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 information technology, and derivatives of the Latinate term,
communication, or native words that had acquired similar connotations, were spreading
globally in various languages (Communication: History of the Idea; Communication:
Definitions and Concepts; Communication and Media Studies, History to 1968).
Communication research and education underwent rapid growth and institutional
consolidation as an academic discipline in the second half of the twentieth century
(Communication and Media Studies, History since 1968; Craig & Carlone, 1998).
Unlike, for example, the field of molecular biology, which emerged around the same time
as the result of a unique scientific breakthrough (the 1953 publication of DNA‟s double
helix molecular structure), communication and media studies sprang more or less
independently from many different sources. Formation of the communication field has
resulted from a partial convergence of various disciplines and lines of research that
intersect in complex ways, all somehow related to the phenomenon of „communication,‟
but have never been tightly integrated as a coherent body of thought. Hence, the manifest
diversity of communication research and education is not a recent development but has
characterized the field throughout its history.
The intellectual traditions that have informed the modern field of communication
have come primarily from two streams: the humanities and the social sciences
(Communication Theory and Philosophy). Antecedents of the humanities most relevant
to communication go back to the ancient Greek arts of rhetoric, dialectic and poetics
(Rhetoric and Dialectic; Rhetoric and Poetics). In early 19th century Europe the
humanities formed as research disciplines concerned with historically oriented studies of
texts and artifacts. Aesthetics ( Aesthetics), hermeneutics, historiography, and
linguistics were among the intellectual traditions important to communication that
developed with the humanities in this period.
The second main stream that informs the modern field of communication emerged
a century later with experimental psychology and the social sciences. The system of
social science disciplines that crystallized in that period included anthropology,
economics, political science and sociology but not communication (Abbott, 2002).
However, communication became a topic of interest across disciplines and a stimulus to
interdisciplinary work that eventually gave rise to the institutionalization of the
As it was institutionalized, the field constructed an eclectic theoretical core by
collecting ideas relevant to communication from across the social sciences, humanities,
and even engineering and the natural sciences. Craig (1999) presented a model of the
field based on the idea that distinct theoretical concepts of communication in the diverse
intellectual traditions of the field interact with ordinary meta-discourse about
communication to address practical social problems. Craig identified seven main
traditions of communication theory distinguished by different practical concepts of
communication that underlie them: rhetoric, semiotics, cybernetics,
phenomenology, social psychology, sociocultural theory, and critical theory.
The vast range of topics in this encyclopedia reflects, again, the range of subfields
and special research topics that now make up the field of communication. This body of
knowledge has no universally accepted overall structure. Subfields and topics can be
grouped and organized in various more or less systematic ways for different purposes.
The field can be divided up by disciplines beginning with „humanities‟, „social sciences‟
and „applied professions‟ at the top level. Or again, the field is sometimes bifurcated into
„communication studies‟ and „media studies‟ with subfields arrayed under those main
headings. The editorial areas and content taxonomy developed for this encyclopedia
provide a pragmatic organizing scheme that loosely follows some of the divisions and
special interest groups of the International Communication Association (ICA). Berger
and Chaffee (1987) created a different scheme that organized the field in three
dimensions according to „levels of analysis‟ (individual, interpersonal, network, and
macrosocial), „functions‟ (socialization, persuasion, conflict, etc.), and „contexts‟ (family,
health care, professional mass communication, etc.).
Communication Research and Education Around the Globe
The state of communication research and education varies considerably within and
among countries but can nevertheless be summarized with regard to some common
themes. One theme certainly is growth: The field is flourishing in many parts of the world,
wherever political and economic conditions and academic institutions have allowed it to
take root at all. Where growth has been stimulated to a great extent by demand for trained
employees in burgeoning media and communication-related industries, which is often the
case, growth is also associated with certain problems: strain on resources, an
overemphasis on practical training of undergraduates that can stifle the development of a
strong research discipline, and the threat of co-optation by commercial interests that are
not necessarily aligned with academic and intellectual priorities.
