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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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Final Thoughts


The intent of this book is to provide a categorization and summary of that portion of communication theory that meets the traditional criteria defining them as “scientific.” With the exception of a few constructed in functional form, scientific communication theory is almost universally causal in nature. Each of these theories fits within one of three causal models: the OSPR message production model, the OSPR message reception model, and the IPO model, usually in the interactive version. It is fair to say that, of these three, only the interactive IPO model instantiates the idea of communication-relevant activity as a “process” in the sense of moment-to-moment change based on ever-present feedback loops encompassing people and messages. The message reception model treats the communicative experience as a one-time-only, feedback-less affair, in which a person with a particular psychological structure experiences an event that could last for as long as a couple of hours in the case of a movie, thinks about the whole thing as a unit, and then responds to that overall thinking with cognitive and/or behavioral change, ending the entire episode. The message production model handles the experience analogously, with a person planning and delivering one message in response to goal and situation. It is true that a few message reception theories (for example, social learning theory) consider the long-term consequences of repeated messages or ← 347 | 348 → the impact of one message on responses to subsequent ones, and a few message production theories (e.g., planning theory) include multiple messages...

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