Definitions and Nature:
The term communications is generally used in business management which is hierarchically arranged, and also in science. The credit of applying the concept in social science should go to Karl Deutsch. Before analysing Deutsch’s ideas in detail we shall define it. According to C.O.D. (10th edition) communication denotes the means of sending or receiving information. It is a process of establishing commonness (communis in Latin means commonness) through movement of ideas, thoughts, feelings etc. from one to another or between the groups of persons.
In other words, it is an exchange of facts, thoughts and information, emotions resulting in a shared understanding. Succinctly stated communication implies the conveying and receiving of information, facts and other relevant news/matters from one end to another or one agency to another. Communication is thus a two-way process.
On the one hand, one end or agency receives information from another end/agency and the latter, after processing it, responds to the information. So communication says that news or facts are to be communicated. If it were a one-way traffic the agency or system would have stopped.
Communication, its exponents say, is a very complicated process. It travels through various agencies or stages in order to reach its destination. But its route of travelling is not always easy. Sometimes it is to travel along a very zigzag way. We have already noted that the word communication is associated with commonness. The purpose of sending news/facts/information is to share the ideas/thought/ feelings with others so that this sharing can result in a decision or desired consequence.
Communication is a very important way/essential technique to establish and maintain human relations. Because agencies are manned and managed by human beings, naturally communication inevitably comes to be a part of the organisation or system.
All the stages or layers of an agency are not only connected but also interdependent. One agency aims at an objective that other agencies must act in accordance with the decision of the stage situated at the top of the system/organisation. The concept of communication reminds us a comment made by the German poet Goethe.
Once he said, “If you treat an individual as he is he will stay as he is. But if you treat him as if he were what he ought to be and he could be, he will become what he ought to be and he could be”. And communication is one of the essential techniques for maintaining good human relations.
This is the position of communication in the business management world. But its application in social science has got ample relevance. The purpose of communication is to inject human relation and human touch into the whole corpus of political system. All the agencies and their personnel are to be brought into the gamut of political system so that it can effectively respond to the external forces.
The communications theory is based on a science which is called cybernetics. Cybernetics is the science of communication and autonomous control systems in both machine and living being.
In the words of Deutsch (The Nerves of Government):
“the science of communication and control, which has been derived from technology and which Norbert Wiener has called cybernetics is therefore a new science about an old subject. Cybernetics, the systematic study of communication and control in organisations of all kinds, is a conceptual scheme on the grand scale. Essentially it represents a shift in the centre of interest from drives to steering, from instincts to systems of decisions, regulation and control including the non-cyclical aspects of such systems. … It is perhaps safe to say that social science is already being influenced by the interests implicit in cybernetics”.
Norbert Wiener is the chief exponent of the cybernetics theory. He was quite aware of its importance and relevance in social science. Social science does not believe that a society is an agglomeration of distinct social groups. Rather, there are numerous social groups in any pluralist society and they are closely connected and related with each other and because of this factor all the social groups think and act together. Again, this togetherness is connected by a system of communication. The science of cybernetics studies this.
Following Wiener and Deutsch, Wasby has defined cybernetics in the following words:
Cybernetics is a theory of information, self-regulating machines, computers and the physiology of nervous system. An important concept of cybernetics is that of a machine which recognises stimuli learns, adjusts itself automatically upon receiving feedback about its performance and moves through a determined number of possible states”.
From this definition we can easily pick up certain aspects of cybernetics. Such as cybernetics can be compared easily with the nervous system. It possesses a self-regulating machine, which means it does not produce undesirable consequences or does not go astray. Cybernetics is a very improved system because it adjusts itself automatically. Again, the cybernetics is characterised by feedback mechanism implying that inputs are converted into outputs and, again, the outputs are converted into inputs.
In this way the system of cybernetics operates. The communication passes through channels and if any one channel is blocked the flow of communication is affected. “The viewpoint of cybernetics suggests that all organisations are alike in certain fundamental characteristics and that every organisation is held together by communication. So communication is a process different from transportation on the one hand and from power engineering on the other”.
Central Idea of the Theory:
A threadbare analysis of Deutsch’s communications theory reveals certain very interesting and important aspects.
Some important aspects are stated below:
1. The inflow or outflow of information/news from one end to another or vice versa is not automatic, there is a specific role of human beings. This we may call steering and co-ordinating process or role. In any political system there are many channels through which information is transmitted.
But there is co-ordination or cooperation among the channels which is manned or managed by human beings. Without human efforts the information could not be communicated from one end to another or it could never reach destination.
