Communication As a Field and Discipline
Robert T. Craig
University of Colorado at Boulder
Word Count: 6,121 (A+ Length)
The editorial structure of the International Encyclopedia of Communication offers one view on the present state of communication as an academic field. The 29 editorial areas range in scope from micro-analysis of individual behavior (e.g., (Information Processing and Cognition) to macro-analysis of communication institutions on societal and international scales (e.g., (International Communication). Editorial areas also range across modes of inquiry including those of quantitative social science (e.g., (Media Effects), interpretive social science (e.g., (Language and Social Interaction), critical and cultural studies (e.g. (Feminist and Gender Studies), humanities (e.g., (Rhetorical Studies), applied professions (e.g., (Journalism), and such varied other inter-disciplines as (media history, (media economics, and communication and media law and policy. As these examples suggest, the field of communication is highly diverse in methods, theories, and objects of study. What, if anything, unites the field as a coherent entity? What warrants bringing together such an apparently eclectic group of topics and approaches in a single reference work? Presumably, as the encyclopedia’s title indicates, the common focus is on ‘communication.’ But what is the nature of that common focus? Is communication merely a nominal theme that loosely connects a series of otherwise unrelated disciplines and professions? Is communication truly an interdisciplinary field in which progress in knowledge is only possible through close cooperation and synergy among several distinct disciplines composing the field? Is communication actually (despite its apparent fragmentation), or at least potentially, the object of a distinct intellectual discipline in its own right? Might each of these interpretations of the field be true in some respects? Three editorial areas overview the field as a whole and are, therefore, potentially helpful for illuminating its disciplinary identity and coherence: (Communication Theory and Philosophy, (Research Methods, and the subject of the present entry, Communication as a Field and Discipline. Whereas the first two editorial areas examine, respectively, theories and methods, Communication as a Field and Discipline is concerned with the historical development and academic-professional institutionalization of communication studies. It includes entries covering the history of the field, professional organizations and issues, and the current state of communication research and education in geographical regions around the globe. Where the question of communication’s disciplinary coherence is concerned, these institutional and professional aspects of the communication field also touch on matters of theory and methodology.
History of the Communication Field
The English word communication derives from Latin and originally referred to acts of sharing or making common but without the distinctively modern emphasis on communication as a process of sharing symbols, information and meaning. Those modern senses of the word can be traced back through a long “spiritualist” tradition (Peters 1999) to ancient and early Christian eras in the West but emerged toward their current prominence in ordinary English discourse only from the late nineteenth century. Around the same time, academic studies of communication began to appear on scattered topics such as transportation systems, crowd behavior, community, and newspapers, with important work being done in Germany, France, and the USA. By the post-World War II period in which communication research began to be recognized as a distinct academic field, the ordinary concept of communication had evolved rich connotations related to semantics, therapy and human relations, interaction and social influence, mass communication, and...
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