Understanding the differences and similarities of interpretive and objective theory approaches is key to further expand one’s knowledge of communication studies. Author of A First Look at Communication Theory Em Griffin, describes interpretive theories as “the linguistic work of assigning meaning or value to communicative texts; assumes that multiple meanings or truths are possible” (Griffin, p. 15). He also defines objective theory as “the assumption that truth is singular and is accessible through unbiased sensory observation; committed to uncovering cause-and-effect relationships” (Griffin, p. 4).
Each type of theory has a set of standards, along with the core ideas, theoretical orientation, and theoretical tradition, along with a few life applications each theory: all of which I will discuss below. Key Theorists Griffin examines the differing work of two professors whom he met at Wheaton college, a behavioral scientist Glenn Sparks, and rhetorician Marty Medhurst. Each take a different approach to communication from instances such as Glenn training in empirical research and Marty being schooled in rhetorical theory and criticism, according to Griffin 2007.
Glenn takes a more objective approach by forming his theory by wanting to explain as well as predict. On the flip side, Marty takes an interpretive approach to communication, which, revolves around the want to find meaning for everything. I will use both theorists to help better understand the differences in interpretative and objective approaches. Interpretative and objective approaches both contain standards that vary, and their core ideas revolve around the different standards that each approach contains. Core Ideas
In order to actually understand the core ideas of these theories, I will highlight what each of the standards is for the two different approaches. Objective theory and interpretive theory both contain six standards.
According to Griffin 2007, Standard 1 for an objective theory is the explanation of data where the reason something happens becomes as important as the fact that it does (happen).
Standard 2 is the prediction of future events; in objective theory a prediction is made as to what will happen. Humility of the theorist is also advisable.
Standard 3 is relative simplicity meaning that objective theory should be as simple as possible. Griffin adds to the third standard by presenting the rule of parsimony, which is when someone is given two plausible explanations for the same event, we should accept the simpler version.
Standard 4 is a hypothesis or multiple hypotheses can be tested; Griffin mentions that: “some theories are so loosely stared that it’s impossible to imagine empirical results that could disprove their hypotheses” (Griffin, 2007).
Standard 5 is practical unity, meaning that a good objective theory is useful and practical. The final standard,
Standard 6 is the fact that objective theory must go through quantitative research. This is because most scientific research depends on a comparison of difference. Similarly, Griffin 2007 explains that interpretive theory also is made up of six standards. To have a good interpretive theory, one must create understanding, identify values, inspire aesthetic appreciation, stimulate agreement, reform society, and lastly conduct qualitative research.
As mentioned above, objective theories include quantitative research, and interpretative is qualitative, which in my mind is the biggest difference between the two theory approaches and set them apart from each other. Moving along, Standard 1 for interpretive theory is a new understanding of people, and if offers a fresh insight into human condition.
Standard 2 is the clarification of values, and this is where people’s values are brought out into the open. With Standard 2, theorists should reveal ethical commitments.
Next, Standard 3 is aesthetic appeal; interpretive theory should capture the readers’ imaginations and spark appreciation.
Standard 4 creates a community of agreement, meaning that interpretive theory must be supported by other scholars, and must also become the subject of widespread analysis.
Standard 5 is the reform of society, and critical interpreters are reformers who can have an impact of society and generate change. The last standard is Standard 6, and states that interpretive research must contain qualitative research; interpretive scholars use words to support their theories by the use of textual analysis and ethnography.
So as you can see, both theories contain specific characteristics that set them apart as two different approaches to better understand communication. It is key to remember that objective uses quantitative research, while interpretive uses qualitative research because if you can understand what the two different types of research are, you can easily remember all of the other standards because of what the research styles are made up of.
Theoretical Orientation There are two different types of orientations that a theory can be, objective, which uses quantitative data and believes in singular truths, and there is interpretive, which uses qualitative data and believes in multiple meanings and truths. Different types of studies can fall under each of the two approaches, and will be seen further into the course as specific studies and theories are mentioned and examined.
Some studies could be concluded as interpretative, and have many avenues to find the information; this is exactly what the interpretative approach is about, finding multiple meanings. Or the study could have one truth or meaning, and be objective. The theoretical approach that the theorist takes can vary, and can be distinguished by all of the standards and which category they fall under. Theoretical Tradition Griffin 2007 states that there are seven theoretical traditions: socio-psychological, cybernetic, rhetorical, semiotic, socio-cultural, critical, and phenomenological.
Although there are seven, I believe that each of the different theory approaches are most similar to one of them; not meaning that they are not made up of all of the traditions, but merely that they are most related to one of them more so than the other traditions. First, objective theory is most like the socio-psychological tradition. I believe this is the case because the socio-psychological has predispositions that include attitudes, emotional states, personality traits, unconscious conflicts, and social cognitions, says Griffin 2007.
This tradition also emphasizes the scientific or objective perspective while predicting and explaining cause and effect relationships. Next, the tradition that is most closely associated to interpretive theory is the phenomenological tradition. As discussed above, interpretive theory has a standard of using qualitative research, meaning that research conducted should be highly contextual, personal, and participants should be selected specifically to better help the researcher get a grasp of the participants’ point of view and experiences.
Using a qualitative research method relates to the phenomenological tradition by the common goal of gaining insight on experience to better answer a question. The phenomenological tradition engages in phenomena and tries to understand it directly and immediately, says Griffin 2007. This tradition seeks a very broad point of view, and to gain that one must have thorough understanding that can only be gained through means of experiences, stories, etc. Life Applications
Both objective theories and interpretive theories can be seen in day-to-day scenarios and are a big part of communicating properly. An obvious life application of both the different communications approaches can be seen in research, whenever a style of collecting data is chosen: either qualitative or quantitative. In my opinion, another typical life application of the two can be seen during conflict. Whenever an argument arises each opposing side takes a stance, whether that is a more interpretive stance or an objective one, a side is still taken.
The person who has a lot of evidence or data to back up their side of the argument is taking a more objective role by trying to persuade the opponent by means of facts and logic. Versus a more interpretive approach where the defender is trying to gain understanding of the argument in general, and seeks multiple meanings, reasons, facts, and perceptions. Objective conflict seeks to define, while interpretive conflict seeks to understand. Conclusion Stuart Hall developed the Cultural Studies in order to uncover and change the imbalance of power between the haves and have-nots in society.
Part of this is due to the fact that the media helps influence the struggle between the two types of people. Because there are multiple meanings from every person, it is interpretive with the critical tradition. We can see this theory used everyday no matter where you look and Hall wants to change this aspect about society. Both Glenn and Marty and their paths of study are a good example of how objective and interpretive theory approaches are seen in action, and help to understand the differences in the two.
From the discussion above, it is now known that objective theory is defined by Griffin 2007 as knowing what we know through deductive, objective, rigorous procedures that can be tested and falsified, and contain quantitative research methods. Objective theory focuses on the what, when, where, and why more so then how. Griffin also explains that an interpretive approach is concerned with understanding and the “how” of a topic. Interpretive theory also elaborates on the fact that multiple meanings and perceptions exist. Qualitative research methods, which are highly contextual and personal, are used within interpretive approaches as well.
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