2. Deutsch has assumed that since human efforts are behind the communication of news and information, it has been found that the meaning and context of the information or news undergo changes and this is inevitable. Here lies a major difference between the communications as it prevails in business organisation and in political system.
In the former the news/decision/ information are communicated from one stage to another in writing or in clear forms so that any sort of ambiguity cannot crop up. But in political system information/news originate in other system and also environment and then these are transmitted to other places.
In this process news or information may also be lost. Even the news may take new or changed meaning. But whatever may be, the authority will respond if it is not forced not to respond. In political system when news or information’s pass from one stage or level to another context, nature of information may change. In political system information does not take written form.
3. A very important aspect of Deutsch’s communications theory is he has undervalued the importance of power. Davies and Lewis have stated the matter in this way: “It is one of the concerns of Deutsch to reduce the importance of power as a component of continuing political activity”. Deutsch does not believe that power or the application of physical force is the exclusive determinant of political affairs.
Even power does not constitute the essence of politics. There is communication at the centre of politics. In his judgment power/physical force has a very minor role. He says that when persuasion or cooperation or influence fail to achieve desired goals then and then only power is applied. So communication is the most important factor of dynamisation of political system. Political system changes because of the effectiveness of communication. Needless to say that Deutsch has viewed politics in this light.
4. There is a clear difference between the approaches to politics in general sense and Deutsch’s approach to politics. Deutsch is of opinion that the social goals are to be achieved through co-ordination and co-operation among people of society which is effected by communication.
The co-operation is mainly guided by voluntary efforts and general attitude. There is hardly any place of the application of force. But on the other hand, the non-Deutschian or general approach believes that social goals are attained by means of application of force. The authority of the political system takes decisions and these are implemented by means of force.
Davies and Lewis have summarised this contention in the following words: “The core area of politics is the area of enforceable decisions and the essence of politics for Deutsch is the dependable coordination of human efforts for the attainment of social goals. This difference is of vital importance because the authority cannot attain every aspect of social goals through enforceable measures”.
5. Deutsch has drawn our attention to another aspect of his communication theory. In every political system authority adopts decision. But Deutsch is of opinion that habit, concurrence with the activities of the system play a very vital role in the implementation of decision. This habit grows and develops through time.
People form habit with the help of information which they garner from the communication system of state. An able and effective communication system is really the inner force or power of the political system. The powerful communication system maintains the inner connection and good relation among all the agencies and segments of the system.
The collapse of the social communication means the collapse of the connection among the various systems as well as with the environment. Not only this, stabilisation of the political system largely depends upon the capability of the political system largely depends upon the capability of the political system to meet the challenge of other systems and environment.
6. Political system is endowed with self-regulating mechanism. Numerous forces or elements make their presence in the political systems and they frequently challenge the political system. But since it has self-regulating mechanism ultimately it succeeds in checking or controlling the forces or their undesirable effects. Because of this self-regulating system the system is able to maintain stability or equilibrium.
Easton elaborately dealt with this property of the political system. What Karl Deutsch adds is that this self-regulatory mechanism works successfully because of the communication system. The communication system ensures and strengthens the cooperation or co-ordination among the agencies of the political system.
So, the self- regulation cannot be taken or judged separately. Because of the communication’s efficiency members of the political system keep themselves fresh and up-to-date about all facts and information. This finally results in good and effective co-operation among the members.
7. We use the terms such as self-regulation control etc. These should not be interpreted in ordinary sense. The political system is so patterned that whenever the elements from the environment come political system directs their movement to particular communication channels so that they can prove their worthiness or effectiveness.
If the political systems were not blessed with the self-regulation it could not perform this function. Needless to say that Deutsch implies self-regulatory mechanism or control in this sense. The term government has also been differently interpreted by Deutsch. He has not used this term in ordinary or conventional sense. He treats government just like a referee of a match or steering of a ship.
The chief function of a government is to guide or channelise the information to its proper destination. The government also sees that the channels are not overloaded. It has no control over almost all the affairs of the citizens. The government is like a friend, philosopher and guide and not more than that.
8. There are many vehicles which carry information. Some of them are political parties, interest groups, pressure groups, various organisations. The groups, parties and organisations enjoy freedom and work as medium between people and the government and in this way they all maintain their relationship with the agencies and government. If any conflict arises parties, groups and organisations try to settle it amicably.
Thus, the conflict or contradiction cannot lead to destabilisation. This interpretation of Deutsch makes a room for a theory of social change. He never says that stability of political system means halt of change. Stability means political system cannot be changed to satisfy the whims of certain persons. Political system will continue along with it the change.
