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6. Contingency theory: Evolution from a public relations theory to a theory of strategic conflict management

Augustine Pang, Yan Jin, Sungsu Kim and Glen T. Cameron


Over the past three decades, the contingency theory of strategic conflict management has evolved into its own, and emerged as an empirically tested perspective. Coombs (2010) has described the contingency theory as a “grand theory of public relations”. A “grand theory” is one which “seeks to explain how public relations as a whole operates”. Grand theories seek to explain an entire discipline and “can be adapted to specific areas of the discipline” (Coombs 2010: 41). Today, it is one of the top six theories applied in crisis communication research (An and Cheng 2010). The purpose of this chapter is threefold. First, to capture the evolution of the theory and transformation into its current form. Second, to demonstrate the dynamism of the theory as a theory of strategic conflict management. Third, to examine the applicability of the theory in this age of disruption.

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