Between Critical Layers:
Lessons From "Theories" Within Histories of Communication Study
Histories of the communication study as it evolved since the 1950s often explain
the field through biographies and flow charts of influence, but they rarely
justify such an explanation. This critique of three other histories examines
them for their justifications, and uses them to critically reflect on the
field's communication about itself, particularly on the uses of "theory," the
(dis)unity of an intellectual ground, and the relationship between communication
Between Critical Layers -
Between Critical Layers:
Lessons From "Theories" Within Histories of Communication Study
School of Journalism and Mass Communication
205 Communication Center
University of Iowa
Iowa City, IA 52242
e-mail: [log in to unmask]
Paper submitted to:
Qualitative Studies Division
Between Critical Layers:
Lessons From "Theories" Within Histories of Communication Study
Histories of communication study as it evolved since the 1950s often explain
the field through biographies and flow charts of influence. They frequently
trace a "patrilineal" path, identifying founding fathers and tracking their
fecundity through different students of their thinking. This approach has been
investigated as recently as the Rogers and Chaffee Journalism Monograph from
1994, which argues for the importance of Willard Bleyer and his "children"
within journalism, as they set the ground for the introduction of Communication
Research as described and advanced by Wilbur Schramm. Schramm himself used this
explanatory device often (c.f., Schramm, 1963 and 1996). While these
biographical approaches may yield a sense of who said what to whom, where, and
with what effect, they may be rightly asked about their subject. Are they about
the individuals or are they about the field? Their most critical failure,
though, may be their reliance on a simple concept of the passing on of an
intellectual tradition. They fail to seriously consider the complexity of ways
that a field is reproduced, as well as the crucial influences that pedagogy
(i.e., the practices of teaching and learning) will have over this process.
Other histories have presented arguments that are less biographical. They
offer arguments that are concerned with the field and succeed in keeping the
field as their main character. These arguments are particularly worthy of
reflection since they are often about the elusiveness of their subject -- i.e.,
what constitutes a field of communication.
The context for the study of communication since the 1950s brings us to the
location (or topos) of higher education, since these developments have taken
place within such institutions. I would like to consider three versions of this
history that argue about communication with particular attention to the idea of
topoi, or the "places" where one can find material for argument (Winterowd,
1968, p. 24-27). In the first, John Peters argues over the obscurity of the
desired object - the theory that unites communication as a field. In the
second, Jesse Delia takes the unity of the field for granted, and the argument
is how the "place" or situation of the forces in the field describe that unity.
James Carey's third version of this history reaches back to previous
intellectual topoi, reconnecting a background from the Chicago School of social
study to more recent directions in the communication field. Through these
histories important suggestions about pedagogy and the reproduction of the field
The "palimpsest" image that nominally summarizes Rogers and Chaffee's monograph
invokes the present day as an overlay on the past, and "covering layers are
peeled off through historical analysis to disclose earlier foundations of the
topic of study" (1994, p. 3). This version prefers the kinder overlay to the
more destructive re-inscribing or re-scrapping that a parchment endures in being
used again. Looking at the complications of the fields reproduction may reclaim
some of these scrapped or overwritten inscriptions.
Poverties of "Theory"
Peters' situates communication in the history of the social sciences (1986).
While it does not directly address pedagogy, Peters' interest in the field
yields an insightful bifurcation between the productive industry of the
discipline as an institutional success and the difficulty of a missing core of
theoretical guidelines for defining "the field."
Peters' essay describes the failure of communication to coherently define its
mission or subject matter. The field, he argues, is defined locally,
administratively, and institutionally rather than through a clear concept of
intellectual territory. Perhaps, he suggests, the failure to define itself is a
result of the struggle to connect the local versions under a larger tent. These
efforts have nonetheless failed to clarify the intellectual core. Peters'
diagnosis of a field of communication returns to Wilbur Schramm. Schramm is
given the central role through his efforts as spokesman for the field and his
arguments for calling it into existence as a separate entity. The desire for
independence for this entity brings Peters to consider the example of the
Ferment in the Field issue of the Journal of Communication which raises every
question but the fundamental one; the existence of the field itself.
Peters uses as a frame of reference the attempts of the field to gain a
position alongside social sciences since the post-war period. He states that
his use of the "underlying metaphor" of the nation-state for describing
communication emphasizes the anachronistic descriptions of founding fathers, the
lust for boundless growth, philosophical incoherence, and "limited recognition
of its similarities to other nations" (p. 529).
