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18 Rhetorical theory of public relations

From the book Public Relations

  • Robert L. Heath , Damion Waymer and Øyvind Ihlen


Rhetorical theory of public relations incorporates centuries of strategic discourse practice, ethical judgment and scholarly inquiry to explain the discipline as the negotiation of relatedness through text. Such analysis considers how organizational and societal citizenship employs discourse (layers of contested and co-created meaning) for the strategic purposes of managing relatedness. This theory presumes that textual enactment, what is said and done, is meaningfully influential to others who engage in layered and interconnected rhetorical arenas. This theory acknowledges that such enactments can fall short of rhetors’ goals and may have unintended consequences. Such is the case since organizations, groups, and individuals encounter resistance when they assert themselves managerially, operationally, and rhetorically into communities. Public relations requires the enactment of the strategic operations and agency of public, private, non-profit, and commercial marketplaces. Commercial and public policy battles contest standards of trusted and rewardable organizational legitimacy framed as corporate social responsibility. Thus, the chapter argues that rhetorical exigency yearns for resolution: Rhetorical theory of public relations entails the strategic textual logics with which communities think out loud in search of the relatedness needed for shared governance through individual, group, organizational, and societal agency.

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