COMM3710 - Fall 2011 - Section 001 - Reading Notes - Stacks


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riosjosh

There are many ways to categorize the communication discipline. Gerald R Miller argues that there are three primary purposes for studying communication.

First, “in some situations, students of speech communication observe communication phenomenon primarily for the purpose of making factual generalizations about similar phenomena not encompassed by the observation.” So sometimes we are interested in an event not because of the event it self but because of what the event will tell us about communication in general.

Second, according to Miller, “[in other situations, students of communication] study and observe phenomena so they can draw factual conclusions about the observed phenomena themselves.” In other words, sometimes we are interested in observing the event as an end itself.

Finally, Miller states that we “study communicative phenomena for the purpose of arriving at ethical or aesthetic judgments about the phenomena themselves, or about the event, or events, with which the phenomena are associated.” So instead we are more interested in the value or judgments.

Humanism and humanistic are often separated but they both have the same general goal of improving the human condition. The wuthors will combine Miller’s distinction between the second and third purposes of studying. Humanism and science have some fundamental things in common as well as some fundamental differences.

The authors believe that any collective human endeavor, including research of all kinds, must have as its ultimate goal the betterment of the human condition. The term theory is used in many different ways. In science, however, the word theory has a special use. A scientist’s theories are statements about the relationship between abstract variables. Kerlinger’s definition of scientific theory is: “a theory is a set of interrelated constructs (concepts), definitions, and propositions that present a systematic view of phenomena by specifying relations among variables, with the purpose of explaining and predicting the phenomena.”

It is often said that science has four purposes: description, explanation, prediction, and control. A theory includes definitions of variables. A scientists builds or constructs the variables. A theory involves specifying the relationships between variables. If we know the way that variables are related, it follows quite closely that knowledge of the value of an indepentent variable will allow us a good chance of predicting the values of the dependent variable. How do we know if a theory predicts accurately? We test it empirically. To test theories the variables must be defined operationally. Operational definitions specify the procedures the researcher engages in to observe the variable. The second kind of operational definition involves stating the procedures used to measure the concept. If we know that under certain conditions certain things will happen, we can sometimes control these conditions and achieve outcomes that are more favorable than they would have been otherwise. Some people are concerned that scientifically derived knowledge about human communication has the potential to be put to evil ends. To this we say that research is public knowledge and as such will allow people to have the knowledge to not be manipulated in ways that they don’t want to be.

To science, theories are both an end in themselves and the means to an end. Theory tells the communication researcher what variables to study, what to observe. It may not be quite so obvious how theory is useful to the nonscientist. Imagine that you took a consultant job after you graduated. A company then hires you to find out why it’s employee moral is at an all time low. What do you do? What do you look for? Theory can help you answer these questions and many others. Some theories suggest that employees who have input in their job will have more job commitment. Nothing is as practical as a good theory, so the saying goes.

The research process begins with something that is unknown, a problem or obstacle. One way to approach this is to develop a theory about it and then test that theory this is deductive. Another approach is to look at all the data and use it to purpose a theory. This is inductive.

Theory is self-correcting and thus provides an added advantage. The Risky-Shift Phenomenon is an example of this. It was believed that groups made riskier decisions as a whole. This idea held for a long time. Then more research was conducted and it was found to be false. A new theory was created called group polarization phenomenon. This states that the make-up of the group determines whether or not the group as a whole will make more conservative, neutral, or riskier decisions.

Inquiry into the human communication is at least 2500 years old. There is the scientific way to approach communication and there is also the humanistic way. This way is much more qualitative. Another difference between the two lies in control and prediction. Science is more concerned with predicting the relationships between abstract variables. Whereas the humanistic approach is concentrates on past history. The traditional humanistic model as well emphasizes the specific over the general.

The scientific method presupposes a deductive model or that theory comes before testing. The humanistic method doesn’t usually do this. Neither of these methods is better than the other. A good question almost always suggests the methodological approach you should be taking.