Posted: March 18th, 2023

Theory Borrowing in Communication Research

Theory Borrowing in Communication and Women’s Studies

Theory Borrowing in the Academic Disciplines of Communication and Women’s Studies

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In communication, there are many theories. One of the most prominent is the cultural approach to organizations (Barnlund, 2008). This theory states that people are very similar to animals in that they are only conscious of the “webs” around them they have created (Barnlund, 2008). Because of that, the culture of any organization is made up of the symbols that are in these webs and that overlap the webs of more than one person. In other words, shared symbols are what make up the webs and, therefore, the organization itself (Berko, 2010; Heyman, 1994). Each of the symbols themselves has a meaning that is unique, and as long as all the people in the organization are comfortable with and agree upon that meaning there is no reason to assume that there will be discord within that organization (Barnlund, 2008). Rituals, various rites of passage, and stories relating to the organization all work together to make up that organization’s culture (Berko, 2010).

Having a cultural approach to organizations makes sense from the standpoint of communication, because everyone must work with one another and communicate with one another appropriately. Because of the deep need for communication in the workplace, it is very important that each person in that workplace be able to talk with one another correctly and openly about work-related matters (Barnlund, 2008). It is also very important that everyone uses the same language and has the same understanding of terms in the workplace, so there is no confusion about any issues that arise. If a person does not understand what others are speaking about and he or she is trying to work with those others, it can very easily become a problem that can only get worse as the misunderstanding grows (Heyman, 1994). A workplace should try to avoid that, of course, because it can cost the company in time and money if workers cannot get along and slow down the production of development of a new product or service (Barnlund, 2008; Berko, 2010).

This theory can also be used in other areas as opposed to just in business. One example of this would be to use this same theory in a family or other type of social situation. Much like organizations and businesses, families have their own sets of “webs” and symbols they use when they communicate with one another (Berko, 2010). The theory could be particularly useful when there are blended families to consider. This could be a family where there is a strong racial divide, a family where children will have a new stepparent, or a family where children from both sides will be required to live together when their parents marry one another. Overall, there are plenty of options for families that want to communicate with one another more clearly, and when they have the same words and phrases that they use to talk to one another they can raise their chances of communicating effectively and without misunderstandings that can cause problems for them in the present and in the future.

Every family is different and has a different story to tell, and when there is a blending of families those stories can and should be interwoven so that the stories can continue as one from the point at which they were blended. Without proper communication and without an understanding of the symbols and words used by the family members, one or more people in any family can feel as though they are being left out and ignored. Naturally, that is an unfortunate thing to happen to a person and can start something out on the wrong foot. Many families end up estranged because they do not know how to communicate with one another properly. That happens often with people who blend their families, and it can also happen with families that are not blended but that are larger and not the close.

Geographic limitations are often part of how close a family is, but with technology today that is not as much of a concern as it was in the past. Technology has made it easier for people to stay in touch, but at the same time it has made it easier for misunderstandings to occur (Barnlund, 2008; Berko, 2010). Through email and texting the natural inflections are lost and the body language cannot be seen, both of which can cause a lack of complete understanding for the recipient of the message (Berko, 2010). When there is poor communication in the message and it is not clarified or cleared up, then there are many risks to the future communication between those individuals (Berko, 2010). Having a strong “web” of symbols and words that are used properly and that are used in the same manner by everyone in the family is among the best ways to ensure that each and every person in the family works and communicates well with one another.

In Women’s Studies, a common theory is feminist theory (Berkin, Pinch, & Appel, 2005). This is designed to address the inequality of the genders and how they can and should be made more equal (Berkin, Pinch, & Appel, 2005). Social relationships are also carefully and thoroughly critiqued by feminist theory (Larson & Freeman, 1997). Women in society and the way they are subordinated in many ways are large focuses of feminist theory, but there are other issues that are also considered (Larson & Freeman, 1997). Many people who focus on women’s studies address feminist theory from a couple of different standpoints. They can focus on the oppression and subordination issues, but they can also focus on the strides that women have made and how far they have come in a very short time where equality is concerned (Larson & Freeman, 1997). There are two sides to the issue in that sense, since women have accomplished much and moved forward in their goals to be equal. At the same time, however, they have not completely reached equality and it appears as though their cause has basically been stalled where they are at the moment – with no further momentum being seen.