The historical survey of the field Peters presents begins in three phases. It
starts with the incorporation of a communication concept into a pragmatic frame,
particularly through the work of John Dewey. In the United States the rise of
the social sciences in the 1910s and 1920s offers the promise of seeing and
understanding a complex social order through the intellectual instrumentalities
of communication. The problems of society could be "engineered" through the
practical use of communication through the methods of social science to
ascertain social facts.
Peters' second phase of the historical survey sees the Deweyan influences
watered down from engineering into management of the social order (p. 533).
Along with this change, communication is no longer understood as a part of a
theory of democratic society. Instead it becomes the managed organization of
communications media, broken down by technologies and industries. Communication
study in this phase seeks to understand the influences of these media through
applied social research.
In the third phase Peters locates the origins of the institutionalization of
communication as a field. Applied social research contributes to a policy
science, moving further into a position aligned with the instrumental value of
social science. Peters' first instance of the institutional sources of
intellectual poverty arise when in 1959 Wilbur Schramm defends the field of
communication on institutional grounds, shifting attention away from its
The second instance of intellectual poverty arises shortly after, when
communication is overtaken by the powerful vocabulary of information theory.
Drawing from the modeling practices that social science became enamored of --
to describe human activities systematically -- information theory appeared to
bring communication to the center of the theoretical conversation. It becomes,
however, a theoretical hindrance when the sweep of information theory across
several fields gives it the appearance of theoretical power which communication
capitalized on to increase its institutional importance. But information theory
was more a metaphorical vocabulary than a theoretical core around which
communication could build the field.
The third instance of intellectual poverty arises out of the attempts, again
chiefly through Schramm, to describe the concepts included in communication.
The breadth of these claims are too all-inclusive of social research over
various social problems to build any theoretical coherence. As Peters sees it,
Schramm's speculations on communication reinforced the distance between social
science and the non-empirical reflections that could become a theory suitable
for grounding the field (p. 544).
Peters' history repeatedly returns to the conflict between the force of
institutionalization and the need for theoretical coherence that have determined
the organization of the field differently. He suggests that the term
communication ends up conceptually useless and that it be cherished exclusively
for its institutional usefulness. He suggests that a loose affiliation of
activities formed the basement for the construction of communication
departments, "dispossessed fields such as academic journalism, drama, or speech
(depending on the specific university)" (p. 544). The potential disposition of
this understanding of the "field" as a useful source for the critique of
pedagogy will be based on the continuity of this relationship between the field
organization and the way these "dispossessed" fields are the central component
of these institutions as pedagogical sites.
In Peters' history there are opportunities to discuss the field's pedagogy that
are less central to the author than the institutionalization of a research
program. But the central conflict between institutionalization and theoretical
coherence had a deep enough history to reappear and become a central way of
understanding how communication is taught. If there is a homology that carries
through, pedagogy in a communication field should yield to critique a conflict
between the development of conceptual coherence (or a lack thereof) and the
replacement of theoretical grounding with institutional momentum.
The Institution as Topoi
In his footnotes, Peters notes the lack of accounts of the rise of
communication departments from journalism, speech, rhetoric, and broadcasting
programs (Peters, p. 553n2). This very issue is treated by Delia in his
discussion of the history of mass communication research.
Delia's history adopts a less critical stance than Peters, which follows from
their different purposes. Where Peters is interested in the historical failure
of the field to define itself, Delia takes a position that Peters specifically
criticizes. Delia takes the field as a given, as an organized institutional
domain (p. 20). Peters protests that the field sorts out what communication
really is and is not exclusively on an ad hoc basis, which replaces the
definition of the field through theoretical guidelines (Peters, p. 547).
Besides this conflict on the definition of communication developed through
theory, the histories develop deeply different understandings of the effects of
the fragmentation of the field. Peters sees the fragmentation as the result of
many disciplines developing their own theories of communication (p. 539-40),
theories which communication then attempts to consolidate and claim as its own
territory (p. 546). Delia characterizes the fragmentation of concern for
communication across diverse disciplines as the most important general influence
over the development of communication research (Delia, pp. 21-22).
