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19 Contingency theory of strategic conflict management: Explicating a “grand” theory of public relations

From the book Public Relations

  • Augustine Pang , Yan Jin and Glen T. Cameron


Since the 1990s, 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” (p.41). 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 reassess and recapitulate the theory’s explanatory powers in portraying a realistic understanding of how communication is managed between organizations and their diverse publics through enactment of stances. Second, to explicate how the cluster of variables may operate as organizations manage conflicts through the various stages of the strategic conflict management cycle (Wilcox, Cameron, and Reber 2014) and key takeaways for practitioners. Third, to examine new directions of research as the theory develops and its impact on practice.

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