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Theory Resources—by Type

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Essay Questions (9th Edition)

A self-help tool to aid in the study of the First Look text (starting with the 9th Edition)


Launching Your Study (Chapter 1)

  1. Griffin, Ledbetter, and Sparks note that many college students “regard theory as obscure, dull, and irrelevant.” After reading this chapter, how would you respond to a classmate who thinks this way?

  2. Explain what Burgoon means by her use of the term "hunches" to describe communication theory.

  3. Communication theorists differ in how they define communication. How important is it that this term is universally understood by communication researchers? By communication students? By the public?

  4. Griffin, Ledbetter, and Sparks’ working definition of communication is: "The relational process of creating and interpreting messages that elicit a response." What do you appreciate most about this definition? What part of the definition would you change?

  5. Compare and contrast two of the theory metaphors mentioned by Griffin, Ledbetter, and Sparks. In what ways are the metaphors similar? How are they different? Which do you think most accurately represents the nature of communication theory?

Talk About Theory (Chapter 2)

  1. In this chapter, Griffin, Ledbetter, and Sparks present the objective/interpretive continuum as a way of categorizing communication theories. Are you most comfortable with an objective or interpretive approach? Why?

  2. The chapter opens with competing analyses of a Budweiser ad. Which analysis do you find most compelling? Persuasive? Useful?

  3. Compare and contrast emancipation and objectivity as goals for theory. How, specifically, do they differ? How, if at all, might the goals combine to pursue shared aims?

  4. What limitations do you anticipate in a strictly objective approach to the study of communication? How about a strictly interpretive approach?

  5. Toward the end of the chapter, the authors reflect on the question, “Why is [the objective/interpretive difference] important?” After reading the chapter, how would you answer this question?

Weighing the Words (Chapter 3)

  1. If you had to pick one standard that is most important for objective scholars, which would it be? Why?

  2. If you had to pick one standard that is most important for interpretive scholars, which would it be? Why?

  3. Objective scholars tend to collect quantitative data (numbers), and interpretive scholars tend to collect qualitative data (words). Is it possible for objective scholars to use words? For interpretive scholars to use numbers? Why or why not?

  4. The end of the chapter tries to identify common ground between the objective and interpretive standards. Which of the six similarities do you find convincing? Which do you think are a bit of a stretch?

  5. In this chapter, we find that much of the difference between objective and interpretive scholars involves their approach to bias. Why does the objective scholar think that removing researcher bias is of utmost importance? Why does the interpretive scholar embrace biases as an inherent part of the research process? What advantages and dangers exist in each approach?



Mapping the Territory (Chapter 4)

  1. Examine I.A. Richards's complaint against the semantic trap that he called "the proper meaning superstition." How important is the relationship between a word and the thing it represents? What dangers do we encounter when we make the link between them too strong? Or too weak?

  2. Discuss the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, and discuss its implications for people who wish to communicate with those who speak other languages.

  3. Pick any two of the theoretical traditions. What are the major points of disagreement between the two traditions? What common ground do the traditions share?

  4. Access your communication department’s website. Spend some time looking at the courses offered and the interests of the faculty. Which theoretical traditions do you notice? Which appear to be absent? Why might your department be configured in this way?

  5. Consider Griffin, Ledbetter, and Sparks’ addition of the ethical perspective to Craig’s map. Do you believe this is an important addition? Why or why not? Where would you place the tradition on the map depicted in Figure 4-1?


Interpersonal Communication: Interpersonal Messages

Symbolic Interactionism (Chapter 5)

  1. Compare and contrast the "I" and "me." According to symbolic interactionism, which is the true self?

  2. Regarding the self, the chapter contains the following quote from symbolic interactionist Gregory Shepherd: ”We are not born with senses of self. Rather, selves arise in interaction with others. I can only experience myself in relation to others; absent interaction with others, I cannot be a self—I cannot emerge as someone.” Paraphrase this quote. To what extent do you agree? What parts of the self, if any, do not arise from social interaction?

  3. In folklore and in fiction there are stories of humans reared by animals (for example, Mowgli in Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book) who appear to possess a sense of self. Could such a person exist? Explain your position.

  4. Since the creation of the theory, symbolic interactionists have emphasized practical application. Name one present-day problem to which symbolic interactionism might be applied. What solutions might symbolic interactionism suggest?

  5. The chapter closes with the example of a boy who is physically unable to communicate. According to symbolic interactionism, is this boy human? Do you agree or disagree, and why?

Coordinated Management of Meaning (CCM) (Chapter 6)

  1. Pick an episode from your life where you had a misunderstanding with someone—perhaps something like Em’s interaction with Bea. Do an LUUUUTT analysis of the episode. What insight does this approach give you?

