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Armand MATTELART et Michèle MATTELART (1995), Histoire des théories de la communication

Paris, La Découverte
William J. Buxton
p. 188-189
Référence(s) :

Armand MATTELART et Michèle MATTELART (1995), Du nomadisme. Vagabondages initiatiques, Paris, Le Livre de Poche

Texte intégral

1As one of the volumes in the « Collection Repères » series, this work seeks to provide a concise overview of a particular subject, namely the history of communication theories. Within this compass, the book succeeds admirably. It offers a nuanced and coherent account of how systematic reflection about communication has evolved over the past two and a half centuries. The opening chapter provides a fascinating and suggestive analysis of how the origins of communication thought were linked to developments in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In particular, the authors demonstrate how theorizing about communications was bound up with the efforts of various thinkers to make sense of the changes attendant upon capitalist industrialization, globalization, and the introduction of new technologies and innovative modes of transportation. Despite the necessary brevity of its treatment, this chapter is able to effectively map out the connections between ideas and society in a rigorous and insightful fashion. Building on this foundation, the remainder of the book provides clearly written capsule descriptions of some of the important innovators in communication theory in relation to influential currents of communications thought. These include Robert Park and the Chicago school ; Charles Peirce and semiotics ; Harold Lasswell and propaganda research ; Paul Lazarsfeld, Robert K. Merton and mass communications research ; Claude Shannon and information theory ; Max Horkheimer, Theodor Adorno and cultural industries analysis ; Jürgen Habermas and communicative action. Helpful summaries of other approaches such as political economy, cultural imperialism, ethnomethodology, cultural studies and post-modernism are also provided. In the book’s final pages, the authors return to some of the themes that had been introduced in the opening chapter by making some suggestive claims about the relationship between late 20th century communications theory and current trends in globalization.

2While the book is coherently organized, it’s purpose nonetheless remains somewhat ambiguous. The authors should have stated clearly that they have sought to examine a variety of approaches to the understanding of mass communications. By referring to their study as one that examines various reflections about communication in general, they are open to the charge that they have neglected significant theoretical work on such aspects of communication as the oral tradition, rhetoric, organizational life, and interpersonal dynamics. In terms of the history that it offers of mass communication per se, it fails to give attention to the important contributions made by nineteenth and early twentieth century German thinkers such as Schäffle, Weber, and Tönnies or to the important role played by Rockefeller philanthropy in shaping the contours of twentieth-century communication theory and research. While the summaries of key developments in communication thought and social theory are generally accurate, they are sometimes quite off base. Talcott Parsons’ Structure of Social Action, for instance, did not deal at all with structural-functionalism ; Parsons began to elaborate this approach in the decade following the publication of Structure in 1937. This particular error can be attributed to the authors’ tendency to rely too heavily on standard secondary sources, rather than on lesser known specialist writings and archival material. These shortcomings aside, Histoire des théories de la communication is an insightful and highly readable overview of how a range of thinkers have engaged theoretically with mass communications.

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Référence papier

William J. Buxton, « Armand MATTELART et Michèle MATTELART (1995), Histoire des théories de la communication », Communication, vol. 19/2 | 2000, 188-189.

Référence électronique

William J. Buxton, « Armand MATTELART et Michèle MATTELART (1995), Histoire des théories de la communication », Communication [En ligne], vol. 19/2 | 2000, mis en ligne le 08 août 2016, consulté le 18 décembre 2017. URL :

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William J. Buxton

William J. Buxton, Concordia University (Montreal).

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Les contenus de la revue Communication sont mis à disposition selon les termes de la Licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

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