The Dean Blog

May 2, 2009

Communication – Not “Communications”

Filed under: The Field of Communication — LBA @ 3:03 pm

In written and spoken discussions of our field, it is common to hear people talk about the study of “communications.” And, there are even departments and colleges across the country that utilize that word choice in their names. But, many of us who study and work in the field, believe that there is an important philosophical difference between talking about “communication” and “communications.” What we study and work with is a process, created in interaction between people, and evolving over time through a shared negotiation of meaning. This is very different than thinking about discrete bits of communication being created, distributed, stored, like data on a computer chip. When discussing the area of wireless (or landline) phone systems and the quality of various types of processes in that field (”can you hear me now?”) it makes more sense to talk about “communications,” because we are literally examining whether bits of sound are passed from one person/phone to another, with little or no focus on the meanings and understandings that are created in that process. But, for us, students and scholars of communication in interpersonal, group, public and mediated communication – including all of the specializations, majors, minors, and foci of the college – we are dealing with this ever-evolving process of creating, negotiating, and sharing meaning. Gary Cronkhite discussed it clearly in the following quote:

“Unfortunately, referring to the study of communication*s* is a widespread illiteracy in our field.  Abstract conceptual nouns that refer to ideas, processes, or conditions cannot be pluralized by adding an “s” or “es.”  To attempt to do so, when it does not produce total nonsense, engages the related concrete morpheme and, while it may appear to make sense, changes the basic meaning.  Consider that those who study radio, television, and press do not necessarily study radios, televisions, and presses; students of journalism are not students of journalisms, scholars engage in scholarship, not scholarships; biologists study life, not lives; medical students study medicine in general, and medicines only occasionally; nutritionists study nutrition, not nutritions; attorneys study justice, not justices; and Tolstoy’s book was titled *War and Peace*, fortunately, not *Wars and Peaces*. Theorists of communication may occasionally analyze specific messages, or communications, but that is not the name of their field of study.” Gary Cronkhite, Quarterly Journal of Speech, November, 1984, p. 473

So, while we may produce little “bits” of communication in our text messages, emails, blogs (or even smaller bits in our tweets), what we are engaged in is communication, not communications.  But, either way, it is the root of our meanings, our beliefs, our relationships, our lives.



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