See our list of communication field research paper topics. Academic studies of communication began to appear in the late 19th century on scattered topics such as transportation systems, crowd behavior, community, and newspapers, with important work being done in Germany, France, and the US. Communication research began to be recognized as a distinct academic field in the post-World War II period and underwent rapid growth and institutional consolidation as an academic discipline in the second half of the twentieth century.
Communication Field Research Paper Topics
- Applied Communication Research
- Communication as an Academic Field in Africa
- Communication as an Academic Field in Australia, New Zealand, Pacific Rim
- Communication as an Academic Field in East Asia
- Communication as an Academic Field in Eastern Europe and Russia
- Communication as an Academic Field in Latin America
- Communication as an Academic Field in Middle East, Arab World
- Communication as an Academic Field in Middle East, Israel
- Communication as an Academic Field in South Asia
- Communication as an Academic Field in USA and Canada
- Communication as an Academic Field in Western Europe
- Communication Professions and Academic Research
- Communication Research and Politics
- History of Communication and Media Studies
- History of Speech Communication
- International Association for Media and Communication Research (IAMCR)
- International Communication Association (ICA)
Academic Roots of Communication as a Field
The modern field of communication is highly diverse in methods, theories, and objects of study. The intellectual traditions that have informed this field have come primarily from two streams: the humanities and the social sciences. Antecedents of the humanities most relevant to communication go back to the ancient Greek arts of rhetoric, dialectic, and poetics. The humanistic disciplines of aesthetics, hermeneutics, historiography, and linguistics are also among the intellectual traditions important to communication.
The second main stream that informs the modern field of communication emerged in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries with experimental psychology and the social sciences. The system of social science disciplines that crystallized in that period included anthropology, economics, political science, and sociology but not communication (Abbott 2001). However, communication became a topic of interest across disciplines and a stimulus to interdisciplinary work that eventually gave rise to the institutionalization of the communication field.
As the field was institutionalized, communication scholars constructed an eclectic theoretical core by collecting ideas relevant to communication from across the social sciences, humanities, and even engineering and the natural sciences. Craig (1999) identified seven main traditions of communication theory distinguished by different practical concepts of communication that underlie them: rhetoric, semiotics, cybernetics, phenomenology, social psychology, socio-cultural theory, and critical theory. However, the field has been described in various other ways and continues to have no universally accepted overall structure.
Structure of the Communication Discipline
The current state of communication research and education varies considerably within and among countries but can nevertheless be summarized with regard to some common themes. One theme certainly is growth: academic communication study is flourishing in many parts of the world, wherever political and economic conditions and academic institutions have allowed it to take root. Where growth has been stimulated to a great extent by demand for trained employees in burgeoning media and communication-related industries, which is often the case, growth is also associated with certain problems: strain on resources, an overemphasis on practical training of undergraduates that can stifle the development of a strong research discipline, and the threat of co-optation by commercial interests that are not necessarily aligned with academic and intellectual priorities.
Although always with much borrowing from Europe, communication research and education matured first in the US and spread from there. Overdependence on American and European concepts and practices and the need to develop locally based, culturally relevant knowledge of communication are common themes in other regions (e.g. Wang 2011). Yet, as that very emphasis on local development suggests, the field is increasingly internationalized, with global influences now flowing from many places.
The field of communication as a whole is served by two international academic associations of worldwide scope: the International Communication Association (ICA) and the International Association for Media and Communication Research (IAMCR). Several other international societies represent particular regions and sub-fields.
