Communication Theory as a Field


  • Robert T. Craig

  • Robert T. Craig is an associate professor in the Department of Communication, University of Colorado, Boulder. Portions of this article were presented in earlier versions as the Second Annual Lecture in Human Communication, Indiana University, Bloomington, October 16, 1996, and at annual conferences of the International Communication Association, Montreal, May 1997, and the National Communication Association, Chicago, November 1997.


This essay reconstructs communication theory as a dialogical-dialectical field according to two principles: the constitutive model of communication as a metamodel and theory as metadiscursive practice. The essay argues that all communication theories are mutually relevant when addressed to a practical lifeworld in which “communication” is already a richly meaningful term. Each tradition of communication theory derives from and appeals rhetorically to certain commonplace beliefs about communication while challenging other beliefs. The complementarities and tensions among traditions generate a theoretical metadiscourse that intersects with and potentially informs the ongoing practical metadiscourse in society. In a tentative scheme of the field, rhetorical, semiotic, phenomenological, cybernetic, socio-psychological, sociocultural, and critical traditions of communication theory are distinguished by characteristic ways of defining communication and problems of communication, metadiscursive vocabularies, and metadiscursive commonplaces that they appeal to and challenge. Topoi for argumentation across traditions are suggested and implications for theoretical work and disciplinary practice in the field are considered.