New Paradigm for Studying the Apparent Complexity of Human Communication

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John L Sherry


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 as “There are more things in science than are dreamt of in our philosophies”.  And many of those things are unfamiliar to scholars in the field of communication science.  This article will review new and strange ideas about how the natural world is organized that come out of complexity science.  These strange ideas, like deterministic, but unpredictable systems, have a great deal in common 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, we believe this approach will facilitate the study of problems of communication process and interaction that the dominant paradigm has struggled with.  In this article we will explore the question of process research in communication by reviewing three major paradigms of science and then explore 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.

Article Details

How to Cite
Sherry, J. L. (2015). New Paradigm for Studying the Apparent Complexity of Human Communication. Review of Communication Research, 3, 22–65. Retrieved from
Communication Theory
Author Biography

John L Sherry, Department of Communication and the Cognitive Science Program at Michigan State University

Associate Professor