Friday, September 24, 2010

Response to "A First Look at Communication Theory"


Chs. 2, 4 Ed. 7
Objective vs. Interpretive,
Quantitative vs. Qualitative

What is the Truth in Communication?

Everything a human experiences is mediated through certain filters, be it biological, cultural, physical, or ethical. Sitting on the Caltrain traveling south, a rather uneven piece of safety glass separates me from San Bruno. From prior experiences I have developed a strong belief that the trees are not rippling like water as I pass them. Similarly, I believe that they are not covered in tiny white scratches that happen to fly across them at the same rate that the train travels. These are conditions imposed on the scenario by the mediating filter of the glass. Objectively, I can test this hypothesis by measuring the accuracy of my perceptions. However, it seems that the greatest space for emergent thought within the realm of analysis comes about through the interpretation. Not to undermine the seriousness or rigor of an objective approach, but the possibilities provided by an analogic approach do provide a certain richness of vocabulary and description not otherwise available.
In Chapter 2 of Em Griffin's A First Look at Communication Theory(1), he states that “Interpretive scholars seek truth as well, but many interpreters regard truth as socially constructed through communication.” The field of communication in this regard can be defined as largely subjective. On the other end, purely objective traditions circumvent the transcendent properties of human interaction and communication.
The theories that serve to inform the field of communication fall along a spectrum from purely objective to interpretive. Griffin lists the major theories in communication as grouped by level including interpersonal, group and public, mass, and cultural communication. In Ch.4, he maps the seven traditions onto the objective versus interpretive spectrum as well. 
According to Robert Craig, with all these apparently disparate approaches the field seems to be overly differentiated, but coherency is possible if we think of the field from the standpoint of a “practical discipline.” Each tradition has its merits, of course, or they would have long ago been revised or dismissed. As for a definite approach, the question becomes one of focus and intention. It is not only a matter of which grand question you are trying to solve, but also why you are trying to solve that particular question. Both of these facets of research design would inform which approach and tradition would be most applicable. Or we could just call it the field of socio-cybernetic-politico-anthro-mass-public-personal-inter-communication and call it a day.

(1)Griffin, E. M. (2009). A first look at communication theory (7thd ed.). NY: McGraw-Hill.