Key Concepts of Communications Theory:
In his analysis of cybernetics or communications theory Karl Deutsch has used certain key concepts which will be dealt with briefly. Like Easton he has applied feedback mechanism in his theory. According to Wiener feedback is a type of control of a machine on the basis of actual performance rather than its expected performance. “By feedback or as it is often called, a servo-mechanism—is meant a communications network that produces action in response to an input of information and includes the results of its own action in the information by which it modifies its subsequent behaviour”.
The feedback mechanism, according to Deutsch, is a very crucial stage of political system. Information originates in other systems or in the environment and then it is transmitted through several channels. Information is again converted into decision and this again is transmitted to other places or system. Information is also related with decision.
Other systems or structures of the political system come to know that the authority has responded to the information it received from systems or subsystems. Deutsch further maintains that all the organisations of a political system come under the operation of feedback.
From the analysis of Deutsch we come to know that the feedback process has introduced a type of dynamism in political system. If there were no feedback mechanism the information could not travel from one stage or agency to another. Again, the feedback system is not all.
The information or news is communicated from one agency to another and in this way both feedback mechanism and communication jointly work and this in turn dynamises the political system. We thus witness the chain of action and reaction. Information originates, it is transmitted through communication, decision is adopted and it is again transmitted to other places.
From Deutsch’s analysis we come across another concept and it is negative feedback. It can be defined in the following way: “A negative feedback system is one which transmits back to itself the information which is the result of decision and actions taken by the system and which leads the system to change its behaviour in pursuit of the goals which it has set itself”.
Two other important terms used by Deutsch may be discussed here. One is load and the other is lag. The concept load may be explained in the following way. It means the total amount of information possessed or collected by the political system at a particular point of time.
At some crucial juncture of time the load of information may be quite high. But the political system or any other system is not always loaded or overloaded. The quantum of information may be quite small and this does not put excessive pressure on the system.
Lag is another term which is required to be clarified. First of all the information is communicated to the authority and after receiving the information and taking into consideration of other factors the authority takes a decision. In between the receipt of information and adoption of decision there is a lag or delay.
If the feedback mechanism completes the operation within normal time the question of lag does not arise. But if there is delay we call it lag. In practice, it has been found that the gap between the receipt of information and follow up action there is lag or delay inspite of the normal functioning of feedback.
There is also the term lead used by Deutsch. It denotes the ability of the political system to act promptly in response to the predictions about the future consequences of any decision taken by it. If the communication system is an improved one and the channels communicating news/information are active it would be- quite easy for the system to act promptly. It indicates the high degree of ability of the political system. Deutsch also uses some other terms such as over load, ability etc.
If the volume of information is so high that the channel carrying this is not capable of shouldering the burden. Or it may be that due to the backwardness the channels are not able to bear the burden of information. The authority of the political system must have ability to cope with the volume of information and to translate it into reality.
Deutsch’s communication theory can work in an open system because only in such a system the agencies can function freely and the inflow or outflow of information takes place without any hindrance or trouble. In fact, Deutsch’s communication theory and Easton’s general system theory come within the same category. Both envisage an open system.
1. One important shortcoming of the communications theory is it speaks a lot about the inflow and outflow of information. He believes that the inflow/outflow determine the process of decision-making. But the real situation teaches us different thing. Decision-making, of course, depends on information but at the same time more on the nature of information.
Deutsch appears to us to be cautious and meticulous about the inflow and outflow of information. But he should have been cautious about the nature of information. By making this mistake Deutsch makes his hypothesis incomplete.
2. Deutsch admits that power is a component of political activity. But unfortunately he has reduced its importance by declaring that power is “neither the centre nor the essence of politics”. In reply to this observation we humbly submit that we do not agree with him. In any modern political system, power always plays an important and active role.
In the communication network of political system the power is quite active and effectively determines the functioning of channel and inflow and outflow of information. This particularly happens in authoritarian regimes. The authority says or determines what should be allowed to travel and what should not.
Even in liberal political systems the authority never remains indifferent to all news and incidents. Even in liberal system the neutrality of information is very often questioned. The capitalist class controls both the electronic and print media to safeguard its own interest and in this situation neutrality of information is a myth.
By minimising the role of power Deutsch has inflicted a gross injustice on the actual working of political system as well as importance of power. Deutsch may justify himself by citing instances. But we can counteract him by collecting opposite examples.
3. Cybernetics is a subject of engineering. But it has been applied by Deutsch in system analysis or political science. Engineering and political science are two different disciplines and there are polar like differences, so far as content is concerned, between the two subjects.
