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Communication helps us to

understand ourselves too

Matt Rolph
Slides prepared for
Prof. Carlos Godoy

Rensselaer
Polytechnic
Institute
Why study Communication?

• Communication also allows for collective


knowledge to emerge. Collective
knowledge increases survival skills and
technological advancement. Why don’t
we see the prototypical Renaissance
man anymore?
– Exercise to demonstrate this
– Survival skills task
You: Communication Theorist

• In this course, you will


– Respond, analyze, and become more
familiar with many leading and key
communication theories
– Theorize yourself, or, at least, begin the
work of a communication theorist
– Think, read, and discuss
Readings

• Are optional
– The best, most valuable, and most primary
sources are provided whenever possible for
your reference – this is a chance for you to
learn from and work with important
resources. It is up to you to make the most
of it.
– Material will also be covered in class in
lecture format
What does it mean …

• … to be a communication theorist?
• To some extent, you are one already. You
don’t need to be a professional in a
communication-related field to begin.
• Theorists explain what is happening, has
happened, and will happen.
• Can we explain the changes new forms of
communication have made to our lives? How
will life be different today than yesterday or
tomorrow?
What is a theory?
Em Griffin
• Theory
– “A set of systematic, informed hunches
about the way things work”
– Theory is not law, nor set in stone; neither is
it solely abstract speculation.
What is communication?

• When you ask this question you are really


asking two questions:
• 1) What is communication as an abstract
concept?
• 2) What does it mean to study communication
as a discipline.
• Let’s start with the first question: What is
communication? Can you define it?
Communication?
Em Griffin
• Communication:
– “The relational process of creating and
interpreting messages that elicit response”
– A large and growing field of academic study
connected to many other disciplines
Transmission model

• Griffin’s definition implies a transmission


model.

Message
1 Message created
2 transmitted
Via medium 3 Message received
and interpreted

• Is this the only possible model?


Where do messages come from?

• Where do these messages come from?


• What is a thought? What is an idea?
• How can I know what is in your mind?
• How does an idea relate to the world?
• How can my mind represent what is
around me?
Trying to answer these questions…

• Leads to a language game of sorts. The questions


cannot be answered by a functional transmission view
of communication.
• Foucault and many other postmodern scholars argue
that the discourse itself, not the substance of the
meaning behind the discourse, reifies or functions to
produce the objects of knowledge that are then studied
by social scientists.
• This means we often fail to recognize that language
often fails us --which can short circuit the creation of
meaningful theory (trapped by the discourse).
Terms

• Discourse: the ongoing discussion about


what communication is and does and
how it all works (or does not work)
• Reifies: verifies, certifies, is evidence of
• The discourse itself reifies the existence
of communication … but …
Is language enough?

• Do words always represent tangible


things?
• Do we always agree on what they mean?
• We seem to share meaning, but how?
The word ‘communication’

• … is related to ‘communing’, bringing


people together.
• … is also related to ‘common’, meaning
free to be used by everyone or belonging
to everyone.
Locke’s An Essay Concerning Human
Understanding (1690). P. 476

• One of the earliest examples


of this shift from a ritual to a
transmission view of
communication.
• Proposes that knowledge is
built up from ideas, either
simple or complex. Simple
ideas are the basic building
blocks; combine in various
ways to form complex ideas.
John Locke
1634-1704
Locke’s An Essay Concerning Human
Understanding (1690). P. 476

• Two types of experience that form simple


ideas in the human mind:
– sensation, when the mind experiences the
world outside the body through the five
senses, and
– reflection, when the mind turns inward,
recognizing ideas about its own functions,
such as thinking, willing, believing, and
doubting.
Religion

• As a thought experiment, let’s consider


religion.
• Can it be explained as coming from
sensation or reflection? What do you
think?
Locke and Language

• Locke points out weaknesses and common abuses of


language, i.e. words do not immediately and obviously
mean the same thing to all people.
• This problem has four main causes:
1. a word may imply a very complex idea
2. the ideas that words stand for may have no constant
standard anywhere in nature to judge them against
3. the standard that ideas refer to may not be easily
known, and
4. the meaning of a word and the real nature of the thing
referred to by the word may not be exactly the same.
So what?

• Locke believes in and is engaged in


communication, but is well aware of –
and struggling with – its limitations.
• The fundamental philosophical question
of whether or not we can actually know
anything is always with us.
Piece vs Text

• Griffin defines the term ‘text’ to refer to


examples of communication like Locke’s
essay.
• The term ‘piece’ is also valuable,
because it implies artistic interpretation,
and can apply to a broader range of
types of communication.
Durkheim

• Society itself is the source of


knowledge, including scientific
knowledge … a society can neither
create itself nor recreate itself
without at the same time creating an
‘ideal’ (p90)

• Durkheim sees value in the


Émile Durkheim
collective conscience in creating
(1858 - 1917) knowledge (going beyond Locke’s
experience and sensation.)
Durkheim and Religion

• Both science and religion are the


outcomes of impersonal, collective
thought.
• Religion is a social creation, and is society
divinized … Durkheim stated that the deities
which men worship together are only
projections of the power of society.
• Religion is social: it occurs in a social context.
Anomie

• Durkheim defined the term anomie as a


condition where social and/or moral
norms are confused, unclear, or simply
not present. Durkheim felt that this lack of
norms – or of pre-accepted limits on
behavior in a society – led to ‘deviant’
behavior.
• Anomie = Lack of Regulation /
Breakdown of Norms
Marx

• [Inevitable] conflict between the


bourgeoisie and the proletariat
… leading to breakdown and
revolution.
• According to Marx, the main task
of any state apparatus is to
uphold the power of the ruling
class; but without any classes
there would be no need for a
state. That would lead to the
Karl Marx classless, stateless communist
(1818 - 1883)
society.
Karl Marx and Religion

