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29 Public relations and cultural theories

From the book Public Relations

  • Patricia A. Curtin


This chapter offers an overview of the nexus of public relations and cultural theories. Scholars almost universally recognize the close relationship between culture and public relations, yet only relatively recently have cultural theories been introduced and used. Early functionalistic approaches saw culture instrumentally, using cultural indices to operationalize it as a predictive variable. Around 2000, the socio-cultural turn saw the adoption of social constructivist theory and ethnographic methods from cultural anthropology. Culture was understood as a system of subjectively defined meanings, often at the micro level of analysis. Much early research, however, was shallow, although a few notable exceptions emerged. Critical/cultural approaches introduced the notion of culture as constitutive of meaning. Diversity, process, and power became central concepts, as did cultural capital, with practitioners serving as cultural intermediaries. Postmodern and postcolonial perspectives encouraged reflection on the role of capitalist culture in practice and questioning of the neoliberal economic basis of globalization. Future work is needed that examines public relations as an intercultural process extending beyond the “us-them” and private-public binaries to engage with cultural flows, active diverse publics, and networks and technologies as active agents.

© 2021 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Munich/Boston
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