What is Theory?

Let’s think about this… I realize that as I get this blog off of the ground I may have missed one of the most important questions of all when it comes to Mass Communication theory. What exactly is it and what is it supposed to accomplish? As a basis for moving forward and creating a common ground from which we must all start, a foundation must be built before we can jump in to talking about the various theories and models Mass Comm scientists use. Let’s begin:

What is the goal of theory? Theory strives to formulate statements or propositions that will have some explanatory. This is our most basic definition and generalized way of looking at theory.

Theory seeks to explain the effects of mass communication on society, audiences and people. These effects can either be intended or unintended by those sending the message or messages.

Theory seeks to explain the uses to which people put mass communication. Sometimes it is far more useful and meaningful to study the uses as opposed to the effects. This tenets recognizes the active role of the audience within the process of mass communication.

Theory seeks to explain learning from the mass media. In this way theory covers the majority of mass comm study. How do audiences learn from the media? This question is still trying to be answered definitively by communication scientists.

Theory explains the role of mass media in shaping audiences values and opinions. Like it or not audiences do learn from the media, they take on the views expressed in the media or seek out media sources which agree with and reinforce their own views.

So then what is a theory explained in less than five paragraphs? A theory is a scholar’s construction of what an experience is like, based on systematic observation.

There we have it. Theory. Defined. Barely. And trust me, it gets far more complex from here. Next time I’ll dive into the different tests for a theory and how we differentiate a theory from a model.

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