Communication science

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Communication science is a scientific research discipline in the field of social sciences and humanities that deals with the processes of human communication .

The research content varies considerably between the various universities . An alignment is particularly concerned with media and mass communication and is often Mass Communication called. Among other things, newspaper studies is a forerunner of this integration and social science, with approaches also from law , psychology and economics . Another orientation is primarily concerned with individual communication and has points of contact with linguistics (especially pragmatics ), philosophy , semiotics and sociology .

The field of communication studies overlaps with that of media studies , which primarily focuses on questions of cultural studies and media hermeneutics. Related areas are also speech studies and speech training .

Research fields

The individual research fields of communication science are best illustrated by the Lasswell formula : (1) Who says (2) what (3) in which way (4) to whom (5) with what effect? . Using the process of public communication described here, the research fields of communication science can be systematized: (superordinate) research on institutional framework conditions and organizations , (1) communicator research ( journalism and public relations ), (2) media content research , (3) media research / Media analysis , (4) media usage research and (5) media impact research .

Communicator research

The communicator research deals with media players and their integration in certain organizations: What attitudes, motivation, interests, education, etc. have journalists , PR specialists, etc.? What constraints are they subject to, what are they free, how do they work, how do they decide on topics and modes of presentation? This also includes gatekeeper research, which deals with the journalist as an influencing factor on communication content. Areas of communicator research are primarily journalism, PR science and advertising research.

Media content research

The media content research deals with the content, d. H. Statements and modes of representation of what the media convey ( media content ). It is differentiated on the one hand on the basis of the controversy about what is objectively ascertainable content, on the other hand according to the interest in knowledge , such as the assessment of journalistic quality, the comparison of reality and reporting (if one considers such a comparison possible), existence and properties of a separate "media reality " "as well as the question of what is reported why and why not, the staging strategies of media workers and actors present in the media, the differentiation of genres , etc.

Media research / media analysis

The media analysis examines the medium itself, for example which constraints emanate from a medium or which restrictions there are.

Media usage research

The use of media research describes the composition of the recipient shaft as well as the motives, the magnitude, characteristics and patterns of media use : Which socio-demographic and psychographic descriptions can make of readers, viewers and listeners? What time budget and what attention do you devote to media use?

Media impact research

The media impact , so the study of the effects mediated (mass) media communication, dealing with the core issue of what the media do to people. On the one hand it is about the effects on the individual (the psyche with cognitions and emotions ), on the other hand about the consequences for society or its segments , e.g. B. Politics, economics, sport, religion and other areas of society. The analysis of public opinion (s) plays a special role.


Furthermore, a distinction is made between some classic sub-disciplines of communication science:

Sub-disciplines whose research subjects and interests overlap with other subjects and are therefore transdisciplinary are:


Various aspects of communication have long been subjects of human science. In ancient Greece and Rome, the study of rhetoric , the art of speech and persuasion was a fundamental subject for students. A significant debate here was whether one can become a successful speaker through teaching ( sophists ) or whether excellent rhetoric is based on the character of the speaker ( Socrates , Plato , Cicero ). During the European Middle Ages and the Renaissance , the basic course, the so-called trivium , consisted of the three linguistic subjects of the seven liberal arts , namely grammar , dialectics or logic and rhetoric. The entire classical course was based on these.

Communication Science in the USA

1900s – 1920s: Chicago School

Although the exploration and study of communication goes back to antiquity and before, the works of Charles Horton Cooley , George Herbert Mead , Walter Lippmann and John Dewey were particularly important for the development of the academic discipline of communication studies in the early 20th century ) as it exists today in the USA .

