Communication Theory

What is Communication?

Transactional, symbolic process which allows people to establish contact, exchange information, reinforces attitudes and behaviors and change attitudes and behaviors.

The core communication model Source – who, Message – says what, Channel – through what channel and Receiver – to whom [with what effect]

Communication is important in our daily lives, but it is not something that we think about very frequently. We use communication to carry on relationships, work in groups and organizations, and understand and affect the world around us. Because communication is so important to us, it is useful to understand something about it.

Communication is a difficult concept to define. Most people do not think about communication much unless they have a problem with it and sometimes not even then. Though we may think we know what communication is, it is difficult to explain. Even people who study this subject disagree about exactly how to define it. Perhaps it is simplest and most useful to discuss communication by identifying its characteristics and what it is used for.

Characteristics of Communication


One characteristic of communication is that it is a process. If you have a conversation with your friend, you might think that it begins when you start talking with your friend and ends when you say good-by. However, this is not really accurate. Communication is influenced by the state of your relationship before the conversation. If, for some reason, you were angry with your friend before the conversation started, this will have an influence on the conversation. Many different aspects of the past can influence a communication event. Your past experiences in a relationship with a person may tell you whether you can believe what that person says, whether you can trust him/her to keep a secret, what topics you can discuss, how much you need to explain.

The type of relationship before the conversation also has an effect on the way people communicate. A conversation with a stranger is very different from a conversation with a close friend. Two friends have common memories and experiences, and this affects the way they communicate. For example, you can say to your friend, “Remember the time we went ice skating?” and your friend would understand what you meant. Speaking to a stranger, much more explanation would be necessary. In some cases, close friends even invent words or uses for words, which they use as part of their private language.

In addition, your relationship after the conversation may change as a result of that very conversation. For example, if your friend apologizes for having made you angry, and you accept the apology, this will influence your future relationship. If you catch your friend in a lie, if he/she keeps a secret or is especially sympathetic over a death in your family, all of these will influence the future of your relationship. Therefore, communication even as simple as a conversation between two friends is influenced by the past and has an influence on the future, and so communication is a process.

The environment in which the communication takes place also influences the process. If you are in a noisy restaurant, you cannot have a serious, private conversation. At certain occasions, there are certain expressions that you should use. For example, at a wedding, you express congratulations and wish the couple happiness.

Two-way process

Another characteristic of communication is that it is a two-way process. For simplicity, people sometimes talk about a “sender” and a “receiver” in communication. However, a sender receives messages as well as sending them, and a receiver sends messages, too. As the sender speaks, he/she adjusts the message, based on the receiver’s reaction. For example, if you are explaining something and your listener looks confused, you will probably try to explain again in a different way or at least ask, “Do you understand?” If you are trying to convince your listener of something and your listener starts nodding, this will influence what you say, because you will assume that now your listener agrees with you. If your listener does not look convinced, you will continue to try to convince him/her, perhaps by giving another reason. Even a situation like public speaking or a television broadcast is, in some sense, two-way communication. If the public speaker senses that the audience is becoming restless, he/she might speak faster or go on to a new point. Though television and radio do not involve an immediate response from the listener, there are responses through letters from listeners and through ratings. As a result of the two-way nature of communication, both the speaker and the listener are responsible for the success of the communication. The listener must indicate whether he/she understands, and the speaker must adjust the message according to the listener’s reactions.


A third characteristic of communication is that it is symbolic. This means that in communication, we use one thing to stand for or represent another. Words are symbols. The word “nuclear bomb” is not the nuclear bomb itself; it is a symbol which represents the nuclear bomb and its position in world politics. Nonverbal communication can also involve symbols. The symbolic nature of communication is very important. If we could not use symbols, we could not talk about objects or people that were not present. We could not talk about events that took place in the past or that would take place in the future. We could not talk about abstract concepts. Therefore, we use symbols to stand for all of these things.

Purposes of Communication

In a general sense, we use communication to achieve our goals. In order to achieve these goals, we use communication for three main purposes.

Human contact is one purpose of communication. It is important for all human beings to have contact with others. Without communication with other people, we can be very lonely.

Controlling our environment is another purpose of communication. We try to get people to do what we want (within limits) or arrange our situation the way we want it (balancing it with the desires of other people in the situation) by communicating. If you are unhappy with something another person is doing, you might complain to that person about that behavior, and you hope to control your environment that way. If you like something another person is doing, you might say so, which encourages the person to repeat or continue the behavior.

A third purpose of communication is exchanging information. Most human activities require us either to give information to others or to get information ourselves. Communication allows us to do this.

As you can see from these three functions, communication is crucial to our daily lives.

Aspects of Communication Study

In the study of communication, the subject is sometimes considered according to the number of people involved in the communication event and the type of communication. There is, for example, interpersonal communication, small group communication, public speaking, organizational communication, and communication through the mass media. Communication can also be considered according to its purpose or method. For example, some specialists study persuasion, compliance gaining, deception detection, nonverbal communication, and interviewing.

Communication Theory

Communication theory, mathematically formulated principally by the American scientist Claude E. Shannon to explain aspects and problems of information and communication. While the theory is not specific in all respects, it proves the existence of optimum programming schemes without showing how to find them. For example, it succeeds remarkably in outlining the engineering requirements of communication systems and the limitations of such systems.

Communication theory attempts to explain all forms of verbal and nonverbal communication between two organisms. A complex model follows: Sender (Government or nation) -> Message -> noise (Reaction of third party in IR) -> channel (Diplomatic mission) -> noise (Reaction) -> receiver (Another actors of IR)-> interpretation -> response (As message) and back to the beginning. There are three general approaches to communication theory:

  1. The meaning of a message is determined by the sender.
  2. The meaning of a message is determined by the receiver.
  3. The meaning of a message is determined by both sender and receiver.

Communication Theory in IR

The Communication theory has been developed in IR mainly by Karl W. Deutsch for understanding the national prospect. It has been applied to international politics and international relation by Charles A. McClelland and others.

The Communication Theory reduces the importance of the concept of Power in politics/relation and highlights the importance of the flow of information in governmental decisions.

The Communication Theory attempts to give significance and meaning to the revolution in communications which has extremely changed the nature of human contacts and social relations, to a greater or lesser degree in all parts of the world. This is also being applicable to the world community as well as actors of the international relations; we can understand the situation of world politics by study of the communication strategy and condition. As per this theory the conflicts will arise as a result of breakdown the system of communication established by the state government.

Communication has indeed transformed human relations as well as relations between states to a much greater extent than any other development. The Communication System has undoubtedly increased interdependence of international community agency like the UN much easier.

This system lays stress on the point that if politics is visualize as a system, the control of the system will centered in communication and ability of a state to control is related to its ability to deal with information. As developed by scholar Norbert Wiener and others, the term “Communications” has come to include the concept of “Cybernetics”(steering). Cybernetics is fundamentally a body of theory and technique for the study of probabilities in different but related international relation as well as nation-state and the ways in which message transactions functions to control such relations.

An important concept in cybernetics is that of a mechanism which recognizes incentive, learns, adjust itself automatically upon receiving feedback about its performance, and moves through a determined number of possible circumstances.

Scholar W. Ross Ashby, who is regarded as the pioneer of this system, refers that, when applying the word “Cybernetics” to the international politics, the term is renamed “Political Cybernetics”.

According the scholar Karl Deutsch the system of political Communications offers a model that seems far more manipulable than most actual operations; it often seems to discount irrational, unintentional, or random behaviour, and above all, it does not deal adequately with the nuances of human thought process, the sub-societies of political leadership, and vague quality of many political relations.

International Communication:

The terms ‘international,’ ‘transnational’ and ‘global’ communication not only stand for different definitions of an expanding communication space but also reflect the history of worldwide communication as well as its diversity to maintain the relations between national actors. Global communication gives us an eyewitness view of events in remotest locations, we participate in political discourses of global, regional or even local relevance. These global processes, in which knowledge, values and ethics, natural things, lifestyles are exchanged, is becoming autonomous, a ‘third culture’, a ‘generative frame of unity within which diversity can take place (Featherstone, 1990:2). Such a ‘global world culture’ is shaped by – communication.

However, international communication has its own history. News have already been ‘inter-nationalized’ in the fifteenth century: the wheat traders of Venice, the silver traders of Antwerp, the merchants of Nuremberg and their trading partners shared economic newsletters and created common values and beliefs in the rights of capital (Stephens, 1988:77). The commercialization of mass print media (due to steam engine technology) has led to internationally operating news agencies (Reuters, Associated Press, AFP) in the nineteenth century. World wire and cable systems allowed international communication between France, Germany and Great Britain to their colonies in Africa and Asia. Transnational media organizations such as Intelsat, Eurovision, founded in the middle of the 20th century were the starting point for a new idea of international communication. It was the establishment of internationally operating media systems, such as CNN and MTV by individual companies which have finally inaugurated a new age of global communication by distributing the same program “around the world in thirty minutes” (as a CNN slogan states) – across nations and cultures.

It was idea of a ‘world society’ as a universe of nature and reasoning, a global arena for public debate during the Enlightenment which has inaugurated modernity. Postmodern thinkers replaced ‘reasoning’ by ‘simulation’ and Hegel’s term of ‘World Spirit’ by an idea of ‘instant’ truth, created by the media and conveying the image of a shrinking world. The idea of the ‘world’ seemed to have switched from a supernatural concept into a material reality a new relativity within a global whole and activated, in conjunction with new international political and economical alliances, a debate about the structuralisation of “Globalization.”

It can be argued that the public (and its opinion) is no longer a substantial element of the political system of a society but has turned into a more or less autonomous global public sphere which can be considered not as a space between the ‘public’ and the state but between the state and an extra-societal global community. It is a new global dialectic not in Hegel’s terms between private and public spheres, which gave shape to democracy concepts of the emerging middle classes in Europe in the 19th century, but between the societal and extra societal communication sphere, giving shape to the concept of ‘Being in the World’ of a world citizenship or – in its totality of a ‘global civil society’.

The influence of CNN which has internationally role of a global authority has been widely underestimated. The Internet, as an icon of a globalize media world, with around 200 million people globally ‘being online’ (whatever this means) seems to finally speed up this development.

In such an environment, ‘the international information order’ conventional patterns of international communication (of North/South, developing and developed, central and peripheral nations) are becoming obsolete. International communication theory, modeled in the age of modernization (mainly around push technologies) reveals the imbalance in global media images and description, analyses media imperialism of global accumulate of information, investigates cultural effects of ‘main-streaming’ through internationally transmitted media productions, analyses the varying role played by news media in times of international crisis. Only a few, very recent approaches in cultural studies and sociology, interpret global media flow by a new globalized perspective which interprets arising new communication segments within the global context of inter-relating communication structures and options, highlighting a new effects on a diversified global culture.

The strategy of international communication theory should be to develop a methodology for the understanding of ‘particular’ interpretations, meanings, relevance of the global public sphere, to detect the specifics of this communication space for different world regions – in times of peace and times of crisis.

One example of the global public sphere in a (mass) distribution satellite age of the late eighties, the Internet opens the view for new developments. The western view of a universal global sphere and of the Internet as a globalize medium is therefore a myth. For this reason, a closer analysis of the different world regions in their Internet use (and their idea of a global public sphere) is important. A global analysis of the global diversity of the relevance of the Internet in different media cultures is another example of attempting to understand the specific use of the global public sphere in various world regions. The determination of a specifc profile helps to understand different attitudes and perceptions of this global sphere and the medium of the Internet. I propose to characterize these environments in light of overall media structures in order to determine specific Internet profiles within the overall media setting. Based on this model, five environments can be identified:

  • Spillover Environment: this environment can be identified by a low level of technical infrastructure. It is located within or on the border of relay satellite footprints of major media environments. The term “spillover” relates to this relay function of major satellite, to ‘footprint’ a center and a spillover zone. Spillover zones are many African regions (spillover from European footprints), Asian and South American territories, also Yukon Territory in Alaska.

  • State-regulated limited access: countries where governments practice censorship over domestic news media, but minimal control over international (commercial) programming (Star TV case in India).

  • Post communist transition: Push-mass media (TV) are in these societies undergoing the transition from communism toward democracy. This environment can be characterized by an ill-defined legal situation, a still vivid history of socialist media policy and a commercial market in which international and domestic broadcasters exist alongside various unlicensed local and regional stations (Russia and former USSR states).

  • Pluralist Environment: Characterization of this environment are basic media regulation. Furthermore, media are regarded as commercial enterprises (USA).

  • Dualist Environment: This environment can be identified by a parallelism of public service and internationally operating commercial channels, a parallelism of media as cultural and commercial enterprises, where international channels are ‘localized’ by domestic programs (CNN and NTV, MTV and VIVA). Media and telecommunication are state regulated, expensive and therefore Internet development is slow.

State-regulated, limited international communication environment

Within this environment, an important issue is reciprocal communication. In such a restricted context, where access to communication infrastructure is extremely limited and closely monitored, web sites that allow true interactivity and information exchange have been set up outside the region. Because the Internet’s program flow is global, websites dealing with domestic Chinese issues (in Tibet) are located anywhere (mainly in the pluralist environment US). One of these sites, the Digital Freedom Network, publishes the writings of Chinese political prisoners and monitors human rights abuse not only in China but also in Burma and Bangladesh. Another type of reciprocal communication is the use of the Internt by political minorities or opposition groups within a restricted media environment (Singapore, Malaysia).

The meaning of globalization and of global communication is not similar, but different in various world regions. As system theorists assert, growing density and complexity of communication are the sign of a growing ‘world community.’ To understand the new global sphere, its autonomy, independency and ist ‘mediation’ will support the transition into a world community in the 21st century.

Top comments (0)