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The evolution of public relations research -an overview



The field of public relations is often misunderstood, due to its hybridity, complexity and competing perspectives within the field of scholarship. This essay, which is based on extensive engagement with literature conducted over decades of teaching and researching the subject, outlines the main schools of thought within the field. These are summarised as a) Excellence; b) Advocacy; c) Dialogue; and d) Critical and Cultural approaches. Each perspective reflects variations in understanding of the role of public relations in theory and practice, ranging from an idealised conceptualisation of the practitioner to a demonised view of the practice. It refers throughout to different attitudes to ethics found within these schools, as approaches to ethics provide insight into understandings of the role of public relations within society. The piece concludes with reflections on the growing engagement with promotional culture and emerging research directions.
ISSN 2386-7876 © 2018 Communication & Society, 31(4 ), 159-171
Excellence, rhetoric, critical theory, promotional culture,
1. Introduction
Special issue
C&S 30 anniversary
Johanna Fawkes
University of Huddersfield
July 12th, 2018
August 10th, 2018
© 2018
Communication & Society
ISSN 0214-0039
E ISSN 2386-7876
doi: 10.15581/
2018 Vol. 31(4)
pp. 159-171
How to cite this article:
Fawkes, J. (2018). The evolution of
public relations research an
overview. Communication & Society,
31(4), 159-171.
ISSN 2386-7876 © 2018 Communication & Society, 31(4 ), 159-171
ISSN 2386-7876 © 2018 Communication & Society, 31(4 ), 159-171
2. Approaches to public relations
2.1. Excellence
2.1.1. Excellence and ethics
ISSN 2386-7876 © 2018 Communication & Society, 31(4 ), 159-171
2.2. Advocacy
2.2.1. Advocacy ethics
ISSN 2386-7876 © 2018 Communication & Society, 31(4 ), 159-171
2.3. Dialogue
2.3.1. Dialogic ethics
2.4. Critical and cultural approaches
ISSN 2386-7876 © 2018 Communication & Society, 31(4 ), 159-171
2.4.1. Critical ethics
ISSN 2386-7876 © 2018 Communication & Society, 31(4 ), 159-171
3. Notions of society
ISSN 2386-7876 © 2018 Communication & Society, 31(4 ), 159-171
4. Promotional culture
ISSN 2386-7876 © 2018 Communication & Society, 31(4 ), 159-171
5. Reflections and conclusion
ISSN 2386-7876 © 2018 Communication & Society, 31(4 ), 159-171
ISSN 2386-7876 © 2018 Communication & Society, 31(4 ), 159-171
ISSN 2386-7876 © 2018 Communication & Society, 31(4 ), 159-171
ISSN 2386-7876 © 2018 Communication & Society, 31(4 ), 159-171
... Although the validity of the functionalist paradigm may not be questioned at the practitioner level, it is widely challenged on a theoretical level. Prominent theorists such as Ciszek (2015); Holladay (2012a, 2012b), Demetrious (2013), Dozier and Lauzen (2000), Edwards (2015), Edwards and Hodges (2011), Fawkes (2018), Fitch (2013, Holtzhaüsen (2000Holtzhaüsen ( , 2013, Jansen Curry (2016), Kent and Taylor (2016), L'Etang (2015, Macnamara (2012), Moloney andMcGrath (2020), O'Brien (2018), Pompper (2011), Weaver (2013 and Valentini, Kruckeberg, and Starck (2012) have all mounted a challenge to the dominance of the functionalist approach. While these theorists are not an entirely homogeneous group Jansen Curry (2016) proposes that they have two tenets in common. ...
