Defining Communication

Defining Communication
~ Lecture Three ~

Good luck! ­čÖé

Remember that we are exclusively focused on interpersonal communication and the use of language. The definition provided in the textbook appears cumbersome, but it does encompass both the complexity and meaningfulness that this course aims to explore:

“Communication is the continuous, complex, collaborative process of
verbal and non-verbal meaning-making through which
we construct the worlds of meaning we inhabit.”
(John Stewart, p. 22.)


The reading assignment takes you through each component of this definition and describes five implications. Instead of summarizing the text for you, I will supplement it by sharing some excerpts from another book I’m reading, The Scientists by John Gribbin (2002). This book is a history of what is often called “hard science” in contrast with the “soft sciences” that have to do with people and social relations. It might be interesting to have a discussion about the meanings of “hard” and “soft” in the context of science, but for the moment my goal is to show how the principles of the scientific method are not separate nor exempt from the above definition of communication.
For instance, Gribbin asserts that the only truth science can give us is mathematical. Concerning the “move on from the classical science of Newton (dealing, broadly speaking, with things you can see and touch) to the ideas of the twentieth century (dealing, in some sense, with things that cannot be seen or touched), Gribbin tells us, “Models are important, and helpful; but they are not the truth; in so far as there is scientific truth, it resides in the equations” (431). The so-called “soft sciences” also deal with the intangible: with relationships and dynamics rife with patterns, rituals, and rhythms. In fact, the microscope we will turn on language use is a technology that scientists discovered long ago: “…although it is quite right to say that light behaves like a wave in many circumstances (particularly when traveling from A to B), under other circumstances it behaves like a stream of tiny particles, just as Newton thought. We cannot say that light is a wave or is corpuscular; only that under certain circumstances it is like a wave or like a particle” (italics in original, 430). This may seem like a distinction of little account, however in the world of hard science, like versus is means the difference between painstaking precision and grotesque overgeneralization.
The soft sciences, and communication in particular, are no less attentive to fine detail. We are always concerned with the circumstances and conditions of the subject of study. Social scientists scrutinize our objects of study as cautiously and deliberately as any hard scientist. The label of “hard” or “soft” applies to the percentage of predictability each science generates: the soft sciences always have more variables and less controls in our objects of study than the hard sciences. The question arises as to the value placed on prediction as a skill or tool. Again, the purpose of this class is not to resolve such a debate, rather, it is to explore the way that we talk the value of prediction into being, literally, into existence: “the construction of [a] world of meaning.”

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