Although always with much borrowing from Europe, the field matured first in
USA and spread from there. Overdependence on American and European concepts and
practices and the need to develop locally based, culturally relevant knowledge of
communication are common themes in other regions. Yet, as that very emphasis on local
development suggests, the field is increasingly internationalized, with global influences
now flowing from many places. As the field has spread globally, its assimilation to
different academic systems and national cultures has created distinct local characteristics.
Finally, an international consensus may be emerging that the name and
underlying concept of the broad field to which all contribute, as indicated by the title of
this encyclopedia, is communication. Insofar as the concept of communication is
understood to include forms of human interaction not encompassed by media studies and
related professions, this trend may have implications for the future development of
subfields of communication that now may seem to be „missing‟ from programs in many
places. These themes are further developed as we survey the communication field region
by region around the globe.
Academic communication and media studies programs in the USA are numerous, well
established, and often include a broader range of subfields than programs in other
countries. Unlike the rest of the world, in which communication research and education
tend to be identified with media studies and related professional fields, in the USA
communication typically includes, in addition to media-related areas, substantial
components of speech and rhetorical studies, interpersonal communication,
organizational communication, and other areas of study not primarily concerned with
media. Those subjects are studied, of course, at universities elsewhere but are less likely
to be institutionally affiliated with communication; instead, they may be housed with
disciplines such as linguistics, psychology, or management. Similar academic
configurations are also common among some of the traditional elite universities in the
USA, such as the Ivy League, many of which do not yet have communication schools or
Canada (with important exceptions, such as rhetorical and organizational
communication studies at the University of Montreal) generally follows the international
pattern. A distinct Canadian contribution to the field has been the tradition of medium
theory growing from the work of Innis and McLuhan.
In the history of US higher education, “practical” subjects like speech and
journalism were established in the early twentieth century primarily in the growing public
land grant universities (Journalism Education; Speech Communication, History of).
Under the influence of the interdisciplinary communication research movement that
coalesced after World War II and related cultural trends, speech and journalism, along
with other communication-related fields, gradually shifted their academic identities
toward communication and began including that word in the names of courses and
academic programs, professional associations, books, and journals. Student enrollments
soared as communication programs in various arrangements (some in comprehensive
schools or departments under various names, others divided between journalism/media
studies and communication studies) became the designated institutional homes for
communication research and education across the range of topics and approaches
included in this encyclopedia, and more (e.g., writing, speech pathology, performance
studies, or theater, in some institutions; see Craig & Carlone, 1998;Communication as
an Academic Field: USA and Canada).
Major academic associations serving the communication discipline in North
America include the National Communication Association (NCA;
http://www.natcom.org), the Canadian Communication Association (CCA;
http://www.acc-cca.ca), the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass
Communication (AEJMC; http://www.aejmc.org), and the Broadcast Education
Association (BEA; http://www.beaweb.org).
Journalism schools were founded in Latin America beginning in the 1930s and
„40s. Communication research, including both US-influenced empirical studies of mass
communication and diffusion of innovations as well as critical studies on topics such as
cultural imperialism and globalization, developed slowly beginning in the 1960s but more
quickly in recent years (Communication as an Academic Field: Latin America).
Associations of communication scholars currently active in the Latin American region
include the Asociación Latinoamericana de Investigadores de la Comunicación (ALAIC;
http://www.alaic.net/), the Federación Latinoamericana de Facultades de Comunicación
Social (Felafacs; www.felafacs.org), and nationally based associations such as the
Sociedade Brasileira de Estudos Interdisciplinares da Comunicação (Intercom;
http://www.intercom.org.br) in Brazil and the Asociación Mexicana de Investigadores
Comunicadores (AMIC; http://www.amicmexico.org) in Mexico.
Europe and Russia
The oldest intellectual traditions from which modern communication theory derives
originated in Europe, as did certain fields of modern communication research (e.g.,
journalism studies growing out of the late nineteenth century German
Zeitungswissenschaft). However, communication research did not really take off as an
organized academic field in Western Europe until the 1970s and in Eastern Europe and
Russia until the post-Soviet period in the 1990s.