  2. What is the difference between stories told and stories lived? Why is the connection between them important? Describe an experience from your own life where you struggled to mesh the two.

  3. On the one hand, Barnett Pearce feared specific prescriptions for social worlds, believing they might force people into beliefs and practices they do not desire. On the other hand, he insisted that an ideal social world should feature caring, compassion, love, grace, and mindfulness.  Are these claims inconsistent? Why or why not?

  4. Explain at least two specific ways that Buber’s I-Thou ethical approach connects to CMM.

  5. At the beginning of the chapter, the authors explain why the classic transmission model (Source à Message à Channel à Receiver) is incompatible with CMM. Draw or explain an alternative model that is compatible with the theory.


Expectancy Violations Theory (Chapter 7)

  1. According to expectancy violations theory, when is it effective to violate another person’s expectations for your communication behavior? When is it ineffective?

  2. According to EVT, where do our expectations for communication behavior come from? Can you think of other sources for our expectations that the theory might have missed?

  3. What is the difference between violation valence and communicator reward valence? Which is more important?

  4. Griffin, Ledbetter, and Sparks award EVT high marks on all six standards for a good objective theory. Which standard do you think the theory meets most effectively? Least effectively?

  5. The end of the chapter addresses Kant’s advice for when we should violate an expectation. Use Kant’s categorical imperative to assess the communication behavior addressed by another theory. For example, you might turn to symbolic interactionism and consider whether it is ethical to shape someone’s sense of self through compliments (what if everyone did that all the time?).

Interpersonal Communication: Relationship Development

Social Penetration Theory (Chapter 8)

  1. Social penetration theory claims that self-disclosure tends to occur gradually. Think of a time when you’ve seen deep self-disclosure happen quickly. How did you react? Does your reaction fit the prediction of the theory?

  2. Describe the law of reciprocity. Why do we tend to match disclosures on breadth and depth? What are the possible consequences of doing otherwise? When might not reciprocating be appropriate and/or effective?

  3. Consider ethical egoism. Why does the ethical approach claim that selfishness is virtuous? Do you agree or disagree with this ethical approach, and why? Connect the ethical approach to the claims of social penetration theory (including social exchange).

  4. The onion is the central metaphor of this theory. Identify two weaknesses of this metaphor. Then, create a new metaphor for human personality structure that corrects these weaknesses.

  5. Compare and contrast the comparison level and the comparison level of alternatives. How do the concepts explain why some people stay in a dissatisfying relationship? Or end a satisfying one? These similar names for two different things are confusing; create new names that capture the essence of each concept. 


Uncertainty Reduction Theory (Chapter 9)

  1. Using uncertainty reduction theory as a guide, formulate specific predictions about the different reactions of two groups of incoming college students: 1) one group who participated in a four-day, intensive experience with 10 other new students exploring a wilderness area while 2) the second group spent an evening of conversation and entertainment with a senior or junior. Explain each prediction in terms of specific axioms and theorems.

  2. You want to convince a professor to extend a paper deadline by one more day. Write or draw your hierarchical plan for persuading your professor. Which elements of your plan would be easiest to change? Hardest? To what extent does this pattern match Berger’s hierarchy hypothesis?

  3. Berger suggests that people interact less if they do not anticipate future interaction, yet strangers often interact intensely when seated next to each other on a train, plane, or bus. Explain this seeming anomaly using the terms of uncertainty reduction theory.

  4. Write about a time when you have experienced relational turbulence. To what extent did partner interference and/or relational uncertainty contribute to it? What other factors led you to experience turbulence? How was the turbulence reduced?

  5. Uncertainty reduction theory claims humans are motivated by predictability. Predicted outcome value theory claims humans are motivated to maximize relational outcomes. The theory of motivated information management claims humans are motivated to reduce anxiety. Compare and contrast these motivations. When are these motivations compatible? When are they not? Which of the three motivations do you think is strongest in our interpersonal relationships?

Social Information Processing Theory (Chapter 10)

  1. Describe the link between social information, impression formation, and relationship development.

  2. The beginning of the chapter addresses three early theories of computer-mediated communication: (a) social presence theory, (b) media richness theory, and (c) reduced social context cues. Pick one of these theories. What advice would this theory give regarding what medium to choose when having a difficult conversation with a friend? Compare and contrast this with the advice that social information processing theory would give.

  3. Walther developed the hyperpersonal perspective with reference to text-based media such as e-mail. To what extent do the four elements of the perspective also apply to a modern social networking site such as Facebook? How about video chat? Or text messaging?

