Theory and Research in Mass Communication: Contexts and Consequences

By David K. Perry | Go to book overview

1
Introduction and the Historical Contexts
of Media Theoy and Research

Citizens, policymakers, and communication practitioners who are concerned about mass communication issues often turn to the academic community for answers. Their questions often involve such things as whether, to what extent, or why media violence or sex contributes to antisocial or criminal behavior among audiences. The answers often are not as simple or consistent as they might like. As one scholar put it:

only after much research has been completed does a statement come to be viewed in the scholarly community as true—a status very few communication theories are ever likely to reach. Even then, the truth value is to be found more in the degree of agreement among scholars, an intersubjective criterion, than in any ultimate reality. (Chaffee, 1991, p. 11)

Definitions of truth as scholarly consensus are often found in modem literatures of the history (e.g., Kuhn, 1970) and philosophy of science (e.g., H. I. Brown, 1977). They are not a product of the present century. During the 19th century, pragmatist philosopher Charles Peirce (1878/1957) defined truth as that “opinion which is fated to be ultimately agreed to by all who investigate” (pp. 53–54). Peirce believed that proper inquiry (at least if carried on to infinity) could lead members of a scientific community, who initially might disagree, to reach inevitable conclusions. His stress on consensus simply assumed that many heads are better than one and that truth is a product of many minds.

Of course, as Peirce recognized, it is perhaps best not to define truth solely in terms of whatever a community of inquirers accepts. For exam-

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