Communication research in Western Europe through the 1960s was influenced
primarily by US empirical social scientific studies of mass communication content and
effects. From the late 1960s, reverse flows of influence from Europe to America in the
fields of critical theory, political economy of the media, and critical studies of popular
culture also became important. Despite these significant cross-influences between Europe
and the US, differences both among European countries and between Europe generally
and the US due to different media and political systems, policy concerns, languages, and
academic traditions have also shaped the field of communication in Western Europe.
For example, the state tends to be more directly involved with the mass media in
Europe than in the US, including a much larger publicly owned media sector, as a result
of which European research tends to be more concerned with questions of media
independence, political diversity, and cultural policy. Fields such as journalism studies,
political communication, technology and communication, and popular culture are
highly developed in Western Europe, while fields such as interpersonal communication
and rhetorical studies continue to be less developed or institutionally disconnected from
communication and media studies. Research on personal forms of communication occurs,
however, in areas such as computer-mediated interaction (Personal Communication by
CMC), intercultural and intergroup communication, and organizational
communication, all growing fields in Europe. The recently established European
Communication Research and Education Association (ECREA, created in 2005 in a
merger of two older associations) presently includes 13 thematic sections covering both
established and emerging topical areas (http://www.ecrea.eu/). (Communication as an
Academic Field: Western Europe)
The field of communication, primarily focused on media and related issues,
developed rapidly in Central and Eastern Europe and Russia from the 1990s. Prior to
World War II the beginnings of communication research across several disciplines
followed trends in the West except in the former Soviet Union, where journalism studies
were organized to support the functions of state propaganda. The Soviet pattern
prevailed as well to varying degrees in countries of Eastern and parts of Central Europe
from the postwar period through the breakup of Soviet Union in the late 1980s. Media
and journalism historiography, media sociology, linguistics, literary theory and semiotics,
and “press science” in the former Soviet bloc are among the disciplines that have
principally contributed to the formation of communication research and education in
Eastern Europe and Russia (Communication as an Academic Field: Eastern Europe
and Russia). Although non-media areas of study are not usually affiliated with the
communication discipline in this region, topical areas represented in the recently
organized Russian Communication Association (RCA; http://www.russcomm.ru)
currently include interpersonal communication, group communication, and discourse
pragmatics (Linguistic Pragmatics) along with media-related fields.
Africa and the Middle East
Communication education and media studies are beginning to develop in sub-Saharan
Africa despite the post-colonial legacy of economic and political problems that continues
to affect academic and media institutions across much of the continent. The expansion of
media industries in some countries has created a rising demand for journalism and
communication training programs, which are generally based on Western models.
Research goes on in universities and research institutes in fields such as development
communication, health communication and cultural studies. (Communication as
an Academic Field: Africa; Development Communication: Africa). Aside from the
recently organized Trans-African Council for Communication Education (Tracce), the
most currently visible academic association is the nationally based South African
Communications Association (SACOM; http://www.ukzn.ac.za/sacomm), which includes
sections representing corporate and business communication, cultural and social theory,
film studies, and journalism and media studies.
Having grown rapidly since the 1980s, the communication field is more densely
developed in the Arab World, where at least 70 academic programs currently exist in
universities across the region, most primarily engaged in technical training of
undergraduates for occupations in media or public relations. The production of research,
limited to date and usually based on Western models, has focused on development
communication, cultural identity, Arab stereotypes, Islamic communication, new
technology, and globalization, among other topics. Issues concerning imbalances in
international news flows and policy debates on the New World Information and
Communication Order (New World Information and Communication Order [NWICO])
were prominent in the 1970s and 1980s. Academic associations currently active in the
region include the Arab-U.S. Association of Communication Educators (AUSACE;
http://www2.gsu.edu/~wwwaus) and the Saudi Association for Media and
Communication (SAMC; http://www.samc.org.sa). (Communication as an Academic
Field: Middle East, Arab World).
The field in Israel has developed differently from other countries of the region
since the founding in 1966 of the Communication Institute of the Hebrew University of
Jerusalem as the first Israeli institution for communication studies. Communication
programs in Israel, which currently number 18, have traditionally emphasized theory and
research, although practical training in journalism and media fields has increased since
the 1990s, partly in response to privatization and consequent growth of the media sector.
