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The complexity paradigm for studying human communication: a summary and integration of two fields

[journal article]

Sherry, John L.

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Abstract There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy. Hamlet (Act 1, Scene 5) This popular quote from Hamlet might be recast for the field of communication as “There are more things in science than are dreamt of in our philosophies”. This article will review several new and strange ideas from complexity science about how the natural world is organized and how we can go about researching it. These strange ideas, (e.g., deterministic, but unpredictable systems) resonate with many communication phenomena that our field has traditionally had difficulty studying. By reviewing these areas, we hope to add a new, compelling and useful way to think about science that goes beyond the current dominant philosophy of science employed in communication. Though the concepts reviewed here are difficult and often appear at odds with the dominant paradigm; they are not. Instead, this approach will facilitate research on problems of communication process and interaction that the dominant paradigm has struggled to study. Specifically, this article explores the question of process research in communication by reviewing three major paradigms of science and then delving more deeply into the most recent: complexity science. The article provides a broad overview of many of the major ideas in complexity science and how these ideas can be used to study many of the most difficult questions in communication science. It concludes with suggestions going forward for incorporating complexity science into communication.
Keywords information theory; emergence; system theory; science; paradigm; complexity; interaction; simulation
Classification Basic Research, General Concepts and History of the Science of Communication; Philosophy of Science, Theory of Science, Methodology, Ethics of the Social Sciences
Document language English
Publication Year 2015
Page/Pages p. 22-54
Journal Review of Communication Research, 3 (2015)
ISSN 2255-4165
Status Published Version; peer reviewed
Licence Creative Commons - Attribution-NonCommercial