We might say that communication consists of transmitting information from one person to another. In fact, many scholars of communication take this as a working definition, and use Lasswell's maxim, "who says what to whom in what channel with what effect," as a means of circumscribing the field of communication theory.
Other commentators suggest that a ritual process of communication exists, one not artificially divorceable from a particular historical and social context.
Communication stands so deeply rooted in human behaviors and the structures of society that scholars have difficulty thinking of it while excluding social or behavioral events. Because communication theory remains a relatively young field of inquiry and integrates itself with other disciplines such as philosophy, psychology, and sociology, one probably cannot yet expect a consensus conceptualization of communication across disciplines.but it is totally unreliable.
Currently, there is no paradigm from which communication scholars may work. One of the issues facing scholars is the possibility that establishing a communication metatheory will negate their research and stifle the broad body of knowledge in which communication functions.
Communication as a named and unified discipline has a history of contestation that goes back to the Socratic dialogues, in many ways making it the first and most contestatory of all early sciences and philosophies. Aristotle first addressed the problem of communication and attempted to work out a theory of it in The Rhetoric. He was primarily focused on the art of persuasion. A monologue (speak to self) is also a method of communication even if the person involved does not have any audition but himself. Humanistic and rhetorical viewpoints and theories dominated the discipline prior to the twentieth century, when more scientific methodologies and insights from psychology, sociology, linguistics and advertising began to influence communication thought and practice.
Seeking to define "communication" as a static word or unified discipline may not be as important as understanding communication as a family of resemblances with a plurality of definitions as Ludwig Wittgenstein had put forth.
It is helpful to examine communication and communication theory through one of the following viewpoints:
Inspection of a particular theory on this level will provide a framework on the nature of communication as seen within the confines of that theory.
Theories can also be studied and organized according to the ontological, epistemological, and axiological framework imposed by the theorist.
Ontology essentially poses the question of what, exactly, it is the theorist is examining. One must consider the very nature of reality. The answer usually falls in one of three realms depending on whether the theorist sees the phenomena through the lens of a realist, nominalist, or social constructionist. Realist perspective views the world objectively, believing that there is a world outside of our own experience and cognitions. Nominalists see the world subjectively, claiming that everything outside of one’s cognitions is simply names and labels. Social constructionists straddle the fence between objective and subjective reality, claiming that reality is what we create together.
Epistemology is an examination of how the theorist studies the chosen phenomena. In studying epistemology, objective knowledge is said to be the result of a systematic look at the causal relationships of phenomena. This knowledge is usually attained through use of the scientific method. Scholars often think that empirical evidence collected in an objective manner is most likely to reflect truth in the findings. Theories of this ilk are usually created to predict a phenomenon. Subjective theory holds that understanding is based on situated knowledge, typically found using interpretative methodology such as ethnography and interviews. Subjective theories are typically developed to explain or understand phenomena in the social world.
Axiology is concerned with what values drive a theorist to develop a theory. Theorists must be mindful of potential biases so that they will not influence or skew their findings (Miller, 21-23).
A discipline gets defined in large part by its theoretical structure. Communication studies often borrow theories from other social sciences. This theoretical variation makes it difficult to come to terms with the field as a whole. That said, some common taxonomies exist that serve to divide up the range of communication research. Two common mappings involve contexts and assumptions.
Many authors and researchers divide communication by what they sometimes called "contexts" or "levels", but which more often represent institutional histories. The study of communication in the US, while occurring within departments of psychology, sociology, linguistics, and anthropology (among others), generally developed from schools of rhetoric and from schools of journalism. While many of these have become "departments of communication", they often retain their historical roots, adhering largely to theories from speech communication in the former case, and from mass media in the latter. The great divide between speech communication and mass communication becomes complicated by a number of smaller sub-areas of communication research, including intercultural and international communication, small group communication, communication technology, policy and legal studies of communication, telecommunication, and work done under a variety of other labels. Some of these departments take a largely social-scientific perspective, others tend more heavily toward the humanities, and still others gear themselves more toward production and professional preparation.
These "levels" of communication provide some way of grouping communication theories, but inevitably, some theories and concepts leak from one area to another, or fail to find a home at all.
Another way of dividing up the communication field emphasizes the assumptions that undergird particular theories, models, and approaches. While this approach also tends to have as its basis institutional divisions, theories within each of the seven "traditions" of communication theory that Robert Craig suggests tend to reinforce one another, and retain the same ground epistemological and axiological assumptions. His traditions include:
Craig finds each of these clearly defined against the others, and remaining cohesive approaches to describing communicative behavior. As a taxonomic aid, these labels help to organize theory by its assumptions, and help researchers to understand why some theories may seem incommensurable.
There is a wealth of information available about communication and communication theory. Included here are some examples of texts, journals, and organizations focusing on communication theory.
The following list is a survey of Communication Theory texts currently available on Amazon.com:
Scholarly journals are also a great source for recent research and academic discussion of theory. Some communication journals that emphasize theory are as follows:
Finally, there are many Communication Organizations that create a network of scholars who actively pursue and test theories. These organizations usually hold an annual conference showcasing the latest and best research in the field, as well as publish scholarly Journals. Examples of Communication Organizations with contact information are: