Theoretical literacy

Learning objective: Theoretical literacy within the communication discipline demonstrated by the ability to articulate at least one theoretical framework and use it to illuminate a real-life communication problem, strategy, or initiative.

I did not know what to do with a communication theory when I started this program in the spring of 2013. My first course, COM613, Constructive Messages and Audiences with Dr. MacArthur, was full of unfamiliar theories. Coming from a business background, academics such as Putnam and Mayhew were completely unfamiliar to me.

During COM613, I read that the study of communication is like painting a mountain. Some people may paint a gorgeous landscape, with towering mountain peaks, a bubbling brook and lush vegetation. Other painters may focus on one tiny yellow flower situated at the bottom of a valley.

I learned that the study of communication can be as broad as a landscape or as focused as a single flower. Throughout my program, I learned that the application of theories can also be broad or focused. I learned that theories are the tools communication scholars use to make sense of the environment around them.

During COM613, I learned that theories are not judged on their “correctness” or their “accuracy,” as they are in math or physics. Communication theories or not good or bad. Rather, theories are useful or not useful, based on the situation.

One theory that I have found to be useful in many situations in Weick’s (1979) sense-making model. This model describes how organizations manage the sense-making process (Eisenberg, Goodall, Jr., & Trethewey, 2014).

Weick’s (1979) model explains how organizations make sense of complex environments through communication and the attribution of meaning. The central theme of Weick’s (1979) model of organizing is “how the members of an organization communicate to make sense of equivocal situations” (Eisenberg et al., 2014, p. 110).

Weick explains this communication process through his model of organizing (1979), which includes three main elements: enactment, selection, and retention.

Weick’s Sense-making Model:

wrenchorgcomm-27115-fig022

Image from http://ci-journal.net/index.php/ciej/article/view/587/940, accessed April 28th, 2017.

I applied this theory in my Capstone project on food allergy discourse and restaurant sense making. This theory was useful as it illuminated how a restaurant makes sense of guests who have food allergies. The theory provided a tool with which to study how a restaurant creates its enacted environment and defines the roles that its organizational members can play within that environment.

Please read my thesis for detailed findings: Food Allergy Discourse and Sense Making in Restaurants_Woodbury MA COMM Capstone 2017

Overall I have learned that communication theories are different that scientific theories. Communication theories are not proved right or wrong. Rather, they are proved useful or not useful for studying various situations.

References:

  • Eisenberg, E. M., Goodall, H. L., Jr., & Trethewey, A. (2014). Organizational communication:
  • Balancing creativity and constraint (6th ed.). Boston, MA: Bedford / St. Martin’s.
  • Ihlen, B. van Ruler, & M. Fredriksson (Eds.), 2009, Public relations and social theory: Key figures and concepts (pp. 166-185). New York, NY: Routledge,
  • Weick, K. E. (1979). The social psychology of organizing (2nd ed). Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.
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