These authors saw American society on the verge of moving towards pure democracy. Mead argued that for an ideal society to exist, communication must be created that allows the individual to weigh the attitudes, views and positions of others against their own. Mead believed that the so-called new media would allow people to empathize with others and thereby develop into an "ideal of human society". What Mead saw as the ideal society, Dewey called "Great Community" and also claimed that people were intelligent enough to govern themselves and that this knowledge was "a function of association and communication". Cooley thinks similarly, namely that political communication enables public opinion , which in turn promotes democracy. Each of these Chicago School authors represent viewing electronic communications as a facilitator and supporter of democracy, a belief in an informed electorate, and a focus on the individual rather than the crowd:

In his 1909 work Social Organization , Cooley defines communication as "the mechanism by which human relationships exist and develop - all signs of the spirit together with the means to carry them through space and to preserve them in time." was later clearly marginalized in sociology, gave communication processes a central and permanent place in the research of social relationships.

The work Public Opinion , which Walter Lippmann published in 1922, couples this view of the constitutive importance of communication with the fear that new technologies and institutions of mass communication will create inconsistencies or dissonances between the outside world and the images in our heads would.

John Dewey's essay The Public & its Problems , published in 1927, shed a similar light on communication, but, in contrast to Lippmann, combined it with an optimistic, progressive and democratic reform and famously argued that "communication alone [...] can create a large community. ".

Cooley, Lippmann and Dewey addressed topics such as the central importance of communication in social life, the emergence of large and potentially very powerful media institutions and the new communication technologies in rapidly developing and transforming societies. In addition, they asked questions about the relationship between communication, democracy and community. All of these have been retained as central elements in the discipline of communication science. They are also main elements in the works of thinkers such as Gabriel Tarde and Theodor W. Adorno , who made significant international contributions to the development of communication science.

1920s – 1950s: Propaganda research and early media impact research

The institutionalization of communication studies in higher education and research in the United States is often traced back to Columbia University , the University of Chicago, and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign , where thought leaders and early pioneers such as Paul Felix Lazarsfeld , Harold Lasswell, and Wilbur Schramm worked.

Harold Dwight Lasswell , who worked in the Chicago School paradigm, wrote Propaganda Technique in the World War in 1927 , which contained the following definition of propaganda : “Propaganda in the broadest sense is the technique of influencing human actions through the manipulation of representations. These representations can have spoken, written, pictorial or musical form. "

Between the First and Second World War , the Institute for Propaganda Analysis, founded in 1937, quickly increased in importance . Its definition of propaganda referred to it as "the expression of an opinion or action by individuals or groups deliberately designed to influence the opinion or actions of other individuals or groups with reference to predetermined goals."

These definitions of propaganda clearly show that this was a media impact school of thought that primarily examined the influence of media on audience attitudes and actions.

This early school of media effects research is embodied in the experiments conducted by the experiment section of the research division of the Information and Education Division of the US War Department . In these experiments, the effects of various US wartime propaganda films on soldiers were examined.

Current propaganda research covers various other fields besides politics.

A smaller paradigm since the Second World War is based on the ideas, methods and research results of the Austrian-American sociologist Paul Felix Lazarsfeld and his teaching, media impact research . The research focuses on measurable, short-term effects on behavior and concludes that the media play a limited role in influencing public opinion. The limited effects model developed by Lazersfeld and his Columbia colleagues had a major impact on the development of media studies. The model makes the claim that the mass media only have "limited effects" on recipient behavior. The recipients are instead more about the two-step flow model influenced so on so-called opinion leaders (opinion leaders) that receive the message through the media and to pass only in a second step to the recipient.

The limited effects model was so influential that the question of the effects of the media on politics was largely neglected until the late 1960s. Ultimately, the research of mass communication began to include political behavior again and the model of limited effects was called into question.

1970s – 1980s

Neil Postman founded the media ecology program at New York University in 1971 . Media ecologists ( Media ecologists ) put in their research value to a large number of inspiration to the whole environment of the media to investigate in a broader and more culturally oriented way. This view is the basis for a separate professional society, the Media Ecology Association in the USA.

