Communication 501: Theoretical Perspectives in Communication

Fall 2011

Thursday, 3:30–6:15pm

O’Kelly 319

Professor Kyle Conway
Office: 221D Merrifield
Office hours: Tuesday and Thursday, 10:00–11:30am
Office phone: 777-4344

Email: kyle dot conway at email dot und dot edu

Course description:

This course presents a conceptual and historical overview of communication theory, paying special attention to questions of epistemology (what do we know and how do we know it?) and ontology (what is the nature of existence, and what is the role of communication?). Its purpose is to expose MA and PhD students to the range of theory used by people within UND’s communication program.

“Theory” is a term that evokes a wide range of meanings, depending on who is using it. Even within the field of communication, two people might use it in ways that are mutually unrecognizable. In this course, we’ll examine ways in which theory can be treated 1) as a model, 2) as a hermeneutic (i.e., a means to uncover a latent structure, idea, or explanation), 3) as a means to investigate experience, or 4) as an explicative structure. By the end of the course, you should be able to:

• explain the difference between “theory” and “a theory”;

• describe similarities and differences between different theories (and different approaches to theory); and

• justify why you would choose one theory or approach over another, as a function of the circumstances of your investigation.

Required materials:

Craig, Robert T. and Heidi L. Muller, eds. Theorizing Communication: Readings Across Traditions. New York: Sage, 2007.

readings distributed electronically


Participation/class facilitation/blog maintenance 10%
Colloquium attendance 10%
Summaries 20%
Midterm 30%
Final 30%

Grading scale
A: 90–100% B: 80–89% C: 70–79% D: 60–69% F: 0–59%

Assignment descriptions

Participation/class facilitation/blog maintenance: Over the course of the semester, you will take turns leading class discussions. The format of class discussion, at least to begin, will follow these lines: the facilitator will ask the questions described below under the heading “reading approach” and record the answers on the board. It will be another student’s responsibility to type up these notes and post them to the class blog. Because these blog entries will figure into the midterm assignment, it is important that they be as detailed as possible.

Facilitators will be responsible for another aspect of discussion as well: they will bring two or three questions derived from the readings to animate discussion after we have worked through the question/point/critique format described below. Facilitators’ questions should relate to the implications of the readings, rather than their mere content. In other words, they should not have clear-cut answers that can be answered merely by citing passages from the readings.

Colloquium attendance: Once or twice a month, the communication program will host a colloquium where students, professors, and invited scholars will present their research. Attendance is mandatory, and participation (e.g., asking questions during the Q&A) is highly encouraged.

Summaries: Over the course of the semester, you will write at least five summaries of individual articles, books, or book chapters. You may choose which articles, etc., to summarize. These summaries should be 150 to 175 words in length, and they should describe 1) the question the author is addressing; 2) the author’s main argument; and 3) the author’s supporting evidence. Summaries will be worth ten points: content will count for six points, while form (mechanics, grammar, spelling, etc.) will count for four points, with each formal error resulting in the loss of one point. You may turn in as many summaries as you like, and I will take the five highest grades.

Midterm: The midterm will help me gauge your ability to synthesize ideas. It will draw heavily on the blog entries, but its form will be open for discussion.

Final exam: The final exam, such as it is, will be an essay of about 4,000–5,000 words addressing one of the following questions: What should (a) theory be? What should (a) theory do?

Class policies:

Academic honesty
All policies described in UND’s Code of Student Life (available at apply in this class. Also, please note that you may not turn in work that has been or will be turned in for credit elsewhere unless you make an explicit, justifiable request by week 10 of the semester.

Attendance is mandatory. You get one free absence. After that there will a penalty.

Email and grades
FERPA (the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) prevents me from discussing grades over email. However, I am more than happy to meet with you during my office hours if you would like to discuss your grade.

Cell phones
As a courtesy to me and to your classmates, please turn cell phones off during class.

Recording devices
Please do not record class sessions (either audio or video) without my explicit permission.

Reading approach:

For each day’s reading, please be prepared to answer the following questions:

• What questions does the author seek to answer?
• What arguments does the author make?
• What critiques of the author’s arguments can we offer?

Of these questions, the most difficult is the third. “Critique,” in this case, means a wide range of things. Some possibilities include:

• Omission: what else might the author have included or discussed?
• External contradiction: how does the author’s argument differ from your experience or from what you observe in the world around you? How does it differ from other theorists’ observations?
• Internal contradiction: does the logic of the author’s argument contradict itself?

Reading schedule:

N.B. Page numbers refer to Craig and Muller, Theorizing Communication. Links to the articles not in Theorizing Communication are included next to the articles’ titles.