In addition to media research, both administrative and critical, Israeli scholars have been
prominent in cultural studies, discourse studies, and ethnography of communication,
among other fields. The Israel Communication Association (IsCA;
http://www.isracom.org) has about 200 members. (Communication as an Academic
Field: Middle East, Israel)
Asia and the Pacific
In South Asia (India, Pakistan and nearby countries) the field of communication grew
from university based journalism education, which developed slowly from the 1940s
through the 1980s, and from research projects sponsored by international foundations and
agencies primarily concerned with the functions of media and communication in national
development. Economic liberalization and privatization of education and media
institutions in the 1990s led to a second phase in which the rapid growth of media
industries and professions has driven the related growth of career-oriented media
education and training programs at a large number of academic institutions.
Communication research has also been expanding in areas such as development
communication, community media, new media, cinema, and post-colonial studies, and
new academic journals are appearing (Communication as an Academic Field: South
Asia). South Asian media and communication scholars participate in local and
international academic associations, among the latter especially the IAMCR
(International Association of Media and Communication Research) and the Asian
Media Information and Communication Centre (AMIC; http://www.amic.org.sg).
The communication field is burgeoning in East Asia and shows promise of
important theoretical contributions spurred by efforts to adapt the discipline to Asian
cultural traditions. Communication research and education, mainly in journalism and
media studies, are well established in Taiwan and Hong Kong and have been developing
rapidly in mainland China since the 1990s as economic liberalization has expanded the
job market for communication professionals. The field is also highly developed in South
Korea, where most universities have instituted journalism and communication programs
since the 1970s, and where interpersonal communication and public relations studies are
now growing along with the earlier established and still dominant media fields.
Journalism education based on US models began to develop in Japan after World War II
and the field of communication has gradually emerged in recent decades. As in some
other parts of the world (e.g., China and Russia) practical instruction in speech
communication skills and intercultural communication sometimes occurs in English
programs, which forms a basis for developing studies of interpersonal forms of
communication within the broader communication discipline. Communication and media
studies are represented in the East Asian region by a growing number of academic
journals and by international associations as well as nationally-based associations such as
the Korean Society for Journalism and Communication Studies (KSJCS;
http://www.ksjcs.or.kr), the Communication Association of Japan (CAJ;
http://www.caj1971.com), the Chinese Communication Society (CCS;
http://ccs.nccu.edu.tw) in Taiwan, and the recently formed Chinese Association of
Communication (CAC) in mainland China. (Communication as an Academic Field:
Communication, journalism, and media studies programs are developing in the
Southeast Asian and Pacific region, most prominently in Hong Kong (which can be
included in this region for some purposes), Singapore, Australia and New Zealand, but
also in other countries such as the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand. Aside
from the common themes of growth with a typical emphasis on journalism, public
relations, and media studies, the diversity of the field across this vast region inhibits
generalization. In Australia, for example, research and instruction cover a wide range of
communication subfields, although not always institutionally located in
communication/media departments or schools. Australian scholars have done important
interdisciplinary work in intergroup communication, discursive psychology,
organizational discourse, and cultural studies, among other fields. Organizational
communication has a strong presence in New Zealand. Comparative Asian studies are an
important contribution from Singapore and Hong Kong. The Pacific and Asian
Communication Association (PACA; http://www.paca4u.com) and the Australia and
New Zealand Communication Association (ANZCA; http://www.anzca.net) are among
several academic associations that serve media and communization scholars in this region,
and at least 11 local journals are published. (Communication as an Academic Field:
Australia, New Zealand, Pacific Rim).
The field of communication as a whole is served by two international academic
associations of worldwide scope: the International Communication Association (ICA)
and the International Association for Media and Communication Research (IAMCR).
Several other international societies, such as the World Association of Public Opinion
Research (WAPOR), the International Association of Language and Social Psychology
(IALSP), and the International Association for Relationship Research (IARR), represent
particular specialty areas.
