Communicative Action Theory

Define: According to Philips and Pittman (2009), this theory argues that power and dominance are directly related to communication found among social systems on the macro level and their interaction with more locally-based systems, such as communities and groups. Communication from this perspective is shared from a power base, as bureaucracies and markets distribute information to local groups or parties. Therefore, the communication action theory asserts that communication should be unfiltered and inclusive with the use of public representation.

Apply: when involved in community development, it is important to understand the various parties or groups affiliated with the issue, cause, demonstration, or movement that is occurring within the community. Although highly idealized, every voice within a community should be heard in order to ensure that productive and beneficial decisions are made within the community. Being a community organizer may wield some power, especially when working on the behalf of an organization. Thus, it is important that community organizers intentionally seek diverse public representation when forums are held, and ensure that decision making committees, boards, and meetings are representative of the community. Moreover, these individuals should also be able to express their opinions and thoughts regarding issues concerning their community. This could promote greater self-efficacy among citizens that reside within the community, since they may come to feel that they are not being controlled by outside bureaucratic forces, but rather possess a feeling that their input matters.

Adapt: In many aspects of society, communication occurs most often among those who are privileged, while those who lack privilege have less of a voice. When watching or listening to the news, it is the media that informs the local community regarding information, but it is the business leaders who decide what information is or is not appropriate. Thus, business leaders and political forces control and dictate the communication that local residents receive. This can be found in various settings, such as the medical or educational field. Bureaucracies within these fields setup policies and procedures that control communication with interested parties. Thus, it is important that leaders try to bridge the communication gap between powerful bureaucracies and individuals.

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  1. Apply: Communicative Action Theory can be enacted within a community by having community members take an active role in the creation and dissemination of information about a community organization. For example, with TimeBanking outreach efforts in SW Detroit, instead of having community organizers creating flyers, spreading the word, and conducting the outreach, we could enlist the participation of current members to get their input on flyers, website content and design, door-knocking, and follow-up calls. The involvement of current members in this process, not only ensures that communication is unfiltered and inclusive, but it is in all likelihood, also would lead to greater effectiveness in reaching and recruiting community members.

    Adapt: Communicative Action Theory can also be effectively used by employees of a large organization, whose interests are typically represented, often inaccurately, by upper-level management who are not in tune with or cognizant of the particular issues facing lower-level staff members who constitute the majority of employees in the organization. As an alternative, communicative action theory can provide a basis for staff members in a large organization to be included and involved in the exchange and dissemination of information that pertains to the entire organization . In this way, communicative action theory allows for the needs and interests of all staff members in the organization to be acknowledged and represented in a more accurate and unfiltered manner.