Category Archives: Sociology

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.



San Diego O’Hoy!


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.


Shaking it up with social theory

The latest issue of Communication Director has been on the streets for some days. Piet Verhoeven and I have a piece in there pushing the usefulness of social theory for practitioners and scholars alike. We argue that it is difficult to chastise public relations practitioners and theorists for keeping their noses to the ground and not taking a broader social theoretical perspective. There is, however, a pay off for those willing to think in broader terms, looking beyond what is immediately useful for an organization. Social theory can help provide a basic understanding of the societal role of the practice, and its ethical and political consequences.

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ICA2015 x 3

ICA 2015 is on! I am packing two papers and a panel and will be heading for Puerto Rico in May. Together with Abbey Levenshus, I will present a paper that continues our work on dialogue and social media. The paper Extolling and extending dialogue: Proposing new directions for research on corporations’ use of social media includes six propositions about the social media’s dialogic potential for corporations.

Fresh off from the DIGICOM-project, Joel Rasmussen and I will present a paper called Risk, crisis and social media: A meta-study of six years’ research. The paper illustrates how the literature has increasingly focused on causality, explaining the impact of different communicative choices on citizens’ perceptions of organizations in crisis. We also found that there are certain aspects that are largely missing. In addition to the lack of generalizable samples and studies of actual, preventive risk communication, very little attention is given to the effects of the digital divide on social mediated risk and crisis communication.

Finally, together with Magnus Fredriksson I proposed a panel called “Typology Teasing: Extending on Sociological Approaches in Public Relations.” In the wake of recent theory development in the field there is a need for public relations to come to terms with itself as a multi-paradigmatic discipline. This panel will focus on the sociological research strand in particular, which includes widely diverse approaches to social problems and different solutions for these.

The panelists will include such renowned scholars as Derina Holtzhausen, Magda Pieczka, Vilma Luoma-aho, and Finn Frandsen. Magnus will present a paper, while I will be chairing the panel.

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Social theory as compass

Piet Verhoeven and I continue our crusade to highlight the necessity of using social theories to analyze strategic communication. In the new Routledge Handbook of Strategic Communication, we have extended on our discussion started in Public Relations and Social Theory and Public Relations Inquiry. The chapter is called “Social theories for strategic communication” and we argue that to choose a social theoretical approach by implication means that 1) the domain of research includes the social level, 2) a description of society is sought, 3) key concepts like legitimacy and reflection comes to the fore, 4) key issues for research concerns power and language; and 5) an empirical program based in social constructionism propels communication studies to the 
. Preprint version

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Four newspaper articles from the MoM-project

In a series of four articles, the large Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten has given us as researchers the opportunity to present the main findings from the project Mediation of Migration. Together with Tine Ustad Figenschou I have signed the article addressing the strategies of the bureaucracy (only in Norwegian, I am afraid).

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While it lasts!

The unstoppable Bob Heath and Anne Gregory have collected articles for the four-volume set Strategic Communication to be published by Sage in October 2014. It’s strictly 175 copies folks, so dig out those USD 880 from your children’s college funds!

I have two pieces included: “How Public Relations Works: Theoretical Roots and Public Relations Perspectives” written together with Betteke van Ruler and “A Public Relations Identity for the 2010s” written together with Piet Verhoeven.Image