Mediju un komunikācijas zinātne: latviešu izdevums profesora Dr.phil. Aināra Dimanta tulkojumā un zinātniskajā redakcijā ar līdzautora papildinājumiem

Translated title of the contribution: Media and Communication Science

Ainārs Dimants (Scientific Editor), Klaus Beck

Research output: Book/ReportBookpeer-review


The introduction to communication studies consists of two sections. In the first section, the core concepts and terms of the discipline are defined to emphasize the central phenomena and scientific basis of this respected field of research and teaching. A broad view of communication studies is presented, expanding its scope from the traditionally researched subjects of journalism and mass media (mass communication) to human communication of all types and forms.
The starting point of our consideration of communication is the phenomenon of communication between two human beings, based only on spoken language (parole) and including all the signals that can be observed in a face-to-face situation without the use of any technical devices (such as telecommunications media).
In the next step, interpersonal communication beyond dialogue between two people is scrutinized, including the function of communication in the structuring of relations between groups (i.e. power relations). Going further, we will examine communication within the more formal settings of organizations before turning to communication in the public sphere.
The “public sphere” is a central term in communication studies, especially in the sociological tradition of the discipline in Germany, whereas the Anglo-Saxon mainstream of media and communication studies emphasizes the use of the term “mass” (as in mass communication and mass media). In our book, both perspectives will be considered and criticized.
The media play an important role in human communication through complex functions and different forms of mediated communication. Therefore, we need a deeper understanding of media that goes beyond a description of technical devices. Because media theory is an important part of communication studies, we consider in detail what media actually consist of and which functions media (should) provide for the society as a whole or for specific social systems like economy, public policy, culture, education etc.
The second section of the book presents a systematic overview of the four main fields of communication, a summary of the historical development of the discipline within the last century, and a selection of the main sub-disciplines of communication science. The reader will learn about the research questions driving the thinking and empirical analysis of communication scholars, the theoretical approaches they have developed and used and some of the core empirical results produced.
Communication studies or science has undergone a process of differentiation along with the differentiation of the empirical field. Human communication and the media have become more and more complex and relevant in our everyday lives, and as a result, more and more questions have arisen for social research. The discipline has experienced a change from a sometimes normative discipline of the humanities to a social science that relies on empirical methods and sometimes positivistic attitudes. Because human communication is a widespread and fundamental phenomenon with a multitude of relevant aspects, communication studies engages with many other sciences. In the areas of intersection, many mixed or hybrid sub-disciplines, including communication psychology, media economics, communication history, communication ethics, etc., have developed, applying theoretical approaches and methodologies from their mother disciplines to the research questions of communication studies. For the student, this diversity of communication studies can be both enriching and challenging. The book will provide a comprehensive orientation to the field.

