Books -- A History of Communication Study: A Biographical Approach by Everett M. Rogers

Article excerpt

*Rogers, Everett M. (1994). A History of Communication Study: A Biographical Approach. New York: The Free Press. 576 pp.

In this enlightening text, Everett Rogers traces communication study from the expansive scholarship of Darwin, Freud, and Marx, through the days of teaching pioneer "Daddy" Bleyer and into World War II, an event the author suggests paved the way for the long-standing research into mass media effects.

The 1940s underlie much of this book, as it was then that Kurt Lewin, Paul Lazarsfeld, and Theodo Adorno fled Europe for the United States, and scholars Carl Hovland and Harold Lasswell set aside research in other disciplines to examine communication. Wilbur Schramm had left the University of Iowa for Washington, D.C., and the author posits that while directing the education division of the Office of Facts and Figures in 1942, Schramm developed his vision for future scholarship.

Communication research, Rogers suggests, essentially began in the Library of Congress, where scholars met regularly to decide what information would increase public morale and what communication channels would best serve this interest. Though Schramm went to Washington a humanistic scholar--he was named director of the prestigious Iowa Writer's Workshop in 1939--the empirical study of his contemporaries led him to pursue additional methods, and he left the nation's capital a social scientist. That transition set the tone for his work at the University of Iowa, where he became director of the School of Journalism in 1943.

In reading this text, one comes to appreciate the eclectic history of communication study at American universities. Of the aforementioned researchers, Schramm was the only professor of communication, and even he earned his doctorate in a separate field. Lazarsfeld, the methodologist, grew up in Vienna, and like the political scientist Lasswell and the experimental psychologist Hovland, he was influenced by the psychoanalytic approach of Freud. Rogers provides a nice history of the Radio Research Project and suggests that the lack of cohesion between Lazarsfeld and Adorno precipitated the current tension between empirical and critical scholars. While Lazarsfeld and Robert Merton were able to collaborate and develop focus groups as a research method, Adorno appeared too steeped in critical scholarship to work with Lazarsfeld.

Educators with an interest in quantitative research methods may be surprised to learn of how skeptical early empiricists were of testing for statistical significance. Lazarsfeld, for example, considered his research exploratory and thus did not consider it appropriate to develop formal tests of hypotheses. Lewin, the prominent social psychologist, also avoided testing for significance, as he feared individual attributes would get lost in the aggregation of data. The scholars were similar in that both sought to blend applied and basic research in the social sciences, asserting that one could indeed test theoretical propositions in an applied setting.

In addition to providing biographical: information and reviewing differences in research methods, Rogers visits the enduring tension between journalistic practitioners and university professors. …