ICA was founded in the USA in 1950 as the National Society for the Study of
Communication (NSSC), an offshoot what was then the Speech Association of America
(now the National Communication Association), and launched the Journal of
Communication in 1951. With its reorganization and adoption of its new name in 1969,
ICA began a slow, uneven process of growth and internationalization that accelerated in
the 2000s as a result of structural changes that markedly increased international
membership and participation in the Association‟s governance, conferences, and
publication programs. As of 2007, ICA is a USA-based international organization of
more than 4000 members from 76 countries. Its 21 divisions and special interest groups
span most fields of communication and media studies. It holds conferences in the USA
and around the world and sponsors several highly ranked journals and a review yearbook,
among other publications (http://www.icahdq.org).
IAMCR from the beginning has differed from ICA in significant ways. Founded in
1957 by a Constituent Assembly meeting in Paris under the auspices of UNESCO, the
International Association for Mass Communication Research (as it was then called) from
the start was a diverse international organization that, despite the global Cold War
polarization of the time, brought together media researchers from the Soviet bloc, the
developing world, and the West. IAMCR has further differed from ICA in being
somewhat smaller and differently structured in membership, more focused on
international media policy and development issues, and more actively involved in
international policy debates on those issues. In response to the changing media
environment of the early 1990s, IAMCR changed its name (while keeping the same
acronym) to become the International Association for Media and Communication
Research. IAMCR sponsors publications including a book series and holds major biennial
conferences around the world, with smaller conferences held in alternate years
Communication as a Discipline
The word „discipline‟ in one of its standard senses refers to any distinct branch of
knowledge or learning. Philosophers over many centuries in the Western tradition have
proposed category schemes for classifying knowledge (Machlup, 1982). With the
development of modern research universities since the nineteenth century, the notion of a
discipline has evolved in relation to specific institutional and professional structures
(university faculties, scholarly societies, peer reviewed journals, funding agencies, etc.)
that interact in complex ways with conceptually defined categories of knowledge.
Becher (1989), in a study of academic disciplinary cultures, wrote:
“Disciplines are thus in part identified by the existence of relevant
departments; but it does not follow that every department represents a
discipline. International currency is an important criterion, as is a general
though not sharply-defined set of notions of academic credibility,
intellectual substance, and appropriateness of subject matter. Despite such
apparent complications, however, people with any interest and
involvement in academic affairs seem to have little difficulty in
understanding what a discipline is, or in taking a confident part in
discussions about borderline or dubious cases”. (Becher, 1989, p. 19)
Sociology, political science and economics are well-established social science
disciplines in this academic system. While communication in the last few decades has
acquired many of the trappings of a discipline, not even scholars in the communication
field universally regard it as such.
By one relatively straightforward definition, an academic field becomes a
discipline when it forms a faculty job market in which PhD-granting departments at
different universities regularly hire each other‟s graduates (Abbott, 2001).
Communication does appear to meet this structural criterion. For example, a survey of
ICA members conducted in 2005 found that two-thirds (rising to three-quarters of
younger members) had received academic degrees in communication (Donsbach 2006).
Skeptics, however, still may debate whether communication is sufficiently coherent and
distinct from other disciplines in its methods, theories, and objects of study to warrant
admitting it to that exclusive club.
History of the Debate
Communication‟s status as a discipline and/or an interdisciplinary field has been debated
internationally at least since the 1980s. The „Ferment in the Field‟ addressed by a special
issue of the Journal of Communication (JOC) in 1983 mainly concerned the insurgency
of critical cultural studies and political economy against the established tradition of
functionalist mass communication research (Gerbner, 1983). Because the insurgent
approaches had gained earlier acceptance in Europe and elsewhere than in the USA, the
„ferment‟ also involved tensions between different national traditions within an
increasingly internationalized field. The primary theme implied by the title and contents
of the special issue, although not endorsed with equal enthusiasm by all contributors, was
unity in diversity. The dissidents were now „in‟ the field. The field would be redefined to
This spirit of inclusiveness was somewhat in tension with a second theme of the
1983 JOC special issue: that the sought-for unity-in-diversity of communication studies
was that of a distinct academic discipline rather than an interdisciplinary area.
Discussions of this theme foreshadowed the elements of the communication science
model of communication as a social science discipline that was articulated in a series of
prestigious publications over the following decade (see especially Berger and Chaffee,
1987). While the communication science model acknowledged a broader field of
communication extending across a diverse array of academic disciplines and
methodological approaches, it asserted the existence of, or at least the potential for, a
focal discipline of communication marked by characteristic methods, lines of research,
and scientific theories.
