A communication theory is a proposed description of communication phenomena, the relationships among them, a storyline describing these relationships, and an argument for these three elements. Communication theory provides a way of talking about and analyzing key events, processes, and commitments that together form communication. Theory can be seen as a way to map the world and make it navigable; communication theory gives us tools to answer empirical, conceptual, or practical communication questions.
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Although communication as an overall concept is variously defined in both commonsense and specialized ways, within communication theory, communication is seen as a vital symbolic and social process. In general, communication is often seen from two perspectives---as an exchange of information (the transmission perspective), and as the work we do to connect with one another and our world (the ritual perspective). This transmission versus ritual distinction is also reflected in communication theory.
Communication theories have emerged from multiple historical points of origin, including classical traditions of oratory and rhetoric, Enlightenment-era conceptions of society and the mind, and post-World War II efforts to understand propaganda and relationships between media and society. Prominent historical and modern foundational communication theorists include Kurt Lewin, Harold Lasswell, Paul Lazarsfeld, Carl Hovland, James Carey, Elihu Katz, Kenneth Burke, John Dewey, Jurgen Habermas, Marshall McLuhan, Theodor Adorno, Antonio Gramsci, Robert E. Park, George Herbert Mead, Joseph Walther, Claude Shannon and Stuart Hall—although some of these theorists may not explicitly associate themselves with communication as a discipline or field of study.