, but coupled it instead with an optimistic progressive and democratic reform agenda, arguing famously “communication can alone create a great community”.

Cooley, Lippmann, and Dewey capture themes like the central importance of communication in social life, the rise of large and potentially powerful media institutions and the development of new communications technologies in societies undergoing rapid transformation, and questions regarding the relationship between communication, democracy, and community. All these remain central to the discipline of communication studies. Many of these concerns are also central to the work of writers such as Gabriel Tarde and Theodor W. Adorno, which has been central to the development of communication studies elsewhere.

The first decades of the twentieth century also saw the development of parallel currents of cultural criticism that drew less on the social sciences and more on the humanities. Though trained as a sociologist, the work of W.E.B. Du Bois on art and spirituals stands out here.

The study of American public address began during this time frame. In 1925, Herbert A. Wichelns published the essay "The Literary Criticism of Oratory" in the book Studies in Rhetoric and Public Speaking in Honor of James Albert Winans.[1]' Wicheln's essay attempted to "put rhetorical studies on par with literary studies as an area of academic interest and research."[2] Wichelns wrote that oratory should be taken as seriously as literature, and therefore, it should be subject to criticism and analysis. Although the essay is now standard reading in most rhetorical criticism courses, it had little immediate impact (from 1925-1935) on the field of rhetorical studies [3].

[edit] 1930s-1950s

The institutionalization of communication studies in U.S. higher education and research has often been traced to Columbia University, the University of Chicago, and the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, where early pioneers and institutionalizers like Paul F. Lazarsfeld, Harold Lasswell, and Wilbur Schramm worked.

The Bureau of Applied Social Research was established in 1944 at Columbia University by Paul F. Lazarsfeld. It was a continuation of the Rockefeller Foundation-funded Radio Project that he had led at various institutions (University of Newark, Princeton) from 1937, which had been at Columbia as the Office of Radio Research since 1939. In its various incarnations, the Radio Project had involved Lazarsfeld himself, and people like Adorno, Hadley Cantril, Gordon Allport, and Frank Stanton (who went on to be president of CBS). Lazarsfeld and the Bureau mobilized substantial sums for research, and produced, with various co-authors, a series of books and edited volumes that helped define the discipline, such as Personal Influence (1955) which remains a classic in what is called the 'media effects'-tradition. At Columbia, communications studies have traditionally been closely aligned with sociology, and people like Robert Merton and others from the sociology program were at times involved. The university did only recently, in the 1990s, establish an actual degree-granting graduate program in communications, illustrating how much important research on communications continues to take place outside the discipline that carries the name. The Bureau, and Lazarsfeld's research more generally, exemplifies the close relations that have sometimes existed between communication studies and the media industries.

From the 1940s and onwards, the University of Chicago was home to several temporary but important committees and commissions on communications, programs that also educated several leading communication scholars. In contrast to what took place at Columbia, these programs explcitly claimed the name 'communications' for themselves. The Committee on Communication and Public Opinion, also funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, was staffed with, in addition to Lasswell, people such as Douglas Waples, Samuel A. Stouffer, Louis Wirth, and Herbert Blumer, all of whom held positions elsewhere at the university. They formed a committee that essentially served as a scholarly and educational extension of the federal government’s increasing interest in communications during times of war, and was in particular closely linked to the Office of War Information. The committee is a reminder of connection as important as the Bureau’s with the industry, namely the connection between communication studies and government interests and funding. Chicago later provided an institutional home for The Hutchins Commission on the Freedom of the Press and the Committee on Communication (1947-1960). The latter was a degree-granting program that counted Elihu Katz, Bernard Berelson, Edward Shils, and David Riesman amongst its faculty, and produced graduates like Herbert J. Gans and Michael Gurevitch. The committee also produced publications like Berelson and Janowitz’ Public Opinion and Communication (1950) and the journal Studies in Public Communication.

The Institute for Communications Research was founded at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1947 by Wilbur Schramm, who was a key figure in the post-war institutionalization of communication studies in the U.S. Like the various Chicago committees, the Illinois program claimed the name 'communications' and granted graduate degrees in the subject. Schramm, who, in contrast to the more social science-inspired figures at Columbia and Chicago, had a background in English literature, developed communication studies partly by merging existing programs in speech communication, rhetoric, and, especially, journalism under the aegis of communication. He also edited a textbook The Process and Effects of Mass Communication (1954) that helped define the field, partly by claiming the Lazarsfeld, Lasswell, Carl Hovland, and Kurt Lewin as its founding fathers. He also wrote several other manifestos for the discipline, including The Science of Human Communication 1963. Schramm and the Institute moved on to Stanford University in 1955. Many of Schramm's students, such as Everett Rogers, went on to make important contributions of their own.

[edit] 1950s-1960s

From the 1950s onwards, communications studies branched out in several new and often very different directions. Numerous new programs opened up at various universities, and new journals were established.

The work of what has been called 'medium theorists', arguably defined by Harold Innis' (1950) Empire and Communications grew increasingly important, and was popularized by Marshall McLuhan in his Understanding Media (1964). This perspective informs the later work of Joshua Meyrowitz (No Sense of Place, 1986).

Two developments in the 1940s shifted the paradigm of communication studies in the 1950s and thereafter toward a more-quantitative orientation, or at least the inescapable need to consider such an orientation. One was cybernetics, as formulated by Norbert Weiner in his Cybernetics: Or the Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine.[4] The other was information theory, as recast in quantitative terms by Claude E. Shannon and Warren Weaver in their Mathematical Theory of Communication.[5] These works were widely appropriated to, and offered for some the prospect of, a general theory of society.

