Posted by: MJ | October 21, 2019

Elevating Critical Communication Theory

In Chapter 2 of Applying Communication Theory for Professional Life (Dainton & Zelley, 2019), the authors discuss various approaches to theory development and research. One of the more substantial portions of the chapter deals with distinctions between social scientific and humanities traditions. This section implores the reader to consider most communication research as falling on a spectrum between the two traditions; however, there is a small mention about the “critical approach” to communication that requires the reader to seek an outside article (Craig, 1999) to learn more about the concept (Dainton & Zelley, 2019).

The “Critical Communication Theory” section of Communication theory as a field (Craig, 1999) describes communications approaches with the objective of social change. Where humanistic and social scientific approaches may prioritize understanding or operationalizing the world as-is, critical communication theories primarily question the status quo and universality of the current. In some ways, this approach politicizes and challenges theories and studies (and on a grander scale, scholarship practices as a whole) that are often taken at face-value as objective or neutral (Craig, 1999).

The question, then, is if Critical Communication theory (or more generally, critical communication as a belief system) should be treated as an equal counterpart to social science and the humanities? If not, where exactly does it stand in relation to the other two, more commonly-recognized belief systems called out by Dainton & Zelley? While it was briefly referred to as a “special group” of theories in Chapter 2 (Dainton & Zelley, 2019), this set of theoretical beliefs may provide an even richer perspective to discourse around communication theory as it applies to social change.



Craig, R. T. (1999). Communication Theory as a Field. Communication Theory9(2), 119–161. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-2885.1999.tb00355.x

Dainton, M., & Zelley, E. D. (2019). Applying communication theory for professional life: a practical introduction (4th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc.


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