Public Relations: Critical Debates and Contemporary Practice

Book review: Public Relations: Critical Debates and Contemporary Practice.

Edited by Jacquie L’Etang and Magda Pieczka; Stirling Media Research Institute, University of Stirling, Scotland. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2006

In 1996 L’Etang and Pieczka edited Critical Perspectives in Public Relations. This new volume represents a continuation of their interest in the subject and the work they and others have done in the field since then. Here the editors aim (1) to extend the intellectual vocabulary and reach of PR theory by drawing on major writers and thinkers whose work has not been well utilized, and (2) to add to the body of knowledge on the history and sociology of the PR occupation.

Four main themes run across the book: propaganda, history, PR industry, and PR practice. Section I addresses rhetoric, ethics, propaganda, and publics. One chapter, for example, discusses how transparency is a crucial part of the corporate social responsibility process. Section II, Histories, provides insight into three different cultures: German intellectual thought on PR, a historical sociology of PR evolution in Sweden, and the evolution of PR in Britain.

Section III, New Directions, offers four chapters dealing either with the ways PR has been extended into new specialized areas such as sports and documentary filmmaking, or with new challenges to existing specializations such as science, health communication, and public information. Section IV, Professionalism and Professionalization, includes articles focused on the PR occupation in relation to its practice and aspirations to professional status. One chapter, for example, addresses the questions: How do PR consultants get and deliver their work? What factors influence the process? How do the conditions of routine work influence the occupation in its self-identity and behavior?

Section V, Critical Perspectives Revisited, includes discussions of corporate social responsibility and the connections between public opinion and mass communication. One article suggests that the ‘functionalist’ nature of PR education in the US and the UK can be linked to pressures from the industry. It suggests that PR education needs to be rooted more firmly in its conceptual origins and should resist being equated with ‘basic training.’

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