Why Communication Science needs a multidisciplinary approach

3. Assignment

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Your field of study needs to fully embrace a multidisciplinary approach if it is to make a meaningful contribution to the needs of the world today. Argue for or against this proposition providing an example where appropriate.”

My field of study is communication science, which can only make a meaningful contribution to the needs of the world if it follows a multidisciplinary approach.

The reason behind that claim is that communication is a universal phenomenon. One statement by Paul Watzlawick, a famous scholar in our field, put it in a nutshell: “You cannot not communicate”. Communication is ubiquitous, but not only personal communication is ubiquitous it is the same with mass communication. Radio, TV, and Newspapers follow us through the day. Even if you managed not to listen, to watch, or to read news from the mass media directly, people would talk with you about things they have heard from media. Thus, mass media influence other social areas too such as law, economy, society as a whole, and so on. Accordingly, if you study mass communication and journalism, you must know about these influences, and this is only possible if you use approaches from other studies too.

If we speak about my study, we have to consider that communication science, since the very beginning, has been taking over methods and insights from other disciplines. For example, Jürgen Habermas has – with his communication theory – a significant impact on communication science, but he was a professor of philosophy and sociology. Also, Niklas Luhmann is a well-known person in my study thanks to his system theory, but he studied law and sociology.

Communication science uses many theories from other disciplines. For example, there is an ongoing discussion in communication science whether politicians influence more the media or whether the media influences politicians. There are some slightly evidences that the mass media uses its power to influence decisions made by politicians. This theory mixes knowledge from political science with knowledge from communication science. You can only understand that phenomenon fully if you use an interdisciplinary approach.

It is broadly accepted that communication science is an interdisciplinary study. As a result, communication science does researches on a broad field, from digital media to the perception of movies by the audience. Some voices are stating that communication science should focus its research field to media and mass communication, and let the film studies research film perception exclusively. Another problem is that many people cannot even recognise what exactly communication science is. For the more or less same study exists different names such as journalism and mass communication, communication science, or media science. On top of this, different universities are researching the same topic with different approaches: Many focusing on heuristic methods, others prefer qualitative empirical methods, and others again declaring quantitative empirical methods as the only valuable tools. In conclusion, critics fearing that a multidisciplinary approach could lead to a fragmentation of the communication studies and following a devaluation of all communication studies because they would be recognised as ambiguously and inconsistently.

Indeed, it is questionable whether communication studies should be so open and broad, but if you have the understanding from communication studies as an interface for all other social sciences, you cannot narrow the research field because that would also restrict your level of knowledge. This would be fatal for a young discipline such as communication science. Furthermore, the researchers always specialise on a particular topic. If the chosen theme is not relevant enough, the researcher will not find any recognition and therefore will have no success. Thus, there is an internal selection, and this is better as to exclude a field beforehand. The fragmentation of the study into meaningless subgroups is a risk, but on the other hand, communication science is young. It needs time to build a robust scientific fundament. When communication science manages it to make an essential contribution to the development and knowledge of our society, it will achieve better recognition. Last but not least, in other studies, critics are complaining about the too extensive specialisation. The risk is that with a too extensive specialisation you treat things out of context and subsequently overview essential matters.

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This text was produced during my Academic English course at the university of Copenhagen.