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Intro to Comm Sci Univ. Amsterdam J Greenwood Historical roots, concepts, theories, transmission & approaches 06/04/2015
Intro to Comm Sci
Univ. Amsterdam
J Greenwood
Historical roots, concepts, theories, transmission & approaches
06/04/2015
Each act of transmitting information, including thoughts, ideas & emotions. As
social animals, we communicate day in day out with spoken words, non-verbal
gestures, signs & symbols.
Examples
Act of giving flowers
Scholars don’t really agree on the definition
Giving a verbal compliment
Blushing
Technical media: things we
construct to amplify our
communication.
of the word media, but media can include
television, telephones, radio, books,
newspapers, the soapbox we stand on to
deliver a speech, etc. They are all technical
media, in a way. In a broader definition, we
could include our hands, voice & eyes, as
they are all used to communicate something, but in general when discussing
media communication, or the mass media, we only mean the first category.
Societal: aimed at a large, mass
audience.
Scholars have studied communication for years, and in the field of communication
science we share many theories, models & methods with other disciplines. It is
useful to see connections with those disciplines, and they are shown on the
pyramid of communication below:
Institutional: performed by
religions, corporations, political
bodies, etc.
Group: performed among
audiences that feel a high level
of group identification, such as
families or fan clubs.
Interpersonal: communication
between two or more people.
Intrapersonal: communication
with yourself. This includes
information processing, thinking,
internalising information & giving
meaning to the world around us.
Different disciplines focus on different aspects of communication. Some scholars
want to understand the workings of the media infrastructure, for instance, while
others are interested in the social importance of communication. It is not
surprising that communication is studied by so many from many different angles.
It fills our lives and society, as we spend tremendous amounts of time:
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Intro to Comm Sci Univ. Amsterdam J Greenwood Historical roots, concepts, theories, transmission & approaches 06/04/2015
Intro to Comm Sci
Univ. Amsterdam
J Greenwood
Historical roots, concepts, theories, transmission & approaches
06/04/2015
communicating ideas
sharing thoughts
Communication enables
absorbing new information
us to function as social,
being entertained
cultural and political
animals.
being persuaded somehow
Concept: a word or set of
words that represent an idea.
When considering concepts, it is important to clearly
define the concepts we use. Considering the concept of
identity, for example, there are many possible definitions
we could use (see right).
Often, scientists squabble over definitions, and rightly so,
as it should be clear what we are talking about. These
discussions sometimes never stop, and the definition of a concept may never stop
evolving.
With concepts, it is impossible to talk in terms of ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. At most, we can
talk about preferred or dominant definitions of concepts, but even these change
over time or in different contexts.
Sometimes, to make things even more difficult, scientists give everyday words a
different meaning. Communication scientists, for example, regard each carrier of
communication a text, so a movie, song or painting are texts in their eyes, ready to
be ‘read’ by an audience.
Theory: a statement about
reality that seeks to explain or
predict the relationship between
phenomena.
Concepts play an important role in the development of theories. For example, the
theory of gravity predicts that if I drop a pen, it will fall to the ground. This is a
hypothesis.
Hypothesis: a specific, predicted
result, derived from theory.
Whenever we visualise these statements, this is called a model. Usually, the
arrows and lines in these models represent hypotheses. The box on the left in the
below model represents the presumed cause. This is the independent variable.
The box on the right is the presumed effect, or dependent variable.
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Intro to Comm Sci Univ. Amsterdam J Greenwood Historical roots, concepts, theories, transmission & approaches 06/04/2015
Intro to Comm Sci
Univ. Amsterdam
J Greenwood
Historical roots, concepts, theories, transmission & approaches
06/04/2015
If you change the example and consider the theory that giving someone a gift will
cause them to like you better, the independent variable is gift-giving & the
dependent variable is how much the receiver likes you.
Primary research: collecting &
analysing our own data.
By actually dropping a pen or giving a gift, and checking to see if the results
correspond with our expectations, we can prove or disprove our hypotheses, and
by extension the connected theory.
Secondary research: studying
the results of others.
In other words, we test & improve our theories by conducting research. This could
be primary or secondary research.