  4. Take a close look at your use of one social networking site. What elements of your use of the site are low warrant information? Which are high warrant information? Given that people tend to trust high warrant information more than low warrant information, what impression might viewers of this information form of you?

  5. When it comes to hostile groups, Walther makes the startling claim that such groups may reduce hostility by communicating exclusively using text-only channels. Use the four elements of the hyperpersonal perspective to explain why Walther offers that advice.

Interpersonal Communication: Relationship Maintenance

Relational Dialectics (Chapter 11)

  1. Figure 11-2 displays every pole as connected to every other pole. Explain why the figure appears this way. How would the theory be different if it claimed that each pole is connected only to its opposite?

  2. Describe a time that you experienced an aesthetic moment. How did dialogue bring this moment about? Was the sense of unity fleeting, as Baxter predicts, or not?

  3. Baxter and Montgomery state that relationships are in constant flux and that change is all that is predictable. If this is true, what is the benefit of analyzing relationships as Baxter and Montgomery do? In other words, what goal do you think the theory aims to achieve?

  4. Griffin, Ledbetter, and Sparks use tug-of-war as a metaphor for relational dialectics. Create two other metaphors that capture the nature of contradiction in interpersonal relationships.

  5. Explain why Baxter and Montgomery believe that dialectical tensions cannot be resolved permanently. Do you agree or disagree with their stance? Why or why not?


Communication Privacy Management Theory (Chapter 12)

  1. Define the five core principles of communication privacy management theory in your own words. Which principle is most important? Least important? Why did you choose these two?

  2. Describe your privacy management regarding the following items: where you live, your major, your class schedule, your romantic status, and your GPA. Who can have access to this information? How permeable are these boundaries? Why do you manage privacy in this way?

  3. Griffin, Ledbetter, and Sparks classify CPM as an interpretive theory, yet the critique section notes the use of quantitative research to support the theory. Explain why CPM theory might be more amenable to quantitative/objective research than some other interpretive theories. Relational dialectics or coordinated management of meaning could serve as effective contrasts in your answer.

  4. One of the most vexing experiences described in this chapter is the confidentiality dilemma. Drawing on the ethical reflections in the textbook, define three guiding ethical principles for how to decide when to disclose information against a person’s wishes. Be sure to clearly connect these principles to the ideas of the ethical theorists.

  5. Principle 2 mentions five factors that influence privacy rule formation: culture, gender, motivation, context, and risk/benefit ratios. Which factor do you believe is most important in the formation of your privacy rules? Least important? Identify two additional influences on your privacy rule formation that do not appear on this list.

The Interactional View (Chapter 13)

  1.  Provide an example of a double bind that you’ve witnessed in your own life. How did you handle the double bind? What advice does the interactional view give you for how to fix a double bind?

  2. The original formulation of the interactional view claimed that verbal and nonverbal messages are somewhat distinct channels, with the former focusing on content and the latter on relationship. Bavelas’ revision deemphasizes this distinction, claiming that both verbal and nonverbal channels are tightly integrated. Which approach do you think is right? Why? And why does this theoretical concern matter?

  3. Watzlawick claims that family communication is a game. Think of a game—a board game, a video game, or a sport—that is similar to communication in your family. Explain how the rules in the game are similar to the rules that govern your family’s interaction with each other.

  4. The claim that “one cannot not communicate” represents one of the most well-known phrases in the communication discipline—but also one of the most controversial. For example, do we communicate while we are sleeping? Identify two other situations where some might claim that communication is not taking place. Then, make an argument for why these situations do—or do not—involve communication.

  5. Griffin, Ledbetter, and Sparks present this theory as chiefly focused on family communication. However, systems theories have been applied to many other contexts. Choose a non-family group with which you are familiar—perhaps an extracurricular group on campus, a business, a religious organization, or even a group of close friends. What principles from the interactional view do you see in this group? Are any principles of the theory unlikely to appear in this group?

Interpersonal Communication: Influence

Social Judgment Theory (Chapter 14)

  1.  Sherif states that "most dramatic cases of attitude change, the most widespread, and enduring, are those involving changes in reference groups with differing values." Paraphrase what Sherif means. Why do you believe this happens? Can you provide an example from personal experience?

  2. In light of Bochner and Insko’s sleep study, theorize how source credibility influences the process of making social judgments. Specifically, how does source credibility influence a person’s anchor point? Latitudes? Susceptibility to assimilation and contrast effects? The process of attitude change?

  3. Discuss the role of human choice in this theory. Specifically, if the outcome of persuasion only has to do with the discrepancy between the message and the anchor point, to what extent are humans free to make up their own minds?

