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::::: Paradigms and Communication Theory:::::


Positivist Paradigm

Logical Positivism represents one particular way of knowing. It asserts we gather information through our senses or we can discover it though some type of logical derivation or mathematical modeling. A crucial premise of positivism is that there are certain regularities in nature which can be observed and/or discovered. These regularities are called “laws”. Laws are universal. Another crucial concept is “causality”: people communicate the way they do because some prior condition caused them to respond to a message in certain ways; researchers using this paradigm review the preceding conditions of communication to know cause and effect of human communication. They believe they can explain our environment, predict findings and eventually, control our environment. They also believe that findings could be applied to anyone –generalization-- because laws transcend time and space. (Based on Infante, D., Rancer, A., & Womack, D. (2003). Building Communication Theory. Prospect Heights, Illinois: Waveland Press)

Scientists using this paradigm believe reality is more structured; they think it has an empirical character which allows them to observe facts; they believe it is objective.



Interpretative Paradigm

Human beings cannot be studied using models developed for the physical sciences because humans are qualitatively different from natural events. The interpretative paradigm supports the belief that reality is constructed by subjective perception and predictions cannot be made. Researchers who agree with this paradigm are interested in the social construction of meaning. People have free will, purposes, goals, and intentions, so people should be studied as active agents.

The basic premises are:

-People make decisions and act in accordance with their subjective understandings of the situations in which they find themselves.

-Social life consists of interaction processes rather than structures and is therefore constantly changing.

-People understand their experience through the meanings found in the symbols of their primary groups, and language is an essential part of social life. 

-The world is made up of social objects that are named and have socially determined meanings. 

-People’s actions are based on their interpretations, in which the relevant objects and actions in the situation are taken into account and defined. 

-One’s self is a significant object and like all the social objects is defined through social interaction with others*.

 If you are interested in reviewing a theory from the interpretative paradigm go to the Anthony Giddens and Structuration web site. 



Critical Paradigm

Critical theories share some ideas of the interpretative paradigm, but what makes it different is that critical paradigm focuses on oppression. Critical social scientists believe it necessary to understand the lived experience of real people in context. Persons can perceive reality outside them and represent that reality with language. Also, reality is defined by the interaction between the knower and the known. Critical approaches examine social conditions and uncover oppressive power arrangements. The theories found in this paradigm critique the known structure of social arrangement, and deny the existence of any true enduring one. They suggest, instead, a certain group has an explicit political agenda, which struggles with culture and other groups’ interests. In the field of communication, critical scholars are particularly interested in how messages reinforce oppression in society. No aspect of life is interest free, even science. They believe there are some groups who benefit from oppressing others, so their main jobs are to point out the existing contradictions, in order to help people be aware of what is really going on, and create new forms of language that will enable predominant ideology to be exposed and competing ideologies to be heard*.

For a better insight of Critical Theory Today, read the text wrote by Douglas Kellner.

Want to know more about the Marxist Media Theory? Click here to be directed to the web site.

Information about The Frankfurt School, its history, and and the principal thinkers which represent it, is found here.

There is a very interesting web site about a non-profit organization  which promotes NO TV WATCHING!! Visit the TV-Turnoff Network.

A funny anti-TV site is Kill your Television.



*Based on Littlejohn, S. (2000). Theories of Human Communication. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.


Created by Danna Carballo, Fall 2003

Internet Research @ Suffolk University