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Theories of Communication

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Theories of Communication ­ MCM 511
VU
LESSON 12
MIDDLE RANGE THEORIES
Background
In US the golden age of TV began in the 1950s and continued throughout the 1960s; the highly
successful introduction of colour television during the 1960s confirmed the popularity of the new
medium. The life styles changed ­ visits with friends and extended family members declined sharply,
decline in book reading, less out door games.
Concern grew that Television is: affecting nation slowly, under mining our mental ability or moral fiber,
making us passive couch potatoes, there was mindless entertainment as against classic .Special attention
was directed at television's influence on children -- is it making them passive, dull or bringing violence
and lead them to juvenile delinquency. In late 1950s Wilbur Schramm, Jack Lyle and Edwin parker
directed on to the most ambitious research projects. During the 1960s and into the 1970s the limited
effects paradigm dominated American mass communication research. In this, the studies conducted by
Schramm's Stanford group demonstrated the power of the paradigm and its ability to produce findings
that had immediate, practical value.
First research center was established at the university of Illinois and then at Stanford university. These
research centers conducted its research without using a single well articulated theoretical framework. It
relied on a number of empirical generalizations that had emerged from earlier studies. Their goal was to
construct a theory based on systematic empirical observation. They worked inductively identifying
consistencies in their data and then summarizing and interpreting them. Their conclusions were No
informed person can say simply that television is bad or good for children ... for some children, under
some condition, some television is harmful for other children under the same condition or for the same
children under other conditions, and it will be beneficial. For most children under most conditions, most
television is probably neither particularly harmful nor particularly beneficial.
So according to the researcher the effect of television could most usefully be viewed as `an interaction
between characteristics of television and characteristics of viewers'
They asserted that the arrival of television hadn't radically altered child-rearing; it had merely
eliminated some old problems (reading comic books) and substituted new ones. The researchers advised
that although television might aggravate some child-rearing problems, these could be handled if parents
provided a little extra care and understanding.
And so other researchers also followed research in the limited effects paradigm they were content to
simply conduct empirical research and address the many research questions that started springing up.
But few thoughtful tried to take stock of what had been done. They wanted to know how all the
individual research findings might be added up or collated
Robert Merton could truly claim to the world of grand sociological theory in the tradition of Emile
Durkheim and the microscopic sociological observation as practice by Lazarsfeld and Hovland and
Schramm
The books he wrote were Social Theory and Social Structure and Social Theoretical Sociology. He gave
them perspective from which to interpret their work and he taught them the necessity of combining
induction with deduction. He provided a conceptual foundation for the new paradigm. He was a strong
advocate for what he called `theories of the middle range'
Unlike grand social theories (that is, mass society theory) that attempted to explain all forms of social
action, middle range theories were designed to explain only limited domains or ranges of action that had
been or could be explored during empirical research
Merton described middle-range theories as follows:
Middle-range theories consist of limited sets of assumptions from which specific hypotheses are
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Theories of Communication ­ MCM 511
VU
logically derived and confirmed by empirical investigations. These theories do not remain separate but
are consolidated into wider networks of theory.
These theories are sufficiently abstract to deal with differing spheres of social behavior and social
structure, so that they transcend sheer description or empirical generalization.
The middle range orientation involves the specification of ignorance , rather than pretend to knowledge
where it is in fact absent, this orientation expressly recognizes what must still be learned in order to lay
the foundation for still more knowledge.
So Merton argued that all this research work would eventually be brought to construct a comprehensive
theory that would have the power and scope of theories in physical sciences. Moreover , when it was
finally constructed, this theory would be far superior to earlier forms of social theory that were not
empirically grounded.
Thus, middle rang theory provide and ideal rationale for limited effects research. It implied that
eventually all the individual effects studies would add up and a broad perspective on the role of media
could be constructed
But the effort to combine them into broader theories proved more problematic than had been expected
Functional Analysis Approach
Merton used the perspective of functional analysis from carefully examining research in anthropology
and sociology.
That is the society consists of complex sets of interrelated activities, each of which supports the others.
Every form of social activity is assumed to play some part in maintaining the system as a whole.