  4. Let’s say that you and I have very different opinions on water conservation—I say "who cares, I'm entitled to water my lawn" and you say, "Endangered species are more important than green grass." What would Sherif say you would need to do to persuade me to change my mind?

  5. In the discussion of the university fundraiser’s phone call to a wealthy alumnus, Griffin, Ledbetter, and Sparks raise the question of ethics. To what extent are you willing to use a persuasive message that does not reflect your true thoughts—even if the persuasive message is forecast to be more effective? How do you feel when you receive such persuasive messages? Connect your discussion to two or more of the ethical reflections covered in the textbook.

Elaboration Likelihood Model (Chapter 15)

  1. Describe the central and peripheral routes. To what extent do you think the choice of processing route is under the control of the listener?

  2. The peripheral route is a mental shortcut. Why do we use it rather than thinking things out carefully? What are the advantages and disadvantages of the shortcut?

  3. Nilsen argues that ethical persuasion must preserve freedom of choice. Consider a company creating a TV ad for a new car. If an advertiser takes Nilsen’s ethics seriously, how would the advertiser design the ad?

  4. Why might objective scholars balk at Petty and Cacioppo’s definition of strong arguments? How might the definition be altered to address their concerns?

  5. Where do you think need for cognition comes from? If a college student wants to improve his or her need for cognition, can they? If so, how? If not, why not?

Cognitive Dissonance Theory (Chapter 16)

  1. The minimal justification hypothesis may be one of the most counterintuitive ideas in the social sciences. Explain how the $1/$20 experiment demonstrates that behavior may cause attitudes.

  2. Describe a time in your life when you have engaged in selective exposure. Why did you do this? What were the positive outcomes of your selective exposure? The negative outcomes?

  3. Assuming Festinger was right, why is the avoidance of dissonance a basic human drive? In other words, how do we benefit from seeking to avoid dissonance?

  4. Both cognitive dissonance theory and the elaboration likelihood model are cognitive theories of persuasion and attitude/behavior change. Identify one point of similarity and one point of contrast between the two theories.

  5. Compare and contrast the three revisions to cognitive dissonance theory. Which revision do you think makes the most valuable and accurate contribution?


Group and Public Communication: Group Communication

Functional Perspective on Group Decision Making (Chapter 17)

  1. Although Hirokawa observed that effective groups often start by analyzing the problem, he also noticed that they don’t always do so. Describe a situation when it would be more effective for a group to start with one of the other requisite functions.

  2. Hirokawa discovered that the evaluation of negative characteristics is the most crucial function for achieving an effective group decision. Explain three reasons why groups might skip this step, despite its importance.

  3. Angela, Brian, Chloe, and Daniel have just gotten together for their first group meeting. Their task is to create a presentation on a theory of their choice for their communication theory course. With the functional perspective in mind, identify three guidelines the group should follow.

  4. Review your experience in a decision-making group and answer whether the functional perspective sheds light on the process. Which requisite functions did your group perform ineffectively? Which did they perform well?

  5. Some scholars have argued that a weakness of the functional perspective is its lack of attention to the relational aspects of group life. This is particularly problematic for groups whose purpose is, in large part, relational: groups of friends, families, religious groups, and so forth. Identify at least two functions that such social groups must fulfill. Compare and contrast these functions with those identified by Hirokawa and Gouran for decision-making groups.

Symbolic Convergence Theory (Chapter 18)

  1. Discuss a dysfunctional group you have worked with in the past. How would knowledge of symbolic convergence theory have helped you to improve the function of that group?

  2. Think about a group you belong to now (or belonged to in the past): A group of friends, a work team, your family, etc. Describe the fantasy themes in the group. How might you organize these themes into fantasy types?

  3. Symbolic convergence theory focuses on cohesion, whereas the functional perspective focuses on effective decisions. Compare and contrast these emphases. What kinds of groups would find the functional perspective most useful? What kinds of groups would find symbolic convergence theory most useful?

  4. The theory doesn’t say much about what fantasy themes are most likely to become rhetorical visions. Identify three characteristics of a fantasy theme that you think increase its likelihood of spreading to a broad rhetorical community.

  5. Griffin, Ledbetter, and Sparks frame symbolic convergence theory as a hybrid of objective and interpretive approaches. If you had to categorize the theory as primarily one or the other, which would you pick? Why?


Group and Public Communication: Organizational Communication

Cultural Approach to Organizations (Chapter 19)

  1. Pacanowsky took Geertz’s method, originally developed for studying rural cultures outside the Western world, and used it to study Western corporations. How is a national or ethnic group like a corporation? How do they differ? Does this matter when translating ethnographic methods from one context to the other?

