by Peter Winkler and Jannik Kretschmer
Department of Communication Studies
University of Salzburg, Austria

In current times of uncertainty and crisis, public relations (PR) research reflects a lot on how it can impede the polarization of public positions that vindicate their respective worldview and deliberately ignore and devaluate alternative perspectives. Ironically, to a certain extent this dynamic can be observed in the domain of PR research as well, particularly when it comes to the question how our discipline shall progress. In a paper awarded as best paper of 2020 by EUPRERA and recently published in the Journal of Communication Management, we, Peter and Jannik, together with Michael Etter (King’s College London), address this dynamic of estrangement in our field and seek for an approach to better understand and eventually overcome it.

To do so, we decided to refrain from sophisticated ontological and epistemological explanations that typically dominate the debate on disciplinary progress in PR research. Alternatively, we propose an axiological approach and develop a model of normative narratives of progress, which hold paradigms in PR research together, create internal identification and lead to estrangement from other paradigms:


Model of normative narratives of progress. Winkler, Kretschmer and Etter 2021.

In case of the functional paradigm in PR research (e.g. managerial, strategic, leadership approaches), we propose that it is a heroic narrative of transcending a fatal status quo, which holds ever-changing variants of managerial ontology and positivist epistemology together. For the co-creational paradigm (e.g. dialogic, deliberative, communitarian approaches), we argue that it is the romantic narrative of mutual maturation towards comic salvation, which holds changing variants of relational ontology and symbolic epistemology together. In case of the social-reflective paradigm (e.g. neo-institutional, praxeological, communication-as-constitutive approaches), we suggest it is a shared narrative of unmasking social complexity by satirical irritation, which holds changing variants of social-theoretical ontology and social-constructivist epistemology together. Ultimately, in case of the critical-cultural paradigm (e.g. critical, post-modern, post-structuralist approaches), we propose it is a shared narrative of satirical subversion of a tragic state of delusion, which holds changing variants of critical ontology and de-constructivist epistemology together.

Mapping these narratives, we argue, provides a fresh starting ground for debate, comparison and exchange between different paradigmatic positions regarding disciplinary progress in PR. It enables us to explicate and challenge the normative convictions that shape how we as scholars, teachers and advisors perceive the current state of society, and how we evaluate the urgency, scope and capacity of PR to change this state for good. Hence, coming back to Cliff Richard, if our paper motivates some of us to talk to each other again, despite adhering to different research paradigms, it has done its duty.

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