The history Delia argues includes several other influences that for him define
the path of communication research. First he notes the identification of
communication research with the study of mass communication media as 20th
century phenomena. Second, he notes the influence over concerns of public
communication and the social and political impact of media. Third, he notes the
evolution of communication research toward a professionalization paralleled to
other social science disciplines (Delia, pp. 22-3). Delia does, however,
consider the relationship between communication research and education, and it
is for these considerations that his story is informative.
He describes the reorganization of higher education that came with the larger
social reorganization of the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th
centuries (p. 30). The boundaries of newly formed disciplines were caught in
questions of legitimacy and future directions. They responded, according to
Delia, by working toward a professionalism that relied on (then) current models.
The model of science takes hold, and social sciences organize themselves to
appropriate the professional legitimacy which had been gained by science.
But what does Delia make of the communication and education connection in the
early part of the 20th century? He does not locate a theoretical relationship
in the Chicago School or in the social scientific sorts of epistemological
questions that become defining influences on the construction of communication
inquiry. Social science concerns do end up guiding the way communication is
considered in educational contexts, but the result is disappointingly
"practical." He notes the efforts to incorporate new technologies into
classroom instruction back to the mid-1920s, and the "basic communication"
efforts of speech departments (including the rediscovery of rhetoric, though
seen more as an influence on writing in both speech and English study). But
these were bounded inside concerns for instructional outcomes and modes of
instruction. In other words, the pedagogy was researched as a purely "applied"
series of questions, which were employed only to demonstrate teaching
effectiveness. Delia is more generous with these developments, giving them the
status of foundations for the departments into which communication research
would later be located. But he is less inclined to discuss any serious
theoretical relationship between pedagogy and communication research.
It is important to note that Delia's use of the term "theory" has two meanings,
both opposed to "applied" kind of research. Delia discusses the organizing
commitment to theory development, particularly in post-World War II
communication research. The previous period of communication research,
particularly as argued by Paul Lazarsfeld, thought that theoretical advance came
exclusively out of applied research (pp. 59-60). Delia describes theory
development as an "aligning communication research with the conceptions of the
maturing disciplines of experimental social psychology and neopositivist
sociology" (Delia, p. 60). This is important to note because it is a more
inclusive sense of theory than Peters work presents. Peters might be accused of
a too restrictive definition of theory. But he uses the definition to
articulate an understanding of communication as an ad hoc organization, lacking
a central theoretical core. Delia's deployment of "theory" is so broad that the
theoretical core does not center a discipline, but instead returns to his
emphasis on the importance of fragmentation. The ad hoc nature remains. The
development of pedagogy would also be constructed via the same sense of the
intellectual organization, rather than gaining from a theoretical core. So
Delia's description of pedagogy theory would only state that modes of teaching
and outcomes are guided by professional concerns tied to applied practices.
Delia's history establishes a core to the field emerging out of this kind of
(empirical) theory development in the 1940s and 1950s (p. 61). His description
of the core mentions a vocabulary of organizing terms, the appearance of
field-defining textbook-readers (largely organized by Wilbur Schramm), and the
powerful appearance of the "flow" model of the communication process. By the
mid 1950s communication research is concerned with the "effects" of that
These elements are the very "core" of which Peters is skeptical. He argues
that departments took advantage by riding the wave of interest in communication
that came with the permeation of "information" and "flow." The wide impact of
this model encouraged the claim of a disciplinary home in a communication
department with little justification (Peters, p. 540). In this skeptical
reading, the textbook readers that Delia identifies as part of the consolidation
of a discipline may be institutionally successful. But according to Peters, the
theoretical speculations reach too far, trying to incorporate all exchanges of
ideas. Next to them are the methods and the social research on particular
social problems. Between the two was a gap.
This conflict between broad theoretical speculation and the specific
application of tasks are an essential background for understanding the
complicated relationship between communication research and their associated
curricular activities, in speech and journalism. Both Peters and Delia note the
unusual character of these relationships. Peters describes how "[t]he field
that Schramm built consisted of leftovers from earlier communication research
married to dispossessed fields such as academic journalism, drama, or speech
(depending on the specific university)" (pp. 543-44). The gap appears again.
That gap may just as well be between the humanities and the social sciences,
particularly given Peters' strategy. His history is directed at those concerned
about communication's place as a social science, speaking to people invested in
being social scientists. He concludes suggesting that communication take a
neo-Deweyan move, and try to see social science as a continuation of literature
and criticism, including the development a historical consciousness.