The Identity of the Communication Field
Communication’s status as a discipline and/or an interdisciplinary field has been debated internationally at least since the 1980s. The “ferment in the field” was addressed by a special issue of the Journal of Communication in 1983 (Gerbner 1983), a central theme of which, although not endorsed with equal enthusiasm by all contributors, was that the field of communication is a distinct academic discipline. Discussions of this theme foreshadowed elements of the ‘communication science’ model of communication as a social science discipline that was articulated in a series of prestigious publications over the following decade (e.g. Berger and Chaffee 1987). While the communication science model acknowledged a broader field of communication extending across a diverse array of academic disciplines and methodological approaches, it asserted the existence of, or at least the potential for, a coherent science of communication marked by characteristic methods, lines of research, and scientific theories. Others argued, however, that communication research would thrive intellectually only if studied as an interdisciplinary field, not as an isolated discipline (e.g. Beniger 1988).
The ferment in the field was taken up in a different way in ICA’s 1985 annual conference on the theme “Beyond polemics: Paradigm dialogues” and a subsequent two-volume edited collection of essays (Dervin et al. 1989). In contrast to the communication science model, the framing vision of ‘paradigm dialogues’ emphasized epistemological pluralism, interdisciplinary openness, and critical reflexivity in communication studies. In 1993, the Journal of Communication revisited the question of disciplinary status in two successive special issues on “The future of the field” (Levy & Gurevitch 1993). The 48 articles in these issues expressed a variety of views and revealed no emerging consensus. Nor did any of these views clearly dominate the field by the early twenty-first century. The disconnection between interpersonal and mass communication research was still regarded as a problem, as was the continued institutional growth of the field without any consensus on a theoretical core and a rigorous scientific epistemology (Donsbach 2006).
By one relatively straightforward definition, an academic field becomes a discipline when it forms a faculty job market in which PhD-granting departments at different universities regularly hire each other’s graduates (Abbott 2001). Communication does appear to meet this structural criterion. For example, a survey of ICA members conducted in 2005 found that two-thirds (rising to three-quarters of younger members) had received academic degrees in communication (Donsbach 2006). Studies have found that the network structure of the communication field increasingly resembles that of a unified discipline.
Applied Emphasis of the Communication Field
Communication as a discipline has a distinctly applied emphasis. As Donsbach (2006) noted, growth of the communication field has been stimulated by the high demand for communication expertise in modern societies. The field’s practical relevance to important policy concerns draws communication scholars into policy debates. Also driving the field toward an applied emphasis is its incorporation of, or close association with, a series of professional/occupational areas such as journalism, public relations, and intercultural training. Many areas of communication research also continue to be highly interdisciplinary. Contextually focused areas like health communication and political communication inherently straddle disciplinary boundaries. Study of the media as social institutions is unavoidably a multidisciplinary endeavor.
The open question is not whether communication will continue to be an interdisciplinary field, as it certainly will do, but is whether communication may also have a theoretical core that enables communication scholars to approach interdisciplinary topics from a distinct disciplinary viewpoint that adds real value to the interdisciplinary enterprise.
- Abbott, A. (2001). Chaos of disciplines. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
- Beniger, J. R. (1988). Information and communication. Communication Research, 15, 198–218.
- Berger, C. R., & Chaffee, S. H. (eds.) (1987). Handbook of communication science. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.
- Craig, R. T. (1999). Communication theory as a field. Communication Theory, 9, 119–161.
- Deetz, S. A. (1994). Future of the discipline: The challenges, the research, and the social contribution. In S. A. Deetz (ed.), Communication yearbook 17. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, pp. 565–600.
- Dervin, B., Grossberg, L., O’Keefe, B. J., & Wartella, E. (eds.) (1989). Rethinking communication, 2 vols. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.
- Donsbach, W. (2006). The identity of communication research. Journal of Communication, 56(3), 437–448.
- Gerbner, G. (ed.) (1983). Ferment in the field [special issue]. Journal of Communication, 33(3).
- Levy, M. R. & Gurevitch, M. (eds.) (1993). The future of the field: Between fragmentation and cohesion [special issues]. Journal of Communication, 43(3/4).
- Wang, G. (ed.) (2011). De-westernizing communication research: Altering questions and changing frameworks. London: Routledge.
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