Introduction to theory

Week 1, Aug. 25 – Introduction

Week 2, Sept. 1 – Historical and cultural sources of communication theory
Craig and Muller, Unit I intro, 1–6
Wiseman, “Metaphors Concerning Speech in Homer,” 7–18
Peters, “The Spiritualist Tradition,” 19–28
Mattelart, “The Invention of Communication,” 29–36
Carey, “A Cultural Approach to Communication,” 37–50

Week 3, Sept. 8 – Metatheory
Craig and Muller, Unit II intro, 55–62
Craig, “Communication Theory as a Field,” 63–98
Nastasia and Rakow, “What is Theory? Puzzles and Maps as Metaphors in Communication Theory” (PDF)

Theory as model

Week 4, Sept. 15 – The sociopsychological tradition
Craig and Muller, Unit VII intro, 313–318
Hovland, “Social Communication,” 319–324
Berger and Calabrese, “Some Explorations in Initial Interaction and Beyond: Toward a Developmental Theory of Interpersonal Communication,” 325–338
Bandura, “Social Cognitive Theory of Mass Communication,” 339–356
Poole, “The Small Group Should Be the Fundamental Unit of Communication Research,” 357–360

Week 5, Sept. 22 – The cybernetic tradition
Craig and Muller, Unit VI intro, 261–266
Wiener, “Cybernetics in History,” 267–274
Watzlawick et al., “Some Tentative Axioms of Communication,” 275–288
Lang, “The Limited Capacity Model of Mediated Message Processing,” 289–300
Luhmann, “What Is Communication?” 301–308

Theory as hermeneutic

Week 6, Sept. 29 – Dialectical materialism
Marx and Engels, A Critique of the German Ideology, (PDF) – all of Part I: Feuerbach: Opposition of the Materialist and Idealist Outlooks (pages 1–42 of this PDF)
Marx, “Theses on Feuerbach” (HTML)

Week 7, Oct. 6 – Hegemony
Althusser, “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses (Notes Towards an Investigation)” (PDF)
Forgacs, “Hegemony” (PDF)
Gramsci, “Intellectuals” (PDF)

Week 8, Oct. 13 – The critical tradition
Craig and Muller, Unit IX intro, 425–432
Horkheimer and Adorno, excerpt from “The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception” (PDF) – NOTE: NOT IN CRAIG AND MULLER
Habermas, “Truth and Society: The Discursive Redemption of Factual Claims to Validity,” 447–456
Deetz, “Systematically Distorted Communication and Discursive Closure,” 457–472
Jansen, “Paris Is Always More Than Paris,” 473–490

Week 9, Oct. 20 – Discussion of midterm papers

Theory as investigation of experience

Week 10, Oct. 27 – The phenomenological tradition
Craig and Muller, Unit V intro, 217–222
Husserl, “The Problem of Experiencing Someone Else,” 223–224
Buber, “Dialogue,” 225–238
Gadamer, “The Hermeneutical Experience,” 239–250
Chang, “Deconstructing Communication,” 251–256

Week 11, Nov. 3 – The rhetorical tradition
Craig and Muller, Unit III intro, 103–106
Plato, “Gorgias,” 107–120
Aristotle, “Rhetoric,” 121–130
Burke, “A Rhetoric of Motives,” 131–142
Foss and Griffin, “Beyond Persuasion: A Proposal for an Invitational Rhetoric,” 143–158

Week 12, Nov. 10 – Public sphere theory
Habermas, “The Public Sphere: An Encyclopedia Article (1964)” (PDF)
Fraser, “Rethinking the Public Sphere: A Contribution to the Critique of Actually Existing Democracy” (PDF)
Warner, “Publics and Counterpublics (Abbreviated Version)” (PDF)
Galewski, “Counter/publicity: Conceiving the Means of Effective Representation” (PDF)

Week 13, Nov. 17 – The sociocultural tradition
Craig and Muller, Unit VIII intro, 365–370
Mead, “The Social Foundations and Functions of Thought and Communication,” 371–376
Poster, “The Mode of Information and Postmodernity,” 377–390
Taylor et al., “Communication as the Modality of Structuration,” 391–404
Cameron, “Good to Talk?” 405–420

Week 14, Nov. 24 – Thanksgiving – no class

Theory as explicative structure

Week 15, Dec. 1 – The semiotic tradition
Craig and Muller, Unit IV intro, 163–168
Locke, “The Abuse of Words,” 169–176
Peirce, “What Is a Sign?” 177–182
Saussure, excerpt from Course in General Linguistics (PDF) – NOTE: NOT IN CRAIG AND MULLER
Barthes, “The Photographic Message,” 191–200
Peters, “Communication with Aliens,” 201–212

Week 16, Dec. 8 – TBD

Week 17, Dec. 15 – Final exam and discussion