Key Concepts of Communication Science
In common understanding and in our everyday theories, we conceive of communication as the transport, transfer or exchange of information, but the mere transmission of sounds (spoken language) or other signals does not determine what will happen in the mind of the person who receives the message. The attentive communicator observes that, although everyone perceives the same signal, different people will understand it differently. Finally, if I communicate something to another human being, I will only share that information. Sharing does not mean to forget or lose the information but to double or multiply it. That is completely different from processes like transport, transfer or excahnge. From a sociological standpoint, our everyday understanding of communication is misleading. We intend to share meaning by using language and other signals, but we cannot determine the effect of our communication on the receiver. Communicating with other human beings is not as simple as switching a light on or off (or programming a computer, to name a more “intelligent” machine); it is a fundamentally different process from what happens between animals or between humans and animals, driven by instincts or trained to obey by operant conditioning. The wisdom of the humanities as well as research from neuroscience tells us that every human being has their own way of perceiving and making sense of outside stimuli or signals emitted by our communication partners. The cognitive process of making sense is not completely deliberate but grounded in our biological, social and cultural heritage and is modulated by the biography of the communication partner and his or her knowledge, experiences, motivations, and various situational and relational factors. Communication means not programming each other but rather irritating each other’s cognitive systems. Communication should not be understood as the transport of definite or unique information from one side called sender to another side called receiver. Transfer models of human communication and the popular theory of information (Shannon & Weaver) are therefore untenable.
Human communication is better understood as a mutual interaction of two (or more) human beings who intentionally use signs to mediate and share meanings with each other. The process of communication is at the same time a process of social action and a use of signs. The communicators involved are actors in the sense of Max Weber’s Action Theory and the Symbolic Interactionism of George Herbert Mead and Herbert Blumer. Communicator A “takes the role of” communicator B when deciding what and how to communicate, and communicator B “takes the role of” communicator A when she tries to make sense of what she has heard or seen. B gives feedback to A about what sense he makes of A’s communication. To communicate means to intentionally act with the help of signs to share a thought, description, belief, impression, emotion, etc., and it means to actively listen and watch in order to understand what is being communicated by the other subject. Communication is only complete or successful after several communicative acts have been followed up. Successful Communication does not mean necessarily a perfect understanding or an absolute congruency of meanings which are probably impossible.
In their communication, humans use a type of sign that does not exist in the behaviour of animals or in other processes observable in nature. Humans use symbols; these are signs that rely on cultural conventions and traditions. For example, the letter A has nothing to do with the sound ‘a’; there is no causality or other relation between the sound and the sign—only the convention that the letter ‘A’ symbolises the sound phenomenon ‘a’. Of course, this is true only for cultures and people who use the Latin alphabet, not the Cyrillic alphabet or another symbol system, for example, those used in Japan or China. The way that sounds are symbolized by letters in the Latin alphabet is very different even in languages that are very close, for example, German and English.
As well as the symbol, there are other types of signs: icons (e.g. a painting or photographic image) look very similar to the things they reference, but they are still different from the ‘real thing’. ‘Index’ is the name for signs that are not emitted intentionally by an actor but are mere effects of other events. A common example is smoke as an index sign for fire. In this case, no conscious communicator intends to share meaning with another human being. The fire has no freedom of choice to emit smoke or not; it just happens. In interpersonal human communication, we can use symbols and icons instrumentally and efficiently, but sometimes we unwittingly display index signs that disclose something about our affective or mental state. Sometimes we would prefer not to, but we can’t help laughing, crying, blushing etc. Our communication partner perceives and tries to interpret this sign. In summary, a lot of processes use different types of signs, but only human communication uses arbitrary symbols based on language and culture that have to be learned. Although fundamental differences exist between human communication and the signalling processes that take place between animals or technical devices (computers), human communication also signals indexical and iconic signs. Communication is a complex process in which people who act intentionally, reflexively and mutually share different types of signs to communicate specific message to specific partners.
Communication that occurs beyond the dyad of two strongly contributes to the building and structuring of groups, because communication is a basic social activity. Communication is fundamentally needed to organize groups and to coordinate any common activity. The communication of all group members reproduces their individual roles, their inter-relations and the hierarchy or hierarchy of the group. Small groups as well as large organizations such as state administrations or business firms are constructed of networks of communication. Communicative action weaves the fabric of any social text. Rules of communication exist for every group or organization: Who is allowed to talk to whom? When and how often? About what issues? Who is in the social position to ask, to answer, to declare, to command or to report? Insiders and outsiders have different opportunities to participate. In organisations, communication acts as a power resource, and the control of communication within the organisation belongs to those in power. Their strategies result in the formalisation of rules for communication, but nevertheless (and fortunately), informal communication (e.g. gossip, chit-chat, private conversations) flourish in every organisation. For communication sociologists, the network approach is helpful to understand what is going on in groups and organisations of any type.
In a globalised society, two persons or small groups like families sometimes live apart from each other, and this is also true for employees in large organisations. Living and working abroad makes face-to-face communication an impossible task. People have overcome distance by using smoke signals, whistles, letters, the telegraph and the telephone and, nowadays email, instant messaging and all kinds of telecommunication media to communicate. Every telecommunication media used to bridge space and time is based on technology but is much more complex than a connected device consisting of wires, data processors, storages and displays. To enable communication over distance, a network is necessary that consists not only of senders, transmitters, cables and receivers but also a complex organisation of people working together. Postal and telecommunication providers are funded by the state or by the market; they are business firms bringing together supply and demand. To build and maintain the telecommunications infrastructure, tremendous capital investments are needed. For international and even for domestic connections, standards of operation and codes of conduct have to be negotiated, and the processes have to be regulated. Communicators using telecommunication services have to learn and apply a complex set of rules governing which media are appropriate for what function and how to use media in a way that is acceptable for all participants. Theories of media choice and media use demonstrate that many techno-economic, content-related, sociocultural, personal and situational factors work together and have to be analysed by the communication researcher.
As a second key concept, media in this book are understood exclusively as a means of communication between human beings, and not as connectors to the dead (as in spiritualism), specific means of instruction (didactics), as money, power, or truth (as in sociological systems theory) or as different things such as the alphabet and weapons (as in the famous essays of Marshal McLuhan). Media in communication science are mediators for human communication, not only transmitters. According to the Swiss scholar Ulrich Saxer, the concept of media comprises four essential aspects: media are complex social systems (i) based on technical forms; they are (ii) purposeful social organisations, (iii) using different signs and following (iv) institutional rules while solving and producing new social problems, i.e. showing functional or dysfunctional consequences.
The media of public communication (“mass communication”) generate several crucial functions for modern differentiated societies. An overarching function is the informational function, not to be understand as a means of technical transmission but as enabling human communication and, as a consequence, the social construction of meaning. In the long run, information can lead to societal learning, the accumulation of knowledge, and the building of a culture. Media perform social functions like socialisation, the integration of people, orientation and recreation as well as economic functions (e.g., transparent markets, employment, the accumulation of capital, profits etc.). The political functions of the media are closely connected with the public sphere.
According to Habermas, the public sphere is not spatially defined but rather a network of communication and a process of communicating propositions (describing facts and events) and opinions, resulting in more or less shared public opinions. The public sphere acts like a mirror for the whole society and for political decision-makers, allowing them observe what is going on in different fields or subsystems of a differentiated society. Scholars disagree about how discursive and rational public communication actually occurs.
From a socio-psychological point of view, public opinion is the opinion one can utter without any fear of isolation from other people. For systems theory, public opinion results not in a rational consensus but rather shows the relevant issues about which one can have different opinions.
The term mass communication has been prominent in international research and scholarship and, as a consequence, has been widely adopted. Mass communication is usually defined as public communication by means of technical media in an indirect way, i.e. bridging spatial or temporal distance. Various doctrines address whether the communication is only one-to-many, with defined and fixed roles for (only one) communicator and many dispersed recipients (Mass Communication Perspective) or whether public communication is a mediated social communication (MSC). In MSC, the roles of communicating and mediation are distinguished carefully, and it is possible to exchange the roles of communicator and recipient without any necessity for the communicator to become a professional mediator such as a journalist. Public communication between different communication partners is modelled as a mutual process, mediated by the media. From a normative point of view, it is important that all social groups are represented in public communication by the media, which must be as neutral and impartial as possible. In fact, several different types of mediation in public communication are not impartial but rather paid to influence the pubic or individual opinion and behaviour: advertising, public relations and propaganda.

