I am Professor at the Department of Media and Communication, University of Oslo in Norway, where I co-direct the Center for the Study of Political Communication. In addition, I am Past President of EUPRERA, Norwegian editor for the journal Rhetorica Scandinavica and regional editor for Public Relations Inquiry.
My main research interest is rhetorical and sociological approaches to public relations/strategic communication. I have also conducted research on news coverage of issues such as the environment. My first professorship was in communication and management, while I now have a professorship in journalism given my work on source strategies and news coverage as such. My research is organized in the following (overlapping) streams:
Political communication: Most of my work on public relations/strategic communication has been directed towards political issues and the political sphere in its broadest sense. Recently I have conducted research on lobbying and the rhetoric of the public interest. I was also lead editor of the Norwegian book Power, Media and Politics: Norwegian Political Communication (Universitetsforlaget, 2015). We have a book under way addressing Nordic political communication as well. Likely to hit the book shelves in 2020.
Rhetoric and public relations: I am an established scholar in the area of rhetoric and public relations, as witnessed by the edited volume Handbook of Organizational Rhetoric and Communication (2018 with Bob Heath), as well as invitations to write chapters and entries in key publications such as The SAGE Handbook of Public Relations (Sage, 2011), Routledge Handbook of Critical Public Relations (Routlegde, 2015), Encyclopedia of Public Relations (Sage, 2013), Encylopedia of Corporate Reputation (Sage, 2016), Handbook of Communication and Corporate Reputation (Wiley Blackwell, 2013), The International Encyclopedia of Communication (Blackwell, 2008), as well as to a special issue of Management Communication Quarterly (2011).
My work on rhetoric and public relations has particularly focused on developing a full-fledged rhetoric for public relations by using key notions such as ethos, topics, rhetorical situation, and apologia. In many of my publications I have forwarded the idea that to build such a rhetoric, researchers should focus on developing typologies of archetypes of public relations strategies in specific generic situations.
There is considerable overlap between the work that belong to this category and the previous one. Lately I have for instance been working with the notion of rhetorical citizenship and argued that communication is also a corporate responsibility. In addition, however, I have sought to develop a particular sociological rhetoric that not only focuses on rhetoric, but also takes into account a broader notion of different types of capital. This provides a link to the next research cluster:
Social theory, public relations and journalism: I have furthered the notion of framing contests in public relations by looking at the work undertaken by corporate and non-corporate actors in their struggle for discursive dominance and power. An award-winning article (“Framing expertise and media framing: A cross-cultural analysis of success in framing contests” – Journal of Communication Management, 2011), as well as a single authored book (The Petroleum Paradise: The Strategic Communication and Reputation Building of the Norwegian Oil Industry in Norwegian, 2007), have been published on this subject. Among other things, this research has identified key factors that play a role for strategic framing, e.g., the ability to infuse a strategic frame with qualities that satisfy news criteria such as conflict and that resonates with underlying cultural values.
My work based in sociology, more specifically Bourdieu and “Building on Bourdieu: A sociological grasp of public relations” (Public Relations Review, 2007), was given the 2008 Pride Award for Best Article by the Public Relations Division of NCA. More broadly, I have helped to establish non-instrumental sociological approaches to public relations through the publication of the landmark volume Public Relations and Society Theory (Routledge, 2009), which was published in a second, expanded edition in 2018 as Public Relations and Social Theory: Key figures, Concepts and Developments. While disparate journal articles drawing on key figures such as Habermas and Luhmann have been published, this edited volume is the first book-length treatment focusing on the link between social theory and public relations alone. I have been asked to write an entry on social capital for the Encyclopedia of Public Relations (Sage, 2013), and to contribute to a German edited volume on the use of Bourdieu in different communication disciplines (Wiedemann & Meyen, 2013). Together with Piet Verhoeven (U of Amsterdam) I have also contributed to a chapter about social theories for the Handbook of Strategic Communication (Routledge, 2014) and to the The International Encyclopedia of Organizational Communication (Wiley Blackwell, 2016). In 2013 I was also invited as a keynote speaker on this topic for the one-day conference PR and Disruption: Embracing and Surviving Change at the London College of Communication, University of the Arts London.
I have also worked on the notion of mediatization, a sociological concept used to pinpoint how organizations are forced to adapt to the needs of the mass media, but also how they exploit the same needs to further their interests. In this work I draw on several of my previous publications that use news sociology. I have been invited to contribute chapters to key publications on mediatization, including Handbook on Mediatization of Communication (De Gruyter Mouton, 2014) and Organizing in a Mediatized World (Routledge, 2014).
Corporate social responsibility (CSR), environmental communication and public relations: I have helped to highlight the importance of communication and rhetoric for CSR. Standout publications include the award-winning article “Mapping the environment of corporate social responsibility” (Corporate Communications, 2008), the award-winning Handbook of Communication and Corporate Social Responsibility (Wiley Blackwell, 2011), the single authored book Corporate Social Responsibility in Norwegian (translated, 2010), as well as an entry in the Encyclopedia of Corporate Social Responsibility (Springer, 2013). Among the findings that are presented in these publications are illustrations of the necessity to map and relate to the sociocultural settings the corporations are embedded in. Communication with stakeholders and the wider public becomes key in this endeavor.
In the Handbook of Communication and Corporate Social Responsibility I have two coauthored chapters, as well as a single-authored chapter focusing on the epistemological qualities of rhetoric and the notion of rhetorical situation. The work illustrates how organizations are formed by the situation, but also how they can take advantage of the situation by for instance exploiting ambiguity. Work on rhetoric and CSR has also been published in German, in the leading Handbuch Corporate Social Responsibility: Kommunikationswissenschaftliche Grundlagen, disziplinäre Zugänge und methodische Herausforderungen (VS Verlag, 2010). In 2010, I was invited as keynote speaker to the Eleventh National Communication Ethics Conference, Duquesne University in the US to talk about the topic of ethics and CSR rhetoric. In 2013, I was invited as keynote speaker at Strategica: International Conference, Bucharest, Romania to talk about CSR rhetoric in social media. The year after, I was a keynote at the International Conference on Social Responsibility Education and Practices, in Izmir, Turkey.
A particular strand within this research stream has focused on environmental communication, for instance ethos-building strategies such as claiming to improve the world through products or leadership role. Together with Juliet Roper I have also demonstrated how many corporations claim that they are no longer a ‘journey’ towards sustainability, but that they have already integrated sustainability principles and have worked like this for years. In single-authored work I have also identified how very few corporations actually engage with the underlying issues of sustainability, instead treating the latter concept as a given and/or using strategic definitions that fit with their agenda, e.g., conflating sustainability with attempts at cutting emission of carbon dioxide.
I can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org
My postal address is: Oyvind Ihlen, Department of Media and Communication, U of Oslo, P.O. Box 1093 Blindern 0317 OSLO Norway