The cultural view of communication

For my Principles of Media class, I read Communicating for Life by Quentin Schultze, a Professor of Communication Arts and Sciences at Calvin College. Here, I’ll reflect on a key idea that I uncovered in Schultze’s work.

In chapter 3 of Communicating for Life, Schultze explains that there are two views of communication: the transmission view and the cultural view. The transmission view involves a scientific/objectivist approach to communication.

Schultze writes, “According to the transmission perspective, the purpose of communication research is to predict what factors will determine the effect of a given message on particular persons in specific situations” (p. 50). Schultze argues that the transmission view is too simplistic: it tends to paint a picture of people as machines that automatically respond to their surroundings.

I agree with Schultze. There are times for quantitative research, but I don’t think communication can always be measured.

Schultze prefers to approach the study of communication from the cultural view, which some might describe as constructivist or subjective. “According to the cultural view,” Schultze writes, “the study of communication is the art of subjectively interpreting the meaning and significance of people’s shared cultural activities” (p. 54-55). This is the worldview through which I have studied communication, and it tends to be the view with which I agree.

I started to embrace that view under the influence of the Communication professors at my college. My own experiences with traveling and studying world cultures have led me to agree with the cultural view of communication.

I need to heed Schultze’s warning that the cultural view can slide into cultural relativism. I believe in objective truth, but I also think that, as he writes, “human beings do create versions of reality” (p. 56). With discernment and a critical mind, I can gain a more holistic understanding of how humans communicate.

Do you agree about the cultural view of communication? Do you prefer the transmission view?