  2. Discuss the culture of an organization or a corporation that you know well. Pay particular attention to the organization’s metaphors, stories, and rituals.

  3. What corporate stories appear on your college or university’s website? Compare and contrast these corporate stories with the collegial stories you’ve heard from other students.

  4. Consider ethnography as a method. Why have cultural approach scholars so enthusiastically embraced the method? What disadvantages does the method possess? If ethnography were unavailable, what might be another approach to discovering organizational culture?

  5. Pacanowsky claims that “culture is not something an organization has; a culture is something an organization is.” In your own words, explain what he means by this statement.

Communicative Constitution of Organizations (Chapter 20)

  1. Describe the process of membership negotiation for students at the university you now attend. How does membership negotiation happen formally? Informally? Which do you think is more important?

  2. After reading about CCO, do you think a family is an example of an organization? Explain your answer using the four flows.

  3. Why does McPhee refer to communication as “flows”? What are the advantages and disadvantages of this metaphor?

  4. One principle of CCO is that different flows happen in different places. Yet, another principle is that the same message can address multiple flows. At first glance, this looks like a contradiction. Explain how both of these things can be true.

  5. Some scholars see CCO as a highly practical theory. Consider graduating college seniors. Identify three guidelines, grounded in CCO, that would help the graduates as they enter the workforce.


Critical Theory of Communication in Organizations (Chapter 21)

  1. A haunting claim of the theory is that members of organizations are sometimes silent and complicit—even unknowing—in the suppression of their ideas. Consider your college or your workplace. Where do you see such consent taking place? Why? How might that consent be changed?

  2. Explain two of Deetz's four different ways a corporate decision is made. Be sure to compare how they are similar and where they are divergent.

  3. The critical theory urges that all communication is political and the product of social construction; therefore, we should closely inquire who benefits from claims of authority. If that’s true, it must also be true of Deetz and his critical theory. What political interests does the theory serve? Who might the theory benefit? Who does it empower? Who does it silence? How can the theory incorporate the voice of all stakeholders in its development?

  4. One goal of Deetz’s theory is to make readers aware of corporate colonization. Identify one way in which your life has been “colonized” by a corporation. What disadvantages of that colonization would Deetz note? Can you think of any advantages that might outweigh them?

  5. Within the PARC model, which items on Deetz’s list of requirements for negotiations among stakeholders do you believe would be the easiest to implement? The hardest? In your view, are any impossible to achieve?

Group and Public Communication: Public Rhetoric

The Rhetoric (Chapter 22)

  1.  List and briefly describe the five canons of rhetoric. If you could pick one canon which you’d like to learn to use more effectively, which would it be? Why?

  2. Aristotle claimed that the enthymeme was a particularly strong way to make an argument. Contrast the enthymeme with the example. Which is inductive, which is deductive, and what does that difference mean? Why might Aristotle have believed that enthymemes were stronger than examples?

  3. Of the three proofs, perhaps ethos is misunderstood most by students. Many students think ethos refers to ethics, probably because the words share a common root. Write a statement clarifying for students what ethos is. Specifically, how is ethos similar to ethics? How does it differ?

  4. Aristotle advocated the “golden mean,” or a principle of moderation, as a path to a virtuous life. When might moderation not be a wise choice? How can we determine when it is virtuous to be moderate and when it is not?

  5. Discuss why Aristotle was skeptical about appeals to the emotions. When have you seen speakers use emotional appeals responsibly? Irresponsibly? State three guidelines for the ethical use of pathos in public speaking.

Dramatism (Chapter 23)

  1. Find a popular song that describes a breakup. Describe the song using the five elements of the pentad. What ratio does the singer/songwriter most emphasize? What does that reveal about the singer/songwriter’s motivation?

  2. Burke asserts that without identification there can be no persuasion. Explain what he means by identification and why it is so important for a persuasive speaker.

  3. Burke claims that guilt is an underlying motivation for all public rhetoric. First, explain what Burke means by the word “guilt.” Then, take a stand—do you agree with Burke, or not? What evidence would you use to support your position?

  4. Find a recent speech by a local or national politician about a controversial issue. After reading the speech closely, identify the god-term and the devil-term. How do the words that cluster around each term define them? How does the pairing of these two specific words define each other? What does this analysis reveal about the speaker’s motivation?

  5. Compare and contrast Burke’s dramatism with Aristotle’s Rhetoric. Where do the theories differ? Where might they find common ground? Can you integrate the insights of both theories in a way that establishes identification and consubstantiality with adherents of both theories?

Narrative Paradigm (Chapter 24)

  1. Explain the difference between the rational-world paradigm and the narrative paradigm. Why does Fisher believe this is a difference that truly makes a difference?

