Communication at A Distance
The Influence of Print on Sociocultural Organization and Change
Routledge – 1993 – 504 pages
Series: Routledge Communication Series
This book bridges an important gap between two major approaches to mass communication -- historical and social scientific. To do so, it employs a theory of communication that unifies social, cultural and technological concerns into a systematic and formal framework that is then used to examine the impact of print within the larger socio-cultural context and across multiple historical contexts. The authors integrate historical studies and more abstract formal representations, achieving a set of logically coherent and well-delimited hypotheses that invite further exploration, both historically and experimentally.
A second gap that the book addresses is in the area of formal models of communication and diffusion. Such models typically assume a homogeneous population and a communication whose message is abstracted from the complexities of language processing. In contrast, the model presented in this book treats the population as heterogeneous and communications as potentially variable in their content as they move across speakers or readers.
Written to address and overcome many of the disciplinary divisions that have prevented the study of print from being approached from the perspective of a unified theory, this book employs a focused interdisciplinary position that encompasses several domains. It shows the underlying compatibility between cognitive and social theory; between the study of language and cognition and the study of technology; between the postmodern interest in the instability of meaning and the social science interest in the diffusion of information; between the effects of technology and issues of cultural homogeneity and heterogeneity. Overall, this book reveals how small, relatively non-interactive, disciplinary-specific conversations about print are usefully conceived of as part of a larger interdisciplinary inquiry.
"…an essential read for the professional writing specialist interested in theory and a challenging read for those interested in research….it offers a wonderful new way of looking at the social role of texts in scientific communities and other organizations….This is a challenging book, provoking and productive. It has much to say--and suggests many topics and problems--if the reader happens to be contemplating any research on writing that takes into account social context (organizational or other), or is interested in the sociology of science, the history of print, or rhetoric as social construction."
—Technical Communication Quarterly
"…an excellent new book which offers a middle ground approach to context, actually attempting to operationalize a fragment of it. The importance of [the authors'] work rests on two features: a stunning synthesis of existing literatures on communication theory (especially with regard to print), and a lucid demonstration that formal simulations of communication in context are both possible and fruitful….In both scope and precision it easily outstrips most other current attempts at communication theory. The range of historical and theoretical material synthesized is impressive, as is its deployment in support of their theory….[It] must be regarded as an extremely important book, one that should bring together in discussion members of communication departments who don't think they share a common vocabulary or problematic, and in so doing could exert a decisive influence in the field."
—Quarterly Journal of Speech
"…provides a nearly endless source of clearly stated and well-justified hypotheses, ready for systematic testing in modern organizations with a variety of communication media….This rich text has so much to offer that one could benefit from it in different ways with repeated readings."
—Administrative Science Quarterly
"The scope of this book is quite ambitious….it makes some important general points that apply to today's emerging technologies."
—International Journal of Human-Computer Studies
"…bold and erudite, spanning social scientific and humanistic as well as modernist and postmodernist perspectives. Both a synthetic and a theoretically original work, it demonstrates the relevance to one another of the widely dispersed regions of communication, rhetorical, and literary theory. It should be essential reading for anyone aspiring to approach communication theory in a historically informed way. The exploration of four model 'societies' is especially productive and thought-provoking. To the skeptic, Kaufer and Carley provide evidence that something called communication theory is both definable and necessary."
University of Iowa
"…a bold and exciting beginning of a new way of looking at the history of literate practices, print culture, and the formation of disciplinary communicative networks. It is a remarkable fusion of the social sciences and the humanities; of sociology, rhetoric, cognitive studies and literacy studies. The ground-breaking modelling of communicative interactions under varying technological and social conditions provides a means to consider the relationship among the materiality of communications and communicative technologies, the formation of intersubjective understanding in thought collectives, social structure and the substantive content of communications."
Georgia Institute of Technology
"…a comprehensive, fascinating, and useful work about the ubiquitous and often surprising influence of print on society….This analysis will be particularly interesting for empirical researchers, who will find that it is…generative of further thinking. I found myself stopping to make notes on possible studies as I read virtually every chapter."
Pennsylvania State University
"…a fascinating study of the influence of print….The interaction of…formal modelling with [an] historical perspective…makes the manuscript extremely fecund. This is a book with which scholars in many fields will want to spend sustained time….It is impressive both for its treatment of its central issue (the effect of print technology), going well beyond existing treatments of both sociologists and historians; and in coverage of many smaller themes….It is one of the most truly original works I have read in a long time."
"…mounts a devastating critique of the widespread tendency, which has proved especially disastrous in the teaching of writing, to think that because the interaction of authors and readers is distant and mostly one-directional, we need not 'think of the engagement of authors and readers as social interaction. The recent rhetorical turn across numerous disciplines that Kaufer and Carley embrace and exemplify strikes me as one of the most hopeful signs in years for the future of education."
University of Chicago
Contents: Preface. Approaches to Communication Research. Part I: Theory. Written Content as Emergent Phenomena. Contexts Sustaining Print Transactions. Communicative Transactions and Their Ecology. The Role of Language in the Communicative Transaction. The Dynamics of the Communicative Transaction. Part II: Applications. Print. Professions. Academia. Migration and Authority. Afterword. Appendices: Simulation Data for Print. Simulation Data for Professions. Simulation Data for Academia.