theory and metatheory - Interpersonal Communication

COM 452
Communication Theory
What is theory?
• A system of generalizable statements logically
linked together to explain, describe, predict,
and/or control human phenomena in a given
A descriptive generalization about a
An explanation of how or why something occurs
An attempt to predict what will happen and
possibly control outcome
What is Metatheory?
• Metatheory is “theory about theory”
• It addresses three assumptions:
– The nature of knowledge (epistemology)
– The nature of being/existence (ontology)
– The nature of values (axiology)
Epistemology: How do we know
what we know?
• Is there “one reality” waiting to be discovered
through our senses?
Can different researchers study the same thing
in the same way and build a body of knowledge?
Or are there multiple subjective realities, each
one equally valid?
NOTE: Just because there can be multiple
interpretations of a phenomenon does not mean
there are multiple realities/existences of the
Ontology: Why do we do what
we do?
• Do biology and environment interact to
influence human behavior?
• Does this happen outside human
• Do humans behave according to their
volition, their intention?
• As human choice/free will goes up,
predictability goes down
Axiology: What is the role of values
in our research?
• Do we value scholarship that stresses objective
knowledge to explain, predict and possibly
influence human behavior?
Is our research value-neutral?
Do we value scholarship that stresses subjective
understanding to describe the human condition
and liberate people from oppression?
Do our values influence our research?
Two Major Perspectives
• Scientific/Objectivist
– One Truth
– Behavior is relatively
– Values do not
influence research
(i.e., value neutral)
• Interpretive
– Multiple realities
– Humans have free will
– Values do influence
Where do you stand?
• Epistemology?
– Is there an objective reality to be discovered or are
there multiple realities to be created?
• Ontology?
– Does your biology/environment influence you or are
you free to behave as you please?
• Axiology?
– Can you remain objective or will your values influence
what you research, how you do research and what
you find?
Why care about metatheory?
• Each theory will have associated metatheoretical
perspective and assumptions (E, O, V)
These assumptions tell you a lot about the theory
– Does the theory assume one reality or multiple
– Does the theory assume behavior is determined or at
the will of the individual?
– Does the theory assume that research is value neutral
or that the values of the researcher are influential?
• Given the metatheoretical perspective, does it
make sense to ask the questions that are being
asked and look for answers with the methods
being used?
Research Methods
• Experiments: discover cause and effect
relationships by manipulating IV in a controlled
situation to discover its impact on DV
Surveys: collect self-report data to discover
people’s attitudes, intentions, behavior
Textual Analysis: describe and interpret the
characteristics of messages
Ethnography: develop understanding of people’s
culture (shared meanings, values) through
Substance Use
• Experiment: Does a high sensation value PSA
lead to greater attitude change?
Survey: Does TV viewing differ between
substance users and non-users?
Textual Analysis: What does Nancy Reagan’s
“Just Say No” speech reveal about White House
Ethnography: Within the community of heroin
addicts, how are interpersonal relationships
established and maintained?
(Meta)Theory/Method Interface
• Metatheory tells you how you see the
• Theory tells you what you are looking for
• Method tells you how to find it
• (Meta)Theory and Method need to cohere,
but each perspective/approach can inform
the same problem