Communication Theory as a Field

Communication Theory as a Field

In 1999 Robert T. Craig wrote a landmark article[1] "Communication Theory as a Field"[2] which has since received the Best Article Award from the International Communication Association[3] as well as the Golden Anniversary Monograph Award from the National Communication Association.[4] That work has since been translated into French [5] and Russian.[6] The theory presented in "Communication Theory as a Field" has become the basis of the book "Theorizing Communication" which Craig co-edited with Heidi Muller,[7] as well as being adopted by several other communication theory textbooks as a new framework for understanding the field of communication theory.[8][9][10][11]

Contents

The Metamodel of Communication Theory

Communication Theory as a Field expanded the conversation regarding disciplinary identity in the field of communication.[12][1][13][14][15][16][17] At that time, communication theory textbooks had little to no agreement on how to present the field or what theories to include in their textbooks.[18][19][20] This article has since become the foundational framework for four different textbooks to introduce the field of communication.[8][7][9][10][11] In this article Craig "proposes a vision for communication theory that takes a huge step toward unifying this rather disparate field and addressing its complexities."[9] To move toward this unifying vision Craig focused on communication theory as a practical discipline and shows how "various traditions of communication theory can be engaged in dialogue on the practice of communication."[21][22] In this deliberative process theorists would engage in dialog about the "practical implications of communication theories."[23] In the end Craig proposes seven different traditions of Communication Theory and outlines how each one of them would engage the others in dialogue.[24]

Craig argues that while the study of communication and communication theory has become a rich and flourishing field "Communication theory as an identifiable field of study does not yet exist" and the field of communication theory has become fragmented into separate domains which simply ignore each other.[25] This inability to engage in dialog with one another causes theorists to view communication from isolated viewpoints, and denies them the richness that is available when engaging different perspectives.[26] Craig argues that communication theorists are all engaging in the study of practical communication.[26] By doing so different traditions are able to have a common ground from which a dialog can form, albeit each taking a different perspective of communication.[26] Through this process of forming a dialog between theorists with different viewpoints on communication “communication theory can fully engage with the ongoing practical discourse (or metadiscourse) about communication in society."[26]

The communication discipline began not as a single discipline, but through many different disciplines independently researching communication.[26] This interdisciplinary beginning has separated theorists through their different conceptions of communication, rather than unifying them in the common topic of communication.[27] Craig argues that the solution to this incoherence in the field of communication is not a unified theory of communication, but to create a dialogue between these theorists which engages these differences with one another to create new understandings of communication.[28] [29]

To achieve this dialog Craig proposes what he calls “Dialogical-Dialectical coherence,” or a “common awareness of certain complementaries and tensions among different types of communication theory."[30] Craig believes that the different theories cannot develop in total isolation from one another, therefore this dialogical-dialectical coherence will provide a set of background assumptions from which different theories can engage each other in productive argumentation.[30] Craig argues for a metatheory, or "second level" theory which deals with "first level" theories about communication.[31] This second level metamodel of communication theory would help to understand the differences between first level communication traditions.[32] With this thesis in place, Craig proposes seven suggested traditions of communication that have emerged and each of which have their own way of understanding communication.[33][34]

  1. Rhetorical: views communication as the practical art of discourse.[35]
  2. Semiotic: views communication as the mediation by signs.[36]
  3. Phenomenological: communication is the experience of dialogue with others.[37]
  4. Cybernetic: communication is the flow of information.[38]
  5. Socio-psychological: communication is the interaction of individuals.[39]
  6. Socio-cultural: communication is the production and reproduction of the social order.[40]
  7. Critical: communication is the process in which all assumptions can be challenged.[41]

These proposed seven traditions of communication theory are then placed on two separate tables[42] first to show how each traditions different interpretation of communication defines the tradition's vocabulary, communication problems, and commonplaces,[43] and next to show what argumentation between the traditions would look like.[44]

