Social Approaches to Communication  book cover
1st Edition

Social Approaches to Communication

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ISBN 9780898628739
Published September 24, 1995 by Guilford Press
260 Pages

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Book Description

Long before there were formal organizations or mass media, there was face-to-face interaction--the practice which comprises very core of the study of communication. Until recently, however, research in the field of interpersonal communication has been dominated by a behavioral science approach closely aligned with experimental social psychology. This timely and provocative volume critiques the limitations of past models, exploring a range of "social approaches" which help bring communication up to date. Social approaches, writes Leeds-Hurwitz, question whether the traditional theoretical assumptions and research methods followed in the field are still valid and appropriate. While the roots of these approaches are diverse and interdisciplinary, they overlap in their concern for the social construction of self, other, and event, and in their acknowledgment of the researcher's role in establishing not only the research questions but also the research context. Social approaches stress the necessity of recognizing the impact of cultural differences on communication research, and identify the ways in which research inquiry creates meanings at the same time as it investigates them. Most importantly, they focus on instances of contact between individuals, the actual social transactions in which people engage. Together they demonstrate the ability to disregard labels in pursuit of a common goal, the construction of a more adequate understanding of human interaction.

Robert T. Craig's Foreword describes the historical tension in interpersonal communication between behavioral science approaches, on the one hand, and interpretive social approaches, on the other. Parts I and II of the volume highlight the theoretical underpinnings of social approaches and the philosophical grounding of some of the more central ideas. Part III elaborates on the assumptions shared by social approaches, focusing on a series of key concepts, including the dichotomy between qualitative and quantitative research; reflexivity; social constructionism; and the individual. Part IV begins the task of applying social approaches to particular research topics, including the use of case studies, rapport in research interviews, ethnography as theory, continuity in relationships, and the co-construction of personal narratives. Part V examines where the various chapters lead us, making a strong case for practical theory as the necessary next step.

A unique overview of current theoretical innovations in the study of interpersonal communication, SOCIAL APPROACHES TO COMMUNICATION belongs on the shelf of every professional and student in communication. It will be especially valuable to those interested in communication theory, interpersonal communication, and social interaction.



Wendy Leeds-Hurwitz Ph.D is Professor of Communication at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside. She is the author of a number of books and has published articles in Communication Theory, Quarterly Journal of Speech and Research on Language and Social Interaction, among other journals. In addition to communication theory, her research interests include the influence of culture on interaction, childhood socialization, the ethnography of communication, and the history of the study of communication, particularly interdisciplinary projects.


"...Provides a good introduction to efforts within Interpersonal studies to retain this traditional focus and yet to move beyond behaviorism toward interpretive, contextually-sensitive approaches. As such, it will serve mass communication scholars well by forcing us to think about the relationship between macro-structures and the actual process of making meaning....our field could benefit from more dialogue between interpersonal and mass communication scholars. This book is an excellent starting point for such conversations." --Beverly James, Associate Professor of Communication, University of New Hampshire, Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly

"Social Approaches to Communication is a comprehensive collection of social approaches to interpersonal communication that demonstrates their fecundity in both intellectual sources and consequences for empirical research. The term 'social approaches' is interpreted very widely by the editor--though social constructionism, systems theory and ethnography tend to be most prominent. By stressing both the unity of social approaches in comparison to the quantitative, mainstream approach and their internal diversity, the book outlines very usefully an emerging paradigm that will influence and perhaps dominate empirical studies and intellectual debates in the future. Most important, the collection situates current communication research in relation to contemporary trends in philosophy and the social sciences, thereby ending once and for all the intellectual isolation of the field that has rendered it unable to make substantial contributions to wider social theory. Social Approaches to Communication makes a significant contribution to the current rethinking of the procedures and purpose of the social sciences. It will be of special interest to communication researchers designing new research projects, those interested in theoretical debates in communication, and those of us in teaching." --Ian Angus, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, British Columbia

"This volume is something of a landmark. Its panel of distinguished contributors offer a total reconstruction of the whole field. They not only suggest viewing all events of importance in interpersonal relations as occurring between people, but suggest also, that the same change focus applies to new methods of inquiry as well as to their grounding--all should be seen as socially constructed. This, however, does not so much replace established theories and methods as give them a place within a now enlarged social context. Indeed, in looking to possible constructions in the future as well as back to those already existing, it enlarges our concerns altogether important volume charting the way ahead in interpersonal relations research." --John Shotter, Ph.D., Full Professor of Interpersonal Relations, Univ of New Hampshire

"I have long awaited a volume like Social Approaches to Communication. Against the waning backdrop of objectivist science, this book signifies the growing sea-change in how we study communication processes. It is a timely volume that offers the reader an expansive array of social/relational intelligibilities. Already there is a move afoot to critically examine the utility of science in understanding human affairs. As the momentum and excitement created by this wave expands, the present volume will be central for it offers a variety of alternatives for those who are hungry for conceptual, theoretical, and methodological challenges to objectivist, individuals social science. Leeds-Hurwitz has assembled an impressive collection of scholars who are already well known for their contributions to interpretive approaches to communication. This volume is undoubtedly a major contribution to the social constructionist voice." --Sheila McNamee, Ph.D., University of New Hampshire

"Social Approaches to Communication contains an exciting and timely collection of essays that questions the relevance of traditional theoretical assumptions and research methods and reconstructs the interpersonal communication process as central to our understandings of practice and theory. All the chapters in this book reflect, to a greater or lesser extent, the broader philosophical revolution underway oriented to the reconceptualization of communication as the basic problematic in the human/social sciences.

"There are many 'beauties' of this book. It includes not just one, but varied approaches within the broad rubric of `social.' It addresses a diverse range of important issues: from the philosophical foundations to fundamental research implications to the exciting array of how social approaches can be done. And it includes a number of significant writers who have long struggled with the issues at stake here.

"This book is both a statement of where we are now in communication theory and research and points provocatively and excitingly to where we could and should go." --Robyn Penman, Ph.D., Director, Communication Research Institute of Australia