... There is theoretical recognition that the conflation of activism and public relations may play a role in assuaging professional and personal tensions related to the practice of public relations in an increasingly complex and socially aware society. Many scholars herald the breaking down of the binary between activism and public relations as an opportunity for the field of public relations to be perceived as playing a more emancipatory role in society (Coombs & Holladay, 2012a, 2012bEdwards, 2012Edwards, , 2015Edwards & Hodges, 2011;Fawkes, 2018;Holtzhaüsen, 2000Holtzhaüsen, , 2013L'Etang, 2013;L'Etang & Pieczka, 2006;Neill & Drumwright, 2012;Pompper, 2011). On a practitioner level the emerging reinterpretation of the relationship between public relations and activism has been theorised as a way for practitioners to reconcile personal ethical tensions associated with their practice. ...
... There are indications that public relations teachers have attempted to assuage, even unconsciously, their professional qualms about being required to unreflectively prepare students for a role in industry. Grunig and Hunt's (1984) well known model depicting public relations practice as evolving from asymmetrical towards symmetrical power relations has been widely critiqued and dismissed (Duffy, 2000;Fawkes, 2018;Heath, 2006;Kent & Taylor, 2007;L'Etang, 2013;Moloney & McGrath, 2020;Moloney, 2006;Wolf, 2019), yet it remains a dominant theoretical construct in public relations curricula. One of the reasons speculated for its persistence is that it allows teachers to present the field of public relations as progressing in a socially positive direction, and publics as influential co-creators of meaning rather than passive recipients of strategic messaging. ...
This article aims to stimulate debate about public relations education and its curricula. It questions why, when prominent public relations theorists are establishing a developing relationship between activism and public relations, is this research not reflected in public relations curricula? The functionalist approach (where public relations is taught as a neutral organisational function) is endorsed by public relations’ powerful credentialising bodies, and strongly influences the content of public relations’ educational objectives. Rather than allow this functionalism to dominate curricula objectives, public relations teachers, as professionals, have a responsibility to deconstruct public relations practice and critique the role it plays in society. This article proposes that incorporating activism studies into public relations curricula provides an opportunity for public relations teachers to navigate this complexity. In addition, incorporation of activism studies in public relations curricula has the potential to provide a platform for public relations to consolidate its position as a progressive field of knowledge and practice in a dynamic and complex environment.
... Meanwhile, (Fawkes, 2018) argues that competitive perspectives can be often seen within public relations academia and a certain disagreement and lack of communication between different approaches. ...
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The purpose of this study is to verify the utilisation of the existing public relations general approaches and theories at a global scale in the public relations undergraduate programmes of the five leading Argentinian universities. A qualitative approach with an exploratory scope that employs data collection techniques such as the qualitative content analysis of academic documents, semi-structured in-depth interviews and structured surveys for ascertaining theoretical loading are used. Results reveal that public relations undergraduate programmes in Argentina present a markedly professional character and prefer theoretical frameworks linked to the functionalist tradition.
... s abordajes, como el feminista o el retórico, en verdad son funcionales al pensamiento dominante de la Escuela de Maryland, y el único que se le opone verdaderamente de raíz es el enfoque crítico. En tanto, la propia Curtin (2011) observa la existencia de cuatro paradigmas: el pospositivista, el constructivista, el crítico/cultural y el posmoderno.Fawkes (2018) prefiere referir escuelas de pensamiento como la denominación más adecuada y también identifica cuatro: la de la excelencia, la de la defensa y promoción ( advocacy , en el inglés original), la del diálogo y los abordajes críticos y culturales.Toth (2010), por último, ...
Conference Paper
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Since 1980, the global intellectual domain of public relations has generated a cumulative of general theories and approaches that are characterized by their different nature, epistemological assumptions and research traditions. In this paper, based on a review done with the criterion of citation in Google Scholar, the fifteen main constructs, their tensions and internal and external contradictions are systematized and the tradition to which each one subscribes -functionalist, interpretative, critical or post-modern- is identified.