This speaks to the gap between social science practice and high(er) theory.
But what about the gap between communication theory/research and the
Delia accomplishes a similar strategic approach, creating a parallel between
two gaps or distances, but also stops short of closing up the relationship to
pedagogy. He notes, first, the "deep tension....built into mass communication
from its inception. It aimed to organize the whole scope of concern with the
mass media under a single, encompassing umbrella, while its focus on scientific
research placed historical and critical studies on the margin" (p. 71). Under
this social scientific domination, communication research is identified
primarily with mass communication, and interpersonal and mass communication work
are wedged apart, dividing the interpersonal from public communication. Delia
believes this hinders the field's theoretical development and its evolution
toward disciplinary status.
Second, he also notes how communication research developed independently of
professional and undergraduate communication education. Although communication
research has roots in applied research, Delia notes, it was "remarkably
insulated from the needs and interests of students" (p. 73). Conflicts arose in
the 1950s and early 1960s as communication research was integrated into
journalism programs which were largely offering a professional education for
news workers. Delia describes the journalism programs as "grounded largely in
qualitative research (largely historical, legal, and interpretive)...For the
most part, however, coexistence was the norm, with communication research kept
at the margin of undergraduate and professional education in journalism" (p.
Delia's descriptions of the divisions would appear at first to ally the
undergraduate and professional education in the second split with the historical
and critical study which had already been marginalized under the social
scientific imperative. However the opposite case provides a more informative
reading. Within the structure of professional and undergraduate pedagogy was a
world view remarkably similar to that underlying communication research.
Schramm, according to Delia, had tried to make a case for connecting the two but
was connecting the needs of professional journalism to the "facts" that social
science could make available.
Delia suggests that this was not particularly successful. Still it indicates a
commonality between the "professional" educator and the researcher. Both were
invested in teaching how things get done, and in creating repeatable practices
and habits for doing things. The formal method of communication research
co-operates with the method of professional news work. Delia believes that the
umbrella of communication research was large enough to integrate humanistic and
historical scholarship on press freedom and responsibility into its concern with
flow and effects (p. 77). The size of the umbrella may be less of a factor than
an underlying similar emphasis on method. Once the historiographic aspect of
the humanistic scholarship is under the shadow of the social scientific
umbrella, traditional communication research is turns humanism into "effects"
social science. Delia describes this openness as the development of "programs
that legitimated a range of methodological approaches" (p. 77). But this
methodological range is not the same thing as the more open conceptual,
theoretical and epistemological range that would exist if critical approaches
were acknowledged and allowed to question the role of method.
His history of the relationship between communication research and journalism
schools ends with a mention of field-defining texts, emphasizing their inclusion
of both journalism's humanist scholarship and mass communication research in an
While Delia signs off this gap with a picture of coexistence, the earlier gap
between social scientific and "historical and critical studies on the margin"
remains. When he turns to speech and theater departments for the other
configuration for communication research, a similar (distanced) relationship
between undergraduate curriculum and communication research resurfaces. The
professional skills of journalism practice are paralleled with a "utilitarian
(instruction) concerned with practice in fitting with the commitments of the
founders and the midwestern settings of most of the leading departments..." (p.
79). These utilitarian concerns start in speech production and performance in
the first half of the century, and they continue through the fragmented
additions of broadcast programs. The scientific leanings of communication
research find a reflection in developments in speech physiology, acoustics, and
speech pathology. But Delia notes that the advance of communication research
had to contest the reemergence of classical and modern rhetorical traditions
which had taken hold in the 1930s and remained the central scholarly concern for
a couple of decades.
By the 1950s, however, the speech and communication research relationship bears
a striking similarity to the mass communication and communication research
relationship. I have mentioned how similar world view claims united
communication research and mass communication (journalism) pedagogy. By Delia's
account a similar relationship appears in speech communication, particularly
among those scholars and teachers founding the Journal of Communication in 1950.
"The group included educators committed to the unified communication instruction
model (writing, speaking, reading, and listening), personnel specialists from
the corporate sector...and a host of speech faculty, mostly with diffuse social
scientific learnings" (Delia, p. 80). This grouping of pedagogy, applied
corporate interests, and communication research via social science combines the
utilitarian communication practices of speech departments with the private
sector need to understand organizational and interpersonal communication from a
consultant's perspective, and then with the applied notion of communication
research. The development of communication pedagogy coordinates with the world
view of communication research.
