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Theory Outlines
11th Edition

From the Instructors Manual

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Chapter  2Objective and Interpretive Approaches to Communication Theory


  1. Introduction.
  1. Objective communication theories assume we live in a world where we can understand truth through unbiased observations.
  2. Interpretive communication theories assume we live in a world where truth is subjective, depending on a person’s lived experiences.
  1. Two communication scholars view a heartwarming ad.
  1. Travis: An objective approach.
  1. Social scientists wonder why the commercial produced such a positive sentiment and whether it changes human behavior.
  2. Social scientists test positive and negative influences of media by relying on theory.
  3. Social scientists seek an objective test of whether the theory’s claims are true.
  1. Kristina: An interpretive approach.
  1. Interpretive scholars focus on the ways language constructs realities that emerge in and across people’s accounts.
  2. Recognizing one’s own stance illuminates how experiences are intrinsically tried to interpretation.
  3. Interpretive scholars reveal meanings that may initially be hidden within a text.
  1. Ways of knowing: Discovering truth or creating multiple realities?
  1. Epistemology is the study of the nature of knowledge.
  2. Objective scholars assume that Truth is singular.
  1. Reality is accessible through our senses.
  2. No one person can know it all, so individual researchers pool their findings and build a collective body of knowledge about how the world works.
  3. Good theories are mirrors of nature, true as long as conditions remain the same.
  1. Interpretive scholars regard truth as socially constructed through communication.
  1. Language creates social realities that are always in flux.
  2. Knowledge is always viewed from a particular perspective.
  3. Texts never interpret themselves.
  1. Human nature: Determinism or free will?
  1. Objective scholars stress the forces that shape human behavior; interpretive scholars focus on conscious choices made by individuals
  2. Objective scholars usually describe human conduct as occurring “because of” forces outside the individual’s awareness, the response to a prior stimulus.
  3. In contrast, interpretive scholars tend to use explanatory phrases such as “so that” or “in order to” because they attribute a person’s action to conscious intent.
  1. They focus on conscious choices of individuals, not on why choices are made.
  2. They believe that significant decisions are value laden. 
  1. As individual freedom increases, predictability of behavior decreases.
  1. The purpose of theory: Universal laws or guides for interpretation?
  1. Objective scholars seek universal laws while interpretive scholars strive to understand individual texts.
  2. The basic activity of behavioral scientists is testing theory; interpretive scholars explore the web of meaning constituting human existence.
  1. The highest value: Objectivity or emancipation?
  1. When we talk about values, we are discussing priorities, questions of relative worth.
  2. Objective scholars believe we benefit from having an unbiased account of communication based on observable evidence.
  3. Interpretive scholars believe we benefit from insight into communication that emancipates people from oppression.
  4. Objective scholars hold a distinction between the “knower” and the “known.”
  5. Interpretive scholars value socially relevant research that gives us deeper insight into how people assign meaning.
  6. Stan Deetz says that every communication theory has two priorities: effectiveness and participation.
  1. Objective or interpretive: Why is it important?
  1. You cannot fully understand a theory without knowing its assumptions about truth, human nature, the purpose of theory, and its values.
  2. It is helpful when thinking through theories to have a way of organizing them into objective and interpretive worldviews.
  3. Understanding objective and interpretive points can help you decide what direction to take your coursework.
  4. Theorists in both camps believe their area of work will improve relationships and society.
  1. Plotting theories on an objective-interpretive scale: A metatheoretical way of comparing theories featured in the book. Objective and interpretive labels anchor the ends of a continuum, with many theories in between.


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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Theory Outlines
11th Edition

From the Instructors Manual

List mode: Normal (click on theory name to show detail) | Show All details | Clear details

Chapter  2Objective and Interpretive Approaches to Communication Theory


  1. Introduction.
  1. Objective communication theories assume we live in a world where we can understand truth through unbiased observations.
  2. Interpretive communication theories assume we live in a world where truth is subjective, depending on a person’s lived experiences.
  1. Two communication scholars view a heartwarming ad.
  1. Travis: An objective approach.
  1. Social scientists wonder why the commercial produced such a positive sentiment and whether it changes human behavior.
  2. Social scientists test positive and negative influences of media by relying on theory.
  3. Social scientists seek an objective test of whether the theory’s claims are true.
  1. Kristina: An interpretive approach.
  1. Interpretive scholars focus on the ways language constructs realities that emerge in and across people’s accounts.
  2. Recognizing one’s own stance illuminates how experiences are intrinsically tried to interpretation.
  3. Interpretive scholars reveal meanings that may initially be hidden within a text.
  1. Ways of knowing: Discovering truth or creating multiple realities?
  1. Epistemology is the study of the nature of knowledge.
  2. Objective scholars assume that Truth is singular.
  1. Reality is accessible through our senses.
  2. No one person can know it all, so individual researchers pool their findings and build a collective body of knowledge about how the world works.
  3. Good theories are mirrors of nature, true as long as conditions remain the same.
  1. Interpretive scholars regard truth as socially constructed through communication.
  1. Language creates social realities that are always in flux.
  2. Knowledge is always viewed from a particular perspective.
  3. Texts never interpret themselves.
  1. Human nature: Determinism or free will?
  1. Objective scholars stress the forces that shape human behavior; interpretive scholars focus on conscious choices made by individuals
  2. Objective scholars usually describe human conduct as occurring “because of” forces outside the individual’s awareness, the response to a prior stimulus.
  3. In contrast, interpretive scholars tend to use explanatory phrases such as “so that” or “in order to” because they attribute a person’s action to conscious intent.
  1. They focus on conscious choices of individuals, not on why choices are made.
  2. They believe that significant decisions are value laden. 
  1. As individual freedom increases, predictability of behavior decreases.
  1. The purpose of theory: Universal laws or guides for interpretation?
  1. Objective scholars seek universal laws while interpretive scholars strive to understand individual texts.
  2. The basic activity of behavioral scientists is testing theory; interpretive scholars explore the web of meaning constituting human existence.
  1. The highest value: Objectivity or emancipation?
  1. When we talk about values, we are discussing priorities, questions of relative worth.
  2. Objective scholars believe we benefit from having an unbiased account of communication based on observable evidence.
  3. Interpretive scholars believe we benefit from insight into communication that emancipates people from oppression.
  4. Objective scholars hold a distinction between the “knower” and the “known.”
  5. Interpretive scholars value socially relevant research that gives us deeper insight into how people assign meaning.
  6. Stan Deetz says that every communication theory has two priorities: effectiveness and participation.
  1. Objective or interpretive: Why is it important?
  1. You cannot fully understand a theory without knowing its assumptions about truth, human nature, the purpose of theory, and its values.
  2. It is helpful when thinking through theories to have a way of organizing them into objective and interpretive worldviews.
  3. Understanding objective and interpretive points can help you decide what direction to take your coursework.
  4. Theorists in both camps believe their area of work will improve relationships and society.
  1. Plotting theories on an objective-interpretive scale: A metatheoretical way of comparing theories featured in the book. Objective and interpretive labels anchor the ends of a continuum, with many theories in between.


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.

Back to top



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