Observation: simply observing
the phenomenon.
Experiments: attempting to limit
the number of interfering
variables so we can prove a
causal relationship between the
dependent and independent
variables.
Surveys: questionnaires spread
among a sample of respondents.
The results are usually
quantified.
Interviews: qualitative interviews
are used to conduct a more in
depth exploration of attitudes
This is the ideal scientific situation, but in reality many theories cannot be tested,
for instance, where we cannot observe a presumed relation. The theory that
Content analysis: studying the
message itself. This can be done
systematically, where results
are quantified, or it can be done
in a qualitative fashion.
‘everything happens for a reason’ may be true, but there is no scientific method to
test this.
Sometimes, a theory will combine a set of theories, for instance the uses and
gratification theory (will be discussed later in the course). This theory contains
several ideas about reality:
1.
People make conscious decisions regarding their use of media
2.
People are conscious of their media-related needs
3.
People select the media that is best suited to fulfil their needs
These are only three of the elements of this theory, but while each theory can be
tested and proven independently, they are still part of the same theoretical
framework, and therefore collectively labeled.
The definition of theory is not as easy, therefore, as we first thought. Some
theories don’t predict anything, but serve more as perspectives on reality, to sum
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Intro to Comm Sci Univ. Amsterdam J Greenwood Historical roots, concepts, theories, transmission & approaches 06/04/2015
Intro to Comm Sci
Univ. Amsterdam
J Greenwood
Historical roots, concepts, theories, transmission & approaches
06/04/2015
up an approach. These theories tell us of the importance to study some aspects of
that reality more thoroughly.
Paradigm: a framework of
explanation which may contain
theories from various schools
of thought. (Watson & Hill, p218)
For instance, stakeholder theory tells us we should study the stakeholders in any
situation and be aware of their various interests and agendas. These perspectives
are sometimes called theories, but could also be referred to as paradigms or
approaches since they don’t really fit the dominant definition of scientific theory.
Scientific theory stresses that theories should have a predictive
value, while paradigms or approaches serve more as ‘view
glasses’ which we use to study the world.
They amplify some aspects of reality and guide our research.
Harold Lasswell
This model reflects dominant thought on communication, by proposing
communication as a linear process that starts with a sender who creates a
message that somehow ends up with an audience; a receiver.
Lasswell’s model
Lasswell, in 1948, made this model explicit. To understand the process of
communication according to Lasswell, we need to consider who says what in
which channel to whom and with what effect:
Sender
Message
Receiver
Of course, many things can go wrong in this process of communication. When
talking to someone and a car drives by, it might cause a distraction, or its roaring
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Intro to Comm Sci Univ. Amsterdam J Greenwood Historical roots, concepts, theories, transmission & approaches 06/04/2015
Intro to Comm Sci
Univ. Amsterdam
J Greenwood
Historical roots, concepts, theories, transmission & approaches
06/04/2015
engine might drown out the speaker’s voice. The listener may have other things
on his mind, and there are many other things that can cause a disruption of
effective communication.
It is important to note that communication, in this linear way of looking at it, is
only effective when the desired effect is reached – when the message successfully
reaches, and is correctly interpreted, by the receiver.
Transmission model: a linear,
effect-based model focused on
the transmission of a message
That many things can distort a transmission becomes clear in the transmission
model that Shannon and Weaver created in 1949. This model contains five
elements, like the model of Lasswell, but also accounted for noise.
Noise: anything that can cause a
disruption to the flow of
communication.
Claude Shannon
Warren Weaver
In the example from earlier, the passing car can create many forms of noise:
Shannon & Weaver were engineers
working for Bell Labs. Their goal was
to ensure the maximum efficiency of
telephone cables & radio waves.
the sound of its loud engine can cause confusion as the listener can’t hear
the speaker correctly
the distraction it creates for the listener so he doesn’t pay attention
They developed a model intended to
assist in developing a mathematical
theory of communication. Their work
contributed to various disciplines.
The important thing with both of the models above is that they see
communication as a linear process, which in itself leads to an emphasis on effects,
as we want to know if communication has the desired effect.
