directory TUTORIAL: Communication Environment



No act of communication occurs independently of its environment. This tutorial investigates the ways in which various aspects of the human social environment impact on the communication process.

The issue is this: Do meaningful thought and reason concern merely the manipulation of abstract symbols and their correspondence to an objective reality, independent of any embodiment?

Or do meaningful thought and reason essentially concern the nature of the organism doing the thinking - including the nature of its body, its interactions with its environment, its social character, and so on?

Though these are highly abstract questions, there does exist a body of evidence that suggests that the answer to the first question is no and the answer to the second is yes.
- George Lakoff

The "fundamental" Shannon/Weaver model of communication focuses on the process by which a messsage sent by one communicator is received by another. However, as this simple situation, which includes only two communicators, is expanded to include additional transmitters and receivers, the sending and receiving of messages becomes very complexs/w model -- in fact too complex to be fully explained by the Shannon/Weaver model.

The search for other explanatory models begins with the receiver. Human beings become informed as they perceive data by means of their senses, and as they organize this information and give it meaning. The development of the semiotic model explains this process in terms of signs, or perceptions that bring to mind concepts about the world. Signs can be arranged in elaborate systems of codes, including the very complicated codes that are called languages, and used as a means of communication.

While much communication takes place in one-on-one, or face-to-face, situations among individual human beings, communication can also take place in groups, including the very large groups that compose the audiences of the mass communication media. Thus, no communication is independent of the social environment within which it occurs. In fact, in social situations it can be said that one cannot not communicate.

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Environments are not passive wrappings, but are, rather, active processes which are invisible.
- Marshall McLuhan

Most theories of communication envision communication as a process that occurs by means of messages circulated within a system of interrelated senders and receivers.

system definition

exampleActive Environments

Although scholars typically focus their attention on the system, the environment is also of considerable importance. For one thing, a system cannot survive without its environment. For another, a system's environment is active, and some of that activity necessarily impacts on the system.

Communication is carried on by individuals within the context of groups and with the use of signs whose meanings are established in part by negotiation among the members of the groups. Thus, human beings:

Because of this the members of a society are constantly immersed in a "communication environment" that is rich in potential information. It is the presence of this environment that makes true the statement that it is impossible for human beings not to communicate.

exampleThe Importance of Everyday Life

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The boundary between society and culture, the two most complex systems on earth, is more difficult to define: at last count there were 164 definitions of culture. The definition that provokes the least disagreement is that culture is what makes societies with the same kind of economic system, the Trobrianders and the Dobu, for instance, or Italy and France, distinct from each other. This implies that culture is symbolic and imaginary, as well as real.
- Anthony Wilden

You may accordingly like to think of culture - I often do - as an enormous pumpkin, hard to penetrate, full of uncharted hollows and recesses for cultural critics to get lost in, and stuffed with seeds of uncertain contents and destiny.
- Jacques Barzun

There is general agreement that human communication and human culture are related. There is little agreement as to what that means. Denis McQuail provides a summary definition

If we extract different points from these different usages, it seems that culture must have all of the following attributes.

- Denis McQuail 95

In the context used here, the term "culture" names the entire collection of human artifacts. This means that culture includes everything that might possibly be considered as "text," and that it therefore is the "what" that students of communication study in order to understand the "how" and "why" of the communication process.

The artifacts that humans create as they communicate with one another may become public, and in so doing, become part of the reality of others. It is these cultural artifacts, along with their associated meanings, that form the environment of human communication.

people artifacts

The meaning that one human assigns to a received message is based in part on the meanings that he or she has assigned to other messages in the past, and in part on the meanings that other humans have assigned to similar messages previously exchanged. In this way as individuals and their cultures interact, they are mutually responsible for the construction of the social reality of human life.

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The remainder of this tutorial is divided into three sections. The confluence of these three studies leads to an understanding of the interdependency of human communication and human culture.

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