Academic Research Writings

Communication as Culture: Response to James W. Carey

Quarter: Fall 2015
BISMCS 333: Media and Communication Studies
Professor: Susan Harewood

Carey’s argument makes a case for scholars to understand communication studies through a ritual view rather than directing all of their focus towards the transmission view. This argument allows for the adjustment of the transmission view of communication, in which a message moves from the communicator at the top, down to the receiver at the bottom. The ritual view allows communication lines to travel back and forth alternating the positions of communicator and receiver between the participating parties.

Carey argues that the ritual view of communication can be applied to a majority of, if not all, settings. Currently communications scholars focus on the transmission view of communication, “It is formed from a metaphor of geography or transportation, (p.15)”. Within this view the role of the messenger is to give information to the receiver in an attempt to maintain control, usually of the masses. In addition to this, the messenger is in the position of power while the receiver has little to no power or influence. The receiver’s only role within the exchange is to take the information through whatever medium the messenger sends.

In Carey’s article he references Dewey’s, Experience and Nature, for which he uses textual analysis to find that the role of ritual communication is one that is greatly overlooked in academia. Carey uses Dewey’s claims to further explain the consequences of overlooking the benefits of the ritual view. The ritual view has a more stable tie to communication because it is more closely linked to “community” than that of the transmission view.  According to Carey, its definition is rooted in the acts of, “’sharing,’ ‘participation,’ ‘association,’ ‘fellowship,’ and ‘the possession of a common faith’” (p.18). It’s hard to believe how the ritual view, which seems like a more natural description of communication has become a minor secondary view, even though it is the oldest of both views.

The ritual view is founded within the foundation of community, small communities. Smaller communities were more prevalent earlier within society, prior to industrialization, automobiles, television, the internet, and other technological developments that made community gathering less relevant. It would seem like the more developed our methods of communication became, the more we would be able to follow the ritual view of communication. With technology, instead of depending solely on word of mouth we can chat, text, call, email in addition to many other digital platforms. But rather than expanding our use of the ritual view, technological developments have in contrast decreased our ritual ways of communication and strengthened the transmission modes of communication.

This is because each new technology gives the communicator at the top more channels and mediums within the transmission model for sending messages to the receiver at the bottom. Technology also gives the receiver more messages to receive from the top, so many more that it is nearly impossible to respond. In addition to this, technology increases the amount of those receiving messages. In this way our current transmission view is like an inverted funnel with a small amount of communicators sending an unlimited amount of messages to a large mass of receivers.

It is critical that Carey’s argument is put into practice by transforming the study of communication in order to enable the use of the ritual view, especially in industrial regions like that of the US where communication is lost in media. Citizens consume what they see on television, in the newspaper, magazines, and other platforms without the slightest question or response. In most cases there is no way to respond. The people at the top, the communicators, producing the information are not expecting or looking for responses from their consumers. The ongoing use of the transmission view is dangerous for society and communication scholars as well as messengers and receivers should not only be aware of the ritual view but also put the ritual view of communication into practice.  The ritual view strengthens community by emphasizing the importance of shared beliefs. In addition to this, rather than forcing information into the mouths of the masses, like that of the transmission view, the ritual view allows for exchanges and shared interactions between parties which develops and maintains strong communities.


Carey, J. (2009). Communication as culture : Essays on media and society (Rev. ed.). New York: Routledge.

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About Amani Sawari

I am a University of Washington alum, Class of 2016. I graduated with my Bachelors Degree in two majors: Media and Communications AND Law, Economics and Public Policy. It's a mouthful but it illustrates how I have a hard time doing only one 'thing'. I am a writer, poet, singer, songwriter and much more. I enjoy sharing my experiences and perspectives with those who are interested and I am a proud member of the black diaspora!
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