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Review of Ihlen, O., Van Ruler, B. and Fredriksson, M. (Eds) Public Relations and Social Theory: Key Figures and Concepts

By Magda Pieczka


Book Review -\ud \ud This collection of essays on some of the most important contemporary sociologists and famous ideas of the last 50 years is a most welcome addition to a growing range of public relations literature.\ud \ud The volume, as the editors explain, was inspired by the frustration felt by many Scandinavian public relations academics with “the instrumental bias” of the discipline. Looking at the contents page of the book, this can only be interpreted as a comment on the discipline's ignorance of sociological debates and social, rather than organizational, theory. The project took several years to accomplish and, along the way, gathered a group of 19 contributors, almost all of them well-established names in public relations scholarship in their own countries, if not internationally, with a large proportion of Scandinavian authors adding an interesting inflection to this project.\ud \ud The book is organized alphabetically, starting with Fredriksson's chapter on “On Beck: risk and subpolitics in postmodern reflexivity”, and finishing with Wæraas's discussion of Weber and legitimacy (thus extending the time horizon, strictly speaking, beyond the last 50 years).The book consists of 17 chapters in all, and 14 chapters devoted to the chosen “key figures”, one chapter of introduction and two chapters of concluding remarks. The two alphabetical extremes (Beck and Weber) bracket a line of chapters which read like a mini who's who of modern sociological thought: Berger, Bourdieu, Foucault, Giddens, Goffman, Habermas, Latour, Luhman, Mayhew, Putnam, Smith, and Spivak. Despite differences in styles, and to an extent, in levels of discussion, all the “key figures” chapters share the same basic approach: each introduces one thinker and some of the key ideas contributed by that author while putting these ideas in the context of the author's body of work more generally and the critical reception of the ideas. What all the chapters also attempt is a discussion of how the key ideas under discussion – signalled clearly in the chapter title – are of relevance to public relations theory or practice. In this context, the little biographical vignettes at the end of each chapter are a good idea and reinforce the pedagogical intention of the book.\ud \ud Although I have my favourites among the chapters, what is remarkable about this collection is the degree of consistency in the approach and quality, so it would be uncharitable to criticise the book on somewhat awkward English here and there, or to downplay the importance of some chapters simply because we are more familiar in public relations with, for example, Habermas, Bourdieu, Foucault from an issue of Public Relations Review (2007, volume 33 issue 3), an earlier stage in the development of this book. If I have any reservations to express, if indeed this is what they are, it is to wonder about the alphabetical ordering both of the chapters and parts of the closing discussion (chapter 17: Conclusions). Weber, whose work has laid foundations for much of the work presented in this volume, comes almost at the end of the volume, and Goffman is inserted, one could almost say, isolated, between Giddens and Habermas in the run of the chapters. The same apparent hesitation to impose a way of reading on the ideas presented in the book is also visible in the last chapter of conclusions, Bentele and Wehmeier's “Commentary: Linking sociology with public relations” – some critical reflections in reflexive times in which the authors marshal the key figures into what reads more like a register than a reflection. To be fair, Ihlen and Verhoven's “Conclusions on the domain, context, concepts, issues and empirical avenues of public relations” (chapter 16) offers a discussion governed by bigger themes present in the work, yet given the scope of material presented, complexity of ideas discussed and crisscrossing of influences, it is a pity that not more was done to move away from this somewhat encyclopaedic straightjacket.\ud \ud Then again, Public Relations and Social Theory is clearly intended as a companion to public relations courses and is not to be read from cover to cover in a linear fashion. As a teacher, I am delighted to have this resource and have already included it in my various reading lists for the more advanced undergraduate and postgraduate students. I am sure the book will be well used at this level and hope that it will contribute to making public relations as a discipline less inward looking

Publisher: Emerald
Year: 2010
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