Communication Studies

Communication studies

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.
History, North America
Though the study of communication reaches back to antiquity and beyond, early twentieth-century work by Charles Horton Cooley, Walter Lippmann, and John Dewey have been of particular importance for the academic discipline as it stands today. 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 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 with a fear that the rise of new technologies in mass communication allowed for the 'manufacture of consent,' and generated dissonance between what he called 'the world outside and the pictures in our heads,' referring to the rift between the idealized concept of democracy and its reality. John Dewey's 1927 The Public and its Problems drew on the same view of communications, but instead took a more optimistic reform agenda, arguing famously that "communication can alone create a great community," as well as "of all affairs, communication is the most wonderful."
Cooley, Lippmann, and Dewey capture themes like the central importance of communication in social life, the impact of changing technology upon culture, and questions regarding the relationship between communication, democracy, and community. These concepts continue to drive scholars today. Many of these concerns are also central to the work of writers such as Gabriel Tarde and Theodor W. Adorno, who have also made significant contributions to the field.
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. Wicheln's essay attempted to "put rhetorical studies on par with literary studies as an area of academic interest and research." 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.
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 such as Paul F. Lazarsfeld, Harold Lasswell, and Wilbur Schramm worked. The work of Samuel Silas Curry, who founded the School of Expression in 1879 in Boston, is also noted in early communication research. Today, the School of Expression is known as Curry College, located in Milton, MA, which houses one of the nation's oldest Communication programs.
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, Herta Herzog, 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.
From the 1940s and onwards, the University of Chicago was home to several committees and commissions on communications, as well as programs that educated communication scholars. In contrast to what took place at Columbia, these programs explicitly 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, particularly the Office of War Information. 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, alumni include Herbert J. Gans and Michael Gurevitch. The committee also produced publications such as 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 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.
From the 1950s onwards, communication studies branched out in several new and often very different directions. Numerous new programs opened up at various universities and academic 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. One was cybernetics, as formulated by Norbert Wiener in his Cybernetics: Or the Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine.The other was information theory, as recast in quantitative terms by Claude E. Shannon and Warren Weaver in their Mathematical Theory of Communication. 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 Jürgen Habermas, the US-based Leo Löwenthal, 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 the industry, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute began offering a master of science degree in technical writing. In the 1960s the degree title became technical communication. It was the brainchild of longtime RPI professor and administrator Jay R. Gould.
In the 1960's, Gould and his colleagues experienced increasing demand for doctoral-level studies in technical and business communication. As a 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 programs in the United States and other industrialized countries.
The 1960's and 1970's 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 media studies, and instead tried to track the effects of exposure across time.
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 media environments in an even broader and more culturally-driven fashion. This perspective is the basis of a separate professional association, the Media Ecology Association.
In 1972, Maxwell McCombs and Donald Shaw published a groundbreaking article that offered an agenda-setting theory that paved a new conception of short-term effects of the media. 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 1970's also saw the development of what became known as uses and gratifications theory, developed by scholars such as Elihu Katz, Jay G. Blumler, and Michael Gurevitch. Instead of seeing audiences as passive entities experiencing effects from a one-way model (sender to receiver), they are analyzed through the paradigm of actively seeking out content based on their own pre-existing communication needs.
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 came to West Germany, and his cybernetics inspired work has been widely influential there 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.
Finally, from the 1980's and onwards, theorists like Friedrich Kittler have 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.
Professional associations
  • National Communication Association (NCA): The main national professional organization covering many of the areas of communication studies in the U.S.
  • International Communication Association is the main international association for communication studies, which combines an older focus on quantitatively based social science studies with newer critical and cultural studies of communicative phenomena.
  • Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication
  • Association for Business Communication (ABC)
  • International Association of Business Communicators (IABC)
  • Society for Technical Communication (STC)
  • Public Relations Society of America (PRSA)
  • European Communication Research and Education Association / ECREA is the main European association for communication studies.
  • European Association for the Teaching of Academic Writing (EATAW) is the main European association for writing studies.
  • Association for Teachers of Technical Writing (ATTW)
  • International Association for Media and Communications Research (IAMCR) is a large international association for communication studies.
  • IEEE Professional Communication Society
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