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Editor’s choice: Public relations and social theory

Published in Editor's Choice by Mark Murphy on February 24, 2014

Public relations or PR is a field of research and practice that has passed me by over the years. My ignorance of the field would have suggested a theory-free zone, especially when it comes to the kind of social theorists covered on this website. But the editors of the volume Public relations and social theory: key figures and concepts – Øyvind Ihlen, Betteke van Ruler and Magnus Fredriksson – have done an excellent job in overturning that assumption to some extent. I say to some extent, as even the editors concede that ‘public relations is often studied from a managerial, instrumental perspective’.

They go on, however, to argue that

To understand its role in building trust or creating mistrust and in developing – or destroying – a company’s license to operate, public relations also needs to be studied as a social phenomenon.

And this is what they set out to do in their edited collection, using a wide range of theorists and bringing their work to bear on a variety of PR issues. Alongside the usual suspects (Habermas, Foucault, Bourdieu, Weber), the work includes chapters on the likes of Luhmann, Spivak, Putnam, Latour and Beck.

As always, it’s good to read outside of your comfort zone. I recommend this text also because it offers up a set of examples of how social theory can be applied in a particular setting outside of its normal hunting grounds – as a result it helps to stimulate fresh thinking in relation to other fields such as education, health and … well, take your pick.

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About the author /

Mark Murphy is a Reader in Education and Public Policy at the University of Glasgow. He previously worked as an academic at King’s College, London, University of Chester, University of Stirling, National University of Ireland, Maynooth, University College Dublin and Northern Illinois University. Mark is an active researcher in the fields of education and public policy. His research interests include educational sociology, critical theory, accountability in higher education, and public sector reform.

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