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A Survey of Scientific Communication Theory

Charles Pavitt

This detailed survey of present-day scientific communication theory rejects the outmoded «levels» organizational scheme in favor of a system based on the underlying model and fundamental explanatory principle each theory presupposes. In doing so it shows the fundamental similarities among all communication-relevant contexts. Most theories included in the book are causal in nature, derived from one of three underlying models: message production, message reception, or interactive. A few theories take on a functional form, sometimes in dialectic or systemic versions. An introductory chapter describes what is meant by scientific explanation, how that concept is instantiated in scientific communication theory, and delineates the three causal models prevalent in these theories. A useful resource for scholars, this book is suitable for graduate and advanced undergraduate courses in communication theory.
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The goal of this book is to examine the current state of what, for want of a better term, I call scientific communication theory through a categorization and summary of a relatively large set of representative theories.1 It is an extension of an earlier book chapter (Pavitt, 2010) that introduced the method for categorization and gave a short mention to many of the theories included here. While preparing that chapter, I realized that a large majority of present-day scientific communication theories are founded on the assumptions about human motivation underlying the three most significant movements in 20th century experimental psychology: learning theory, Gestalt psychology, and cognitive psychology. At the same time, I also learned that almost every present-day scientific communication theory relies on a variant of either one of two causal models, the Organism-Stimulus-Process-Response Model and the Input-Process-Output Model, both of which I define in the first chapter. The only exceptions in this latter class are that tiny class of scientific communication theory that follows a functional form.

There is an ulterior motive to this categorization scheme, one shared by my earlier communication theory book (Pavitt, 2000b). It is traditional for communication theory courses and textbooks to classify communication theory according to the so-called levels: interpersonal, group, organizational, ← vii | viii → and mass. (I purposely leave out intrapersonal communication. Even though the concept makes sense from learning theoretic and symbolic interactionist approaches, I still consider it an oxymoronic and utterly useless term that should be permanently banished...

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