Review of Communication Research

COMMUNICATION THEORY                                                                                                 

Title & Authors

The Complexity Paradigm for Studying Human Communication: A Summary and Integration of Two Fields

John L. Sherry (Michigan State University, USA)

Highlights

• There is a third paradigm of science, commonly referred to as complexity science.

• It provides analytic methods that will facilitate the study dynamic and interactive communication processes.

• Though the complexity science paradigm is not well-known to communication scientists, it has facilitated important discoveries in most other branches of science.
• The complexity paradigm focuses on how simple rules (e.g., basic laws of evolution) generate highly complex-appearing systems (e.g., all life on Earth).
• The characteristics of communicative interaction processes are a strong fit with criteria for complex systems.
• Communicative interaction can be modeled and tested using a computer simulation.
• Complexity will require researchers to integrate existing knowledge into a very different paradigm, slowing broad-based adoption in the field.

 

Abstract

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
Hamlet (Act 1, Scene 5)


This popular quote from Hamlet might be recast for the field of communication as “There are more things in science than are dreamt of in our philosophies”. This article will review several new and strange ideas from complexity science about how the natural world is organized and how we can go about researching it. These strange ideas, (e.g., deterministic, but unpredictable systems) resonate with many communication phenomena that our field has traditionally had difficulty studying. By reviewing these areas, we hope to add a new, compelling and useful way to think about science that goes beyond the current dominant philosophy of science employed in communication. Though the concepts reviewed here are difficult and often appear at odds with the dominant paradigm; they are not. Instead, this approach will facilitate research on problems of communication process and interaction that the dominant paradigm has struggled to study. Specifically, this article explores the question of process research in communication by reviewing three major paradigms of science and then delving more deeply into the most recent: complexity science. The article provides a broad overview of many of the major ideas in complexity science and how these ideas can be used to study many of the most difficult questions in communication science. It concludes with suggestions going forward for incorporating complexity science into communication.

 

Content

THE COMPLEXITY PARADIGM FOR STUDYING HUMAN COMMUNICATION

THE DOMINANT PARADIGM IN COMMUNICATION SCIENCE

Table 1. Weaver’s historical eras of science

DIFFERENT ERAS USE DIFFERENT APPROACHES TO SCIENCE

WHAT ARE COMPLEX SYSTEMS? A BRIEF INTRODUCTION

Definitions

Collections.

Multiplicity.

Parallelism.

Iteration.

Recursion.

Feedback.

Types of Complexity

Algorithmic complexity.

Deterministic complexity.

Figure 1. The Lorenz attractor

Aggregate Complexity.

ORGANIZED COMPLEXITY AND COMMUNICATION SCIENCE

Is Communication a Complex System?

Collections.

Multiplicity.

Parallelism.

Iteration.

Table 2. Characteristics of Communication and Complex Systems

Recursion.

Feedback.

Communication Considerations of Complexity

RESEARCH METHODOLOGY FOR COMPLEXITY RESEARCH IN COMMUNICATION

A process for studying complex systems

Assess fit to paradigm.

Think about the type of complexity.

Specify the system.

Determine the rule for change over time.

Formalize and test the system.

Verify and modify the system.

Figure 2. Screen grab of Conway’s Game of Life program Golly

Use of the simulation.

THE WAY FORWARD FOR COMPLEXITY AND COMMUNICATION

Don’t forget the past

The future will be difficult

The two bottlenecks

FINAL THOUGHTS

REFERENCES

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The Complexity Paradigm for Studying Human Communication: A Summary and Integration of Two Fields

John L. Sherry

 

Keywords: Complexity, systems theory, process, simulation, dynamics, interaction, information theory, emergence

 

  Filesize 740.87 KB Download 2515

 

How to cite

 

Sherry, J. L. (2015). The complexity paradigm for studying human communication: A summary and integration of two fields. Review of Communication Research, 3(1), 22-54. doi: 10.12840/issn.2255-4165.2015.03.01.007

 

Keywords

Complexity, systems theory, process, simulation, dynamics, interaction, information theory, emergence.

Repositories

Permanent repositories where you can find this article:

Internet Archive (Community Texts) @ https://archive.org/details/texts

Academia.edu @ http://independent.academia.edu/ReviewofCommunicationResearch

Social Science Open Access Repository @ http://www.ssoar.info/en/home.html

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