Communication Studies

Communication Studies in Brief

The scope of communication studies as a discipline gives rise to the challenge of clarifying just who we are and what we are about. For those exploring communication studies as a possible major it is useful to have a brief sense of the extent, the history and the current state of the discipline.

photoThe breadth is due, in part, to the reality that we are an arts and humanities discipline with rich ties to history, philosophy, literary and performance studies. We are also a social science, sharing our more recent history as well as concepts and methodologies with sociology, psychology and political science. Finally, we are a practical craft. Historically that craft has been public speaking, while today it also includes the crafting of messages in various digital media and applied contexts such as public relations and journalism. Aristotle called communication studies (then known as rhetoric) a discipline without boundaries and that is still true today.

The ideal communication studies student is one that enjoys making connections between theory and practice. By this we mean that our best students are those that find ways to connect the insights derived from the study of communication with their practice of communication in all its forms: conversation, mediation, writing, digital media and more.

Despite the breadth of communication studies, there are a few ideas that have traditionally held it together as a discipline. The first is the centrality of symbol use to our own humanity. Philosophically we are firm believers in the power of communication and its central role in both citizenship and personal development. This power has been recognized for centuries. Isocrates noted that

... because there has been implanted in us the power to persuade each other and to make clear to each other whatever we desire, not only have we escaped the life of wild beasts, but we have come together and founded cities and made laws and invented arts; and, generally speaking, there is no institution devised by man which the power of speech has not helped us to establish. (Isocrates, Antidosis).

A more contemporary communication scholar offers a similarly compelling reminder of the centrality of communication in the human condition:

More importantly, there is a revolutionary discovery that communication is, and always has been, far more central to whatever it means to be a human being than had ever before been supposed. Prior to this century, no major analysis of international relations explained inequitable standards of life or power as the result of a particular pattern of communication between nations, but this is a common theme today. No major analysis of the form of government focused on media and channels of communication, but this is a common orientation today. No interpretation of pathologies of individual or families cited patterns of communication as the causes of problems or the means of their solution. But this is a unifying concept in half a dozen disciplines today. . . . Some social scientists claim that "the world" exists in communication; that the apparently stable even/objects of the social world-from economic systems to personality traits to "dinner with friends"-are collectively constructed patterns of conversations; and that "solution" to (some? most? all?) problems consists in changing the conversations we have about them.

W. Barnett Pearce, Communication and the Human Condition.

The strong link between communication studies and personal development is not a new idea. Classical and medieval education placed rhetoric front and center in the curriculum of the day. There were three central disciplines in the medieval university known as the trivium. Those three were grammar (mastery of language use), logic (mastery of reasoning and argumentation) and rhetoric (mastery of public speaking). All three were emphasized since eloquence and clear thinking were considered central to both personal development and effective citizenship.

Communication studies has been at the heart of the university for centuries and emerged as a very popular major at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. The National Communication Association lists well over 350 undergraduate and 76 doctoral programs in the discipline. This growth has also lead to an expanding body of research within the discipline. There are over 25 academic and professional associations devoted to the study and practice of various aspects of communication. Many of these associations publish their own journals and they contribute to the over 100 periodicals that directly explore the study and practice of various forms of communication.

Within our curriculum we offer classes that reflect the history and "center" of the discipline with courses such as Rhetorical Theory, Public Speaking, and Communication Theory. We also continue to integrate courses that reflect the historic and contemporary sub-areas within communication studies. Offerings such as Storytelling, Digital Media Production, Media, Culture and Society, Health Communication, Integrated Marketing Communication and others expose students to current concepts and research in the field as well as opportunities to grow in the application of that knowledge while gaining practical communication competencies.

The future of the discipline and career opportunities for graduates remain strong. Communication technologies continue to change but the basic human need for connection: to understand and be understood, remains as important as ever.