  2. Which is a worse story—a story that lacks coherence but has fidelity, or a story that lacks fidelity but has coherence?

  3. Think of the movie you have seen most recently. Explain whether the movie possesses narrative rationality.

  4. Both Fisher (“storytelling animals”) and Burke (“rotten with perfection”) attempt to define the essence of human nature. Compare and contrast their explanations of what it means to be human. Whose account do you find to have the most coherence and fidelity?

  5. At times, the chapter stops short of claiming that all communication is story (e.g., see the first sentence of the last paragraph in the chapter). Do you think all communication is story? If yes, explain why; if no, provide an example of communication that is not a story.

Mass Communication: Media and Culture

Media Ecolgy (Chapter 25)

  1. The ear and the eye have been dominant senses in previous media ages. Why does McLuhan suggest touch is a new emphasis in the electronic age?

  2. Many college students now interpret romantic relationships differently depending on whether they are “Facebook official.” Given that McLuhan believed “the medium is the message,” consider what McLuhan would have said about this phenomenon.

  3. Joseph Walther’s social information processing theory addresses hyperpersonal relationships, or online relationships that are more satisfying than those occurring offline. Revisit that chapter if you need a refresher on the four characteristics leading to hyperpersonal relationships. Does McLuhan’s theory illuminate why or how hyperpersonal relationships might occur?

  4. The chief critique of McLuhan’s theory is that it isn’t scientifically testable. Yet, Griffin, Ledbetter, and Sparks categorize the theory as interpretive. Reflect, then: To what extent is it fair to fault this interpretive theory for failing to meet the standards of an objective theory?

  5. More than almost any other theory in the book, McLuhan’s theory has generated both public notoriety and controversy. In your essay, side unambiguously with either McLuhan or his critics. Explain why the theory provides brilliant insight into the human condition or, alternatively, why the theory badly misses the mark.

Semiotics (Chapter 26)

  1. One critique of the theory is that Barthes’ approach “borders on conspiracy theory.” Explain whether you agree or disagree with this assessment of Barthes’ work.

  2. Explain the relationship among a sign, a signifier, and a signified. Use a sign prevalent on your campus or in your town as an example.

  3. Think of your favorite recently-released movie. Using Barthes’ ideas, explain how the movie reinforces the dominant values of society.

  4. Unlike McLuhan, Barthes says little about the medium through which a sign is communicated. Write a dialogue between McLuhan and Barthes where they debate the question: Which is more important, the medium or the content of a message?

  5. Keeping his analysis of wrestling in mind, how might Barthes respond to the genre of reality television shows? How would he characterize the basic premises and plot elements that comprise the shows? How might he account for their great popularity?

Cultural Studies (Chapter 27)

  1. Visit an Internet news site and read one of the prominently-featured articles. What stories are told in the article? Which stories, although relevant, are not told? How would Hall explain this?

  2. Think of the most recent movie you’ve watched.  In what ways does the movie function to perpetuate dominant cultural values? Do you see any ways that the movie functions to resist the ideological status quo?

  3. One of the sharpest critiques of cultural studies concerns whether scholarship should be done with the aim of promoting a specific political ideology. Explain why scholars in the socio-psychological, cybernetic, and/or rhetorical traditions might particularly have such concerns. Then, explain why you either agree with those concerns or why you dismiss them.

  4. Hall’s theory was developed before the age of social media. Consider what Hall would say about whether such sites preserve or challenge hegemony.

  5. Would Hall's analysis of media in society be different if the news media were publicly owned? If so, how? What problem(s) would public ownership solve? What new problem(s) would it create?


Mass Communication: Media Effects

Uses and Gratifications (Chapter 28)

  1.  A chief assumption of the theory is that people can accurately report their reasons for media use. That assumption is also quite controversial. Explain whether you think this is a reasonable assumption or not.

  2. Think of the most recent TV show you’ve watched. Which of Rubin’s gratifications most motivated your viewing? Are there any motives for your viewing that don’t appear in the typology?

  3. Reflect on the idea of parasocial interaction. When have you, or someone you know, experienced it? When is parasocial interaction healthy, and when is it unhealthy?

  4. Contrast uses and gratifications theory with either Gerbner’s cultivation theory, McLuhan’smedia ecology, or Hall’s cultural studies. How do the two theories differ in their assumptions about media use? What common ground, if any, do they share? The best answers will draw connections to the metatheoretical traditions to which the theories belong.

  5. Compare Rubin’s typology, originally developed for describing TV viewing, with people’s use of social networking sites (such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram) today. Which gratifications apply to these sites? Which, if any, do not? What gratifications would need to be added to the list to comprehensively describe motivations for social networking site use?

