Charles Berger - Chautauqua:  Why are there so few Communication Theories?

First, there are two major problems in the field of Communication:

  1. the field has become more and more fragmented. While this happens as specialization and growth occurs in many fields, it is especially a problem in communication because the theories are so specific and applied (niche) that there is very little that can apply across the field, or at the least, to overlap with other related theories. (FRAGMENTATION)

  2. The field doesn't have a strong core.  It borrows ideas from other related disciplines often, but doesn't reciprocate by providing ideas to other disciplines for their use.  (NOT A TWO WAY STREET)
    Why?  Because of a lack of original development
    This results in low self-esteem in communication, and low respect from other disciplines

Outsiders have some common misconceptions about the field of communication:

  1. communication research is an APPLIED social science (not too theoretical)

  2. communication departments teach communication SKILLS rather than actually doing communication research

Within communication, nobody wants to generate new ideas.  It is a trend to recycle or summarize old ideas, or to look to other disciplines and borrow / genaralize their ideas.

For instance:  how many people make careers and are rewarded from writing their own 'Introduction to Communication' books?  They are not creating any new theory- just recycling ideas that are already known)

Why do communication profs do this?

- many don't know what a theory is!  Many stick to very applied, specific METHODOLOGIES that are very narrow in scope
- while methodologies are important, they shouldn't SUBSTITUTE for real insightfulness, creativity, and new THEORY GENERATION
- COGENT IDEAS are more important than trendy data analysis techniques
- we need new INSIGHTS, IDEAS, and THEORIES to make our field RELEVANT

Avoiding theory generation:  RISK (to one's ego):

- a big factor in the lack of theory generation is the large risk involved.  It is much less risky for an academic to make a career of disproving other people's theories than to make your own theories and have people attempt to destroy them
- we must be willing to be proved partially wrong, and not let it damage our EGO
- since data analysis techniques are not perfect, we must be open to the fact that portions of our ideas will be disproved somehow

Grad students are part of the problem too- they are looking for SKILLS to further their own ends, and don't really care about theory generation

Also, if the field isn't narrow and focus, it is more difficult to engage in theory generation (such as the FRAGMENTED field of COMMUNICATION)

What we need: