Social Issues / Communication Theory

Communication Theory

This essay Communication Theory is available for you on! Search Term Papers, College Essay Examples and Free Essays on - full papers database.

Autor:  anton  09 December 2010
Tags:  Communication,  Theory
Words: 2324   |   Pages: 10
Views: 666

The purpose of this paper is to examine two theoretical approaches from communication theory. Two theories I have selected to inform the reader are Technological Determinism and Genderlect Styles Theories. To my knowledge the reader has no idea of how these two communication theories operate. I will use the knowledge from class lectures and materials such as scholarly articles and online research to inform the reader of how these two theories can be effective in their communication skills. To gain a better understanding of technological determinism and genderlect styles theories it is appropriate to include examples from my research topic of Women and Information Technology However, Women and Information Technology. I will include a description of what makes a good objective/interpretive theory and the seven communication theory traditions, as well (this material will be included at end of the paper). The aim of this paper is to provide the reader with a better understanding in the area of communication theory.

I will begin by offering the reader a brief description of what theory is. Theory: a working definition-an approach to a given phenomenon or set of phenomena that aims to: describe, explain, predict, or prescribe (Kelshaw, 2004, notes from class). Most people do not stop and think about how we communicate with each other (groups included too) and its meaning, as well. The average person views communication theories as useless, dull, boring, and insignificant in their everyday lives. Communication theory is pragmatic and is hard to describe by many scholars. However, according to the textbook, A First Look at Communication Theory, Em Griffin, (2003) “we cannot avoid using theories in our lives and theories do make our lives better (Griffin, 2003, p. 2).” Another example that describes communication theory comes from the textbook, Communication Theories: Origins · Methods · Uses, Werner J. Severin and James W. Tankard (1979). “Communication theories realistically puts into perspective the pragmatic uses to which communication theory and research can be put and the methods by which it can be applied” (Severin and Tankard, 1979). The aim of communication theory is to improve the quality of communication between humanity.

In our efforts to improve the quality of communication in society we can first take a look at the theory of technological determinism. What is the meaning of technological determinism and how does this theory improve the quality of communication between humanity? The theory of technological determinism was presented by Marshall McLuhan, director of the Center for Culture and Technology at the University of Toronto. “Marshall McLuhan, is considered by many to be the first father and leading prophet of the electronic age. A Canadian born in 1911, McLuhan became a Christian through the influence of G.K. Chesterton in 1937. He wrote his monumental work, one of twelve books and hundreds of articles, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, in 1964. The subject that would occupy most of McLuhan's career was the task of understanding the effects of technology as it related to popular culture, and how this in turn affected human beings and their relations with one another in communities” (Kappelman, 2001).

Marshall McLuhan, divided human communication inventions into four periods, a tribal age, a literate age, a print age, and an electronic age. McLuhan, recognized that we were entering the electronic age and electronic media alters the way people feel, act, and think. “According to McLuhan, the crucial inventions that changed life on this planet were the phonetic alphabet, the printing press, and the telegraph” (Griffin, 2003, p. 343). It is significant to realize in Marshall McLuhan’s theory of technological determinism, inventions in technology cause cultural change. “McLuhan concluded that it is specifically changes in modes of communication that shape human existence” (Griffin, 2003, p. 343). According to McLuhan, nothing remains untouched by communication technology including our family life, the workplace, schools, health care, friendships, religious worships, recreation, and politics. Each new media invention is an extension of some human faculty. For example, “the book is an extension of the eye, the wheel is an extension of the foot, clothing is an extension of clothing, and electronic circuitry (especially the computer) is an extension of the central nervous system” (Griffin, 2003, p. 344).

Marshall McLuhan’s surveyed the history of media technology and observed that we shape our tools and they in turn shape us. “While technology is often described as the most important influence upon society, it remains a subject which has undergone little study. This situation is gradually changing, however, with politicians, sociologists, industrialists and educationalists alike recognizing that technology lies at the very heart of society. Indeed, technological determinism, effectively the opposite of social determinism, is a theory which points to technology as being the force which shapes society” (John Bilton, 1996).

Another key point in this theory is the medium is the message. How something is said (and the channel through which it travels) is more important than what is said (Kelshaw, 2004, notes from class). According to McLuhan, the medium changes the person more than the message itself. In other words the same words spoken face-to-face, printed on paper, or presented on television provide three different meanings. McLuhan also believed that the medium is the massage, and the medium is the mass-age. McLuhan had fun with the play on words with this idea however; he was very serious in the meaning he applied to them. In the massage, McLuhan uses the image of a masseur giving a client a rough back rub instead of a relaxing claming one=television roughs up the viewer. In the 1960’s (a period of radical changes) he changes the word to fit the times we were living in (mass-age). Simply put, oral, written, or electronic, the channel of communication changes the way society views the world (Griffin, 2003, p. 345).

A significant point in this theory is McLuhan’s classification of media being either hot or cool. McLuhan explained hot media as being high-definition channels of communication and are aimed at a single sense receptor. Cool media is explained as being low-definition and drawing a person in, requiring high participation to fill in the missing holes. For example, print and photographs are considered a hot media, where as, a lecture is also hot but followed by a discussion would be considered cool media (discussion-need to fill in the blanks). By describing Marshall McLuhan’s theory of technological determinism the reader has gained knowledgeable and valuable information about this theory. The reader can examine this theory in the area of gender and power in on-line communication (Internet).