This is one of the dominant approaches to viewing communication, and is also
very different from another approach that will be examined later.
During the 60s, many critics objected to this linear, effect-oriented approach.
They argued that many people give a different meaning to a message than what
was intended, but why should that be wrong?
Instead, they focused on the recipients of communication, and how they give
meaning to a message by using their own unique toolkit of background,
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Intro to Comm Sci Univ. Amsterdam J Greenwood Historical roots, concepts, theories, transmission & approaches 06/04/2015
Intro to Comm Sci
Univ. Amsterdam
J Greenwood
Historical roots, concepts, theories, transmission & approaches
06/04/2015
knowledge, emotions, experience, etc. In this non-linear model, there is no wrong
outcome; there is no wrong communication. Everyone gives meaning to a
message in their own unique way.
Polysemic: different people
interpreting a message in a
different way.
Semiotics: the study of
communication systems (signs
and significations).
This idea was hardly new. Scientists had studied the phenomenon of polysemic
messages for a long time. According to these scientists, each act of
communication relies on a communication system, without which we wouldn’t
understand each other. Study of these systems is called semiotics.
In this context, a sign is anything that communicates something. A word, a
gesture, a picture, a cartoon, a sentence, a hieroglyph; they are all signs.
The process of giving meaning to these signs is called signification (think ‘giving
significance’).
Without digging too deeply into semiotic theory, it is important to consider the
influence of semiotic theories on mass communication theory:
This approach views communication not as a linear process but as
an exchange of meaning.
Under the influence of semiotic theories, scientists became more interested in the
reception of a message, and acknowledged that communication can indeed have
multiple valid outcomes.
Roman Jacobson
Take this example, proposed by Roman Jacobson in 1960:
1.
An addresser sends a message to an addressee using a channel
2.
He added to Lasswell’s model from semiotics the idea that every message
refers to something outside of the message, which he called context
3.
Also, the specific form that our communication takes (written word, made
up of letters) is called a code
Successful
communication,
according to Jacobson,
can only exist when all
of these elements are
in place. Also, each act
of communication has
one dominant function
that relates to one of
these elements in this
model.
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06/04/2015 Happens when a message primarily describes a situation Emotive function: when the primary purpose of
06/04/2015
Happens when a message
primarily describes a situation
Emotive function: when the
primary purpose of a message
is to communicate the emotions
and attitudes of a sender
Conative function: if a receiver
is directly addressed to do
something specific
Referential or descriptive
function: happens when a
message primarily describes a
situation
Phatic function: when the
primary purpose of the
communication is to keep the
lines open
Poetic function: the message is
an end in itself
Metalingual function: when we
use communication to explain the
codes that we use
(Cultural approach)
Communication: the means to
share and reinforce ideas,
thereby constantly creating and
adapting our culture.
Historical roots, concepts, theories, transmission & approaches
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Intro to Comm Sci
Univ. Amsterdam
J Greenwood
descriptive
Example
Writing a love letter
to a girlfriend
A commercial that
tells us to buy this
flavour of ice cream
A news report
Having coffee each
week with a friend
A painting that aims
to be an aesthetically
pleasing piece of art
A dictionary, or this
very explanation of
technical terms
By focusing on the meaning of a message, signs, signification and the main
function of a message, Jacobson has given us a model that is very different from
the linear transmission model.
It’s also a good starting point to discuss a third perspective that offers yet another
new angle from which to view the field of communication.
The third approach is a continuation of Jacobson’s line of thought, but shifts the
focus to cultural and social aspects of communication. This approach deals with
how we use communication:
This perspective makes use of insights from the fields of sociology, social
psychology and anthropology, where much attention is given to the social context
in which communication takes place.
The definition of the concept of communication differs slightly in this cultural
approach. It sees people as social animals, and as such we are constantly involved
in social interaction
When we use communication to
explain the codes that we use
Metalingual
Code
to construct our own social reality
Poetic
Message
When the primary purpose of the
communication is to keep the lines
open
The message is an end in itself
Phatic
in group dynamics
to give meaning to the world around us
Act
Function
Definition
Channel
Sender
Emotive
When the primary purpose of a
message is to communicate the
emotions and attitudes of a
sender
Receiver
Conative
If a receiver is directly addressed
to do something specific
Context
Referential
or
Intro to Comm Sci Univ. Amsterdam J Greenwood Historical roots, concepts, theories, transmission & approaches 06/04/2015
Intro to Comm Sci
Univ. Amsterdam
J Greenwood
Historical roots, concepts, theories, transmission & approaches
06/04/2015
in social group dynamics. To illustrate this approach, let’s examine this
communication model, proposed by Newcomb in 1953.
The model starts out with two familiar elements; sender & receiver. Newcomb
thought that the main purpose of communication is to maintain some sort of
balance – a harmony or equilibrium – in a social system.
He therefore introduced a new element – the social environment that person A &
person B share. We’ll call this social environment X for now:
Theodore Newcomb
These three elements, A, B & X, are all connected to each other in one social
system. If one element changes, this changes the relationship of the three.
David and Shirley are colleagues in the same department, so this is their shared
social environment. If David quits his job to work somewhere else, this means
they no longer have that same shared social environment; the workplace, shared
office lunches, chats around the water cooler, etc. This will inevitably change the
relationship between David and Shirley.
Perhaps they’ll decide they enjoyed their lunch breaks so much that they will now
have coffee each month, even though they don’t work together any more –
thereby going from colleagues to friends.
In another scenario, David changes jobs within the company and becomes
Shirley’s boss. This will also influence their relationship. Will they still continue to
have friendly lunches each day?
X can take many forms; the place you work, political allegiance, a group you
belong to, it can even be a person.
Let’s say X is another co-worker named Ellen. David and Shirley both like Ellen,
until Ellen and Shirley get into a fight. Now, David’s relationship with both of them
will change – he might choose sides, or establish himself as a neutral party.
Regardless of his choice, a new social balance will be found, and equilibrium
restored.
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According to Newcomb, the main function of communication is to find social balance and restore equilibrium.

Communication helps us get along with each other, make sense of the social world around us, and enables us to function as social animals.

Therefore, it is crucial for a stable and healthy society. Without communication, we cannot truly feel part of society.

Intro to Comm Sci Univ. Amsterdam J Greenwood Historical roots, concepts, theories, transmission & approaches 06/04/2015
Intro to Comm Sci Univ. Amsterdam J Greenwood Historical roots, concepts, theories, transmission & approaches 06/04/2015
Intro to Comm Sci
Univ. Amsterdam
J Greenwood
Historical roots, concepts, theories, transmission & approaches
06/04/2015
This, according to Newcomb, is the main function of communication.
Since the 1950s, other scientists have continued with this idea, making other
theories that specifically look at mediated, individual, mass or group
communication.
Without communication, Newcomb argues, we cannot position ourselves in social
reality, by for instance aligning ourselves with in-groups, or opposing ourselves
against out-groups.
Central to this approach is the notion that people construct a cultural and social
reality by constantly communicating values, ideas and attitudes. This idea is
sometimes called social constructionism.
We have made a very broad distinction between three perspectives in the field of
communication science:
1.
Linear approach (Lasswell; Shannon & Weaver)– correct communication
causes the desired effect, therefore its focus is on effects
2.
Signification approach (Jacobson) – views communication as the
production and exchange of meanings. It is concerned with the
construction of messages using signs, and the process of extracting
meaning from these messages, called signification. The interpretation of
communication can lead to different but equally valid outcomes.
3.
Cultural approach (Newcomb) – looks at how we use communication to
construct our social reality. It examines the many ways we connect with
people around us, by constantly sharing ideas and thereby constructing,
reinforcing (or deconstructing) our identity. This perspective views
communication as the binding force of every society, group or culture.
The potential to bind goes hand in hand with the potential for group
deconstruction, audience fragmentation and cultural alienation.
There are many more ways to distinguish schools of thought in the field, and these
categories are by no means fixed or universally agreed upon, but for this
introductory course, these basic perspectives are a useful tool to categorise some
of the more widely used theories and models.
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