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- Public relations and contemporary theory
- Mackey, Stephen
- In the postmodern era, as authoritative discourses are being undermined, there is an increased vulnerability of thoughts to the influence of the deliberate promotion of viewpoints. In this environment, public relations is becoming increasingly important. In this thesis I use the term 'public relations' both in the sense of an extensive, specific industry, as well as in the sense of the general processes increasingly being used by all sorts of groups and organisations to get their voices heard, their effects felt, their interests defended and their aims achieved. Concomitant with this growth in public relations activity, public relations has emerged as a rapidly growing field of study within universities. This thesis critically assesses the state of this emerging university 'discipline'. A claim of this thesis is that the mainstream public relations industry is dominated by a corporatist ideology stemming from a particular US business tradition. This ideology produces a problem for university teachers, researchers and ethicists of public relations because it pervades and dominates the textbooks, teaching, research and academic-industry liaison committees. I suggest that this permeation has helped to shape the conceptual tools which public relations people use to examine their own activities. The thesis warns that this interference in academic freedom results in a situation where a genuine 'professional' status for graduates with degrees in public relations is rarely achieved. I suggest than many of these graduates may not have the intellectual equipage necessary for the level of detached understanding of their field which would be necessary for them to be true 'professionals'. This thesis attempts to explain these inadequacies. It points to the presumption of political pluralism and an unproblematic consensual society which is implicit in the approaches of the orthodox exponents of public relations since the second world war. A contrast with the candidness of public relations theory in the more elitist and authoritarian period of the 1920s and 30s helps to make this point. In order to improve public relations theory, the more recent work of 'New Rhetoric' theorists is employed. These theorists point to the inevitability and in fact the necessity of the persuasive activities which construct reality in all human cultural spheres. I opposed the negative critiques of some critical theorists for whom public relations is an abomination. Instead I argue that everyone now needs to be provided with an understanding of, and access to, their own means of generating public relations-like activity. I suggest that we all need to have some sort of control over the public relations which affects us because this activity is becoming the currency used in the maintenance of all of our postmodern identities. But in grasping the nettle of participating in public relations activity, I suggest that it is also necessary to foreground the oppositional aspects of society and draw on neo-Marxist critical and cultural theories. I employ Habermas and Beck in particular in order to expose the mainstream public relations industry's historically rooted cultural mission to maintain the pretense that we live in a consensual capitalist culture based on conservatism and corporate American values. A reformulation of public relation theory along critical theory lines is necessary in order to provide the reflexive knowledge required by teachers and students of public relations if public relations is to justify itself as a university discipline.
- Publication type
- Thesis (PhD)
- Publication year
- Corporate culture; Higher education; Public relations; Study
- Australasian Digital Theses collection
- Publisher URL
- Copyright © 2001 Stephen Mackey.
- Thesis Note
- [Submitted in fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy, Swinburne University of Technology, 2001.]
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