These Are My Traditions

As I progress in my communication fluency studies, I find that I am starting to look at the world in a different way. When I talk with friends, relatives, and co-workers, I feel like I’m choosing my words more carefully. I am also expanding my observation skills to look for ways in which communication theories can be applicable in every day life. But, it is more than just that! After reading the third chapter in our textbook about communication theory traditions, I was opened up to a whole new world of looking at various other schools of study from a communication perspective. I realized that various topics can be studied using these multiple traditions of communication theory. In order to keep everything simplified and organized in my mind, I decided to use a brief synopsis of each tradition and what it studies. (Each tradition can be further expanded upon through variations, but I felt a summarized definition would be best suited for this post.)

The Semiotic tradition is “the study of signs” and how they “represent objects, ideas, states, situations, feelings, and conditions outside of themselves”(Littlejohn and Foss, 2011, p.45). I like to think of it like this; semiotics is the study of why humans assign meanings to signs the way that we do. For example, Shakespeare once wrote, “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”. If a rose was instead called a diaper, it would maintain the same scent, the same look, and the same meaning of love and affection, only it’s name would have changed.  This tradition can be applied to areas such as; psychology, languages, sociology, and religious studies.

The Phenomenological tradition is the study of how “human beings come to understand their world through direct experiences” (Littlejohn and Foss, 2011, p.47). In an even more simplified explanation, phenomenological tradition is the study of how humans experience and develop their own realities or perceptions. As we have discussed before, our own experiences shape not only our personalities, but also our perceptions on the world. Someone who was in a airplane accident during their life will be unlikely to fly again; whereas someone who has never experienced an airplane accident is more apt to travel by plane. This tradition can be applied to areas like; sociology, psychology, language, and philosophy.

The Cybernetic tradition is the study of systems “with interacting elements” and how they can “influence one another” (Littlejohn and Foss, 2011, p.49) Listen HERE as to why I find the Cybernetic tradition a rather fascinating tradition. The Cybernetic tradition can be applied to studies in fields such as; sociology, science, and mechanics.

The Sociopsychological Tradition is the study of “the individual as a social being” including their social behaviors, personality traits, psychological variables, and what influences them (Littlejohn and Foss, 2011, p.52). In simpler terms, sociopsychological scholars observe why a person is the way they are and what influences them to be that way. This tradition can be applied to areas like; sociology, psychology, relgious studies, marketing, and philosophy.

The Sociocultural tradition is the study of how our own “understandings, meanings, roles, norms, and rules” are developed through interactions in “groups, communities, and cultures” in which we live (Littlejohn and Foss, 2011, p.54-55) We often see in movies, such as Mean Girls, how cliques developed in high school can affect how we interact with other peers and adults, as well as, define our roles in the high school heirarchy. This tradition can be applied to schools of study such as; sociology, psychology, religious studies, philosophy, language, and anthropology.

The Critical tradition is the study of how power, oppression, and privelege are products of power-structures that dominate society (Littlejohn and Foss, 2011, p.57). For example, a wealthy person can better influence their personal and political interests by being able to donate money to a political campaign run by a politician who’s interests are alligned with the donor. This helps to ensure that the candidate running gets elected and will work to further the interests of the wealthy donor. Critical tradition theories can be applied to areas like; sociology, feminist studies, politics, law, history

The Rhetorical tradition is the study of texts or symbols and their meanings (Littlejohn and Foss, 2011, p.61). For example,  one of the most well known symbols is the crucifix. It can hold different meanings, depending upon how it is used. For most people, the crucifix represents the Christian belief of Jesus’ death upon the cross and his great sacrifice to save our souls. However, it is also used by exorcists as a means to exorcise demons or unholy spirits from a person. It is also used as protection against evil or misharm. The Rhetorical traiditon can be applied to various subjects, such as art, art history, religious studies, music, language, literature, and anthropology.

As you can see, certain traditions apply well with different areas of study. The areas I am most interested in studying are marketing, psychology, and mass media. I think these three topics go hand in hand, especially when you look at how they can intertwine. This leads me to the research paper I am hoping to write; I am considering doing a research paper on the media’s influence of society’s view of beauty.

We were asked to choose a film that provides us with “equipment for living” and I think Hairspray is the perfect choice for my topic. Hairspray provides ‘equipment for living’ for people who feel they do not fit society’s standards of beauty and popularity. The film’s main character, a high school teen who is a bit on the “hefty” side, challenges the concept of what is considered “beautiful” by following her beliefs and emerging as a television show role model. Having been a “larger” girl all of my life, and not considered “traditionally beautiful”, I have first-hand experience on how society and people react and interact with someone who is “unconventional” and “plus-sized”. The tides are a-changing though! Things are not exactly how they were when I was in middle school and high school being asked how my latest attempt at Weight Watchers was going (I’m doing pretty well actually, thanks for asking). With the opening of Torrid and Lane Bryant as large chain clothing stores, more fashionable clothes and plus size models have been introduced to the fashion/beauty scene and have a larger (no pun intended) presence in mass media. Also, with actresses like Melissa McCarthy and Rebel Wilson becoming celebrity icons, societies perceptions of “beauty” have started to shift.

Reference: Littlejohn, S., & Foss, K. (2011). Theories of Human Communication (10th ed.). Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press, Inc.


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