Communication studies or communication sciences is an academic discipline that deals with processes of human communication and behavior, patterns of communication in interpersonal relationships, social interactions and communication in different cultures. Communication is commonly defined as giving, receiving or exchanging ideas, information, signals or messages through appropriate media, enabling individuals or groups to persuade, to seek information, to give information or to express emotions effectively. Communication studies is a social science that uses various methods of empirical investigation and critical analysis to develop a body of knowledge that encompasses a range of topics, from face-to-face conversation at a level of individual agency and interaction to social and cultural communication systems at a macro level.
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Scholarly communication theorists focus primarily on refining the theoretical understanding of communication, examining statistics in order to help substantiate claims. The range of social scientific methods to study communication has been expanding. Communication researchers draw upon a variety of qualitative and quantitative techniques. The linguistic and cultural turns of the mid-20th century led to increasingly interpretative, hermeneutic, and philosophic approaches towards the analysis of communication. Conversely, the end of the 1990s and the beginning of the 2000s have seen the rise of new analytically, mathematically, and computationally rigorous techniques.
As a field of study, communication is applied to journalism, business, mass media, public relations, marketing, news and television broadcasting, interpersonal and intercultural communication, education, public administration—and beyond. As all spheres of human activity and conveyance are affected by the interplay between social communication structure and individual agency, communication studies has gradually expanded its focus to other domains, such as health, medicine, economy, military and penal institutions, the Internet, social capital, and the role of communicative activity in the development of scientific knowledge.
Communication predates the foundation of the discipline. Communication has existed since the beginning of human beings, but it was not until the 20th century that people began to study the process. As communication technologies developed, so did the serious study of communication. When World War I ended, the interest in studying communication intensified. The social science study was fully recognized as a legitimate discipline after World War II.
Prior to being established as its own discipline, communication studies, was formed from three other major studies: psychology, sociology, and political science. Communication studies focus on communication as central to the human experience, which involves understanding how people behave in creating, exchanging, and interpreting messages.
Foundations of the academic discipline
The institutionalization of communication studies in U.S. higher education and research has often been traced to Columbia University, the University of Chicago, and the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, where early pioneers of the field worked.
Wilbur Schramm is considered the founder of the field of communication studies in the United States. Schramm was hugely influential in establishing communications as a field of study and in forming departments of communication studies across universities in the United States. He was the first individual to identify himself as a communication scholar; he created the first academic degree-granting programs with communication in their name; and he trained the first generation of communication scholars. Schramm had a background in English literature and developed communication studies partly by merging existing programs in speech communication, rhetoric, and journalism. He also edited a textbook The Process and Effects of Mass Communication (1954) that helped define the field, partly by claiming Paul Lazarsfeld, Harold Lasswell, Carl Hovland, and Kurt Lewin as its founding fore fathers.
Schramm established three important communication institutes: the Institute of Communications Research (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign), the Institute for Communication Research (Stanford University), and the East-West Communication Institute (Honolulu). The patterns of scholarly work in communication studies that were set in motion at these institutes continue to this day. Many of Schramm's students, such as Everett Rogers and David Berlo went on to make important contributions of their own.
The first college of communication was founded at Michigan State University in 1958, led by scholars from Schramm's original ICR and dedicated to studying communication scientifically using a quantitative approach. MSU was soon followed by important departments of communication at Purdue University, University of Texas-Austin, Stanford University, University of Iowa, University of Illinois, University of Pennsylvania, The University of Southern California, and Northwestern University.
Associations related to Communication Studies were founded or expanded during the 1950s. The National Society for the Study of Communication (NSSC) was founded in 1950 to encourage scholars to pursue communication research as a social science. This Association launched the Journal of Communication in the same year as its founding. Like many communication associations founded around this decade, the name of the association changed with the field. In 1968 the name changed to the International Communication Association (ICA).
Scope and topics
Communication studies integrates aspects of both social sciences and the humanities. As a social science, the discipline overlaps with sociology, psychology, anthropology, biology, political science, economics, and public policy. From a humanities perspective, communication is concerned with rhetoric and persuasion (traditional graduate programs in communication studies trace their history to the rhetoricians of Ancient Greece). Humanities approaches to communication often overlap with history, philosophy, English, and cultural studies.
Communication research informs politicians and policy makers, educators, strategists, legislators, business magnates, managers, social workers, non-governmental organizations, non-profit organizations, and people interested in resolving communication issues in general. There is often a great deal of crossover between social research, cultural research, market research, and other statistical fields.
In the United States
The National Communication Association (NCA) recognizes nine distinct but often overlapping sub-disciplines within the broader communication discipline: technology, critical-cultural, health, intercultural, interpersonal-small group, mass communication, organizational, political, rhetorical, and environmental communication. Students take courses in these subject areas. Other programs and courses often integrated in communication programs include journalism, film criticism, theatre, public relations, political science (e.g., political campaign strategies, public speaking, effects of media on elections), as well as radio, television, computer-mediated communication, film production, and new media.
With the early influence of federal institutional inquiries, notably the 1951 Massey Commission, which "investigated the overall state of culture in Canada," the study of communication in Canada has frequently focused on the development of a cohesive national culture, and on infrastructural empires of social and material circulation. Although influenced by the American Communication tradition and British Cultural Studies, Communication studies in Canada has been more directly oriented toward the state and the policy apparatus, for example the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission. Influential thinkers from the Canadian communication tradition include Harold Innis, Marshall McLuhan, Florian Sauvageau, Gertrude Robinson, Marc Raboy, Dallas Smythe, James R. Taylor, François Cooren, Gail Guthrie Valaskakis and George Grant.
- American Journalism Historians Association (AJHA)
- Association for Business Communication (ABC)
- Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC)
- Association for Teachers of Technical Writing (ATTW)
- Black College Communication Association (BCCA)
- Broadcast Education Association (BEA)
- Central States Communication Association (CSCA)
- Council of Communication Associations (CCA)
- European Association for the Teaching of Academic Writing (EATAW)
- European Communication Research and Education Association
- IEEE Professional Communication Society
- International Association for Media and Communications Research
- International Association of Business Communicators (IABC)
- International Communication Association (ICA), an international, academic association for communication studies concerned with all aspects of human and mediated communication
- National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE)
- National Communication Association (NCA), professional organization concerned with various aspects of communication studies in the United States
- Public Relations Society of America (PRSA)
- Rhetoric Society of America (RSA)
- Society for Cinema and Media Studies, organization for communication research pertaining to film studies
- Society for Technical Communication (STC)
- University Film and Video Association, organization for the study of motion-picture production
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