Theory, Economics and Completing the Puzzle

I’ve always struggled with theory. It’s constantly hiding somewhere behind most of what I learn and practice as a PR professional, however it’s never taken a place in the forefront of my mind. So, I wasn’t as thrilled as I could have been at the prospect of taking an entire class on theory.  However, since the first readings, I’ve slowly been able to fill in missing pieces of a theory puzzle I didn’t really realize I was putting together.

Learning about Canada’s huge contribution to communication was powerful for me. Our country’s long-standing commitment to this field definitely makes us a leader in communication theory and this knowledge has infused within me an interest to learn more. My academic interests surround cross-cultural communication practices and specifically those meant to bridge the kinds of social and economic differences that exist between citizens of developing countries and those of the developed world. Learning that Irene Spry was engaging in cross cultural communication in Canada during the mid to late 1900s (a time when our populations were arguably even more divided) was eye-opening for me.

Because my thesis will focus on best communication practices of INGOs in developing countries, navigating various cultures (especially those with an economic divide) is often at the center of my research. Spry often begins her look at cultural divides from an economic standpoint but it’s clear that she is attempting to understand the cultures that she encounters. This is such a powerful idea in a time when few leaders or citizens would have realized the absolute necessity of living in harmony in a country with strong cultural differences.

Clemencia Rodriguez is a more modern theorist who touches on communication and economics (though her focus is on citizens’ journalism). She presents interesting ideas that seem to oppose those of Spry (especially in relation to mass media), yet when viewed together, I believe the two points of view compliment cross-cultural communication theory and approaches. Such theories and ideas are especially relevant in our current communities where we are trying to reach levels of equality while still struggling to understand exactly what equality is and what an egalitarian society looks like.

At the moment, all of North America is focused on Ferguson, Missouri, a town that has erupted as a result of what parts of the community see as inequality; a power struggle resulting from a cultural and economic divide, historical subjugation and a lack of communication or understanding. Recently, NFL player Benjamin Watson released his thoughts on the resent events in Ferguson, which (reading between the lines) seemingly call for the community to calm down and think things through rationally. Really though, I wonder if he’s trying to work through the implications of what theorists like Rodriguez and Spry have identified as power disparity resulting from economic inequality.

Who would have thought communication theory was so applicable to our everyday struggles?

Note: For those who would like to learn more about Clemencia Rodriguez, I urge you to check out her book ‘Citizens’ Media Against Armed Conflict: Disrupting Violence in Colombia‘. For those of you who just want the gist, here is a review that I wrote for another class (I think you should be able to access it):


Rodriguez, C. (2011). Citizens’ Media Against Armed Conflict: Disrupting Violence in Colombia. Minneapolis: The University of Minnesota Press.

Babe, R.E. (2000). Chapter 7. In Canadian communication thought: Ten foundational writers. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. pp. 165-181.