Crafting Society: Ethnicity, Class, and Communication Theory

Crafting Society: Ethnicity, Class, and Communication Theory

Crafting Society: Ethnicity, Class, and Communication Theory

Crafting Society: Ethnicity, Class, and Communication Theory


The study of communication, language, and discourse is at once simple, elegant, and complex. Each of these areas is informed by "micro" subjective experiences of individuals and the "macro" processes of a culture. Communication itself is thoroughly modern yet it seeks anchorage in the traditions of the humanities and social sciences. All of this creates a significant challenge.

In this monograph, Ellis considers the study of communication as he discusses three key issues in communication theory: (1) the growing emphasis on meaning, (2) the importance of a mediated culture, and (3) the links between micro communication activities and macro social categories such as ethnicity and social class. In response to these three issues, this book deals with the way people use language and communication to construct their world; this world is not constructed purely but is influenced by attitudes, ideologies, and biases. In the modern world the medium of communication has an impact on consciousness and society, and Ellis shows how the media are responsible for some of the fault lines in society. The book also explores principles of medium theory and documents the impact of media on psychological and sociological phenomena. Finally, work of Goffman, Giddens, and Randall Collins is extended to show how micro communication behaviors are implicated in and by social conditions.

Expanded features:

• The chapters work out a logic connecting real communication patterns with the broad principles upon which societies are explored. Thus the title "Crafting" Society--the crafting is purposefully active to indicate the dynamic processes involved in creating what we call society. Society and culture have their roots and empirical bases in communication; that is, in the daily struggles of interaction.

• Two chapters on two of the most important and controversial issues of the day--ethnicity and class. These two chapters are clear illustrations of the new theoretical principles discussed throughout the book.

• A chapter on social class is very unique for a book devoted to communication processes. Communication theorists do not usually write about class, even though it is a highly symbolic process and rooted in communication patterns. Class is a difficult concept in America since so few people, other than sociologists, care to talk about it.

• A chapter on medium theory takes the bold step of experimenting a little by summarizing basic causal statements and propositions. This device underscores the goal of a theory which is to come to grips with testable statements. The focus is on medium theory and how the media influence consciousness and social structure.

• A unique chapter takes up the issue of how communication processes are constitutive of social structures. It draws on work by Giddens and others to return to a concept of structure based on actions that produce and reproduce structure.


The ideas in this book have been bubbling around in my head for the past few years. I started to make notes and gather materials in 1995, but was only able to write in the small crevices of my time. I proceeded slowly because I wanted to be as clear as possible about things. The study of communication, language, and discourse continues to excite me. These topics have, at the same time, a simplicity, elegance, and complexity. They are informed by both the microsubjective experiences of individuals, and the macroprocesses in a culture. The questions and concerns of communication are very modern, but seek anchorage in the traditions of the humanities and social sciences. All of these make for a challenge that I cannot ignore.

I take some risks in this book. I patrol some theoretical borders that have been pretty heavily armed, and set up some defenses that have yet to be tested. But I am searching for new strategic communication positions, and some risks are necessary. It is not enough to hold the old lines.

A few of these issues appear in earlier publications. Some of the ideas about meaning and coherentism that appear in sections of chapter 3 were first published in Ellis (1995).

This book could not have been completed had I not had a sabbatical leave, graciously granted by the University of Hartford, in the spring of 1998. During this sabbatical I spent 3 months in Israel finishing the book. I was in contact with colleagues at Hebrew University and had the opportunity to use their facilities. To write and think in that context was a privilege.

I also benefited from the New York University (NYU) Faculty Associates program. This program provided time and money for travel to NYU to use their library and facilities. I am indebted to the Faculty Associates program and my university for allowing me to participate and helping me complete this project.

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