This was not a universal acceptance, however. Many of the rhetorical
critic/educators resisted the reduction of the act of speaking to the process of
communication. This suggests that had there been a contingent with the strength
of the rhetorical educator-critics involved in the unification of mass
communication research and journalism schools, perhaps the dominance of social
scientific methods and practices might have been mitigated.
We cannot correct this relationship in hindsight. But the parallel between the
speech and the journalism departments as they dance with communication research
suggests another strategy; to take the mitigating organization from speech --
the rhetorical scholarship and pedagogy -- and introduce it between the social
scientific world-view of communication research and the practical and
professional world view of the pedagogy of journalism. One simple lesson that
could be learned (i.e., stolen) would be to examine the difference between
teaching journalism reduced to a process of communication versus the act of
Before There Was an Institution
The Peters chapter proposes a lack of theory in communication, as it conflicts
with the institutional priorities. The Delia chapter uses theory in a larger
sense, to include the grounding for an applied problem solving mode - like the
way Schramm uses theory, and retaining Schramm's idea that non-empirical
reflection is not really theory.
These histories of the objects of study of mass communication reinforce the
need for a communication based approach to communication skills pedagogy. This
newer context arises from the transformation of departments of speech,
journalism, rhetoric, and broadcasting. They are no longer simply training
grounds for writing, speaking or communicating skills; or splinters off of
English departments, moving to some middle ground between a humanities culture
and a social science culture; or the medium-oriented industrial classifications
of professional practices. Communication skills pedagogy is no longer a
province of coaches, but is instead located among communication institutions.
These institutions, when taken with their genealogies, have made their pursuits
consubstantial, between social theory, applied theory, social science, and
"professional" skills pedagogy.
In Peters and Delia the departmental transformations are described
historically. This historical transformations are understood through contests
over the valid objects of the discipline. This account needs to be combined
with an account of how the subjects in the departments are reproduced.
James Carey attempted to trace such a history through his interpretation of the
past and present of graduate education in mass communication (1979, p. 282).
This fairly brief piece was part of an issue of Communication Education on the
status of graduate study in communication, which also saw invited pieces by
Delia and on the future of graduate education in speech communication, and
Gerald A. Hauser on the future of graduate education in rhetoric. Neither of
these other pieces took a particularly historical approach, listing instead some
normative criteria for the development of such programs. It was Carey's
decision to approach the discipline through its history even if his task was to
talk about its future. In either case he ends up discussing the nature of the
field's reproduction through its educational practices.
Carey characterizes mass communication study as a product of the forces at play
after WWII (p. 283). On one side, Carey reinforces the sense of the sweeping
success of the sciences and even the social sciences during the war, "raising
the already inflated status of science and scientists relative to the humanities
and humanists" (p. 284). On the other side, Carey sees disciplinary locations
for communication study attempting to establish themselves. Departments of
journalism and speech had in common an essential base in practical communication
"skills" teaching while seeking academic legitimation; "Both of these
departments are basically justified by the imparting of a useful talent" (p.
283); in speech, practical elocutionary skills through the study of past
practices; in journalism, writing skills for a profession taught in a context of
history and ethics.
Carey's argument is built on the influence of historical context, and the way
associations with historical study grant intellectual legitimacy to practical
areas of instruction. Graduate mass communication education arises out of a
post-war context that explains its guiding questions. Speech departments, while
teaching how to move an audience, are driven by the historical and interpretive
practices that teach persuasion as a practical art. Journalism schools, while
training the personnel for newspapers, teach in the context of history and
ethics. In both institutional settings Carey links history to legitimization
within the academy. That is certainly revealing about his decision to adopt a
His argument, however, doesn't advance any particular historiographic point
past the investigation into context. Sometimes these contexts are themselves
shaped by forces of scientific explanation. Carey notes, for example, the
importance of cybernetic and systems theory, and the mathematical modeling work
which optimistically implied that a "scientific basis for the practice of
communication might be formulated" (p. 285).
Without a central historiographic viewpoint holding this description together,
Carey seems to want to make three claims about the relationship between
communication and universities. First, that teaching practical skills were
their basic function. Second, that associating with historical studies,
including them into the curriculum, granted the kind of intellectual legitimacy
that these departments sought. Third, that the coattails of the scientific
enterprise gave communication a ride into the university.