The tradition of critical theory associated with the Frankfurt School was, as in Europe, an important source of influence for many researchers. While done out of sociology departments, the work of Juergen Habermas, the US-based Leo Lowenthal, Herbert Marcuse, and Siegfried Kracauer, as well as earlier figures like Adorno and Max Horkheimer continued to inform a whole tradition of cultural criticism that often focused both empirically and theoretically on the culture industry.

In 1953, to address growing needs in industry, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute began offering a master of science degree in technical writing. In the 1960s, partly because of the need to represent that the degree incorporated training in oral and audiovisual communication, the degree title became technical communication. It was the brainchild of longtime RPI professor and administrator Jay R. Gould.[6]

[edit] 1960s-1970s

In the 1960s Gould and his colleagues experienced increasing demand for doctoral-level studies in technical and business communication. As result, in 1965 RPI began its Ph.D. program in communication and rhetoric. This Ph.D. degree program became a prototype for other technologically oriented Ph.D. communication programs in the United States and other industrialized countries.[7]

The 1960s and 1970s saw the development of cultivation theory, pioneered by George Gerbner at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania. This approach shifted emphasis from the short-term effects that had been the central interest of many earlier works on the media, and instead tried to track the effect of exposure to, for instance, television over time on viewers' perceptions of reality.

[edit] 1970s-1980s

Neil Postman founded the media ecology program at New York University in 1971. Media ecologists draw on a wide range of inspirations in their attempts to study entire media environments in an even broader and more cultural fashion than the work done in the Canadian medium theory tradition. This perspective is the basis of a separate professional association, the Media Ecology Association.

In 1972, Maxwell McCombs and Donald Shaw published a path-breaking article that offered an agenda-setting theory of media effects that gave new ways of conceptualizing the short-term media effects that earlier work had generally deemed limited. This approach, organized around additional ideas such as framing, priming, and gatekeeping, has been highly influential, especially in the study of political communication and news coverage.

The 1970s also saw the development of what became known as uses and gratifications research, developed by scholars such as Elihu Katz, Jay G. Blumler, and Michael Gurevitch. Instead of looking at communications processes simply as a one-way flow from senders to receivers, this approach began scrutinizing what audiences get out of communications, what they do with it, why they engage with it--especially with mass media.

[edit] History, Germany

Communication studies in Germany has a rich hermeneutic heritage in philology, textual interpretation, and historical studies. The post-world war II era, however, has seen the rise of a number of new paradigms.

Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann pioneered work on the spiral of silence in a tradition that has been widely influential across the world and has proven to be easily compatible with the dominant paradigms in for instance the United States.

In the 1970s, Karl Deutsch returned to Germany, and his cybernetics inspired work has been widely influential here as elsewhere.

The work of the Frankfurt School has been a cornerstone of much German work on communication, in addition to Horkheimer, Adorno, and Habermas, figures like Oskar Negt and Alexander Kluge has been important in the development of this strand of thought.

An important competing paradigm has been the systems theory developed by Niklas Luhmann and his students, such as Dirk Baecker and others.

Finally, from the 1980s and onwards, people like Friedrich Kittler has led the development of a 'new German medium theory', aligned partly with the Canadian medium theory of Innis and McLuhan and partly with post-structuralism.

[edit] Professional Associations

[edit] See also

[edit] References

  1. ^ Herbert A. Wichelns, "The Literary Criticism of Oratory," in Studies in Rhetoric and Public Speaking in Honor of James Albert Winans (New York: The Century Co., 1925), 181-216.
  2. ^ Martin J. Medhurst, "The Academic Study of Public Address: A Tradition in Transition," in Landmark Essays in American Public Address, ed. Martin J. Medhurst (Hermagoras Press 1993), p. xv.
  3. ^ Martin J. Medhurst, "The Academic Study of Public Address: A Tradition in Transition," in Landmark Essays in American Public Address, ed. Martin J. Medhurst (Hermagoras Press 1993), p. xix.
  4. ^ Paris: Librairie Hermann & Cie, 1948.
  5. ^ Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1949. ISBN 0-252-72548-4. Shannon & Weaver's seminal work, which had developed during World War II, originally appeared during 1948 in Bell Systems Technical Journal 27, 379–423 (July) and 623–656 (October).
  6. ^ Richard David Ramsey. (1990). The life and work of Jay R. Gould. Journal of Technical Writing and Communication 20, 19-24. RPI describes its graduate communication programs at (retrieved 2008 December 13).
  7. ^ Such as the programs at Iowa State University[1] and Texas Tech University.[2]

[edit] Bibliography

  • Carey, James. 1988 Communication as Culture.
  • Cohen, Herman. 1994. The History of Speech Communication: The Emergence of a Discipline, 1914-1945. Annandale, VA: Speech Communication Association.
  • Packer, J. & Robertson, C, eds. 2006. Thinking with James Carey: Essays on Communications, Transportation, History.
  • Peters, John Durham and Peter Simonson, eds. 2004. Mass Communication and American Social Thought: Key Texts 1919-1968.
  • Wahl-Jorgensen, Karin 2004, 'How Not to Found a Field: New Evidence on the Origins of Mass Communication Research', Journal of Communication, September 2004.
  • See also: History of Communication Research Bibliography
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