So functionalist approach was that all practices that contribute to maintaining the society can be said to
be functional rather than good, any practices that are disruptive or harmful are by definition
Dysfunctional rather than evil.
As long as functional practices dominate and dysfunctional practices are kept to some minimum. The
society will flourish- it can be said to be in balance because the functional practices balance out the
dysfunctional ones. But it turned out to be quite complicated. Various forms of media content can be
functional or dysfunctional for society as a whole, for specific individuals, for various subgroups
E.g. news about a corrupt politician alerts the society is functional but dysfunctional for the politician.
So an over all problem with functional analysis is that it rarely permits any definitive conclusion to be
drawn about the overall functions or dysfunctions of media.
In general functional analysis produces conclusion that largely legitimize or rationalize the status quo.
E.g. existing forms of media content and the industries that produce them can be assumed to be
functional. After all if the society is not falling apart then it must be in balance.
Functional analysis ad the limited effects paradigm made a good fit , if media influence was modest,
media couldn't be too dysfunction
Information Flow Theory
Number of surveys and experiments were conducted to assess the flow of information from media to
mass audiences. The overall objective of this wok was to assess the effectiveness of media in
transmitting information to mass audiences. News flow research focused on determining whether
barriers impeded the flow of information from media to typical audience members
Some barriers investigated included:
·  level of education
·  amount of media use for news
·  interest in news
·  talking about news with others
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Theories of Communication ­ MCM 511
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·
difference between hard and soft news
·
hard news typically included news about politics, science world events and community
organizations
·
soft news included sports coverage gossip about popular entertainers and human interest
stories about average people
The research confirmed the importance of motivating people to pass on information, but suggested that
even a free gift was insufficient to guarantee the accurate flow of information.
The most important limitation of information flow theory is that it is a simplistic, linear, source-
dominated theory.
Information originates with authoritative or elite source then flows outward to ignorant individuals
Barriers to the information flow are to be identified and overcome and little effort is typically made to
consider whether the information has nay value or utility for average audience members.
Elite Pluralism
Like other examples of limited effects theory, elite pluralism assumes that media have little ability to
directly influence people. Media alone cannot alter politics. Elite pluralism argues that media, in the
name of stability should reinforce political party loyalties and assist the parties to develop and maintain
large voter coalitions. Media shouldn't be expected to lead public opinion but rather reinforce it. If
change is to occur, it must come from the pluralistic groups and be negotiated and enacted by the
leaders of these groups. This idea was spawned partly as an effort to make sense of the voter research
initiated by Lazarsfeld in the 1948 election. He and his colleagues found inconsistencies between their
empirical observation of typical voters and the assumption that classical democratic theory made
Classical democratic theory- assumed that every one must be well informed and politically active. But
the new perspective based on empirical data showed that average people didn't care about politics.
Voting decisions were more likely to be based on personal influence than on reasoned consideration of
the various candidates. So they argued that voter apathy weren't really a problem for the political
system as a whole. They argued that we are better off if our political system changes very slowly over
time as result of gradual conversions. They believed that the important factor was not the quality of
voting decisions but rather their stability
Opposition to Elite Pluralism
First look at the two terms ELITE and PLURALISM.
ELITE implies a political system in which power is ultimately in hands of a small group of influential
persons, a political elite.
PLURALISM refers to cultural, social, and political diversity.
It implies a political system in which many diverse groups are given equal status and representation.
Can there be a political system that is based on both of these principles- a system in which power is
centralized in the hands of the few but in which the rights and status of all minority groups are
recognized and advanced.
So to opponents elite pluralism was a rationalization of the status quo that provided no direction for
future development. Strong opposition to elite pluralism came from the political left headed by C.
Wright Mills. Based on his knowledge of survey research he argued that in American society, political
power was not decentralized across a broad range of pluralistic groups. Instead he believed that power
was centralized in a small group of military-industrial-complex leaders whom he called THE POWER
ELITE.
These elite were not representative of pluralistic groups. Rather it was isolated from them and typically
acted against their interests.