So, is Carey's emphasis on history an older university model, a 19th Century
sense, or is it the politicized critical historiography of the post-WW 2
skeptics of science? It depends on one's characterization of the scientific
enterprise. On one side science was seen as the victor, allowing for the kinds
of technological developments that made the good guys win. On the other hand,
science produced the atomic bomb, and scientistic thinking comes to its logical
conclusions in the extermination camps. Which way does this article see it?
Carey's discussion of the infighting between history and theory offers one
possibility. Carey notes that graduate training either centered around theory
or it centered around history, and the two were sealed from each other; "history
was non-theoretical and theory was ahistorical. It has only been in recent
years that the breach has been penetrated..." (p. 286). So progress is made
when the field reaches across these boundaries, and allows the theoretical and
the historical to communicate to each other. Carey sounds a note of support for
such a relationship in journalism schools where theory offers a source of new
praxis. He draws from Nathan Maccoby the description of a new ('Scientific')
rhetoric, both like and unlike Aristotle's (Carey, p. 286). But he describes
the rhetorical theorists, holding onto their Aristotle, having a "silent
political bargain" with communication theory, "largely sealed off from one
another and not as partners to an open and open-minded debate over the
legitimate possibilities of study" (p. 286). If this statement sees open-minded
debate over legitimate possibilities as a desirable good, than Carey would
appear to want communication research as a scientific enterprise (theory)
partnered up with journalistic and rhetorical history.
Taken as a stance on pedagogy, Carey would seem to be not far from Wilbur
Schramm in negotiating how a conflict between theory and history might be
reproduced in the journalistic or elocutionary "skills" classroom. Schramm had
tried to sell the goods of communication research to journalism pedagogy as the
basic information which journalists would need, the facts that the journalists
would need to communicate (an unusual echo with Dewey's ill-fated newspaper
project). Carey notes that the diversity of early mass communication work (in
the 1940s and 1950s) was "theoretically, methodologically, and substantively
eclectic. Only on one thing was there general consensus: it was necessary to be
scientific as that term was understood. And, as a result, the central armature
of investigation in mass communication research and education has been in the
"effects" tradition" (p. 286, emphasis added). Carey raises the issue that the
paradigmatic question "What are the effects of mass communication?" has never
been satisfactorily answered. He says that "an adequate answer would require
nothing less than a history of American intellectual culture" (p. 287). Carey
is arguing that the (scientific) theoretical question of "effects" is answered
by historical study. Carey's descriptions offer some form of a history of
theory. What it calls for is a theory of history.
The disastrous results Carey sees from the division of theory from history,
paralleled with the division of communication from rhetoric, are seen in the way
mass communication suffered from a narrow technical focus (p. 288). But rather
than a division of labor between theory and history (which for the moment
neglects to discuss communication pedagogy), Carey draws a distinction between
the streams of research that have fed American education; behavioral studies,
formal studies, and cultural studies. Behavioral studies seek a science of
society, grounded in specific laws of behavior. This kind of research is
motivated partially by the ability to gather positive knowledge of the effects
of communication, and also by a fear of the abuses of social control via
dominant institutions and their influence on communication. Carey notes that
"the research results derive from quite different kinds of intellectual
traditions within behavior theory and, therefore, indicate that students are
being trained in this tradition is ways which, if not incommensurable, at least
reflect differing disciplinary affiliations" (p. 290). The main distinction he
identifies is a disguised amalgam of psychology and sociology. So while the
focus narrowly asks "effects" questions, it asks them without recognizing or
clarifying distinctions between psychological and sociological paradigms. From
his presentation of the behavioral tradition, we can draw from Carey the
importance of considering a theory of the relationship between the individual
subject and the social or group subject.
Formal studies is a category Carey uses to group research with two common
characteristics; first, they seeks the underlying structure of forms of
expression, and second treat these phenomena through a formal, deductive model
of explanation (p. 291). These formal studies include the information and
"flow" models, but also include structuralist and semiotic models. Carey
suggests that formal studies have had less influence in American mass
communication, "especially in speech and journalism departments" (p. 291) and
developed greater influence in Europe. He mentions that the information and
flow models had a trivial influence with regards to vocabulary, and a powerful
influence legitimating the field, but have been unsuccessful at developing a
formal science of communication. And regardless of the location of their
influences, a third characteristic that they share is the displacement of
historical explanation by models, both in a social (scientific) context of the
information models, and in the cultural context of the code approaches.