More specifically, the communication science model described the discipline in
terms of five salient features: (1) its historical origins in the mid-twentieth century
interdisciplinary communication research movement; (2) its rapid institutional growth
and consolidation in the last decades of that century; (3) its core identity as an empirical
social science; (4) its proper place as a „variable‟ discipline spanning different „levels of
analysis‟ in the scheme of academic disciplines (Paisley, 1984); and (5) its urgent need to
rejoin the „split‟ between interpersonal and mass communication that constituted the most
serious barrier to the development of a cross-level theoretical core in the discipline (Craig,
1994; Hawkins, Wiemann & Pingree, 1988). Communication Science admittedly did not
yet have a well-developed theoretical core; however, its distinct focus on messages was
said to provide a framework for constructing new theories to explain how messages
perform specific functions across a micro-to-macro range of levels of analysis of
communication. Whereas „level‟ disciplines like psychology and sociology focus on
certain levels of human interaction, „variable‟ disciplines like communication and
economics focus on variables that perform related functions on all levels.
The communication science model asserted grounds for inclusiveness and closer
integration between interpersonal and mass communication studies, yet its core identity
as an empirical social science tended to marginalize the critical and humanistic studies
whose massive entrée into the field had produced the earlier-noted „ferment.‟ Aside from
that structural problem, not even all empirical social scientists agreed that communication
could or should become an independent discipline. Beniger (1988, 1990), for example,
argued based on journal citation analyses that the academic field of communication had
unfortunately isolated itself from interdisciplinary trends that offered the most fruitful
approaches to communication theory. None of the most important communication
theorists were associated with the communication discipline itself, he maintained; hence,
communication research could thrive intellectually only if studied as an interdisciplinary
field, not as an isolated discipline. Institutionalization of communication as a discipline
has only produced intellectual poverty, according to this view (Peters, 1986). Yet, as
Donsbach (2006) noted, powerful institutional imperatives still drive communication to
define itself as a discipline.
The ferment in the field was taken up in a different way in ICA‟s 1985 annual
conference on the theme “Beyond Polemics: Paradigm Dialogues” and a subsequent two-
volume edited collection of essays (Dervin, et al., 1989). Included among an international
group of authors representing a wide range of areas and approaches to communication
research were two major interdisciplinary theorists, Stuart Hall and Anthony Giddens.
Although the communication science model was reflected in several chapters and
commentaries, the framing vision of „paradigm dialogues‟ emphasized epistemological
pluralism, interdisciplinary openness, and critical reflexivity in communication studies.
One essay proposed that communication should be regarded as a “practical discipline”
that uses both scientific and humanistic methods to pursue a common, essential purpose,
“to cultivate communicative praxis, or practical art, through critical study” (Craig in
Dervin et al., 1989, vol. 1, p. 98).
In 1993 JOC revisited the question of disciplinary status in two successive special
issues on “The Future of the Field” (Levy & Gurevitch, 1993). A cross-section of the 48
articles reveals no emerging consensus. Many writers referred casually to „the discipline‟
as if there were no longer any question of disciplinary status or identity. Many others
claimed, some quite emphatically, that the field of communication was not a discipline,
but they differed greatly in their attitudes toward this fact and their prescriptions for what,
if anything, to do about it. Some were optimistic that the field was emerging towards
disciplinary status; others seemed equally certain that no such thing was happening.
Some saw the continuing fragmentation of the field as a problem; others celebrated
fragmentation as an invaluable source of adaptive strength. Some called urgently for
efforts to define the intellectual focus of the discipline; others just as urgently insisted
that any such effort to define a theoretical core would be not only useless but
counterproductive. Still others were unclear about the possibility or desirability of
becoming a discipline but nevertheless proposed various conceptual definitions of the
None of these views clearly dominated the field by the mid-2000s. The
disconnection between interpersonal and mass communication research was still regarded
by some as a problem (McMahan, 2004), as was the continued institutional growth of the
field without any consensus on a theoretical core and a rigorous scientific epistemology
(Donsbach, 2006). The pluralistic vision of „paradigm dialogues‟ also continued (Dervin,
2006; Putnam, 2001), as did efforts to define a disciplinary theoretical core that could still
accommodate the field‟s pluralism (Craig, 1999, 2007, forthcoming).
