Communication Currents

COMM 365: Celebrating 100 Years of Communication Research through 2014

December 1, 2013

In honor of the National Communication Association’s upcoming Centennial, I’m excited to announce COMM 365, a project celebrating 100 years of communication research. Five times per week, the NCA website will post brief, accessible write-ups of impactful concepts, theories, and research findings from our field of study. The entries will begin in January of 2014 and run throughout the year. Our hope is to generate interest from instructors and scholars and also to provide the feature as a resource to members of the media, the public, and students.

This past year I’ve worked closely with the leadership of NCA’s interest groups to solicit and edit submissions and I’m happy to report that a great number of the divisions participated. We have a diverse set of entries—approximately ten per interest group—representing the breadth of our discipline. As chair of the project, I’d like to sincerely thank all of those who submitted entries as well as the heads of the divisions who coordinated the efforts.

My co-chair, Dawn Braithwaite, and I are working closely with the NCA national office to consider ways in which to provide greater visibility for the project, but we also hope NCA members and others will promote and employ it as a teaching tool. The nuggets of information featured serve as an effective point of departure for undergraduate students enrolled in basic theory and research methods courses. For example, instructors may assign students to review the findings, which will be posted daily and neatly archived by topic, to generate research ideas for papers or extra credit projects. Additionally, the entries have been written and edited in such a way as to be useful to teachers in secondary educational settings who have an interest in drawing from the field of communication for class instruction or related activities.

As the project goes live in January 2014, please consider heading to the NCA website for COMM 365 as a way to share the very best of our ideas and research. Here are some examples of the posts you will see there….

Relational Dialectics Theory 

In 1996, Leslie Baxter and Barbara Montgomery developed Relational Dialectics Theory (RDT), which helps us understand the communicative struggles we face as we make sense of our relational experiences and how meaning emerges from such struggle. Communicative struggle pervades the human experience, but particulars vary by culture. For example, in US middle-class, Anglo culture, parents and children might struggle to construct their relationship as autonomous or connected. They might favor one, vacillate between the two, or construct a relational meaning combining autonomy and connection in a novel way. RDT has helped us understand a variety of family issues, such as how families construct adoption as valid against a cultural ideal that deems it inferior to biological reproduction, how children construct closeness with stepparents while remaining loyal to nonresidential parents, how forgiveness is negotiated in families, and how families experience ambiguous loss.

Communication and Narrative 

“God made Man because He loves stories,” wrote Holocaust survivor and author/activist Elie Wiesel in The Gates of the Forest in 1966. His quote demonstrates the crucial role of story-telling in human life, which has long been a focus of communication studies. Walter R. Fisher, Emeritus Professor, University of Southern California Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, has done much to advance the concept that all human communication is a story-telling process. Fisher proposed arguments should be tested, not just on rational grounds, but on how they hold together as narratives. Fisher’s belief in this paradigm, or model for looking at communication, is most famously expressed by his statements that the human race should be thought of as “homo narrans” and that “man is a story-telling animal.”

Race, Sex, and Sports Media 

Americans love sports because they teach important values such as hard work, dedication, and perseverance. Sports also teach the idea of fairness, as both athletes and teams are evaluated on their own merit by the use of statistics and win/loss records. However, sports coverage in the US media is influenced by both the race and sex of the athletes. Research reveals that women’s sports receive less overall coverage compared to men’s sports, and when women do receive coverage they are more likely to be featured for a sex-stereotyped sport (e.g., figure skating) or discussed in belittling ways. African-Americans are more likely to be discussed as naturally athletic, whereas Whites are more likely to be described as intelligent. Further, African-American athletes accused of committing crimes are portrayed more negatively compared to White athletes accused of committing crimes.

These are just a few examples of the wealth of material available to those interested in learning more about communication research.