Cybernetics, in its mechanistic form, cannot have effectiveness in political science. Human behaviour, attitude of people, incidents of political system, occurrences of environment do not move and act mechanistically. One can explain the operative aspect of the communication network in the background of social science in general and political science in particular but the critics are of opinion that the transfer of subject of this category is not desirable.
Wiener was so much enamoured by the cybernetics that he applied it in social sciences for scientific and empirical investigation. He was immediately followed by Deutsch. Deutsch felt that the application of the cybernetics must help the study of political science and much improve the investigation which lag far behind sociology and anthropology. Moreover, Deutsch wanted to follow the footsteps of Easton.
4. Deutsch claims that communications theory is a model. What is model? Model is generally a representation of something usually in a smaller scale. It is also defined as a theoretical representation of empirical data that aims at advance understanding. If model is the representation of something in a smaller scale, it is supposed that it should be simple and easily understandable. But Deutsch’s communications theory is not simple at all but highly complex.
Particularly it is extremely difficult to understand the passage of information from one end to another and the communication of decision to different agencies and system so both the theory and the model remain complex to the readers. It’ has been alleged by the critics that the model propounded by Deutsch can hardly serve the purpose of political science. The model does not represent the actual nature of political phenomena.
5. We even apprehend the proper functioning of the model. In engineering the performance of cybernetics is satisfactory because the inanimate objects work mechanically. But the structures/agencies of political system consist of human being and they cannot work mechanically.
Social, political, economic and myriad other issues and problems influence and guide human behaviour. Deutsch has failed to consider this aspect. Interference of human being will not allow the channels (through which information passes) to function independently. This must be taken care of. But in the analysis we do not find any hint of this aspect.
6. The communications theory cannot claim to be impartial; it is vitiated by anti- Marxist notion. The core idea of Marxism is the social change through class struggle and it further believes that in a capitalist society there is no possibility of emancipation of common people. Hence, the only way is to intensify the class struggle and to seize the political power by means of revolution.
The general systems theory of Easton and Almond and the communications theory of Deutsch have lent their unequivocal support to the belief that class coordination and cooperation among classes and groups and peaceful relations among them exist in any capitalist society and there is no necessity of destroying capitalism and inviting Marxism to fill the vacuum.
All these theories have undiluted faith on the infallibility of liberal system of democracy. This anti-Marxist feeling, though in a very clandestine form, has earned disapproval of many scholars of both East and West. The communications theory envisages a change or number of changes whose purpose will be society’s growth.
But this cannot be the radical change. Keeping the existing structure and set-up of the society intact the adjustment and readjustment of the structures and their functions can be relied upon as ways and means of social change resulting in growth. But Marxism rejects this notion of social change outright. So communications theory can be treated as a protest against the growing popularity of Marxism and its objective was to challenge it.
7. The theory is based on rationality and formality of the structures which means that the structures and agencies do their allotted duties and this performance is based on the concepts of rationality and formality. The structures do not violate the principle of rationality. But in reality the performance of the structure depends not always upon rationality.
Now, if rationality and formalism are not always strictly adhered to the decision-making process will be disturbed. It is said that decision-making process depends upon incrementalism or it is incremental in nature. This is a great drawback of Deutsch’s theory of communications.
8. Another criticism against the communications theory is that political system itself is very complicated and also its functions. Moreover, the functions are to some extent unpredictable. The authority of a liberal democracy is to respond to a situation which it could not predict earlier and in that case the communication theory will not be of very much help. Communications theory works, it is alleged by critics, through formalism but the actual working does not always adhere to formality. If so, the theory cannot serve the purpose.
9. It is apprehended that the structures or agencies may be misused by someone or by any other institutions and, if it so happens, normal functioning of the structures will be affected. In other words, deliberate interference or efforts will have their impact upon the decision-making process and we do not know how the rationality or normal communication will survive.
Though communications theory does not portray the true nature of the functioning of modern political systems both liberal and non-liberal the fact is that in this age of the phenomenal progress of sophisticated technology which includes improved technology political system can hardly keep itself away from the impact of this technology.
The communication in numerous ways influences the behaviour of individuals’ and political phenomena. Government applies the improved technology for its normal functioning and transmission of information and feedback process are parts of that normal functioning.
Every government today wants to provide better service to its citizens and that has necessitated the arrival of communications network. So we can say that communications theory does not purport to be an imaginary concept but a ground to earth model which has been able to establish itself as a way of analysing the actual occurrences of political system.