Prospect for the Future
If communication is a discipline, it is one that will continue to have distinctly applied
emphasis. As Donsbach (2006) noted, growth of the communication field has been
stimulated by the high demand for communication expertise in modern societies.
Applied communication research is both a quality that characterizes much of the field‟s
work globally as well as an organized subfield that has developed, so far, principally in
the USA ( Applied Communication Research). The field‟s practical relevance to
important policy concerns, ranging from media concentration to public health campaigns
to new forms of conflict resolution, both attracts research funding and draws
communication scholars into policy debates (Communication Research and Politics).
Also driving the field toward an applied emphasis is its incorporation of, or close
association with, a series of professional/occupational areas including, among others,
journalism and other media fields, public relations, advertising, intercultural training,
and organizational training and consulting . Creative efforts to resolve the inevitable
tensions that arise between the different needs or value priorities of professional training
versus academic research may, in an optimistic view, transform both types of work
constructively (Communication Professions and Academic Research). Research
scholars who may differ in their epistemological commitments still agree that
communication research should be applicable to key normative questions and social
problems (Deetz, 1994; Donsbach, 2006).
No matter how intellectually or institutionally well established the discipline of
communication may become, many areas of the field will continue to be highly
interdisciplinary. Contextually focused areas like health communication and political
communication inherently straddle disciplinary boundaries. Study of the media as social
institutions is unavoidably a multidisciplinary endeavor involving psychology, sociology,
economics, legal and policy studies, technology studies, etc. The question is not whether
communication will continue to be an interdisciplinary field, as it certainly will do. The
open question is whether communication may also have a theoretical core that enables
communication scholars to approach interdisciplinary topics from a distinct disciplinary
viewpoint that adds real value to the interdisciplinary enterprise. The growing centrality
of communication as a theme in global culture involves the discipline of communication
in a „double hermeneutic‟, a process in which the academic field derives much of its
identity and coherence from its profound engagement with communication as a category
of social practice while also contributing to the ongoing evolution of that very cultural
category that constitutes the discipline‟s centrally defining object of study.
SEE ALSO: Advertising; Aesthetics; Applied Communication Research;
Communication: History of the Idea; Communication and Law; Communication and
Media Studies, History since 1968; Communication and Media Studies, History to 1968;
Communication as an Academic Field: Africa; Communication as an Academic Field:
Australia, New Zealanf, Pacific Rim; Communication as an Academic Field: East Asia;
Communication as an Academic Field: Eastern Europe and Russia; Communication as an
Academic Field: Middle East, Arab World; Communication as an Academic Field:
Middle East, Israel; Communication as an Academic Field: South Asia; Communication
as an Academic Field: USA and Canada; Communication as an Academic Field: Western
Europe; Communication: Definitions and Concepts; Communication Professions and
Academic Research; Communication Research and Politics; Communication Theory and
Philosophy; Critical Theory; Cultural Studies; Cybernetics; Development
Communication; Discourse; Discursive Psychology; Ethnography of Communication;
Feminist and Gender Studies; Group Communication; Health Communication;
Hermeneutics; Historiography; Information Processing and Cognition; Innis, Harold;
Intercultural and Intergroup Communication; Interpersonal Communication; International
Association for Media and Communication Research (IAMCR); International
Communication; International Communication Association (ICA); Interpersonal
Communication; Journalism; Journalism Education; Language and Social Interaction;
Linguistic Pragmatics; Linguistics; McLuhan, Marshall; Media Economics; Media
Effects; Media History; Medium Theory; Meta-Discourse; New World Information and
Communication Order (NWICO); Organizational Communication; Organizational
Discourse; Paradigm; Personal Communication by CMC; Phenomenology; Political
Communication; Popular Culture; Propaganda; Public Relations; Research Methods;
Rhetoric and Dialectic; Rhetoric and Poetics; Rhetorical Studies; Semiotics; Speech
Communication, History of; Stereotypes; Technology and Communication; UNESCO.
