“Communication Theory is Useless”: Four reasons that is not true – PART IV

Reason 4: Normative

In reality, conditions are rarely “ideal”. Ergo, normative theories of communication are rarely used because they “don’t describe things as they are, nor do they provide scientific explanations or predictions. Instead, they describe the way things should be if some ideal values or principles are to be realized” (Baxter & Braithwaite, 2008, p. 99). Usually, this sort of theory better lends itself to professional communication practices than it does personal.

Structuring and participating in normative standards of communication “make more sense in institutional than it does in intimate practices” (Baxter & Braithwaite, 2008, p.157) because as you can imagine “husband and wife will not remain fully vigilant about the other’s behaviors (Baxter & Braithwaite, 2008, p.235) so setting normative communication standards on an intimate basis are more difficult to adhere to and thus less likely to succeed. Nonetheless a personal example of the role of normative theory from my own experience is the struggle to inspire my boyfriend to go to the gym.

As is the case with all normative communication theory: Under ideal conditions, he would go but in reality there are constant obstacles impeding the normative behaviour.  “Interpersonal communication is organized by normative expectations—the expectations for honesty and reciprocity being basic” (Baxter & Braithwaite, 2008, p.235). Theoretically this would lead me to believe that by reciprocating the responsibility of regular gym attendance it would ensure mutual gym attendance on his part.

Additionally, relaying messages from mass media that gym attendance is a societal norm would seem an adequate contribution to setting normative expectations, as well as showcasing the impact of patterns of this behaviour with ideally modeled outcomes, such as Ryan Gosling or Ryan Reynolds.

Nonetheless, as discussed by Baxter and Braithwaite, “[e]xpectations can and are violated, and conformity or deviation from normal patterns is recognized and influences interpretations” (Baxter & Braithwaite, 2008, p.235). This is why many examples of normative theory are often unrealistic in practice, so the boyfriend-gym example is a disappointing but common result when practically applying normative theories.

Stay tuned for the “See, I told you it wasn’t useless” wrap-up tomorrow!

            What have you missed?


            Reason 1

            Reason 2

            Reason 3

All Citations – Full Series

Baran, S. J., & Davis, D. K. (2011). Mass communication theory: foundations, ferment, and future (6th ed.). Boston, MA: Wadsworth.

Baxter, L. A., & Braithwaite, D. O. (Eds.). (2008). Engaging theories in interpersonal communication: multiple perspectives. Los Angeles: Sage Publications.

Ellis, S. (2007). Onward, Christian Soldiers. British Heritage27, 18-24. Retrieved January 17, 2014, from http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.msvu.ca/docview/217034325

Horkheimer, M. (1982). Critical Theory. New York: Seabury Press.

Lorre, C., & Prady, B. (2011). The Herb Garden Germination [Television series episode]. In Big Bang Theory. New York City: CBS Broadcasting Inc.

Marks, L. (1991). The Knights of Labor and the Salvation Army: Religion and Working-Class Culture in Ontario, 1882-1890. Labour/Le Travail, 89-127.

Waddington, K., & Michaelson, G. (2012).Gossip and organizations. New York: Routledge.

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