Table 1. Seven Traditions of Communication Theory

Rhetorical Semiotic Phenomenological Cybernetic Sociopsychological Sociocultural Critical
Communication Theorized As: The practical art of discourse Intersubjective mediation by signs Experience of otherness; dialogue Information processing Expression, Interaction, and invluence (Re)production of social order Discursive Reflection
Problems of communication theorized as: Social exigency requiring collective deliberation and judgement Misunderstanding or gap between subjective viewpoints Absence of, or failure to sustain, authentic human relationship Noise; overload; underload; a malfunction or "bug" in a system Situation requiring manipulation of causes of behavior to achieve specified outcomes Conflict; alienation; misalignment; failure of coordination Hegemonic ideology; systematically distorted speech situation
metadiscursive vocabulary such as: Art, method, communicator, audience, strategy, commonplace, logic, emotion Sign, symbol, icon, index, meaning, referent, code, language, medium, (mis)understanding Experience, self & other, dialogue, genuineness, supportiveness, openness Source, receiver, signal, information, noise, feedback, redundancy, network, function Behavior, variable, effect, personality, emotion, perception,cognition, attitude, interaction Society, structure, practice, ritual, rule, socialization, culture, identity, coconstruction Ideology, dialectic, oppression, consciousness-raising, resistance, emancipation
Plausible when appeals to metadiscursive commonplaces such as: Power of words, value of informed judgement; improvablilty of practice Understanding requries common language; omnipresent danger of miscommunication All need human contact, should treat others as persons, respect differences, seek common ground Identity of mind and brain; value of information and logic; complex systems can be unpredictable communication reflects personality; beliefs & feelings bias judgements; people in groups affect one another The individual is a product of society; every society has a distinct culture; social actions have unintended effects Self-perpetuation of power & wealth; values of freedom, equality & reason; discussion produces awareness, insight
Interesting when challenges metadiscusive commonplaces such as: Mere words are not actions; appearance is not reality; style is not substance; opinion is not truth Words have correct meanings & stand for thoughts; codes & Media are neutral channels Communication is skill; the word is not the thing; facts are not objective and values subjective Humans and machines differ; emotion is not logical; linear order of cause & effect Humans are rational beings; we know our own minds; we know what we see Individual agency & responsibility; absolute identity of self; naturalness of the social order Naturalness & rationality of traditional social order; objectivity of science & technology

[45]

Table 2. Topoi for Argumentation Across Traditions

Rhetorical Semiotic Phenomenological Cybernetic Sociopsychological Sociocultural Critical
Against Rhetoric The art of rhetoric can by learned only by practice; theory merely distracts We do not use signs; rather they use us Strategic communication is inherently inauthentic and often counterproductive Intervention in complex systems involves technical problems rhetoric fails to grasp Rhetoric lacks good empirical evidence that its persuasive techniques actually work as intended Rhetorical theory is culture bound & overemphasizes individual agency vs. social structure Rhetoric reflects traditionalist, instrumentalist, & individualist ideologies
Against semiotics All use of signs is rhetorical Langue is a fiction; Meaning & intersubjectivity are indeterminate Langue-parole & signifier-signified are false distinctions. Languaging constitutes world "Meaning" consists of functional relationships within dynamic information systems Semiotics fails to explain factors that influence the production & interpretation of messages Sign systems aren't autonomous; they exist only in the shared practices of actual communities Meaning is not fixed by a code; is a site of social conflict
Against phenomenology Authenticity is a dangerous myth; good communication must be artful, hence stratigic Self & others are semiotically determined subject positions & exist only in/as signs Other's experience is not experienced directly but only as constituted in Ego's consciousness Phenomenological "experience" must occur in the brain as information processing Phenomenological introspection falsely assumes self-awareness of cognitive processes Intersubjectivity is produced by social processes that phenomenology fails to explain Individual consciousness is socially constituted, thus ideologically distorted
Against cybernetics Practical reason cannot(or should not) be reduced to formal calculation Functionalist explanations ignore subtleties of sign systems functionalism fails to explain meaning as embodied, conscious experience The observer must be included in the system, rendering it indeterminate cybernetics is too rationalistic; e.g., it underestimates the role of emotion Cybernetic models fail to explain how meaning emerges in social interaction Cybernetics reflects the dominance of instrumental reason
Against Sociopsychology Effects are situational and cannot be precisely predicted Sociopsychological "effects" are internal properties of sign systems The subject-object dichotomy of sociopsychology must be transcended Communication involves circular causation, not linear causation Sociopsychological theories have limited predictive power, even in laboratory Sociopsycological "laws" are culture bound & biased by individualism Sociopsychology reflects ideologies of individualism, instrumentalism
Against Sociocultural theory Sociocultural rules, etc., are contexts & resources for rhetorical discourse Sociocultural rules, etc., are all systems of signs The social life-world has a phenomenological foundation The functional organization of any social system can be modeled formally Sociocultural theory is vague, untestable, ignores psychological processes that underlie all social order Sociocultural order is particular & locally negotiated by theory must be abstract & general Sociocultural theory privileges consensus over conflict & change
Against Critical theory Practical reason is based in particular situations, not universal principles There is nothing outside the text Critique is immanent in every authentic encounter with tradition Self-organizing systems models account for social conflict & change Critical theory confuses facts & values, imposes a dogmatic ideology Critical theory imposes an interpretive frame, fails to appreciate local meanings Critical theory is elitist & without real influence on social change