Cultivation Theory (Chapter 29)

  1. For some sports fans, watching games and sports news comprises much of their viewing behavior. What kind of worldview might a heavy diet of sports TV cultivate?

  2. Think of your three favorite television shows. How much violence do they contain? Do the shows exert cultivation effects beyond violence? If so, what are they?

  3. The chapter closes with a quote from Scottish patriot Andrew Fletcher: “If a man were permitted to make all the ballads, he need not care who should make the laws of a nation.” Explain why this was a favorite quote for Gerbner.

  4. Today, most people do not watch TV through airwave broadcast. In addition to cable, they rely on DVRs, on-demand services, and streaming video through the Internet. Discuss the extent to which these technological changes necessitate revising cultivation theory.

  5. Reflect on the small association (+0.09) discovered between TV viewing behavior and fear of victimization. First, explain what this association means. Then, discuss whether this finding supports or undermines the claims of cultivation theory researchers.

Agenda-Setting Theory (Chapter 30)

  1. Both agenda-setting theory and cultivation theory address how the media shapes the beliefs of viewers and users. Compare and contrast these theories in terms of their foci, their research methods, and basic assumptions. With the six criteria for a good objective theory in mind, which do you think is the superior theory?

  2. Throughout the chapter, Griffin, Ledbetter, and Sparks refer to examples of presidential elections from the 1960s on. Consider the most recent U.S. presidential election. What do you remember about how the media framed each of the major candidates? Identify at least two different frames that could be adopted for each candidate.

  3. In response to the question, “Who sets the agenda for the agenda-setters?”, the chapter suggests several answers: gatekeepers, interest aggregations, powerful political figures, and public relations specialists. Which of these do you think wields the strongest agenda-setting power? What factors might alter that power balance?

  4. The Althaus and Tewksbury study provided evidence that online news possesses less agenda-setting power than traditional print sources. However, this remains a controversial question, especially as technology improves and becomes more powerful. As an intellectual exercise, craft an argument for why the media may possess even greater agenda-setting power with the technology we have available today.

  5. Find a copy of the most recent edition of your school’s newspaper or news website. What issues are emphasized? What issues are deemphasized? What issues do not appear at all? Why?

Cultural Context: Intercultural Communication

Communication Accommodation Theory (Chapter 31)

  1. CAT claims that, as a general rule, people respond positively to convergence and negatively to divergence. Can you think of exceptions to this general rule? When might convergence produce negative outcomes? When might divergence produce positive outcomes?

  2. Explain the differences between the terms accommodation, divergence, convergence, and maintenance. Provide examples of each behavior.

  3. Giles sees CAT as a theory about group identity. Identify three groups to which you belong. How does your membership in these groups influence your communication behavior? When you encounter them, what outside groups are especially likely to encourage you to communicate in ways that support your group identity?

  4. Select one of the ethical reflections from a preceding chapter. Address how that perspective would answer the twin questions: When is it ethical to converge to another person’s communication behavior? When is it ethical to diverge?

  5. Based on your knowledge of CAT, what suggestions would you offer to a person going on a job interview? What should the person do? What should they avoid doing?

Face-Negotiation Theory (Chapter 32)

  1. Reflect on your own self-construal. Do you think of yourself in a more individualistic or collectivistic fashion? Does this match the culture in which you were raised or not? Why?

  2. Make a list of the three conflict management strategies you most prefer. Then, make a list of the three that you most dislike. Why do you have these preferences? Connect your answer to your cultural background and self-construal.

  3. The goal of face-negotiation theory is to connect broad cultural factors to a specific type of communication: conflict management strategies. Identify one other type of interpersonal communication that you think is logically connected with cultural background. Explain this connection.

  4. Mindfulness sounds good on paper, but many of us find it difficult to do in practice. Why might mindfulness be difficult? What specific steps can someone take if they wish to improve their level of mindfulness?

  5. Face-negotiation theory is located in the section on intercultural theories. Think of a time when you visited another culture, either within your own country or by traveling to another one. Describe experiences during your visit using the vocabulary and ideas of face-negotiation theory.

Speech Codes Theory (Chapter 33)

  1. In your own words, outline the six propositions of speech codes theory.

  2. The critique section addresses Ting-Toomey’s and Philipsen’s divergent views on the value of collectivism and individualism as cultural labels. Write a fictional dialogue between the two scholars where they discuss these labels. Be sure to incorporate vocabulary and ideas from both face-negotiation theory and speech codes theory.

  3. Consider the speech codes in your family-of-origin and at your college or university. What elements are similar? Which are different?