Women still make approximately 77 cents for every dollar earned by a man in the workplace, signaling them that they are not as valuable as their male counterparts (Berkin, Pinch, & Appel, 2005). There are also still many people who seen certain jobs and responsibilities as “women’s work” or a “man’s job.” The assumption is that it is always older men who feel this way, but that is really not the case. There are older women, as well as men and women in other age groups, who feel that women and men can and should be divided based on the work they are capable of doing and the work they should be allowed to do (Berkin, Pinch, & Appel, 2005). Additionally, there are still individuals who believe that women should not be paid the same amount as men, even if they do the same job and are just as capable and/or educationally prepared. While the majority of people in the U.S. would not admit to feeling this way or holding this opinion, there are enough people who feel that way so that the status quo has not yet changed.

There are other ways this feminist theory can be used, however, including using it to address other areas of discrimination (Berkin, Pinch, & Appel, 2005). One example of using this theory in that way would involve another characteristic other than gender. While feminist theory sounds as though it could not be applied to anything other than male/female interaction, there are still many other ways in which the underlying basis of it can be used. When people discriminate against one another based on characteristics that cannot be changed (such as gender, race, etc.), they do a disservice to themselves and to the people against whom they have discriminated. They also provide a bad example to many other people who may look up to these individuals and try to model what they do after them. Because these discriminatory individuals fail to respect everyone and treat everyone equally, they show other people that it is acceptable to treat people that way. This can be particularly troubling with children, because they are modeling their behavior after the behavior of their parents and other adults.

Using feminist theory to show these children that it is not appropriate to judge or mistreat others for characteristics they cannot change is highly important (Larson & Freeman, 1997). Also very important is the message that people are all equal, and that men and women, black and white, or any other comparison should not result in a judgment related to any kind of inequality. Naturally, some people are very different from others, and to say that all people are equal when some are upstanding citizens and some are criminals is not realistic. The inequality of individuals, however, should have to do only with their actions and abilities, not the color of their skin, their gender, where they come from, or anything that people are unable to change (Berkin, Pinch, & Appel, 2005). Feminist theory can get very political and insistent, but that can and should be tempered by a realistic understanding of what can be accomplished when people all agree to work together in order to see a positive change in the way people are treated.

When people become focused on the race or gender of a person, or they become too focused on the words used without clarifying the intent of those words, communication can break down and (incorrect) value judgments can quickly be made. There are ways to avoid that, of course, but some people are not aware of how to avoid those kinds of things and other people are simply not interested in avoiding them. People who do not want to avoid those kinds of problems with communication and judgment or do not see that there is even a problem sometimes have trouble separating their opinions, thoughts, and feelings from the logical issues that should be addressed when it comes to equality and communication. By addressing the theories that are seen in the fields of communication and women’s studies, more people can work with one another and communicate properly. They can also look at the theories in women’s studies and see how feminist theory can be used in order to recognize the value of human beings no matter their gender, race, or other characteristics.


Barnlund, D.C. (2008). A transactional model of communication. In C.D. Mortensen (Eds.), Communication theory (2nd ed). New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction.

Berkin, C.R., Pinch, J.L. & Appel, C.S. (2005). Exploring Women’s Studies: Looking Forward, Looking Back. New York, NY: Pearson Education.

Berko, R.M., et al. (2010). Communicating. 11th ed. Boston, MA: Pearson Education, Inc.

Heyman, R. (1994). Why Didn’t You Say That in the First Place? How to Be Understood at Work. 1st. San Francisco, Ca: Jossey-Bass Inc.

Larson, a. & Freeman, R.E. (1997). Women’s Studies and Business Ethics: Toward a New Conversation. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

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