[46]

Craig then outlines the specifics of each tradition.[47]

Conclusion

Craig concluded with an open invitation to explore how the differences in these theories might shed light on key issues, show where new traditions could be created, and engaging communication theory with communication problems through metadiscourse. [48] Craig further proposes several future traditions that could possibly be fit into the metamodel.[49] A feminist tradition where communication is theorized as "connectedness to others", an aesthetic tradition theorizing communication as "embodied performance", an economic tradition theorizing communication as "exchange", and a spiritual tradition theorizing communication on a "nonmaterial or mystical plane of existence." [50]

Response to Communication Theory as a Field

Myers, Constitutive Metamodel, and Truth

In 2001 Myers, a Computer-mediated communication scholar from Loyola University New Orleans, criticizes Craig's ideas in "A Pox on All Compromises: A reply to Craig (1999)." [51] Myers makes two main arguments against Craig's article. Myers argues that Craig misrepresents the metamodel, and that the lack of any critical truth within Craigs construction is problematic for the field of communication theory.[52][53] The metamodel is misrepresented by unjustly arguing that there is a separation between first and second level constitutive models while hiding the paradox within this statement, and that it privileges the constitutive model rather than another theoretical conception.[54] Next Myers argues that Craig fails to draw any way to discern truth within the theories.[55] Using a case study regarding the rise and fall of technological determinism among Computer-mediated communication scholars,[56] Myers argues that a metamodel needs to provide some mechanism that will "reduce misrepresentation and mistake" in evaluating theory.[57] Myers frames Craig's idea's of collective discourse without an evaluative criteria of what is good theory and bad theory as "a Mad Hatter's tea party" which will "allow all to participate in this party of discourse" but will not be able to "inform any of the participants when it is time to leave."[57]

Craig's Response to Myers

Craig responded, in "an almost Jamesian reply"[58], that Myers criticisms were not founded in actual inconsistencies within Craigs argument.[59] Rather they were founded in the difference between Myers and Craig's "respective notions of truth and the proper role of empirical truth as a criterion for adjudicating among theories."[59] In regard to Myers first claim that the separation between first level theories and second level metatheory is paradoxical and therefore an inaccurate or misguided distinction, Craig admits that there is a paradox inherent within a separation between first order theories and metatheory but "slippage between logical levels is an inherent feature (or bug) of communication, and we should not forget that theory is, among other things, communication. "[60] Craig cites Gregory Bateson as pointing out that while the theory of logical types forbids the mixing of different "levels" to avoid paradox, "practical communication necessarily does exactly that."[61] Actual communication is fraught with paradox, and while a logicians ideal would have us try and resolve these paradoxes, in actual practice we don't because there is no way to do so.[61] In actually occurring communication people employ different means of dealing with this paradox, but resolving the paradox is not a possible solution.[61] Craig argues that Myers has been unable to prove any inconsitsncy or misrepresentation when it came to using the costitutive model for his metamodel[62]. Rather than trying to subvert every other theory to a constitutional model, Craig used the constitutive model not for some theory of truth or logical necessity, but because the constitutive model pragmatically will accomplish the goal of the project, that of opening up a space from which competing theories of communication can interact.[60] With this the constitutional model will be able to maintain a theoretical cosmopolitanism.[63]