Communication Studies: Plural and Interdisciplinary
The second part of the book describes the central research questions, research fields and some sub-disciplines of communication science. The discipline is widely understood as an integrative science that is looking for answers to the central question, ‘How is human communication possible?’ from different perspectives. A plurality of doctrines, schools and approaches has developed within the last century rather than a single Grand Theory of communication.
In 1948, Harold D. Lasswell developed the Lasswell Formula, which is understood as a heuristic for organizing the different fields of research: who says what to whom and with what effect? “Who” represents the field of communicator and journalism research, “what” stands for content analysis of media, “whom” refers to audience and uses research, and “what effect” refers to media impact research. Another question could be added: which channel or media incorporates research on media systems and organisations in the field?
The book provides a general overview of the relevant research questions in these fields as well as some insights into the most relevant findings. The field of communicator research mainly comprises journalism studies. These studies show that journalists select and present news according to professional rules and normative standards but depend on the whole media system and the type of media organisation they work for. Journalists work together in an editorial department that can be organised as a newsroom for different media types. In the selection of news, certain factors play a crucial role, and journalists’ behaviour is based on various self-perceptions and role models.
Media content research relies on the empirical methods of qualitative and quantitative content analysis. These methods allow researchers to detect and compare media bias and variations in the way media cover issues over time as well as internationally. Empirically valid knowledge about media content is a precondition of impact research and contributes to the explanation of media usage. Within the last decades, the characterization of media consumers or recipients has changed from passive receiving targets of one-way mass communication and manipulative propaganda to a more rational individuals actively choosing media. The Uses and Gratification Approach claims that recipients decide which media content they will use according to their former experiences and actual needs. Selective usage and exposure as well as the differences among people are relevant preconditions to understanding whether, how and why media affects people – or not. We need to distinguish different types of media effects or impacts in terms of time (immediate, enduring), individual intensity (weak or strong) and social extensity (society as a whole or specific age, gender, ethnic, professional and income groups). Most media effects tend to be – in most cases – not very strong or direct, but there are many hypotheses yet to be tested empirically. The book gives some examples and shows two prominent approaches to the integration of research results.
In the final section of the book, a selection of four sub-disciplines is described to show the diversity of communication and media research. Communication is organised in a capitalist way, and it is regulated by the state and by its users. Therefore, from media and communication policy to media economics, the ethics of communication and media, and the history of communication media, the theoretical approaches and empirical results presented explain who we communicate with and how human communication in modern societies is possible at all.
Translated title of the contributionMedia and Communication Science
Original languageLatvian
Place of PublicationRīga
PublisherBiznesa augstskola Turība
ISBN (Print)978-9934-453-29-6
Publication statusPublished - 2021

Publication series

NameSabiedrisko attiecību bibliotēka
PublisherBiznesa augstskola Turība


  • communication science
  • communication
  • signs
  • symbols
  • media
  • public sphere
  • mass communication
  • communicator research
  • media content research
  • impact research
  • uses and gratification approach
  • media effects
  • sub-disciplines of media and communication science

Field of Science*

  • 5.8 Media and Communication

Publication Type*

  • 2.2. Scientific monographs or collective monographs


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