Researching communication processes from a systems theory perspective

Jeremy Foote
Purdue University

Communication is interdependent

  • By definition, communication is relational; multiple actors are basically always involved

Communication is “stateful”

  • People are heterogenous, which influences their communication
  • People are influenced by their experiences and conversations

Current approaches have blindspots

  • Nearly all communication research uses individual-level methods
  • Theories about higher-level phenomena can’t be tested with individual-level methods
  • Interdependence makes higher-level behavior unpredictable, but this is typically ignored

Spread on a network

Systems theory can help

  • Focuses on:
    • Environment in which communication occurs
    • Feedback loops and recursion - interdependent processes
    • Emergence - identifying higher-level patterns
  • Methods include:
    • Longitudinal modeling
    • Social network analysis
    • Agent-based modeling