Communication Theory and Social Change

4011 Words Feb 28th, 2012 17 Pages
Communication Theory and Social Change

Robert T. Craig
University of Colorado at Boulder

A keynote presentation to the
Indonesian International Conference on Communication
Universitas Indonesia, Jakarta
22 November 2010

The theme of this conference, “Global Challenge to the Future of Communication: Digital Media and Communication Freedom in Public Discourse,” is fundamentally concerned with communication in relation to social change. In this paper I reflect on communication theory as an element of social change. I argue that communication theory is more than just a conceptual toolset for explaining or influencing social change. Communication theory has a growing presence in the discourse of modern societies. It is not only about
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Early studies of mass communication in political and marketing campaigns led to the famous “two step flow” hypothesis of Katz and Lazarsfeld (1955). According to this hypothesis, the effects of campaign messages are mediated by networks of interpersonal communication. Campaign messages flow from the mass media to opinion leaders who may or may not pass them on to others within their personal networks of influence. By the 1970’s the analysis of communication networks was integral to communication theories in fields ranging from the diffusion of innovations (Rogers & Shoemaker, 1971) to organizational communication (Farace, Monge & Russell, 1977). The theory of communication networks has continued to develop and by now has reached a high level of sophistication (e.g., Monge & Contractor, 2003). The conceptual tools of network analysis by now are being used to study everything from international data flows to online social networks.
Thus, network has become an important scientific concept in communication theory, but it has also become much more than that. Since the 1970’s, network has become an increasingly prevalent social ontology—a fundamental way that institutions and members of society describe the social world
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