In 1972, Maxwell McCombs and Donald Shaw published a groundbreaking article that contained an agenda-setting theory of media impact that offered new ways to explore short-term media impacts that previous research had only limited attention and consideration. This approach has been very influential, especially in research into political communication and news reporting .

In the 1970s, the uses and gratification research known today was founded, developed by scientists such as Elihu Katz , Jay G. Blumler and Michael Gurevitch . Instead of viewing the communication process as a one-way transmission from the communicator to the recipient, this approach illuminates what the audience receives from communications, what they do with them and why they deal with communication, especially mass communication, at all.

Communication Science in Germany

Communication studies in Germany has a rich hermeneutical past in philosophy, text interpretation and history . In addition, early research concepts emerged in sociology and economics. The German special route of a "newspaper science" then led to a narrowing of the perspective. The communication historian Lutz Hachmeister described his study on the (pre-) history of communication science in Germany (1986) as “social psychology of a strange subject” because “significant efforts in the field of communication research and media theory outside of the disciplinary boundaries” had taken place. From history of science considered perspective is to communicate science in Germany a "belated specialist", especially due to the intellectual blockade during the Nazi era, but today, personnel and institutional prosperous, "depoliticized and silently integrated into the academic life." In 2007 the Science Council distinguished between "three orientations in the field of communication and media studies":

  • the social science-oriented communication science,
  • the "cultural studies mediality research" and
  • the "computer science-oriented media technology".

In order to remain internationally compatible, according to the (not undisputed) recommendation of the Science Council, “there must be much more cooperation in research beyond the boundaries of these three orientations, as is the case in the USA, for example”.

Institute for Newspaper Studies in Leipzig

The establishment of the Institute for Newspaper Studies and the establishment of the first chair for Newspaper Studies in 1916 under Karl Bücher can be seen as the beginning of the institutionalized academic engagement with communication . He was interested in researching the influence of the newspaper on society and the individual.

He was succeeded in 1926 by Erich Everth . He continued Bücher's efforts to consolidate the institute and, with his idea of public communication as a social process with the press as a social form, was an early pioneer of the social science orientation of communication science in the 1960s. He already wanted to research methods from other sciences for his own subject. When the National Socialists came to power in 1933, Everth's ideas were not carried forward.

Frankfurt School

The work of the Frankfurt School influenced much of German research on communication. The philosophical and theoretical orientations of thinkers like Max Horkheimer , Theodor W. Adorno , Walter Benjamin , Leo Löwenthal and Herbert Marcuse made a significant contribution to the development and use of critical theory in communication studies. In addition to indicting the effects of the culture industry , they made contributions to the study of mass culture and high culture as two clearly distinguishable phenomena.

Social science in the 1960s

In the 1960s there was a paradigm shift in the scientific self-image of communication science in Germany. With the inclusion of social science methods, it changed from a normative, hermeneutical- interpreting science to a descriptive and purely empirical- measuring social science. Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann and Gerhard Maletzke were among the pioneers in the social science of communication science .

Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann was appointed professor at the University of Mainz in 1964, where she set up the Institute for Journalism and expanded it into the "Center of Empirical Journalism". She represented the change in science towards an empirically oriented social science based on the US model. Her research focus was on social research with representative statistical surveys. She also criticized the hypothesis of limited effects or even ineffectiveness of the media, as z. B. Lazersfeld had represented. Your work on the theory of the spiral of silence in the 1970s was part of a tradition that was very influential internationally; it was compatible with the dominant paradigms in the USA.

With his work Psychology of Mass Communication (1963), Gerhard Maletzke played a pioneering role in social science by summarizing the state of research in the USA (see above). However, he was unable to complete his habilitation and could not implement his ideas in Noelle-Neumann's school in Mainz or the school in Münster. It was only scientists like Otto B. Roegele and Franz Ronneberger who took them on and continued working on them. Maletzke's focus is on the consideration of the psychological-social aspects of mass communication such as various constraints and the integration of the communication process into systems. He illustrated this in his field scheme of mass communication .

In the 1970s, the social and political scientist Karl W. Deutsch returned to Germany from the USA. His work, which was influenced by cybernetics , was very influential in Germany and internationally.

1980s to the present

From the 1980s onwards, scientists like Friedrich Kittler encouraged the development of a new German media theory that is aligned with post-structuralism .

After the reunification of Germany (1990) several new chairs and institutes for communication studies were established in the eastern federal states: for example in Dresden , Erfurt , Greifswald , Ilmenau and Jena .

During these years communication studies turned in a special way to the conditions, structures and consequences of online communication. In their analysis of a “new communication science” (2003), communication scientists such as Martin Löffelholz or Thorsten Quandt described the need for a reformulation of classic communication theories.

Research methods

Communication science is still characterized by quantitative and qualitative empirical methods ( questioning , observation , experiment , content analysis ) that follow the logic of critical rationalism (cf. Wiener Kreis , Karl Popper , Positivismusstreit ). Theory-generating work often follows the principles of grounded theory or the principles of hermeneutical-interpretative social research (cf. Friedrich Krotz).


Terms of communication

  • In general, communication conveys meaning between living beings. → Social communication processes (as opposed to technical) are therefore the focus of interest. More precisely: symbolically mediated interaction.
  • Mass communication : the process in which technical means of dissemination convey statements publicly, indirectly and one-sidedly, to a dispersed audience.
  • Hypercommunication : system-theoretical concepts that refer to hypertext.
  • Biocommunication : Examines sign-mediated, rule-based interactions between non-human living beings (e.g. bacteria, viruses, fungi, plants and animals). In the context of another meaning of the term, a distinction is made between (necessary) physico-chemical interaction (with non-living entities) and (behavior-variable) bio-communication with non-human living beings.
  • Interaction : social action (= intentional behavior). Since communication is nothing other than social action with the help of symbols, CF Graumann equates the terms communication and interaction .
  • Language : communication with the help of symbols.
  • Communicator : journalist (s), moderator (s), commentator (s) or PR practitioner ( communicator side ).
  • Statement : what has been said would be more precise . What is said includes both the content and the form of messages.
  • Medium : (lat. Means) a controversial term, general techniques or means of dissemination. First-order media: technical equipment (printing machines, video editing systems, screens, etc.) - i.e. mere communication channels or infrastructure. Second-order media: Forms of work organization (editorial offices, news agencies, etc.)? Information processing pattern? Communication science has not yet agreed on this. Ulrich Saxer's somewhat bumpy definition of media : "[...] complex institutionalized systems around organized communication channels with specific capabilities."
  • Recipient : A person who receives and decodes a statement . If several recipients turn to the same statement, one speaks of an audience . Quite uniformly used term.


The study of communication science is (usually in combination with the related media studies , sometimes also known as Mass Communication possible) at numerous universities in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Due to the high degree of study demand in the subject, the allocation of study places is based on a local selection procedure ( numerus clausus ), and aptitude and selection tests are also often carried out. The universities attach particular importance to very good knowledge of German , good knowledge of English and, in some cases, another foreign language.


  • Arabatzis, Stavros: Hostile Media Society . Public war. Wiesbaden: Springer VS 2019, ISBN 978-3-658-26993-7
  • Klaus Beck : Communication Science. 4th edition. UVK, Konstanz 2015 (UTB basics), ISBN 978-3-8252-4370-8 , 253 pp.
  • Günter Bentele , Hans-Bernd Brosius , Otfried Jarren (eds.) (2003): Public communication. Handbook of Communication and Media Studies . Wiesbaden: West German publishing house, ISBN 3-531-13532-5 .
  • Manfred Bruhn , Franz-Rudolf Esch , Tobias Langner (Eds.) (2009): Handbook Communication . Wiesbaden: Gabler, ISBN 978-3-8349-0377-8 .
  • Roland Burkart : Communication Science. Basics and problem areas. Outlines of an Interdisciplinary Social Science. UTB, Stuttgart 2002, ISBN 3-8252-2259-4 .
  • Bernhard Debatin: The fine line between adaptation and integration. Critical comments on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of German communication science. In: Journalistik, Issue No. 1, 2017, Volume 62, pp. 7–23, ISSN 0033-4006.
  • Lutz Hachmeister (1986): Theoretical Journalism. Studies on the history of communication science in Germany . Berlin: Spiess, ISBN 3-89166-044-8 .
  • Lutz Hachmeister, Michael Meyen (2008): Communication Science . In: Lutz Hachmeister (ed.): Fundamentals of media policy . Munich: DVA, ISBN 978-3-421-04297-2 .
  • Christina Holtz-Bacha, Arnulf Kutsch (Hrsg.) (2002): Key works for communication science . Wiesbaden: Westdeutscher Verlag, ISBN 978-3-531-13429-1 .
  • Christina Holtz-Bacha, Arnulf Kutsch, Wolfgang R. Langenbucher , Klaus Schönbach (Hrsg.) (1955ff): Journalism. Quarterly issues for communication research . Opladen: West German publishing house.
  • Elisabeth Klaus (²2005): Gender research in communication science. On the importance of women in the mass media and journalism. Vienna: Lit-Verlag, ISBN 978-3-8258-5513-0 .
  • Dieter Krallmann, Andreas Ziemann (2001): Basic Course in Communication Science , Stuttgart: UTB, ISBN 978-3-8252-2249-9
  • Klaus Merten , Siegfried J. Schmidt, Siegfried Weischenberg (eds.) (1994): The reality of the media. An introduction to communication science. Opladen: Westdeutscher Verlag, ISBN 3-531-12327-0 .
  • Katharina Lobinger: Visual Communication Research: Media Images as a Challenge for Communication and Media Studies . Wiesbaden: Springer VS 2012
  • Martin Löffelholz & Thorsten Quandt (eds.) (2003): The new communication science. Theories, topics and professional fields in the Internet age. An introduction . Wiesbaden, Westdeutscher Verlag, ISBN 3-531-13705-0 .
  • Michael Meyen, Maria Löblich (2006): Classics of Communication Studies. Technical and theoretical history in Germany . Constance: UVK, ISBN 3-89669-456-1 .
  • Dieter Prokop (2005): The cultural industrial power complex. New critical communication research on media, advertising and politics. Cologne: Halem Verlag, ISBN 978-3-938258-12-5 .
  • Heinz Pürer (2003): Journalism and Communication Studies. A manual . Constance: UVK, ISBN 978-3-8252-8249-3 .
  • Harald Rau (2013): Invitation to Communication Studies . Stuttgart: UTB (Nomos), ISBN 978-3-8252-3915-2
  • Schäfer, Christian 2013: What can the history of communication studies tell us about its practical relevance in the future? The four 'currencies' of academic success and an alternative chronology of the subject's development in Germany since 1945. In: Central European Journal of Communication ( ISSN  1899-5101 ), 6th year, issue 1, pp. 105–121.
  • Siegfried J. Schmidt , Guido Zurstiege (2000): Orientation Communication Studies. What she can do, what she wants. Reinbek near Hamburg: Rowohlt, ISBN 3-499-55618-9 .
  • Stefan Weber (Ed.) (2003): Theories of the Media. From cultural criticism to constructivism. Constance: UVK, ISBN 3-8252-2424-4 . (offers a good overview of the current state of theory development)
  • Gernot Wersig (2009): Introduction to Journalism and Communication Studies: Expanded and updated by Jan Krone and Tobias Müller-Prothmann. Nomos: Baden-Baden, ISBN 978-3-8329-4225-0 . (Standard work / textbook: Introduction to the topic including the historical development of communication technology and mass media)
  • Rudolf Stöber (2008): Communication and Media Studies. An introduction . Munich: CH Beck, ISBN 978-3-406-56807-7 .
  • Bernward Wember : How does television inform? Munich List 1976, ISBN 978-3-471-79120-2
  • Leon Tsvasman (ed.) (2006): The great lexicon media and communication. Compendium of interdisciplinary concepts. Würzburg: Ergon Verlag, ISBN 3-89913-515-6 . (provides an orientation in study-related topics)

