Reform needs tools not rules

6th September 1996 at 01:00
COMMUNICATION STUDIES By Stuart Price Longman Pounds 16.99.

In his preface to Communication Studies, Stuart Price declares his intention to give some shape and direction to this most indeterminate of subjects. "At one point in its history, communication studies appeared to be the classic case of multi-disciplinary confusion," he writes. Many teachers will disagree only with the view that the assessment is less relevant now than before.

Price attempts to "reform" the subject by moving away from traditional personal and developmental approaches to those that place greater emphasis on critical and contextual theory. This, he believes, should bring an increased awareness of "the tools (rather than 'rules') of interpretation", and thereby lead to a significant improvement in students' ability actually to research and create effective pieces of communication.

While Price's review takes in most of the established concerns of the subject - in their various forms, perception, expression and power - he also offers thoughts on such new or neglected topics as the effects of interactive technology and the portrayal of human interaction in film. Each of the six chapters ends with a point-by-point summary, and four of the six include student activities.

There is much that is very good about Communication Studies. Teachers will approve a book that throughout stresses the importance of context to communication, and some of the student activities look interesting. The decision not to give too much space to such lightweight areas as body language also merits praise, as does Price's concentration on the more substantial topics: differing approaches to analysis, for example Marxism and post-modernism, and such issues as stereotyping, communication in organisations and the workings of the modern mass media.

In many ways, Price's survey brings a welcome solidity to a subject occasionally lacking in it. Yet the book will pose problems for many A-level students. In the first place, the language is sometimes needlessly difficult, and Price is given to dropping important names - Marcuse, say, or Radcliffe-Brown - without adequately explaining their significance. And other sections, notably those on satellite television and the history of the various media, have a somewhat thin and almost dutiful look to them.

More space could and should have been given to these and other issues by dropping the often lengthy summaries at the end of each chapter, some of which are little more than re-statements of the original. The book's merits notwithstanding, one can't help but think that, at times, Price has his eyes so firmly fixed on reform that he rather loses sight of his audience.

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