Dependency Theory

media depends on the social context

(or: Media System Dependency Theory)

History and Orientation

Dependency theory was originally proposed by Sandra Ball-Rokeach and Melvin DeFleur (1976). This theory merged out of the communication discipline.

Dependency theory integrates several perspectives: first, it combines perspectives from psychology with ingredients from social categories theory. Second, it integrates systems perspectives with elements from more causal approaches. Third, it combines elements of uses and gratifications research with those of media effects traditions, although its primary focus is less on effects per se than on rationales for why media effects typically are limited. Finally, a contextualist philosophy is incorporated into the theory, which also features traditional concerns with the content of media messages and their effects on audiences. Research generated by this model had tends to be more descriptive than explanatory or predictive.

 

Core Assumptions and Statements

Dependency theory proposes an integral relationship among audiences, media and the larger social system. This theory predicts that you depend on media information to meet certain needs and achieve certain goals, like uses-and-gratifications theory. But you do not depend on all media equally. Two factors influence the degree of media dependence. First, you will become more dependent on media that meet a number of your needs than on media that provide just a few. The second source of dependency is social stability. When social change and conflict are high, established institutions, beliefs, and practices are challenged, forcing you to reevaluate and make new choices. At such times your reliance on the media for information will increase. At other, more stable times your dependency on media may go way down.

One’s needs are not always strictly personal but may be shaped by the culture or by various social conditions. In other words, individuals’ needs, motives, and uses of media are contingent on outside factors that may not be in the individuals’ control. These outside factors act as constraints on what and how media can be used and on the availability of other non-media alternatives. Furthermore, the more alternatives and individual had for gratifying needs, the less dependent he or she will become on any single medium. The number of functional alternatives, however, is not just a matter of individual choice or even of psychological traits but is limited also by factors such as availability of certain media.

 

Conceptual Model

 

This model is the general idea of the dependency theory.

Source: Ball-Rokeach & DeFleur (1976)

 

This model is more elaborated and shows more specific effects of the dependency theory.

Source: DeFleur & Ball Rokeach (1989)

 

Favorite Methods

To be added.

 

Scope and Application

Mass media (at micro, meso, macro level: individuals, interpersonal networks, organizations, social systems and societies).

 

Example

To be added.

 

References

Key publications

Ball-Rokeach, S.J., & DeFleur, M.L. (1976). A dependency model or mass-media effects. Communication Research, 3, 3-21.

DeFleur, M. L. & Ball-Rokeach, S. (1989). Theories of mass communication (5th ed.). White Plains, NY: Longman.

Ball-Rokeach, S.J., Power, G.J., Guthrie, K.K., & Waring, H.R. (1990). Value-framing abortion in the United States: An application of media system dependency theory. International Journal of Public Opinion Research, 2, 249-273.

Auter, P. J. (1992). TV that talks back: An experimental validation of a parasocial interaction scale. Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media, 36, 173-181.

Blumler, J. G. (1979). The role of theory in uses and gratifications studies. Communication Research, 6, 9-36.

Donohew, L., Palmgreen, P., & Rayburn, J. D. (1987). Social and psychological origins of media use: A lifestyle analysis. Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media, 31, 255-278.

Infante, D. A., Rancer, A.S., & Womack, D. F. (1997). Building communication theory (3rd ed.). Prospect, Heights, Ill.: Waveland Press, Inc., 387-393.

Littlejohn, S. W. (1999). Theories of human communication (6th ed.). Albuquerque, NM: Wadsworth Publishing, 351-354.

See also: Uses and Gratifications Approach

See also Mass Media, Media, Culture and Society