Critical public relations

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Have to brush up on my (non-existent) Portuguese. Heading off to Belo Horizonte on May 17 to attend the congress of the Brazilian association for org.comm. and public relations (Associação Brasileira de Pesquisadores de Comunicação Organizacional e de Relações). Will present a keynote on perspectives of critical public relations: Fanning the flames of discontent!

Corporate Dialogue Comes Head to Head with Economic Rationality

It has been a long winding road, but finally, the dialogue paper that I have written together with Abbey Levenshus is making it into print. This is the gist: Public relations has long been preoccupied with the notion of dialogue, and the advent of social media ushered in new enthusiasm. Still, despite the technology on offer and the fact that dialogue has become a value that “everyone” embraces, most research concludes that little actual dialogue takes place between corporations and their stakeholders. Scholars have pointed to a host of different factors to explain this, ranging from practitioners’ lack of time to their lack of understanding of what dialogue is. This paper discusses perspectives on corporate dialogue with a focus on the constraints identified in the literature, before presenting the main argument that not enough attention has been paid to the macro limits at the systemic level. The paper issues a call to locate dialogue attempts within a system where a limited economic rationality reigns, which, in turn, constrains what individual practitioners can achieve.

Ihlen, Ø., & Levenshus, A. (in press). Panacea, placebo or prudence: Perspectives and constraints for corporate dialogue. Public Relations Inquiry.

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Ready, steady, engage!

Engagement is all over the place. I have jumped on the bandwagon together with Bree Devin and contributed a chapter to the forthcoming Handbook of communication engagement, edited by Kim Johnston & Maureen Taylor. The chapter explores engagement in relation to corporate social responsibility (CSR), and highlights why engagement is not only seen as a foundational concept to CSR, but is necessary for CSR to succeed. Specifically, this chapter draws on existing literature to highlight three forms of engagement in relation to CSR – commitment, mapping of responsibilities, and closing the loop. Conceptualizations of engagement in relation to each of the forms are presented, whereby engagement is referred to as a state, process, and/or orientation. The chapter concludes by highlighting challenges associated with engagement in relation to CSR, as well future agendas based on the forms of engagement presented in this chapter, as well as new directions in CSR research.

Devin, B., & Ihlen, Ø. (in press). Corporate social responsibility and engagement. In K. A. Johnston & M. Taylor (Eds.), Handbook of communication engagement. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.

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Symbolic capital

After having traded in social capital for what seems like an eternity, I have opted out in unknown terrain with an entry on symbolic capital for The International Encyclopedia of Strategic Communication. Symbolic capital concerns reputation and has roots in the other forms of capital that a social actor might possess, including social, economic and cultural capital. The notion invites a perspective on how organizations attempt to position themselves in different contexts where different types of capital are appreciated. In some fields, like business, your symbolic capital is closely tied to your ability to make a profit. In others, like academia, a different hierarchy is in place with roots in your education, publications, and so forth. Strategic communication and public relations can be seen as organizational activities aimed at building and securing the symbolic capital of organizations in their respective fields as they make up the social world.

Ihlen, Ø. (in press). Symbolic capital. In R. L. Heath & W. Johanesen (Eds.), The international encyclopedia of strategic communication. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.

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Framing and strategic communication

Framing is probably the most popular analytical concept within communication studies. Together with Eva-Karin Olsson (Swedish Defence University) I have written an entry for the forthcoming Encyclopedia of Strategic Communication on the link between framing and strategic communication. The entry defines the concept and traces its use with a particular focus on the relevance for strategic communication. The basic attraction of framing lies in how frames provide direction for our understanding of issues through the use of certain organizing principles. Some elements are highlighted, whereas others are downplayed or left out. This influences the way that a problem is diagnosed and what remedies are suggested. Still, many different understandings and uses of the concept are found in the literature, but all have in common the idea that frames are essentially about providing meaning.

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San Diego O’Hoy!

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Setting sails for San Diego in May. Got two papers and a panel accepted. The first of the papers has Alex Buhmann (BI – Norwegian Business School) as lead author and is a review of how Habermas has been used in public relations over the years. Two crucial points emanate: First, the work of Habermas has much unused analytical potential, specifically with regards to issues of public deliberation and legitimacy in public relations. Second, there are few references to his newer publications something that suggests that public relations scholars are missing out on crucial turns in the theories of Habermas.

The second paper and the panel focus on lobbying. The paper is written together with Ketil Raknes (Kristiania U College) and continues our work on rhetorical lobbying strategies relying on appeals to the common good. The panel uses framing theory to zone in on the challenge organizations that lobby in the public domain face: Why should anyone care for their private interests? The typical strategy is to argue that the latter matches the public’s interests. Everyone is better off if the lobbyist’s proposal is accepted.

The panel I am chairing consists of the following contributions:

  • Defining the Public Interest Ketil Raknes; Kristiania U College, Norway
  • When “Public Interest” Co-Matches “Private Benefits:” The Peculiar Interplay between Part-Time Politicians and Vested Interests in Switzerland’s Direct Democracy  Irina Lock & Peter Seele; Università della Svizzera italiana, Lugano, Switzerland
  •  Democracy, Pluralism and Political Discourse: Lobbying and the Public Interest Ian Somerville & Scott Davidson; University of Leicester, UK
  • How Do Organizations Discursively Frame Community Issues Through Lobbying Campaigns? – An Italian Case Study Chiara Valentini; Aarhus U, Denmark

Dejan Vercic from the U of Ljubljana, Slovenia has graciously accepted to be a respondent.

Buhmann, A., & Ihlen, Ø. (2017, May). The fate of Habermas’ theory in public relations: A quantitative review of three decades of public relations research. Paper presented at the 67th Annual Conference of the International Communication Association, San Diego, US.

Ihlen, Ø., & Raknes, K. (2017, May). “Everyone will be better off”: Rhetorical strategies in public lobbying campaigns. Paper presented at the 67th Annual Conference of the International Communication Association, San Diego, US.

 

Political Communication and Social Resilience

Migration, climate change, terrorism and widening social gaps are pressing global issues that are communicated through the news media, spread by social media and discussed in high-level summits as well as around dinner tables. Ultimately, they concern the legitimacy of democracy, the foundations of welfare states and the construction of cultural identities. Yet the links between communication, legitimacy and social resilience are often neglected. In a paper authored by Eli Skogerbø and myself we discuss how political communication is a purveyor of social resilience. We focus on the communicative conditions that impact on the sustainability of political systems. The paper has been accepted for the conference “Media and Politics in Times of Crises and Change,” @ the London School of Economics, December 12-13 2016.

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