The Field of Communication in Historical
and Contemporary Perspectives
I. The study of communication has a long history.
A. The study of communication dates back more than 2,500 years to ancient Greece.
1. Corax and Tisias were the first known communication theorists and teachers of rhetoric and persuasion.
2. The philosophers Aristotle and Isocrates believed that rhetoric was essential to civic life.
3. Aristotle wrote that persuasion occurs through the use of ethos, pathos and logos.
4. Sophists taught people how to win arguments by using gimmicks, having no concern for ethics or theory.
B. In the 19th and early 20th Century, rhetoric was taught in Europe and the United State as part of a liberal arts education.
1. Rhetoric was taught as the practical art of effective speaking.
2. During the early 1900’s, communication professionals expanded beyond public speaking as they became interested in social issues and propaganda after the two world wars.
3. The Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication and the Speech Teachers of America (now the National Communication Association) were founded in the early 1900’s.
C. Communication professionals began to use social scientific methods to research communication.
1. In the mid-twentieth century a more scientific and empirical approach to the study of communication emerged.
2. The International Communication Association was founded in response to interest in quantitative studies of communication from scholars all over the world.
3. During the 1960’s and 1970’s there was a greater emphasis on communication and patterns of personal and social relationships
4. The field continues to broaden to address a wide range of communication forms and contexts
D. Since the 1970’s communication professionals have been interested in the role of communication in social issues.
1. A critical lens has been used to understand social and political movements.
2. Scholars study who is allowed to communicate, who is not, and how this shapes cultures and societies.
E. Studying communication prepares us to effectively participation in the world in which we live.
II. The study of communication focuses on the relationship between communication and power in cultural life.
A. Many scholars critically analyzed the communicative dynamics of social movements, e.g., the civil rights and feminist movements.
B. Communication scholars explore the ways some people’s communication is allowed and other people’s communication is disallowed.
C. Scholars have expanded their interests to include examinations of how communication operates within social movements and how those movements influence cultural practices and values.
III. Knowledge of communication is based on rigorous research.
A. Communication scholars use quantitative research methods to gather information in numerical form.
1. Descriptive statistics discuss human behavior in terms of quantity.
2. Surveys are used to measure how people think, feel and act.
3. Experiments are studies where the context is controlled by the researcher.
B. Communication scholars use qualitative research methods to study how people interpret and give meaning to their experiences.
1. Researchers interpret symbolic activity through textual analysis.
2. Researchers conducting ethnographic studies immerse themselves in activities and contexts to gain insights and understanding.
3. Qualitative scholars use historical research about significant past events, people, and activities.
C. Communication scholars use critical research methods to identify and challenge communication practices that are harmful to individuals and social groups.
1. Critical scholars want to use their research to promote social awareness.
2. Some critical scholars develop new theories to help us understand how some groups and practices become dominant over others.
D. Quantitative, qualitative, and critical approaches are distinct, but not necessarily inconsistent or incompatible with each other.
IV. The modern field of communication includes ten areas of interest.
A. Intrapersonal communication is communication with ourselves (“self-talk”).
B. Interpersonal communication focuses on communication between people, and it ranges from quite impersonal to highly interpersonal.
C. Performance Studies examines how people’s social, personal and professional identities and meanings of everyday life can be understood through performance.
D. Group and team communication includes interaction in task, social, and personal groups and teams.
E. Public communication includes both public speaking and criticism of public address.
F. Organizational communication focuses on communication skills that affect work life and on organizational culture.
G. Mass communication includes newspapers, television and movies, all of which shape and sometimes distort perceptions of people, events, and issues.
H. Technologies of communication rely on electronic means of interaction. These technologies are revolutionizing how and with whom we communicate.
I. Intercultural communication concentrates on how cultures shape individuals’ ways of communicating and how, in turn, individuals’ communication reflects and sometimes changes cultural values and understandings.
J. Ethics and communication is a focus that infuses all the other areas in the field of communication.
V. Different areas in the field of communication are unified by three central themes.
A. Symbolic activities are central to communication in contexts ranging from intrapersonal to intercultural.
B. Meanings are central to all forms of communication and meanings are created with symbols.
C. Ethics focuses on moral principles and codes of conduct.
Critical research methods
Qualitative research methods
Quantitative research methods