Mehdi Mohsenian-Rad has recently launched a new book he says he wants everyone to read. To mark the release of Human Communication, a 48th issue of Modiriat-e Ertebatat (Communications Management), out in April 2014, conducted an interview with this Iranian sociologist who currently teaches at the capital’s Imam Sadegh University. The following is an excerpt of the monthly magazine’s Q and A with Professor Mohsenian-Rad:
In your new release which is a revised edition of a book you published 36 years ago, you have looked at communications from two angles: semiotics and speech. Why the distinction?
I started compiling Communicology in 1985 and developed a semiotic model. The result was published by Sorush Publishing House in 1990. A few years later, a member of faculty at University of Tehran released Human Communication. In 2010, a senior manager at SAMT Publishing House contacted me and asked me to write a book on human communication. Back then Communicology was on its ninth reprint. I felt it was necessary to revise it.
Since I was already working on Norms in Three Holy Books, I didn’t have much time to dedicate to a new book. So the publishing house gave me one year to finish the book at hand. When I was writing this book I thought it was aimed at educating science majors, so I tried to build on models which were taught overseas. The revised book also features research I have conducted in recent years in cooperation with my top students whose names appear in the foreword of the book.
The models presented in this book are widely used. When I was putting the finishing touches to the book, the Department of Social Sciences reviewed the book and found it suitable for being taught as part of communication courses. That was why the logos of both the Education Department and the Social Sciences Department appear on the cover of the book.
You placed Communicology and Human Communication in two separate categories. Tell us about the difference between the two.
Human communication is a distinct part of social sciences and communications. It is made of three parts: interpersonal communication, group communication and mass communication. Mass communication is little known in Iran. Across the world when the question of communication comes up these three disciplines spring to mind.
I believe communicology has four different modalities: The first one focuses on interpersonal relationships which cover mass communication and self-communication, a rather new discipline. The second modality deals with relations between humans and animals, which is interdisciplinary and draws little attention in our academic circles. The third modality focuses on human to machine communication which has been on the rise of late. And metaphysics is at the center of the fourth modality.
There is little known about the fourth group. Would you tell us more about it, please?
Although it is a relatively vast field, there is little literature about it. What is described as extra-sensory perception in psychology – telepathy, for instance – is part of this modality. That [Iranian mystic figure Mansur] al-Hallaj floated the idea of “I am the Truth” [which is viewed by some as a claim to divinity] along with Koranic verses which talk about stones praising Almighty God can be placed in this category.
Recent discoveries crediting protein molecules for storing long-term data in hippocampus prompt me to think that 500 years from now, communicology experts would view us as illiterate as we think of Stone Age humans.
The simple language this book employs is a standout feature that allows people with little expertise to understand it. Some believe application of difficult words and jargons would render their book more impressive. What’s your thought on that? Why did you write this book in simple language?
In interviews, it is customary for the interviewee to say, “That’s a good question.” Unfortunately, most of the times, it is a way of complimenting the interviewer. But I truly believe the question you just asked was a good one. Most of the attributes you mentioned about my book stem from the way I have been trained.
In the late 1960s when I took journalism courses taught by late Dr. Motamednejad, I was required to use simple language. In high school, anytime I read out my essay for my fellow students, they would applaud. In 1967 I was admitted to university. One year later I took a journalism course with Dr. Motamednejad. He would give us homework and his assistant would grade the assignments.
I learned back then that my compositions in high school were good for storytelling and not for journalism. Dr. Motamednejad once asked us to write a story about Neil Armstrong, the American astronaut who was in Iran at the time. The headline I chose for the story read, “Moon conqueror lands in Tehran.” I was given a low grade for that because according to Dr. Motamednejad the headline I had chosen was good for poetry not for a news story.
Our professors kept telling us what we wrote should be understandable to a shop clerk, a university professor and the prime minister and that everyone should enjoy reading it if and when they opted to do so.
More than forty years on, still when I see one of my Ph.D. students tries to impress others by showering his/her thesis with Western names, I ask him/her to learn how to write in simple language. I remind them that anyone who is capable of developing in-depth knowledge about something, no matter how small, will be able to write about it in simple language. […] Only when you know how to talk about something in simple language, are you immersed in it.
If you were to choose one standout quality for the book you have just released, what would that be?
Human Communication is the only book I want everyone to read, including my own daughter, my neighbor, and my grandchildren when they grow up, because I know it helps them and helps improve their lives. […] I believe the book should be presented to the public because reading it is vital to them. A considerable number of divorces in our society stem from the fact that we live in a country with cultural variety and there is yawning gaps among generations.
For instance, the feminist daughter of a traditional woman marries a young man with a mentality similar to her mother’s. They soon hit the snag without knowing that their problems emanate from communication or lack thereof. I also believe that many political problems in our country stem from inability to establish relations and maintain them. That’s why I think everyone, including newlyweds and politicians, should read this book.