From the Instructors Manual
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Chapter 3—Weighing the Words
- Not all theories are equally effective.
- The utility of a theory may be judged by applying the appropriate criteria used by behavioral scientists and a wide range of interpretive scholars to weigh the theories of their colleagues.
- What makes an objective theory good?
- Scientific standard 1: Prediction of future events. Prediction in physical science is more accurate than in social science, where it is based on probability.
- Scientific standard 2: Explanation of the data.
- A good theory makes sense out of disturbing situations or draws order out of chaos.
- It focuses attention on crucial variables and away from irrelevant data.
- It explains what is happening and why.
- It explains both the process and the results.
- Scientific standard 3: Relative simplicity. The rule of parsimony dictates that all things being equal, we accept the simpler explanation over the more complex.
- Scientific standard 4: Hypotheses that can be tested. If there is no way to prove a theory false, then any claim that it’s true seems hollow.
- They shy away from the put-up-or-shut-up standard—they aren’t testable.
- They are never-miss shots.
- Scientific standard 5: Practical utility.
- This requirement is consistent with social psychologist Kurt Lewin’s claim that there is nothing as practical as a good theory.
- Don't dismiss a theory as impractical unless you understand it.
- The wider the scope of a theory’s application, the greater its practical utility.
- Scientific standard 6: Quantitative Research
- Scientists favor quantifiable experiments and surveys.
- The idea that numbers are more reliable than words runs deep in the scientific community.
- Through experiments, scientists seek to establish a cause-and-effect relationship by manipulating an independent variable in a tightly controlled situation in order to determine its effect on a dependent variable.
- Surveys rely on self-report data to discover who people are and what they think, feel, and intend to do—the key components of our attitudes.
- What makes an interpretive theory good?
- Interpretive standard 1: Clarification of values.
- Theorists acknowledge their own values.
- They seek to unmask the ideology behind messages.
- Of course, not all interpretive scholars occupy the same moral ground, but there are core values most of them share.
- Many theorists value individual liberty and equality. Krippendorff's Ethical Imperative argues that we should grant others that occur in our construction the same autonomy we practice constructing them.
- Many interpretive scholars value equality as highly as they do freedom.
- Critical theorists, in particular, insist that scholars can no longer remain ethically detached from the people they are studying, or from the political and economic implications of their work
- Interpretive standard 2: New understanding of people.
- Interpretive scholarship is good when it offers fresh insight into the human condition.
- Rhetorical critics, ethnographers, and other humanistic researchers seek to gain new understanding by analyzing the activity that they regard as uniquely human—symbolic interaction.
- Whereas science wants objective explanation, humanism desires subjective understanding.
- Klaus Krippendorff's Self-Referential Imperative states that, as theorists, we are both the cause and the consequence of what we observe.
- Interpretive standard 3: Aesthetic appeal.
- A theory's form can be as captivating as its content.
- Although the elegance of a theory is in the eye of the beholder, clarity and artistry seem to be the two qualities needed to satisfy this aesthetic requirement.
- Interpretive standard 4: A community of agreement. A theory must have widespread scrutiny and usage.
- We can identify a good interpretive theory by the amount of support it generates within a community of scholars who are interested and knowledgeable about the same type of communication.
- Interpretation of meaning is subjective, but whether the interpreter’s case is reasonable or totally off the wall is ultimately decided by others in the field.
- Interpretive standard 5: Reform of society.
- They want to expose and publicly resist the ideology that permeates the accepted wisdom of a culture.
- Theory challenges cultural assumptions.
- The aim of critical scholarship is to unmask communication practices that create or perpetuate power imbalances in an attempt to stimulate change.
- To the extent that the theory stimulates students to rethink, respond, and react to this “free-market” process, it is a good interpretive theory.
- Interpretive standard 6: Qualitative research
- While scientists use numbers to support their theories, interpretive scholars use words.
- Textual analysis and ethnography are the two methods most often used to study how humans use signs and symbols to create and infer meaning.
- Textual analysis describes and interprets the characteristics of messages.
- Through ethnography, participant-observers experience a culture's web of meaning.
- Contested turf and common ground among theorists.
- Although the differences that separate objective and interpretive theorists are meaningful, they can friendly with each other across their lines of difference.
- It requires mutual respect for each other’s interest and recognition of their intellect.
- It requires a mutual appreciation that scientific theorists are comparing multiple messages or groups while interpretive theorists are analyzing a single message or group.
- The two sets of six criteria are not as different as they might seem.
- Both prediction and value clarification look to the future.
- An explanation can further understanding of motive.
- Simplicity has aesthetic appeal.
- Hypothesis testing is a way of achieving a community of agreement.
- Theories that reform are practical.
- Qualitative and quantitative research both reflect a commitment to learning more about communication.
- It is important for the two communities to at least be familiar with the other’s work.
- Although all theories featured in this book have merit, they also have weaknesses elucidated by the standards set forth in this chapter.
You can access the Outline for a particular chapter in several ways:
- Switch to View by Theory, then select the desired theory/chapter from the drop-down list at the top of the page. Look in the list of available resources.
- To quickly find a theory by chapter number, use the Table of Contents and link from there. It will take you directly to the theory with available options highlighted.
- You can also use the Theory List, which will take you directly to the theory with available options highlighted.
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