Defence, Diplomacy & Development – (Re)Shaping Societies: Global Tasks for Public Relations in the 21st Century
Monday 4th July, 2016
London College of Communication, University of the Arts London
The aim of this conference is to bring together strategic communicators working in civil society and academics to explore and discuss the role of public relations theory and practice in shaping emerging and existing societies. In recent years some public relations scholars have adopted a sociological perspective on strategic communication. This view sees the discipline as actively constructing and structuring the world in alignment with a number of structural forces – often corporate, governmental or state-based.
Such theories draw on a socially constructed epistemology (Heide, 2009; Ihlen and van Ruler, 2009) through which strategic communications practice “produce[s] a common social reality” (Heide, 2009: 43). Applications of these sociological analyses have tended to operate either at a theoretical level (Ihlen et al, 2009) or from a distinct critical perspective, employing concepts such as discourse theory or adopting readings of public relations as a cultural intermediary (Hodges, 2006).
The aim of this conference is to move beyond studies of what could be considered meso-level activities, such as marketing or corporate communication campaigns (Ihlen and van Ruler, 2009: 3) to focus scholarly attention on, arguably, macro-level communications activity and the ways it is responsible for shaping the values and norms of societies.
In particular we are interested in understanding how the increasingly professionalised and globalised discipline of public relations (Freitag and Stokes, 2009; Gannon and Pillai, 2013) shapes emerging societies in post-conflict or transitional environments. To advance such interests we have devised three thematic strands for the conference:
- Defence – how are the military and intelligence agencies using communication strategically to prepare for, manage and embed specific state-focused or governmental aims? For example, how are ‘information ops’ deployed to destabilise hostile regimes; how is public relations used to communicate with civilians in conflict or post-conflict zones; how can strategic communications be used for coalition-building among local stakeholders (politicians, tribal elders, aid agencies, etc)?
- Diplomacy – what communication strategies adopted by governments or inter-governmental organisations, such as the UN or NATO, are used to achieve opinion or behaviour change? This could include studies of inter-governmental lobbying for policy or regime change; the role of social media in engaging civilians as part of ‘public diplomacy’ campaigns; how can strategic communication – both interpersonal and external – be used in negotiation situations, e.g. terrorism, back-channel diplomacy, peace negotiations, etc?
- Development – how is public relations used by stakeholders in supporting social development? This could include direct public-facing activity by NGOs and aid agencies, such as in-region public health awareness campaigns, the use of public relations in lobbying for aid budgets and aid programmes. Also, what role does PR play in higher ideas around progress, social integration, peace and social justice.
Although these themes lend themselves to the ‘global tasks’ facing public relations, we are also interested in receiving submissions about public relations’ role in shaping established societal frameworks – providing they cover some of the main issues raised above.
We welcome submissions that adopt a critical as well as functional account of public relations in the above contexts. The overarching aim of the conference is to encourage collaboration and partnership between practitioners and academics to develop new thinking across the field. We encourage challenging and thought-provoking proposals from individuals, groups or organisations.
Special Issue of Journal of Communication Management
The best papers will be selected to go for review by the Journal of Communication Management who will publish a Special Issue in support of the Conference.
If you would like to submit a paper for presentation at the conference, please email abstracts (400-600 words) to prglobaltasks [at] gmail [dot] com.