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Table of Contents:
  1. COMMUNICATION:Nature of communication, Transactional approach, Communication is symbolic:
  2. THEORY, PARADIGM AND MODEL (I):Positivistic Perspective, Critical Perspective
  3. THEORY, PARADIGM AND MODEL (II):Empirical problems, Conceptual problems
  4. FROM COMMUNICATION TO MASS COMMUNICATION MODELS:Channel
  5. NORMATIVE THEORIES:Authoritarian Theory, Libertarian Theory, Limitations
  6. HUTCHINS COMMISSION ON FREEDOM, CHICAGO SCHOOL & BASIC PRINCIPLES OF SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY THEORY
  7. CIVIC JOURNALISM, DEVELOPMENT MEDIA THEORY & DEMOCRATIC PARTICIPANT THEORY
  8. LIMITATIONS OF THE PRESS THEORY:Concentration and monopoly, Commercialism
  9. MCQUAIL’S FOUR KINDS OF THEORIES:Social scientific theory, Critical theory
  10. PROPAGANDA THEORIES:Origin of Propaganda, Engineering of Consent, Behaviorism
  11. PARADIGM SHIFT & TWO STEP FLOW OF INFORMATION
  12. MIDDLE RANGE THEORIES:Background, Functional Analysis Approach, Elite Pluralism
  13. KLAPPER’S PHENOMENSITIC THEORY:Klapper’s Generalizations, Criticism
  14. DIFFUSION OF INNOVATION THEORY:Innovators, Early adopters
  15. CHALLENGING THE DOMINANT PARADIGM:Catharsis Social learning Social cognitive theory
  16. SOCIAL COGNITIVE THEROY:Symbolizing Capacity, MODELLING
  17. MODELING FROM MASS MEDIA:Recent research, Summary, PRIMING EFFECTS
  18. PRIMING EFFECT:Conceptual Roots, Perceived meaning, Percieved justifiability
  19. CULTIVATION OF PERCEPTIONS OF SOCIAL REALITY:History
  20. SYSTEMS THEORIES OF COMMUNICATION PROCESSES:System
  21. EMERGENCE OF CRITICAL & CULTURAL THEORIES OF MASS COMMUNICATION
  22. REVISION:Positivistic perspective, Interpretive Perspective, Inductive approach
  23. CRITICAL THEORIES & ROLE OF MASS COMMUNICATION IN A SOCIETY -THE MEDIATION OF SOCIAL RELATIONS
  24. ROLE OF MASS MEDIA IN SOCIAL ORDER & MARXIST THEORY:Positive View
  25. KEY PRINCIPLES USED IN MARXISM:Materialism, Class Struggle, Superstructure
  26. CONSUMER SOCIETY:Role of mass media in alienation, Summary of Marxism
  27. COMMUNICATION AND CULTURE:Neo Marxism, Characteristics of Culture
  28. HEGEMONY:What exactly is the meaning of "hegemony"?
  29. CULTURE INDUSTRY:Gramscianism on Communications Matters
  30. POLITICAL ECONOMIC THEORY I:Internationalization, Vertical Integration
  31. POLITICAL ECONOMIC THEORY II:Diversification, Instrumental
  32. POLITICAL ECONOMIC THEORY III:Criticism, Power of Advertising
  33. AGENDA SETTING THEORY:A change in thinking, First empirical test
  34. FRAMING & SPIRAL OF SILENCE:Spiral of Silence, Assessing public opinion
  35. SPIRAL OF SILENCE:Fear of isolation, Assessing public opinion, Micro-level
  36. MARSHALL MCLUHAN: THE MEDIUM IS THE MESSAGE AND MASSAGE
  37. KNOWLEDGE GAP THEORY:Criticism on Marshal McLuhan
  38. MEDIA SYSTEM DEPENDENCY THEORY:Media System Dependency Theory
  39. USES AND GRATIFICATIONS THEORY:Methods
  40. RECEPTION THEORY
  41. FRAMING AND FRAME ANALYSIS:Information Processing Theory, Summing up
  42. TRENDS IN MASS COMMUNICATION I:Communication Science, Direct channels
  43. TRENDS IN MASS COMMUNICATION II:Communication Maxims, Emotions
  44. GLOBALIZATION AND MEDIA:Mediated Communication, Post Modernism
  45. REVISION:Microscopic Theories, Mediation of Social Relations