KEYWORDS: Academic Disciplines; Academic Programs; Communication Studies;
Communication Theory; Double Hermeneutic; History of Communication and Media
Studies; Interdisciplinary Fields; Media Studies.
REFERENCES AND SUGGESTED READINGS:
Abbott, A. (2001). Chaos of disciplines. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Becher, T. (1989). Academic tribes and territories: Intellectual enquiry and the cultures
of disciplines. Milton Keynes, England & Bristol, PA: The Society for Research
into Higher Education & Open University Press.
Beniger, J. R. (1988). Information and communication. Communication Research, 15,
Beniger, J. R. (1990). Who are the most important communication theorists?
Communication Research, 17, 698-715.
Berger, C. R., & Chaffee, S. H. (Eds.). (1987). Handbook of communication science.
Newbury Park, CA: Sage.
Craig, R. T. (1994). A comunicacao na conversacao de disciplinas: Alemo do modelo de
ciencia da comunicacao [Communication in the conversation of disciplines:
Beyond the communication science model]. Revista de Comunicações e Artes
(Sao Paulo, Brazil),17, 32-40.
Craig, R. T. (1999). Communication theory as a field. Communication Theory, 9, 119-
Craig, R. T. (2007). Pragmatism in the field of communication theory. Communication
Theory, 17(2), 125-145.
Craig, R. T. (forthcoming). Communication in the conversation of disciplines. Russian
Journal of Communication.
Craig, R. T., & Carlone, D. A. (1998). Growth and transformation of communication
studies in U.S. higher education: Towards reinterpretation. Communication
Education, 47(1), 67-81.
Deetz, S. A. (1994). Future of the discipline: The challenges, the research, and the social
contribution. In S. A. Deetz (Ed.), Communication yearbook 17 (pp. 565-600).
Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Dervin, B. (Ed.). (2006). The strengths of our methodological divides: Five navigators,
their struggles and successes [special issue]. Keio Communication Review, 28, 5-
Dervin, B., Grossberg, L., O'Keefe, B. J., & Wartella, E. (Eds.). (1989). Rethinking
communication (2 volumes). Newbury Park, CA: Sage.
Donsbach, W. (2006). The identity of communication research. Journal of
Communication, 56(3), 437-448.
Gerbner, G. (Ed.). (1983, Summer). Ferment in the field [special issue]. Journal of
Communication, 33(3), 1-368.
Hawkins, R. P., Wiemann, J. M., & Pingree, S. (Eds.). (1988). Advancing communication
science: Merging mass and interpersonal processes. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.
Leung, K. W. Y., Kenny, J., & Lee, P. S. N. (Eds.). (2006). Global trends in
communication education and research. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press.
Levy, M. R., & Gurevitch, M. (Eds.). (1993). The future of the field--Between
fragmentation and cohesion [special issues]. Journal of Communication, 43(3), 1-
238 and 43(4), 1-190.
Machlup, F. (1982). Knowledge: Its creation, distribution, and economic significance.
Volume II: The branches of learning. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
McMahan, D. T. (2004). What we have here is a failure to communicate: Linking
interpersonal communication and mass communication. Review of
Communication, 4, 33-56.
Paisley, W. (1984). Communication in the communication sciences. In B. Dervin & M. J.
Voigt (Eds.), Progress in communication sciences (Vol. 5) (pp. 1-43). Norwood,
Peters, J. D. (1986). Institutional sources of intellectual poverty in communication
research. Communication Research, 13, 527-559.
Peters, J. D. (1999). Speaking into the air: A history of the idea of communication.
Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Putnam, L. L. (2001). Shifting voices, oppositional discourse, and new visions for
communication studies. Communication Theory, 51, 38-51.
BIOGRAPHY: Robert T. Craig (Advisory Editor) is a professor of communication at the
University of Colorado at Boulder and a past president of the International
Communication Association. His publications have addressed a range of topics in
communication theory and philosophy, discourse studies, and argumentation.
LEXICON CATEGORIES: Communication Studies; History.