Exploring Communication Theory
eBook - ePub

Exploring Communication Theory

Making Sense of Us

Kory Floyd, Paul Schrodt, Larry A. Erbert, Kristina M. Scharp

Share book
  1. 408 pages
  2. English
  3. ePUB (mobile friendly)
  4. Available on iOS & Android
eBook - ePub

Exploring Communication Theory

Making Sense of Us

Kory Floyd, Paul Schrodt, Larry A. Erbert, Kristina M. Scharp

Book details
Book preview
Table of contents

About This Book

Continuing its engaging and readable approach, this second edition presents an overview of the major theories within the discipline of communication studies inclusive of the three major paradigms of social scientific, interpretive, and critical.

Each member of the author team writes from his or her area of expertise, giving readers further insight into how the theory is applied to research within communication studies. With extensive pedagogical features, the text underscores key concepts and links them to students' own communication studies scholarship and everyday lives. Key updates for this edition include updated examples and discussions around theories to give students a deeper understanding; explorations of Black Lives Matter and intersectionality; and new pedagogical features in line with Bloom's taxonomy.

This book is ideal as a core text for undergraduate courses in communication theory.

Online resources also accompany the text: an instructor manual, test bank, lecture slides, and author introduction videos. Please visit www.routledge.com/9781032015194 to access the materials.

Frequently asked questions

How do I cancel my subscription?
Simply head over to the account section in settings and click on “Cancel Subscription” - it’s as simple as that. After you cancel, your membership will stay active for the remainder of the time you’ve paid for. Learn more here.
Can/how do I download books?
At the moment all of our mobile-responsive ePub books are available to download via the app. Most of our PDFs are also available to download and we're working on making the final remaining ones downloadable now. Learn more here.
What is the difference between the pricing plans?
Both plans give you full access to the library and all of Perlego’s features. The only differences are the price and subscription period: With the annual plan you’ll save around 30% compared to 12 months on the monthly plan.
What is Perlego?
We are an online textbook subscription service, where you can get access to an entire online library for less than the price of a single book per month. With over 1 million books across 1000+ topics, we’ve got you covered! Learn more here.
Do you support text-to-speech?
Look out for the read-aloud symbol on your next book to see if you can listen to it. The read-aloud tool reads text aloud for you, highlighting the text as it is being read. You can pause it, speed it up and slow it down. Learn more here.
Is Exploring Communication Theory an online PDF/ePUB?
Yes, you can access Exploring Communication Theory by Kory Floyd, Paul Schrodt, Larry A. Erbert, Kristina M. Scharp in PDF and/or ePUB format, as well as other popular books in Languages & Linguistics & Communication Studies. We have over one million books available in our catalogue for you to explore.




DOI: 10.4324/9781003179634-1
What is communication? When did scholars first begin to think about and attempt to explain how people communicate? How have different views of communication changed over time? And today, what types of questions are communication scholars attempting to address? In this chapter, we will conceptualize communication, briefly trace the historical development of communication as a distinct field of inquiry, and consider how understanding communication theory can answer important questions and enhance quality of life. After reading this chapter, you will be able to:
  1. Understand the nature of communication.
  2. Distinguish primary traditions underlying the communication discipline.
  3. Compare and contrast humanistic and social scientific approaches to studying communication.
  4. Describe the contemporary discipline of communication and its current and future directions.
  5. Appreciate how good communication enhances the quality of life.


On January 21, 2020, a Washington state resident who had recently returned from Wuhan, China, became the first person in the United States with a confirmed case of the 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19). Two weeks later, the United States declared a public health emergency and on March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic, one that would forever change public health and how people relate to others on a daily basis.1 From news reports about the virus, testing protocols, and vaccinations, to social distancing, wearing masks, and contact tracing, to the political and economic fallout for individuals, families, businesses, and global economies, the COVID-19 pandemic has created a host of questions about how to communicate different kinds of information in different contexts.
Whether you closely followed the ongoing development of the pandemic or grew weary of it and lost interest over time, you may have asked a variety of questions as you made sense of it all. For example, you may have wondered how changing to online education and Zoom classes would affect how your professors teach and how you learn. Perhaps you considered how journalists were reporting information related to the pandemic and questioned whether you could trust the information you read. Or maybe you wondered why various family members and friends responded so differently to public health messages as vaccinations began to roll out. As most people do when they’re confused and uncertain, you search for a reason, an explanation for why people act the way that they do in the midst of a global pandemic.
You search, that is, for a communication theory.
We know the feeling. Each of us—Kory, Paul, Larry, and Kristina—wants to understand why people communicate the way they do. That’s what led us to take communication courses, as you are doing now, and eventually to teach and study the many ways in which people interact. One lesson we’ve learned is that communication is often more complex than it appears. You may easily be able to come up with reasons why some people trust public health officials enough to act on their recommendation to get vaccinated for COVID-19 and others do not, but does your explanation take the right factors into consideration? Does it ignore causes that are relevant or take account of factors that don’t really matter?
Those are the types of questions that communication scholars deal with every day. Most communication behaviors can be explained in more than one way, and it is the job of communication scholars—such as the ones we’ll introduce you to in this book—to examine which explanations are the most useful.
Before we start looking at communication theories, let’s take some time to talk about communication itself. In this chapter, we’ll discuss the characteristics that communication behaviors share. Then we’ll explore the communication discipline by looking at our past, our present, and our future. We believe having that background will be useful as you begin your study of communication theories.