On the second argument that the metamodel lacks any empirical truth criteria, Craig argues that not only did Myers miss the point of the metamodel by claiming it should evaluate the truth of theories[64] but that Myers own case study fails to back up his point.[65] The metamodel itself does not distinguish the falseness of other models.[66] However, contrary to Myers claim, the metamodel does allow theorists engaged in discussion to judge the validity of theories "on the basis of empirical evidence in ordinary reasonable ways."[66] What the metamodel does deny is a universally established absolute truth in the field of communication theory.[67] Craig points out that Myers was correct in that the metamodel is ill equipped to judge theories as valid or invalid, it also doesn't do a good job of closing "the Antarctic ozone hole or solve other problems for which it was not designed."[68] The case study that Myers presents is the debate about Technological Determinism in the realm of Computer Mediated Communication.[56] Craig points out that this debate occurred between social scientific researchers.[68] This type of research has a shared commitment to empirical research methods.[68] So in spite of already possessing a shared truth criteria, these researchers failed to prevent errors Myers hopes would be avoided by holding onto a form of absolute truth.[68] This case study would be a good critique of empirical truth but "how it supports a critique of the constitutive metamodel is less than apparent."[68] By relying upon this case study Myers sabotages his argument for establishing an absolute truth criteria, demonstrating that "we would gain little by holding on to such a criterion."[68]

Russill, Pragmatism as an Eighth Tradition

After this exchange between Myers and Craig, there was no real disciplinary discussion of the metamodel[69][70] besides textbooks which used the metamodel as a framework for introducing the field.[8][7][9][10][11] Then in 2004 in an unpublished dissertation,[71][72] which was mentioned in a footnote in his 2005 "The road not Taken: William James's Radical Empiricism and Communication Theory,"[73][72] Russill proposed the possibly of Pragmatism as an eighth tradition of communication studies.[72][74][75][76] This was attempted by using "Craig's rules" for the requirements of a tradition in communication theory[77][78][58] which Russill formulates as "a problem formulation..., an initial vocabulary...,and arguments for the plausibility of this viewpoint in relation to prevailing traditions of theory."[79][80]

Russill did not write his dissertation with the goal of constructing a tradition of communication theory, rather he was attempting to "resuscitate and reconstruct Dewey's theory of the public as a pragmatist theory of democratic communication."[77][81] To accomplish this goal Russill places Dewey in conversation with a variety of theorists including William James, John Locke, James Carey, Michel Foucault, Jurgen Habermas, and Walter Lippmann among others.[77][71] Russill makes the argument that the pragmatist tradition "conceptualizes communication in response to the problem of incommensurability."[82] Incommensurability being how a pluralistic society can engage in cooperation when there is an absence "of common, absolute standards for resolving differences."[82] Russill briefly attempted to construct a pragmatist tradition of communication only to establish Dewey's theory of the public within that tradition.[83][74] To do this he outlines pragmatism as a tradition that identifies the problem formulation as "incommensurability", and the vocabulary as "democracy, publics, power, criticism, response-ability, triple contingency." [79][82]

Craig's response to Russill

Craig responds to this in "Pragmatism in the Field of Communication Theory" and mentions that while Russill "does not entirely follow 'Craig's Rules'" for a new tradition of communication theory, Russill "does define a pragmatist tradition in terms of a distinct way of framing the problem of communication and articulates premises that make the tradition theoretically and practically plausible."[83] Craig points out that Russill is not the first communication theorists who writes on pragmatism, however he is the first to use the constitutive metamodel to define it as a tradition of communication.[84] This conception of pragmatism as a eighth tradition of communication studies allows a new space for theories, which Craig identified as either ambiguously placed or neglected, to "immediately snap into focus as contributors to a distinct [pragmatic] tradition."[84]

To fully outline a new tradition of communication theory, Russill would have had to fully incorporate that tradition within the dialogical-dialectical matrix.[85] Russill failed to fully consider the full range of criticism which would occur between the Pragmatist tradition and the other traditions of communication.[85] Craig uses the dialogical-dialectical matrix to outline how pragmatism could be incorporated into the metamodel. [86]

Table 1: Pragmatism in the field of Communication Theory (A Tentative Reconstruction)
Communication theorized as: Problems of communication theorized as: Metadiscursive vocabulary such as: Plausible when appeals to metadiscursive commonplaces such as: Interesting when challenges metadiscursive commonplaces such as:
Pluralistic community; coordination of practical activities through discourse and reflexive inquiry Incommensurability, nonparticipation, nonreflexivity or dogmatism, defective discourse practices Community, pluralism, interdependence, interests, consequences, inquiry, discourse, participation, cooperation We need to cooperate despite our differences; everyone has their own point of view and deserves an equal hearing; the real meaning of anything is the practical difference it makes There are certain truths that cannot be denied; some differences are so fundamental that there is no way to overcome them; there can be no cooperation with evil or falsehood ("a pox on all compromises")

[87]

Topoi for argumentation from pragmatism (pragmatism's column)
Against Rhetoric: Against Semiotics: Against Phenomenology: Against Cybernetics: Against Sociopsychology: Against Sociocultural theory: Against Critical theory: Against Pragmatism:
Rhetoric relies on traditional commonplaces, defeats reflexivity Intersubjective mediation occurs in coordinated practical activities, not through signs alone; meaning emerges through interaction and is triply contingent Experience of the other means taking the perspective of the other in interaction; I-Thou depends on Us-Them (triple contingency); Communication should be judged by its consequences but not by its "authenticity" "contingency goes all the way down,"[88] so communication cannot be adequately rendered in formal models of information systems Contingency goes all the way down, so consequences for practical action cannot be reduced to any particular set of predictable effects Sociocultural theory underestimates the agency of social actors and the negotiability of cultural patterns and social structures All normative principles are contingent; diverse identities and structural power differences do not preclude efforts to extend pluralistic community Dilemma of reflexivity: inquiry, when instituted (routinized/ritualized) as social practices becomes nonreflexive. paradox of pluralism: a standpoint that can take no particular standpoint

[89]

Topoi for argumentation against pragmatism (pragmatism's row)
From Rhetoric: From Semiotics: From Phenomenology: From Cybernetics: From Sociopsychology: From Sociocultural theory: From Critical theory From Pragmatism:
Pragmatism lacks the specificity of an art; pluralistic community is merely an intellectual ideal Coordination depends on a shared code; community is constituted symbolically Experience of the other with an eye to consequences is not a genuine experience of the other Pragmatism overestimates agency, underestimates the degree to which the determinism of complex systems can be captured by formal models Pragmatic consequences are most usefully accessed through rigorous empirical procedures; "there is nothing so practical as a good theory" Pragmatism overestimates agency, underestimates the profound influence and persistence of cultural patterns and social structures. Pragmatism inadequately accounts for relations of power, systematic distortion; differences are negotiated in political struggle: not coordination but reclaiming conflict is the object of critical praxis Dilemma of reflexivity: inquiry, when instituted (routinized/ritualized) as social practices becomes non-reflexive. Paradox of pluralism: a standpoint that can take no particular standpoint

[90]

See also

References

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  80. ^ Craig 2007, pp. 133.
  81. ^ Russill 2004, pp. iii, 5, 68-105, 279-283.
  82. ^ a b c Craig 2007, pp. 131.
  83. ^ a b Craig 2007, pp. 130-131.
  84. ^ a b Craig 2007, pp. 134.
  85. ^ a b Craig 2007, pp. 135.
  86. ^ Craig 2007, pp. 135-137.
  87. ^ Craig 2007, pp. 136.
  88. ^ Russill 2004, pp. 173.
  89. ^ Craig 2007, pp. 136-137.
  90. ^ Craig 2007, pp. 137.

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