The paper presents the functions of public relations from visual communication standpoint. The argument for iconic turn application into public relations theory is provided. Next, the paper describes three main functions of images in PR: informative, persuasive and aesthetic. The essay is a theoretical realisation of socio-cultural paradigm in a public relations theory. Contemporary public’s interactions with visuals are dynamic. The constructivist approach stresses the role of knowledge in perception and therefore it is against the simplistic nativist approach to perceptual activity. It allows recipients’ behaviour to be generally appropriate also to non-sensed object characteristics. The publics remaining in the dialogue with an organization, learn specific aesthetics and perceive specific institutional visual stimuli. The paper indicates the need for interdisciplinary research in both visual and organizational communication domains. Such application of PR encompasses constant researching, conducting and evaluating communication programs to achieve the informed public understanding necessary to the success of an organization’s aims.
This text is part of a broader project that seeks to examine the field of Public Relations from the systematic study of scientific production published in the main academic journal of the specialty: Public Relations Review (ISSN 0363–8111). From an analysis of the content of all the papers (n = 1037) published in this journal during 15 years, between 2000 and 2014, the authors, topics, universities, professional networks, countries, objectives, questions, hypotheses, methodologies, techniques, theories and type of applied research have been examined. The main authors, universities and countries with the highest productivity are identified, as well as the dominant topics in the field and their evolution over time, among others important issues, in order to contribute to an overview of the past, present and future of public relations research from what was addressed in the journal during the first fifteen years of the XXI century. It concludes with suggestions for future research.
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This paper reports on an ongoing enquiry into the value of formally incorporating reflective practice in public relations curricula. It discusses the findings of an action research project that addressed the question: can formally including reflective practice in public relations teaching programmes assist teachers to fulfil the intense curricula demands of credentialism (the pursuit of formal qualifications or skills as an indication of a person's ability to do a particular job) while adopting a more prosocial approach to the teaching of public relations? The context of this research was an undergraduate, capstone public relations course taught at a New Zealand university. This course provides students with the opportunity to experience authentic elements of the 'messy swamps' of professional practice (Schön, 2017) prior to entering the workforce. The paper first discusses the motivations underpinning this research, and why reflection and reflective practice are important for public relations students and practitioners. Next it discusses action research and why it was chosen as the methodology for this research. This part of the paper also explains why Fook and Gardner's (2007) two-stage reflective method was chosen as the model of formal reflection, and how it was applied. Finally the paper provides specific examples of the complexities and successes that the teaching team faced when formally incorporating reflective practice into the curriculum. The paper concludes with the claim that, despite concerns and difficulties, formal reflection is a 'sweet spot' that can provide a way of reconciling the intense curricula demands of credentialism with emerging prosocial approaches to the teaching of public relations.
The article is dedicated to the study of the recent changes that are currently taking place in the field of public relations and the transformation of the interaction process of the PR Institute with the media. The actuality of the work can be explained by the fact that the main world trends of the functioning of PR at the present stage are examined and this experience is extrapolated to Ukrainian realities. And considering the fact that the process of integration into the world economic and cultural space is crucial for our country, the development of the public relations field in all spheres of the country's activity and the coordinated mechanism of interaction with the media system are a priority. The main features of the development of public relations under the influence of modern technologies and in the conditions of new media were determined, the analysis of changes in PR-manager’s profile was made. The use of the content analysis method in the process of investigation of high quality British and Ukrainian newspapers has revealed the most common stereotypes of public relations as an area and profession in Britain and Ukraine. The novelty of the study is to apply comparative practices, which on the base of the distinguished stereotypes allowed to demonstrate some differences in the modality of media representations made by foreign and domestic media outlets as social and communication technology. It has been proved that the media reception of the public relations specialist`s professional activity is mostly negative in color, due to the pragmatic orientations of the industry. However, in the British media, the trend towards the image of PR as the “agent of change”, especially social ones, is highlighted, high level of work of specialists is emphasized. Instead, in Ukrainian high-quality mass media, public relations continue to be viewed as a kind of manipulative technology or just a publicity tool.
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