Kuhn Essay

2348 words - 10 pages

Thomas Kuhn’s “The structure of scientific revolutions” is one of the most influential and most cited works in the 20th century. However, Kuhn’s definition of a paradigm is usually applied in natural science fields, rather than in social science and the field of communication, for not only Kuhn himself did not intend to involve these fields in his work, but many social science scholars also often misunderstand and misapply Kuhn’s work (Berkelaar, 2008). This paper will explore Kuhn’s view of a paradigm and see how it can apply to the field of communication.
Simply put, a paradigm has two characteristics. First, it is the theoretical background knowledge that is generally accepted by competent scientists in a given field. Second, it is used to solved puzzles, or research problems. A paradigm is the backbone behind theories, through which we can reflect how good a theory is. Theories and methods of looking at reality are paradigms. Kuhn sees paradigms as basic and incontrovertible assumptions about the nature of the discipline (Kuhn, 1996). Paradigms are frames of reference we use to organize our observations and reasoning. Generally speaking, a paradigm encompasses theories, and an effective paradigm will bring forth an effective theory. Therefore, it is safe to say by examining a paradigm, we can understand the organization of the theory guided by that paradigm. Paradigms gain their status because they are more successful than their competitors in solving a few problems that the group of practitioners has come to recognize as acute. For Kuhn, a paradigm can be competent if it’s accurate, consistent, simple, and fruitful. At the same time, he also states that even a competent paradigm can be replaced by a new one when science revolves and knowledge advances. While the first statement provides us some important criteria to assess a theory, the second statement shows us why a theory should constantly be checked, revised, or even replaced over time. As reality changes, knowledge requires progresses, and so does theory. This partly explains why the discipline is frequently concerned with developing, confirming and criticizing theories.
The development of a field comes through four stages. The first stage is preparadigmatic, during which there is no consensus on methods, topics, or results yet. There exist constant debates on fundamental questions. Kuhn sees that research in this stage is not mature yet, and allows the possibility that social science, if it can ever be called science, belongs to this stage, stating that social and natural are “alike except perhaps in their degree of maturity” (Kuhn, 1989, p. 221). I agree with Kuhn that some fields in social science, with communication being one of them, are lack of consensus, but I don’t think they are preparadigmatic. Unlike natural science, where there employs only one paradigm at a time, in social science fields, there are many paradigms, or sets of knowledge, to be applied at any one time. For...

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