Although you communicate virtually every day of your life, you probably don’t think very often about what communication is, exactly. If you asked 20 friends to define the term, you might find little agreement on what communication means, despite the fact that they all know how to do it. The situation isn’t much different among communication scholars, who have also generated many dozens, if not hundreds of definitions for what we study. For example, some scholars who favor a “transmission” view of communication have defined it as “the process or act of transmitting a message from a sender to a receiver, through a channel and with the interference of noise.”2 Others who favor an “interactional” view of communication have defined it as “a process through which persons create, maintain, and alter social order, relationships, and identities”3 and believe that it is through communication that participants “create and share information with one another to reach a mutual understanding.”4
Two women talking and laughing
Photo 1.1 We communicate constantly—yet we have different ideas about what communication is.
Source: Image courtesy of iStockPhoto
Long description:
Two women colleagues laughing while standing in a cafe at their workplace. One of the women is holding a takeout hot drink cup.
It’s not essential that we all agree on precisely what communication is—and is not—before we can explore the value of theories. Discussions about the definition of communication can be valuable, and we believe they should be encouraged. At the same time, however, it’s useful to begin our journey into the world of communication theory with some shared ideas in mind. Therefore, instead of imposing one necessarily limited definition of what communication is, we have chosen to describe some of the most important characteristics of communication. Our list certainly won’t be exhaustive, but it will introduce you to some of the features of communication that matter most.
  1. Communication is a process. Communication is something we do. As a process, communication unfolds over time, and what happens at one point can affect what occurs later. If a friend violates your trust by sharing information that you expected her to keep secret, that communication act might prevent you from confiding in her the next time you have something to share.
  2. Communication is symbolic. We can never get into other people’s brains to know exactly what they’re thinking, so we rely on symbols, which are representations of ideas, to understand one another. Words are symbols. The word tree isn’t actually a tree; it just represents the idea of one. Gestures, facial expressions, and many other communicative behaviors are also symbols because they signify ideas.
  3. Communication focuses on meaning. Because communication is symbolic, an important task is to figure out what meaning, or message, each symbol conveys. When you say, “I love you,” what does that mean? What message are you sending through your posture or through your silence? You’ve probably had the experience of being misunderstood and telling another person, “That isn’t what I meant.” If so, then you understand how challenging the process of meaning-making can be.
  4. Communication is ever present. Finally, communication is with us constantly. Your behaviors can send messages to other people whether you intend those messages or not. Have you ever tried hard to stay awake during class? In spite of your efforts to look interested, your slouching posture and droopy eyelids were likely communicating your fatigue to others. Likewise, you are continually receiving messages from the people around you, whether those messages are intentional or unintentional.
Now that we understand some of the fundamental features of communication, let’s look at how communication came to be a focus of academic study.

Test Your Understanding

Reflecting on the Nature of Communication

  1. How do you see the process of communication unfold in your own life?
  2. What does it mean to call communication “ever present”? Is it possible not to communicate at all?


The study of communication has a long, rich history. Each of us has our own personal story to tell, filled with the important people and life events that have made us who we are today. Similarly, every field of study has its own biography or “story” that helps others understand how that field came into being.
The communication process is fundamental to everything we do as human beings. As a result, the question of how we communicate with one another has been a topic of fascination for centuries. Scholars and laypersons alike have been motivated to understand what communication is, how it works, why it works better in some instances than others, and how it can best be taught. In fact, many of the communication principles we teach today can be found in the writings and teachings of such classical philosophers as Plato and Aristotle. Thus by briefly reviewing the historical roots of the communication discipline, we can gain insight into where we are today as a field of study and catch a glimpse into our future.
In this section, we will briefly review three classical patterns of thought about communication that emerged in ancient Greece: the Sophistic tradition, the Platonic tradition, and the Aristotelian tradition.5 We will then discuss how each of those traditions continues to inform the study of communication, as scholars in both the humanities and the social sciences further our understanding of how our everyday lives are created and sustained out of our continuing and constant interaction.6

Communication and the Classics

The formal study of communication began with the rise of democracy in Greece during the fifth century BCE.7 It came about largely in response to the conceptual and practical concerns of the Greek people. Philosophers in ancient Greece were debating such timeless questions as What is real?, What is truth?, and What is knowledge? The practical concerns of the Greeks, however, were focused more on certain political events and economic self-interest. For instance, the citizens of Syracuse had overthrown their tyrannical governor and established democratic rule. As a result, the courts were flooded with lawsuits for the return of confiscated property. Because Greek culture valued the spoken word and citizens were required to argue their own cases in court, a tremendous need arose for someone to teach plaintiffs and defendants how to effectively argue their cases. Thus, the birth of communication theory was a practical response to a social dilemma, and the person credited by most classical theorists and historians with inventing communication theory was Corax of Syracuse.
The Sophistic tradition. In ancient Greece, the term rhetoric was used to refer to the study of communication, and those who taught communication were called rhetoricians. Corax was a specialist in forensic rhetoric who started his own business tea...

Table of contents