The Communication Series: Critical Theory


So I have discussed the post-modernism approach from the feminist critique aspect, with a focus on the use of language and communication to dominate. However, the emerging theory also consists of the critical approach to understanding communication. The goal of this theory is to produce communication that is free from domination and to meet the needs of all individuals.

Am I too critical?

This means that we could say that the aim of critical theory is to deconstruct structures of communication (i.e. in organisations) so that domination cannot be used to control people. This theory states that communicative domination can be used not just as a coercive force, but can also be found in attitudes and culture. For example, how a company sees itself and its employees can also be a form of domination.

Dominating culture and attitudes

One study that shows an example of creating a culture through ‘dominating’ communication was the removal of temporary workers to cover absent employees. It was discussed how the remaining workers were forced to work harder to make up for their teammate’s absence. Instead of creating a workplace were the employees had close bonds, it created tension and negativity when they interacted with both their employers and with the absent employees. And in the absent person, there were feelings of guilt and a sense of betrayal. The attitude and culture to being “absent” was “dominating” the team.

Why have communication theories?

Although this is not a conventional form of domination, this use of the critical perspective showed the example that domination can be pervasive within an organisation, in many different forms.

So in this example, the questions would have been: “is there domination?”, “who is dominating?”, “how is it affecting attitude and culture?” Once these questions have been answered, the following questions of “how can we change the communication?” and “what are we trying to achieve?”, should be asked.

The aim of these theories is to understand how the communication occurs and the effect that it has. For organisations, understanding how the communication does and doesn’t work (by using the theories) allows for communication to be improved and change the culture and structure of a workplace.


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