by Valérie Carayol
University of Bordeaux, France

What do communications studies not study? How can we determine what blind spots have been left out of focus and why? This question is somewhat at the heart of critical thinking; it challenges the way things are done following inherited and unquestioned norms, taken for granted practices or Habitus in the words of Bourdieu.

Cultural studies, gender studies, post-colonial studies and critical studies have underlined the occidental, gender-centred views of communication research and of social research in general. As far as PR studies, strategic communication studies and organizational communication studies are concerned, critical thinking has now been acknowledged, recognized and legitimized. Social norms of professional practices are being questioned and the institutionalization of this specific field of research has grown, in particular through the publication of a specialized international journal (Public Relations Review- Elsevier) and several books which incorporate major social scientists’ work on postmodern or critical thinking (L’Etang, McKie, Snow, Xifra, 2015) (Ihlen, Fredriksson, 2018).

Nevertheless, the dark side of PR, strategic and organizational communication research and practices has not been thoroughly explored yet. What does this expression encompass? It is specifically used in management research to focus on the blind spots of research activities. The metaphor of the “dark side” of organizations (Linstead et al., 2014, Glomb, Liao, 2003, Griffin et al., 2004) questions the ethical aspect of practices but also the ability of organizations to take reflective steps in order to deal with certain aspects of working life: violence, abuse, lies, contempt, incivility, discrimination, etc. Even if all these practices do not exclusively relate to communication, many of them rely on, may be affected by or may even be produced by communication practices or policies, and they often need to be considered as indicators of major professional relations issues.

Communication professionals are facing a double bind situation; identifying and working on complex problems of this type may lead to recognizing the failure of their activities. Even promoting whistleblowing on these questions may be perceived as dangerous and counterproductive professionally. Nevertheless, early signs of greater difficulties in communication risk management politics could be detected by focusing on all these practices that everybody prefers, at the moment, to hide in order not to alter their reputation or image.

Within our communication research group in Bordeaux, we have initiated a reflection on these topics, and along with the French society for information and Communication studies (SFSIC)’s national section on organizational communication, we will be hosting a conference in Bordeaux (‪28-29 March 2019) to work on several of these issues: violence, injury, conflict, discrimination, ambiguity, uncertainty, unspoken problems, corruption, cheating, lying, unethical use of information, uncivil practices. We hope to open new directions in research and to offer researchers an opportunity to share what has already be done on these topics.

You will be welcome in Bordeaux, our former President Øyvind Ilhen will be one of our keynote speaker!


  • CARAYOL V., SOUBIALE N., FELIO C., LIMA F., 2017, La laisse électronique : les cadres débordés par les TIC, Pessac, Maison des Sciences de l’Homme d’Aquitaine
  • GLOMB T. M., LIAO H., 2003, Interpersonal Aggression in Work Groups: Social Influence, Reciprocal, and Individual Effects », Academy of Management Journal, n°46(4), p.486‑496
  • GRIFFIN R. W., O′LEARY-KELLY A., PRITCHARD R. D., 2004, The Dark Side of Organizational Behavior, San Francisco, Calif : John Wiley & Sons