To estimate these influences on pedagogical practices demands attention to this
relationship between history and context. Thus in his discussion of the formal
tradition we can draw from Carey the need to understand the relationship between
theories of history and theories of form.
Carey's development of cultural studies (note that this piece is from 1979) is
a particularly American understanding, even though part of its purpose is to
draw attention to the lack of European influences. Carey's discussion of
cultural studies begins with a discussion of the early work on mass
communication initiated by John Dewey just before the turn of the century, and
carried on by the Chicago School philosophers and sociologists over the
following decades. Carey mentions that Mead, Park, Thomas, and other Chicago
School thinkers "showed an interest in German social theory, in an interpretive
sociology, and in methods that were broadly historical and comparative, and
observational" (p. 288). As social analysts, their task was to understand and
interpret human activity, including communication. This activity was taken as
an expressive interpretation in its own right, of the world, its order, and its
meaning, observed in the context of cultural activity as a whole. As Carey
describes this history, however, over the decades the more humanistic and
historical/cultural leanings were wandering away, replaced by the scientific
formulations that gained such universal attention toward the middle decades of
the 20th century.
In the discussion of pedagogy, we can draw from Carey's understanding of a
cultural studies paradigm the tension between two theories of what research
questions and researchers are after, depending on their characterization of what
the activity of communication or journalism is; an expressive, constructive, and
interpretive action, or a practice that can be reduced to formal modeling
The Chicago School understanding of communication as an expressive form appears
to reemerge with social constructionism by the 1960s (perhaps in the 1950s in
the work of Reisman and C. Wright Mills). But it had never really left for
those whose pedagogy depended on the historical teaching of journalism practice
or rhetorical studies. Forging connections to European traditions of cultural,
critical and historical thinking would need to cross a bridge between the close
bank of communication research and the distant shore of the humanist tradition.
Carey argues that the social science emphasis converted all formal and cultural
studies questions into questions answerable within a behaviorist framework (p.
292). The relationship between expressive culture and the social order becomes
"What are the effects of mass communication?" He suggests that the significance
of these alternative formulations of questions is not understood and therefore
not seriously raised in graduate education in mass communication. The solution
rests for him in the investigation into these distinctions (whether artificial
or not) in such a way as to carefully consider the difference between these
The Importance of Pedagogy
If we bring his argument a step closer to communication pedagogy we appear less
concerned with the specific epistemology of research questions. But the
appearance is deceiving. We return directly and take up the significance of
such questions when considering pedagogies of practice. Communication pedagogy
may have been less of a behavioristic enterprise, either through the efforts of
"green eye-shade" professionals or experts in the historical deployment of
rhetorical methods. But the epistemological question maintains its influence;
are these expressive practices understood through cultural context or formal
"laws" of practice reduced to recipes and "methods" of standards and practices?
For Carey the answers to such a question may eventually be found within a more
complete and complex development of the intellectual topoi of communication
study. The ability of the field to take culture as a serious object of
attention would subsequently include the field's history itself as a cultural
phenomenon. Communication as a field must carefully select its method of
exploration, since it would need to refrain from creating a cycle of
justification -- communication as a field studies itself to find out how it goes
about studying things...including itself.
One way around the methodological conundrum is suggested by Delia's move to
take the field as given. The question in his version is where to locate
pedagogy as an influence over reproduction. If you take the field for granted,
there remains the need to develop skepticism toward its apparent unity and to
define the substantial difference beneath the appearance of cooperation. The
danger of previous histories has been to simplify reproduction into an
undertheorized passing on of tradition. The field must communicate to itself in
a more complex fashion than that.
The search for complexity might very well be the final suggestion Peters makes,
that an investigation into the theoretical territory and boundaries would make
communication a field with more integrity, and certainly give is a more sound
foundation alongside the other disciplines. Perhaps Carey's cultural history of
the field is one way to this end. The challenge to finding such a theoretical
base will be in its ability to explain communication practices on a fundamental
level. This explanation will have to include the communication practices that
allow the field to reproduce itself. This investigation would go much further
than the traditional patrilineal description that appears to be an explanation
without actually being one.
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Peters, John Durham (1986). "Institutional Sources of Intellectual
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Rogers, Everett M. and Chaffee, Steven H. (1994). "Communication and
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