Encyclopedia of Communication Theory Metatheory

Contributors: Author:Robert T. Craig Edited by: Stephen W. Littlejohn & Karen A. Foss Book Title: Encyclopedia of Communication Theory Chapter Title: "Metatheory" Pub. Date: 2009 Access Date: October 28, 2020 Publishing Company: SAGE Publications, Inc. City: Thousand Oaks Print ISBN: 9781412959377 Online ISBN: 9781412959384 DOI: Print pages: 658-661

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Metatheory is theory about theory. Every theory is based on certain assumptions about the nature of theory and about fundamental aspects of the phenomena or subject matter theorized. Most often these metatheoretical assumptions are implicit, meaning they are not explicitly articulated within the theory itself. The purpose of metatheory is to explicitly articulate and critique the metatheoretical assumptions that underlie theories and to articulate normative metatheoretical principles to guide the creation and assessment of theories. Metatheory addresses questions such as what is theory. What are the purposes of theory? How should theories be constructed? How should they be tested or critiqued, and by what criteria? In the case of communication metatheory, answering these questions can involve arguments about the fundamental nature of communication as well as about knowledge and inquiry in general.

Communication theorists James A. Anderson and Geoffrey Baym have distinguished four types of metatheoretical assumptions:

1. Ontology: Assumptions about existence such as the nature of the human individual and how we relate to the world around us. For example, some theories assume that …