Dervin, Brenda

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Brenda Dervin

​​Brenda Dervin (US, 1938-2022) was Emeritus Professor at Ohio State University (US). She was one of the main female figures in communication research.

Throughout her career, she taught at over 4 universities and was part of more than 30 editorial committees. She published over 80 scientific papers and was an author, co-author or editor of almost 30 books. Her most recognized contribution to the field is Sense-Making Theory. This theory is an interdisciplinary approach that combines aspects from Psychology, Sociology and Cognitive Science to analyze how people make sense of interaction and their environment. Sense-Making Theory is often applied to different areas of research such as health communication, research on hearing impairments, organizational communication in work environments or gender studies.

Dervin’s scientific production was directly linked to feminist theory. Her approaches are fundamental for studying and analyzing women’s emancipation or the promotion of egalitarian societies in terms of gender. Regarding her own experience as a woman academic, Brenda Dervin has stated having been marginalized as a researcher. She believes that having no female mentors was determinant in her professional career, a career that began around a highly masculinized environment, where there were almost no other female students.

Dervin was always especially interested in women’s situation, as well as in the conditions of many other vulnerable groups in society. She has been preoccupied with ethnic and racial minorities’ problems and disadvantages. Because of this interest in those who have remained forgotten, her scientific production has always been linked to the promotion of social equality and pluralism.

Brenda Dervin was the first woman president of the International Communication Association (ICA, 1985-1986). While she was a president, she was especially devoted to the construction of bridges and the promotion of interdisciplinarity. Her main focus was on the integral, holistic and interdisciplinary analysis of communication. ICA recognized her career with the most prestigious award in the discipline: the Fellow. She has also been rewarded with the Productivity Award (ICA) or the Steve H. Chaffee Career Award (ICA), and has received an honorary doctorate (honoris causa), awarded to her by the University of Helsinki.

Selected publications:

  • Dervin, B. (1987). The potential contribution of feminist scholarship to the field of communication. Journal of Communication, 37(4), 107–120. https://doi-org.colorado.idm.oclc.org/10.1111/j.1460-2466.1987.tb01011.x
  • Dervin, B. (1999). Chaos, order, and Sense-Making: a proposed theory for information design. In R. Jacobson (Ed.), Information design (pp. 35-57). MIT Press.
  • Dervin, B. et al. (2003). Sense-Making Methodology Reader: Selected Writings of Brenda Dervin. Hampton Press.
  • Dervin, B. (2005). The PHILCOM Division of the ICA as Seen From the Margins by a Formerly Fem-Us Rebellious Ragamuffin: A Personal Reflection. The Communication Review, 8(4), 415-419. https://doi.org/10.1080/10714420500297599

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