“New communication technologies are often invested with user’s hopes for change in the social order. Thus the Internet is said to be inherently democratic, leveling traditional distinctions of social status, and creating opportunities for less powerful individuals and groups to participate on a par with members of more powerful groups. Specifically, the Internet has been claimed to lead to greater gender equality, with women, as the socially, politically, and economically less powerful gender, especially likely to reap its benefits” (Holmes and Meyerhoff, 2003, p. 9). According to the reading, the World Wide Web (WWW) allows women to self-publish and engage in profitable entrepreneurial activity on the same level as men (Rickert and Sacharow, 2000). Men, too can benefit from anonymous communication however, for women the difference in using the Internet is it removes barriers that women may face in other social settings (for example, corporate).

“Some twenty years after the introduction of the Internet, we may ask whether these potentials have been, or are in the process of being, realized. Extrapolating from the properties of a technology to its social effects - a paradigm known as ‘technological determinism’ (Markus, 1994) - tends to overlook the fact that the development and uses of any technology are themselves embedded in a social context, and are shaped by that context” (kling, et al., 2001). The problem with applying McLuhan’s theory to this topic is that computer networks do not guarantee gender-free, equal-opportunity interaction, any more than any previous communication technology has in the past. This theory is interpretive because it provides for new means for understanding things. This also falls into the socio-cultural communication theory of tradition because of its communication as the process of making reality through interaction.

The second theory that we will examine is the genderlect styles of Deborah Tannen. “Deborah Tannen, is a linguistics professor at Georgetown University, and her research specialty is conversational style - not what people say but the way they say it” (Griffen, 2003, p. 463). We do not think of men and women as two different cultures, but according to Deborah Tannen’s theory of genderlect styles we are. Tannen, focuses on culture not biology and is not interested in issues of power and cultural domination. In this theory men and women speak differently but do not realize the differences in their communication which results in misunderstandings.

The most significant point in this theory is the difference between what each gender seeks from communication. For women it is rapport talk and for men it is report talk. Women seek connection and men seek status, as well. There are five areas that Tannen focuses on in her theory. These five areas are described as setting, storytelling, listening, questioning, and conflict. In the first area of setting women are more likely to engage in private conversation where as men use conversation as a means of public control. Second, in the area of storytelling, for the women it is about others, for men it is about the self as hero. Third, in the area of listening women use cooperative overlaps (meaning they will try to find out more information from the messenger) where as men will tend to change the subject. Fourth, in the area of questioning women are more prone to ask questions to validate others’ expertise where as men will avoid asking questions to prevent vulnerability and lastly, in the area of conflict women will avoid where as men initiate and compete (Kelshaw, 2004, notes from class).

This theory is not critical at all and places it self in the middle of the objective/interpretive worldview because it provides new means for understanding things. It offers a different approach to why men and women view their communication interaction so differently. It is not a matter of who is right or wrong in this theory. This theory of genderlect styles simply offers a new way to communicate more effectively by examining the ways in which we communicate with one another. This theory is socio-cultural because it is communication as the process of making reality through interaction.

The genderlect styles theory would be difficult in applying it to the topic of Women in Information Technology. It is difficult to argue because according to the genderlect styles theory there are no power issues between men and women. The reason men and women have misunderstandings in their communication is due to their cultural differences not their gender differences. It is significant to understand that our society will always struggle in its communication skills. However, it is important to use communication theories to effectively utilize our communication skills in the hopes of improving the quality of our lives.

According to the textbook objective and interpretive (subjective) theories are two differences that make a difference (Griffin, 2003, p. 9). “A good objective theory provides sound explanation of the data, discovers “universal laws” that can be used to predict future phenomena, poses relatively simple explanations for complex phenomena, is based on hypotheses that can be tested, proven and replicated in more test, and is useful in practical ways. Interpretive (subjective) theory provides new meaning for understanding things (people and their behaviors), acknowledges its own values, has aesthetic appeal, generates its own growth through its adoption and extension by many scholars and practitioners, and stimulates social change” (Kelshaw, 2004, notes from class). Also significant to understand is if theoretical issues were simply just a choice between objective and interpretive, communication theory would be very boring. There are seven distinct traditions of communication theory that enrich yet hinder our (best description would be an enigma) understanding of how experts in the field study communication.

Mapping the territory can best describe the seven traditions in the field of communication theory. “University of Colorado communication professor Robert Craig says the terrain can be confusing and is convinced that our search for different types of theory should be grounded where real people grapple with everyday problems and practices of communication” (Griffin, 2003, p. 21). The first of the seven traditions is the socio-psychological: communication as interpersonal influence, scholars in this tradition believe there are communication truths that can be discovered by careful, systematic observation. The cybernetic: communication as information processing, communication as a link in connecting the separate parts of any system (computer system, family system). The rhetorical: communication as artful address, whether talking to a crowd, a jury, or a legislative assembly speakers seek advice on how to improve on presenting their case. The semiotic: communication as the process of sharing reality through symbols and signs. Semiotic is the study of signs and a sign is anything that can stand for something else. The socio-cultural: communication as the process of making reality through interaction and is based on the premise that as people talk, they produce and reproduce culture. The critical: communication as a site of power relations (social inequality, injustice). The phenomenological/hermeneutic: communication as a site of dialogic (relational) experience and understanding each other (Griffin, 2003, pp. 21-33 & kelshaw, 2004, class notes).


Bilton, J. (1996). Technological Determinism. The UK Technology Education Centre. Retrieved December 9, 2004, from

Griffin, E.A. (2003). A First look at communication theory (5th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.

Holmes, J., & Meyerhoff, M. (Eds.). (2003). The handbook of language and gender. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

Kappelman, Todd. (2001). Marshall McLuhan: “The medium is the message”. Probe Ministries. Retrieved December 6, 2004, from

Severin, W., J. & Tankard, J., W. (1979). Communication theories: Origins, methods, uses. New York, NY: Hastings House, Publishers.

Get Better Grades Today

Join and get instant access to over 60,000+ Papers and Essays

Please enter your username and password
Forgot your password?