The Foundations of Communication Overview


By the end of this chapter, you will be able to:

  • Explain Communication Study.
  • Define Communication.
  • Explain the linear and transactional models of communication.
  • Discuss the benefits of studying Communication.

You are probably reading this book because you are taking an introductory Communication course at your college or university. Many colleges and universities around the country require students to take some type of communication course in order to graduate. Introductory Communication classes include courses on public speaking, interpersonal communication, or a class that combines both. While these are some of the most common introductory Communication courses, many Communication departments are now offering an introductory course that explains what Communication is, how it is studied as an academic field, and what areas of specialization make up the field of Communication. In other words, these are survey courses similar to courses such as Introduction to Sociology or Introduction to Psychology. Our goal in this text is to introduce you to the field of Communication as an academic discipline of study.

Engaging in Conversation

Photo of two women on street talking. Both wear dresses and head scarves.

Two women talking in Jerusalem

As professors, we hear a lot of people talk about communication both on and off our campuses. We’re often surprised at how few people can actually explain what communication is, or what Communication departments are about. Even our majors sometimes have a hard time explaining to others what it is they study in college. Throughout this book we will provide you with the basics for understanding what communication is, what Communication scholars and students study, and how you can effectively use the study of Communication in your life — whether or not you are a Communication major. We accomplish this by taking you on a journey through time. The material in the text is framed chronologically, and is largely presented in context of the events that occurred before the industrial revolution (2500 BCE-1800’s), and after the industrial revolution (1800’s-Present). In each chapter we include boxes that provide examples on that chapter’s topic in context of “then,” “now,” and “you” to help you grasp how the study of Communication at colleges and universities impacts life in the “real world.”

To make it easier for you to have a general understanding of Communication study as an academic field, we divide the book into two parts: Chapters 1–6 provide you with the foundations of Communication as an academic field of study. In this chapter you will learn the definitions of Communication and Communication study, as well as understand possible careers that result from studying Communication. In Chapters 2 and 3 you will learn that verbal and nonverbal communication are the primary human acts we study in Communication. The history of Communication study in Chapter 4 lets you see the chronological development of the field, which determined our choices for how we ordered the chapters in Part II. Finally, Chapters 5 and 6 briefly highlight the different theories and research methods we use to study human communication.

Chapters 7–13 highlight many of the prominent Communication specializations that have shaped the field in the past 100 years. We present them in the chronological order in which they became part of the Communication discipline. While there are many more areas of specialization we would like to cover in this text, we have chosen to highlight the ones that have shaped what you likely recognize as part of the Communication departments at your colleges and universities. Because we cannot cover every specialization, we chose to include ones that were instrumental in the earlier development of the field that are still being explored today, as well as specializations we believe represent new directions in the field that examine communication in our ever-changing society.

Before we introduce you to verbal and nonverbal communication, history, theories, research methods, and the chronological development of Communication specializations, we want to set a foundation for you in this chapter by explaining Communication Study, Models of Communication, and Communication at work.