Friday, January 17, 2014

Scooby Doo meets Dr. Who! -or- Post Positivism and Interpretive frameworks of communication theory:

Multiple frameworks exist in communication theory, including post positivism and interpretive philosophies.  Today's blog post will relate modern (ish) television programs to these frameworks in an attempt to better understand the meaning and application of these philosophies. 


It occurs to me that before I dive into explaining why a character on a television program behaves in one manner or another, or rather why I think their behavior is an example of one framework or another it seems to me that I should explain what those frameworks are!
Post-positivism takes the position that we can learn about reality and gain knowledge by objectively studying it, applying the scientific method, using theory and hypothesis and altering our theories as they are proven/dis-proven.  We can search for and discover reality and knowledge.  It exists.  For my purposes, think of post-positivist philosophy as structural, with one thing leading to the next in a cause and effect manner. This is contrasted by interpretative theory, which uses less of the scientific method and more observation.  Instead of a testable hypothesis and surveys and math type data, the data is instead observed behavior such as one might see in an ethnographic study. Meaning is created by participants. April Vannini said interpretative theory is "concerned with understanding how individuals and groups create meaning in their everyday practices, communication, and lived experiences."


I am approaching the examples of these two philosophies in modern entertainment having already elsewhere established that Sherlock is a clear and obvious example of post positivism.  In Sherlock, knowledge exists and Sherlock finds it, deducing it from clues, some more subtle than most people would even notice.  Steven Moffat is the show runner for both Sherlock and Dr. Who. These are distinct programs with unique characters (see his discussion about the shows HERE) and while Sherlock is a post positivist program, Dr Who is set (instead) on an interpretive framework.

Dr Who is "timey-wimey" - things change, effect comes before cause, and it all revolves around the personalities of the characters.  The show's "feel" changes from regeneration to regeneration.  In modern Who, Christopher Eccelsten is a very different Doctor than either David Tennant or Matt Smith, although each was the Doctor.  The show fits the interpretative framework both with the meaning of onscreen content (it can change, time can be rewritten) and the meaning attached to the program; also these aren't always the meanings intended by Moffat. The fan base, so called "Whovians", create meaning amongst themselves.  Meaning is teased out in forums and chat rooms and over pints in pubs all around the world.  Whovians are participants in the story, and although they can't change what is seen on the screen, they can and do create their own meaning.  If nothing else, Dr Who is blatantly not post positivist because "Times change and so must I..."  literally.  Post positivism(s) step by step one thing leads to another doesn't always happen with Dr Who.  Steven Moffat tried to tie up all the loose ends in the final episode of Matt Smith's incarnation of the doctor shown Christmas 2013, but even with that, questions remain and meaning is flexible. 

As a fun/silly example of post positivism one must look no further than Saturday morning cartoons.  Scooby Doo and the gang rode around in the Mystery Machine solving mysteries by gathering clues.  There was the occasional "red herring" (which became an actual person in an incarnation of the show known as A Pup Named Scooby Doo) but generally there were a line of clues, where one thing led to another which led to another which led to the unmasking of the villain or the solving of the crime etc.  Therefore one could expect a certain structure to the show, there was no "wibbley wobbley timey wimey" nonsense, but instead a structured framework of clues that led to knowledge.  Post positivist gold!


Multiple frameworks exist for communication theory and modern entertainment can provide examples of each.  It is my feeling that Dr. Who is an example of a program that runs on an interpretive philosophy.  Meaning changes, the Doctor changes, time itself changes.  Scooby on the other hand is structured in such a way that at the end of the episode the gang will have three (usually) clues that solve the crime.  There is a definite post positivist step by step, link by link, clue by clue, path to knowledge that plays out in each episode.  Both the post positivist framework and the interpretative framework are valuable and legitimate philosophies of communication.  There exists within some aspects of humanity a non linear behavior that doesn't fit the step by step mold.  Meaning is created AND knowledge exists.

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