Summary of Craig’s Article  

Posted: May 1, 2014 in Assignments

The term ‘communication theory’ was not widely used until 1940s. The term first appeared in electrical engineering and later, it developed into a new science of communication with social application. Communication was essential to prevent the war after World War II. As communication research grew rapidly in 1940s, it began gaining recognition as interdisciplinary field. The research and theoretical writings were not limited to engineering theories but covered philosophical theories of persuasion and verbal behavior, sociological theories of group and mass communication and rhetorical theories of public discourse and speech communication. Although the field had existed in name for only few years, it holds its roots thousands years back.


Communication Theory is a field rich in diverse ideas but it does not exist as an identifiable field of study. This is because universally agreed theory of communication does not exists though there are hundreds of theories. They have been fragmented into separate domain where they simply ignore each other. The theorization of communication is growing widely because each theory helps to analyze communication process via different perspectives.  Craig in his article, argues that communication theorists can be unified in a dialogue by charting ‘dialogical-dialectical tension’ i.e. similarities and differences in their understanding of communication and demonstrating how those elements create tension within the field. He argues that communication theory rather forms an intellectual coherence (one grand theory does not exist; rather, it promotes dialogues and debates across the diverse traditions of communication theory). This paper expanded the conversation regarding disciplinary identity in the field of communication as there was little or no agreement on the books on how to present field or what theories to include.


Craig believes that different theories cannot develop in total isolation from one another therefore this dialogical-dialectical coherence will provide a set of background assumptions from which different theories can engage each other in productive argumentation. He argues for a meta-theory or second level theory that deals with first level theories about communication. This second level meta-model would help to understand the difference between first level of traditions and with this thesis, Craig propose seven traditions of communications. These traditions help to understand communication via different perspectives as well as the differences between each theory.


Seven Traditions of Communication


1)    Rhetoric: Rhetoric tradition views communication as an art of practical discourse. It is the oldest tradition that grew out of practices of oratory and debate in democratic polis in ancient Greece. It was first theorized in the writings of Aristotle and Plato and was elaborated later by Cicero in his writings that influenced rhetorical educational system for upcoming centuries. This tradition deals with what to say.


2)    Semiotic: Semiotic theory views communication as the study of signs. Modern semiotic theory began from 17th Century English philosopher John Locke who wrote that communication requires attaching clear ideas to the words. Semiotic theory of communication is the process with usage of signs (including language and other non verbal codes) that helps to communicate in subjective gap because the way of understanding differs from each individual.  For semiotic theory, communication problems are misunderstanding or unconscious misinterpretation of data due to difference in understanding the usage of codes. Post-Structuralist theory says signs have unstable meaning.


In contrast to rhetoric tradition, semiotic deals with how to say rather than what to say.


3)    Phenomenology: This tradition helps to understand communication as the experience of self and others in a dialogue. Like semiotic, the problem in communication arises due to the gaps between subjective viewpoints as one cannot directly experience others consciousness.


In contrast to rhetoric’s’ communication strategy and semiotics’ signs and meanings, phenomenology emphasizes the need for people to turn toward one another.


4)    Cybernetics: Cybernetics views communication as the flow of information. It grew from mid 20th century from electrical engineering. It downplays the differences between human communication and other kinds of information processing systems. Problem in communication arises due to glitches in information processing. Unlike other traditions, the problem is not due to what to say, meaning of signs or lack of authenticity but is due to unwanted patterns of interaction that can be difficult to change except by disrupting the system in some way.


5)    Social Psychology: It views communication as social interaction and influence. The psychological factor affects the communication process often with little awareness by communicators of the underlying causes at work. Mass media influences the individual in larger scale. Like the rhetorical tradition, this theory is concerned with effective communication but unlike rhetoric’s humanistic tradition, social psychology is a scientific tradition that emphasizes understanding the causes that statistically determine communication outcomes.



6)    Socio-cultural Theory: It views communication as a process of interaction that produces and reproduces shared meanings, rituals and social structures. This theory is derived from sociological and anthropological thoughts. There is tension in this theory between macro and micro approaches. Macro approach begins with society as a whole and show how society functions through communication at the same time. Micro approach begins with everyday social interaction and shows how meanings and social relations are created, maintained and altered in local, moment-moment communication.


7)    Critical Theory: This theory views communication as a discourse in which implicit assumptions behind what is said can be freely discussed and mutual understanding can be achieved. Critical theory argues that the power structure in society prevent genuine communication by excluding the voice of less powerful group systematically.


Thus, Craig concluded with an open invitation to explore how the differences in these theories might help to shed light in key issues. Craig further proposes several future traditions that could possibly be fit into the metamodel.  A feminist tradition where communication is theorized as “connectedness to others”, an aesthetic tradition theorizing communication as “embodied performance”, an economic tradition theorizing communication as “exchange”, and a spiritual tradition theorizing communication on a “nonmaterial or mystical plane of existence.”





 Craig, R.T. (1999) Communication Theory as a Field

Craig, R.T. Traditions of Communication Theory

Craig, R.T. Communication as a field and discipline


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