Foundations of Communication Theory -- Contents and Intro

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Preface (see this page; below)

Introduction: A Framework for Communication Theory






The term "communication theory" has undergone substantial change in meaning in the scientific literature of the past two decades. In the years following the influential publication in 1949 of The Mathematical Theory of Communication by Claude E. Shannon and Warren Weaver, scientists typically considered communication theory as strictly mathematical. Throughout the early 1950s, communication theory was regarded as synonymous with the narrowly defined and highly technical interests of information theory. In essence, the goal of the information theorists was to measure the amount of information that could be transmitted by messages over channels in systems like telephones or radios. Then came the many attempts to apply information theory to psychology, often under the rubric of "communication theory." As might have been anticipated, methods developed on unselective systems like telephones did not prove to be particularly fruitful in studying the highly selective nature of human information transmission and reception. Nonetheless, the application of notions from information theory to psychology did serve to underscore the need for a behaviorally oriented, synthetic theory of human communication. Consequently, numerous books and scientific journals, professional associations and academic curriculums now use the term "communication theory" to refer to a highly interdisciplinary, behaviorally oriented field of research dealing with the constituent processes of human communication.

This guide is designed to provide a modest framework of foundational knowledge about the nature of human interaction. Our point of view is that a communication theory does not yet exist, at least not in any singular sense; what the current literature affords is rather a core of theories related to particular phases of communicative behavior. Such theories represent four distinct levels of analysis. At the first and most inclusive level of communication theory, human interaction may be approached as a system of behavior. The next and somewhat more specialized level of analysis focuses upon the human component of a communicative act-the decoding-encoding process. A third level of theory aims at an understanding of the concept of interaction, that is, the particular means by which communicators are linked or "co-oriented" in any communicative ex change. Lastly, communication theory deals with the importance of the context or encompassing situation in which human interaction takes place. The guide is so arranged that each major section corresponds with one of the four levels of theory discussed in the introductory chapter. The four levels of analysis form a broadly based and useful perspective from which to understand the dynamics of human communication more effectively.

Foundations of Communication

Theory is designed to meet three needs. The first grows out of our conviction that communication theory is, in its own right, a subject worthy of intense and systematic instruction. This guide is planned, then, as a basic text for an expanding number of courses in speech, communication, social psychology, and related disciplines that provide a core of fundamental knowledge about the constituent aspects of the processes of human communication. This guide also may be useful as a supplementary text for basic courses in speech and interpersonal communication. Finally, the content may have utility as resource material for more advanced courses in persuasion, communication theory, group communication, organizational communication, social psychology, and mass communication.

Since the text is directed to the general reader, we included only those readings which contain (1) broadly based content, comprehensive in scope, (2) a behavioral and theoretical orientation to some fundamental aspects of human communication, and (3) material suitable for undergraduate students in introductory courses. The last consideration in every case could not be maintained without compromise. The reason is the result largely of the rather technical and specialized level of much current literature on communication. However, the topics discussed in this guide (with possibly two or three exceptions) do not go beyond the level of technicality of most texts for college freshmen in the behavioral sciences.

The preparation of this guide was truly a joint venture. All of the decisions grew out of a dialogue between the collaborators that lasted two years; consequently, the required decision about the order of names on the title page was resolved arbitrarily. Since neither of us can assign priority for specific decisions, each willingly assigns any oversights to the other. We wish to express our appreciation to the many authors, professional associations, and publishers whose cooperation made this text possible.


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AM-FM Broadcasting Equipment, Operations, and Maintenance (1974)


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Updated: Thursday, 2021-09-09 11:10 PST