  4. Identify a totemizing ritual at your family, campus, or workplace. What does this ritual reveal about the speech code of that culture?

  5. Speech codes theory focuses central attention on speech codes and cultures. Do these terms refer to the same thing or different things? If different things, what is the connection between the two terms? If the same thing, why are two different terms used in the theory?

Cultural Context: Gender and Communication

Genderlect Styles (Chapter 34)

  1. Did reading about Tannen’s theory produce an “aha!” moment for you? If so, explain this moment. If not, reflect on why the theory’s claims may not match your personal experience.

  2. Tannen contends that women avoid conflict to preserve relational harmony. Yet, the classic movie Mean Girls is rife with conflict between female high school students. Of course, the movie is fiction—but perhaps it contains a kernel of truth. Explain how girls and women might engage in conflict without abandoning a rapport talk speech style. If you want to extend your essay further, you might consider how men might engage in comforting without abandoning report talk.

  3. How well do the qualities Tannen attributes to men and women equip each sex for the following roles: managers, parents, lawyers, physicians, teachers, friends? Specifically, is one sex better prepared for certain roles than the other sex? If so, is this a problem to be solved or a reality to be lived with?

  4. For the next 24 hours, carefully observe how the women and men in your life speak. What evidence, if any, do you observe that supports Tannen’s claims? In contrast, do you observe any men using rapport talk or women using report talk? If you do, why?

  5. In the ethical reflection on Gilligan, Griffin, Ledbetter, and Sparks note that “Traditional moral philosophy has never suggested different ethics for different groups.” Why does Gilligan attempt to do so? What problem(s) might this solve? What new problem(s) might such an ethical stance create?

Standpoint Theory (Chapter 35)

  1. Assess your standpoint. What social group memberships influence it? Which are most influential? How would Harding and Wood measure your degree of strong objectivity? Do you agree or disagree with their assessment?

  2. For many scientists, “objectivity” is an absolute and binary term—in other words, someone is either objective or not. Discuss, then, what Wood and Harding mean when they speak of “strong objectivity” and “weak objectivity.”

  3. During the 2008 U.S. presidential campaign, Barack Obama’s former pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright, controversially said: “Hillary [Clinton] was not a black boy raised in a single parent home. Barack was. Barack knows what it means to be a black man living in a country and a culture that is controlled by rich white people. Hillary can never know that.” Explain (or perhaps critique) his remarks using the ideas and vocabulary of standpoint theory.

  4. Select one of the following theories from earlier in the textbook: Uncertainty reduction theory, social information processing theory, communication accommodation theory. Each of these theories is an objective, scientific theory primarily developed by a Caucasian male. Discuss how the theory might have developed differently if it had been developed by a female member of a racial/ethnic minority.

  5. What do postmodernists mean when they speak of an “incredulity toward metanarratives”? Do you share their incredulity? Why or why not?

Muted Group Theory (Chapter 36)

  1.  Griffin, Ledbetter, and Sparks identify words for sexual promiscuity as an example of masculine bias in the English language. Identify one other word, phrase, or conversational topic that also demonstrates such bias.

  2. Many students have a very personal reaction to this theory because it brings to mind their own life experiences. Write about a time when you have either been muted because of your group membership, or when you have muted someone else.

  3. Some students react strongly to Kramarae’s criticism of men. In your essay, address the thorny question: Do men mean to mute women? How would Tannen, Wood, and Kramarae answer that question similarly or differently than you do? Whose explanation, if any, do you find most accurate?

  4. Consider the following claim: There exist situations when women mute men. Explain why you either agree or disagree with this claim.

  5. Write a fictional dialogue putting Cheris Kramarae into conversation with Deborah Tannen. In the dialogue, explore both differences and common ground in the thinking of each theorist.


Common Threads in Comm Theories (Chapter 37)

  1. One of the uniting themes of the book is the continuum between objective and interpretive theories. How would an objective scholar answer the question, “What are these threads, really?” How would an interpretive scholar answer the question?

  2. Examine the theories you have studied in the course. Beyond those identified by Griffin, Ledbetter, and Sparks, identify one or two additional threads connecting the theories.

  3. At many universities, the communication theory course occurs early in the major or minor. If this is the case for you, as you look ahead to taking future communication courses, which threads are you most interested in exploring further? Why?

  4. The chapter reports a “cause for pause” associated with each thread. Which of these “causes” is the most serious critique? Why do you think this critique is worthy of particularly serious consideration?

  5. The placement of the theories on the threads isn’t the final word. Identify one theory you think is misplaced, and explain why you think that theory doesn’t really exemplify the thread.

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