• Marx begins this essay with a criticism of


religion, which he claims is the premise
of all criticism. Feuerbach used religion
as the basis of his transformative
method. Marx follow his lead by saying
that "man makes religion; religion does
not make man" (p. 53).
Karl Marx and Religion

• Also, religion creates [according to Marx]


the illusion that people are happy.
• He advocates people abandon this ideal
and demand real happiness, which, he
states, can only be found in the material
world.
Freud: Civilization and the Individual

• Fundamental tensions between


civilization and the individual:
• Individuals quest for freedom to
act on instinct and civilizations
demand individual conformity
and the repression of instinct.
• Primitive instincts (to kill, for
sexual gratification) are harmful
to communities; thus civilizations
create laws and punishments for
Sigmund Freud
(1856 - 1939)
when laws are broken.
• Therefore, people are unhappy.
Freudian Theory

• Humans have a set of immutable


instincts, cravings to act on sexual desire
without limits and to commit violence
(against authorities or sexual
competitors)
• Humans are governed by the pleasure
principle, seek pleasure, and pleasure
comes from acting on instincts
Freud

• Where does meaning (and messages)


come from in Freud’s theory?
Weber: Legitimate Domination

• Not everything
economically based
• Three types of ‘legitimate
domination’:
– Legal
– Traditional
– Charismatic
Max Weber
1864-1920
Weber

• How does the communication


infrastructure of today reify these
precepts of legal, traditional, and
charismatic leadership?
Theory

• “theories are nets cast to catch what we


call ‘the world’ . . . . We endevor to make
the mesh finer and finer” ~Karl Popper
• Theories are different lenses which allow
us to see things differently, not creating
the picture but bringing it in (or out) of
focus
• Theories are maps of objective
behaviors and subjective meanings
Micro, Meso, and Macro

• Note that everything can be considered


on different scales:
Micro

Meso
(middle)

Macro
Theories Video

• Theories as Nets, Lenses, & Maps:


• http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q4Tyyz3oVck
What is the nature of human nature?

• Break into groups and discuss for a few


minutes
What is the nature of human nature?

• Continuum between essentialism and


constructivism
• Essentialism- we are creatures trapped
by the structures of society/biology
• Constructivism-we create our own human
nature
– In next class we will ask: Does technology
drive history?
Humanistic vs. Social Science

• There are tensions between humanistic


approaches (human centered,
sometimes experiential) to
Communication and those in social
science (which uses a lot of numerical
data, metrics, and attempts to implement
scientific methodology).
Humanistic vs. Social Science

• Quantitative vs. Qualitative Research


Methods To Inform Theories
• Experiments – (Often on the micro level)
• Survey Research- Price-public opinion
• Textual Analysis (culture industries-
critical analysis)
• Ethnography (Reading the Romance-
Radaway)
What makes a theory good?

• Explains the data (draws order out of chaos)


• Prediction of future events: general
tendencies…hard to predict individual behavior on the micro-level
(although cognitive modeling is attempting to do just that now)

• Relative Simplicity – Occam's Razor-for two plausible


explanations…accept the simpler version

• Hypothesis can be tested somehow


• Practical Utility – the famous “so what” question!
Traditions in Communication

• Communication is exciting but also can be


confusing because it straddles many fields:
anthropology, psychology, sociology,
economics, political science.

• We are forming a science of human behavior


that bridges these disciplines, truly an
interdisciplinary area.
Question 2: What is Communication
as a Discipline
• Seven Traditions in Communication

• 1) Social Psychological Field: Persuasion, Influence,


personality, fear appeals, expertise, attitudes.

• 2) Cybernetic Tradition: Communication as information


procession---how to improve
processing….organizational communication, family
systems, based on the concept of feedback
– Shannon’s model of reduction of uncertainty in
communication------communication is seen as an applied
science. Cutting down on background noise that will confuse
the message
Seven Traditions in Communication

• 3) Rhetorical Tradition: the oldest tradition, that of


speech, distinguishes us from other animals. The role
of artful public address is the precursor to much of the
literature on persuasive communication.

• 4) Semiotic Tradition: the process of sharing meaning


through signs….and how their interpretation impacts
society. Words have no logical connection to the
things they are said to represent.
Seven Traditions in Communication

• 5) Socio-cultural tradition: linguistic structure of a


society ….a cultures language dictates what we think
and do.

• 6) The Critical Tradition: Frankfurt school (Adorno,


Horkheimer) rejected the economic determinism of
Marxism but continued the tradition of critiquing society
mainly through the study of media (dulling sensitivity to
repression, duping the masses). Science is not value
free.
Seven Traditions in Communication

• 7) Phenomenological tradition: the only way to


understanding is to attempt to understand what it’s like
to be a specific person. This perspective is getting
renewed attention in interpersonal communication field
with the addition of virtual reality systems (Stanford),
displacement experiments and race switching.
Communication as a Discipline
Where are you?

Social psychological
Interpersonal Cybernetic/systems
Media ecology
Socio-cultural
linguistic
structure of a
society

Communication
Phenomenological
Critical Tradition: Virtual reality
Frankfurt School

Rhetorical
Semiotic Tradition
Shared meaning
Communication as a Discipline
Where are you?

Social psychological
Interpersonal Cybernetic/systems
Media ecology
Socio-cultural
linguistic
structure of a
society

Communication
Phenomenological
Critical Tradition: Virtual reality
Frankfurt School

Rhetorical
Semiotic Tradition
Shared meaning
Syllabus Overview

• 10% in-class participation Your grade


• 20% Course Presentation
In-class
• 25% Midterm Exam Present
Midterm
• 45% Final Exam Final

• Assign readings for the next few weeks-


Volunteers?
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