Human Communication Theory and Research: Concepts, Contexts, and Challenges

By Robert L. Heath; Jennings Bryant | Go to book overview

2
Anatomy of the Communication Process

What is communication? How and why does it occur? Which variables help us understand why some people communicate more effectively than others do? Is communication a process or an act? Is it a series of acts that occur as a process? Is communication a function? Can it break down? Can people "uncommunicate"? Is it the use of symbols to transmit ideas and information from one person to another? Is it a means by which we interpret what each other does and says? Are those interpretations the basis for our communication? Is communication interaction that occurs between people a form of sharing or relationship development? Can people form their identities and build interpersonal relationships without communication? Are some interpersonal relationships better than others because of how well the persons involved are able to communicate? If communication can help relationships, is the opposite true? Do relationships help people in those relationships communicate with one another? Does mass-mediated communication (radio, television, or newspapers, for instance) control listeners' and readers' thoughts? Do readers and listeners shape the content of mass-mediated communication by their selections of which shows to watch or listen to or which papers or magazines to buy and read?

This is a long list of questions. It may seem overwhelming. In fact, it reflects only a few of the questions that theorists and researchers attempt to answer. They seek to discover how and why humans communicate. They want to know how and why people plan and execute communication plans. They want to understand how and why communication succeeds--and fails. They work to know how one person or organization affects other people through the process of communication.

To address topics such as these requires that researchers and theorists dissect the anatomy of the communication process much as biologists would dissect an organism to better understand how it functions. The discussion in this chapter should help you appreciate the effort researchers have undertaken to decide which concepts are vital to the process of communication.

This chapter portrays dramatic shifts that have occurred in regard to how communication is conceptualized and researched. This chapter begins by examining several definitions of communication and challenges you to propose

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