Web links

Wiktionary: Communication science  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. a b Cf. Bentele / Brosius / Jarren 2003: 9
  2. ^ Translation of the quote "ideal of human society" - Mead, George Herbert (1934): Mind, Self, and Society. From the Standpoint of a Social Behaviorist. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press. (German translation: George Herbert Mead: Spirit, identity and society from the perspective of social behaviorism. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp 1995, p. 317.
  3. Cf. Mead 1934: 317–328)
  4. ^ Translation of the quotation “a function of association and communication.” - Dewey, John (1927): Experience and Nature. New York: Henry Holt & Co, pp. 143-184. The German translation of the work: John Dewey (1995): Experience and Nature. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp. ISBN 3-518-58158-9
  5. ^ Horton Cooley: Social Organization. A Study of the Larger Mind. New York 1909: Charles Scribner's Sons. (New edition: New York 1983: Transaction Books, ISBN 0-87855-824-1 )
  6. ^ Translation of the quote "the mechanism through which human relations exist and develop — all the symbols of the mind, together with the means of conveying them through space and preserving them in time." (Cooley 1909)
  7. ^ Walter Lippmann: Public Opinion. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company 1999 ( [1] )
  8. ^ New edition: John Dewey: The Public & its Problems. Swallow Press 1954, ISBN 0-8040-0254-1 .
  9. ^ Translation of the quote "communication can alone create a great community" (Dewey 1954).
  10. ^ Translation of the quote "Propaganda in the broadest sense is the technique of influencing human action by the manipulation of representations. These representations may take spoken, written, pictorial or musical form. ”- Lasswell, Harold Dwight (1937): Propaganda Technique in the World War. (Newer edition: The MIT Press 1971. ISBN 0-262-62018-9 ), pp. 214–222
  11. ^ Translation of the quotation "expression of opinion or action by individuals or groups deliberately designed to influence opinion or actions of other individuals or groups with reference to predetermined ends." - Lee, Alfred M. Lee (1937): The Fine Art of Propaganda: A Study of Father Coughlin's Speeches . Harcourt, Brace and Co.
  12. See Hovland, Carl I. / Lumsdaine, Arthur A. / Sheffield, Fred D. (1949): "Experiments in Mass Communication". Studies in the Social Psychology in World War II, American Soldier Series 3. New York: Macmillan, pp. 3-16, 247-279.
  13. See Gitlinn, Todd (1974): Media Sociology. The Dominant Paradigm.
  14. See Chaffee, Steven H. / Hochheimer, J. (1985): The Beginnings of Political Communication Research in the United States. Origins of the 'Limited Effects' Model. In: Rogers, Everett M. / Balle, Francis (Eds.): The Media Revolution in America & Western Europe . Norwood, NJ: Ablex 1985, pp. 267-296
  15. See Hachmeister 2008
  16. Meyen / Löblich 2006: 255–276
  17. Meyen / Löblich 2006: 221–237
  18. Martin Löffelholz & Thorsten Quandt (eds.): The new communication science. Theories, topics and professional fields in the Internet age. An introduction. Wiesbaden, Westdeutscher Verlag 2003, ISBN 3-531-13705-0 .
  19. ^ Gerhard Maletzke: An overview of communication studies. Opladen: Westdt. Publisher 1998, p. 37.
  20. Burkart 2002: 20ff
  21. See definition of Maletzke in Gerhard Maletzke: Psychology of mass communication. Theory and Systematics, Hamburg: Hans Bredow Institute 1963, p. 32.
  22. Saxer: Frontiers of Journalism