Kate Fitch

Shifting Sands: the slippage between publics and communities in public relations

This paper takes as its starting point Steve Mackey’s article in Prism and the resulting discussion on the substitution of stakeholders for publics. But the focus of this paper examines instead the frequent slippage in public relations discourse between community and publics.

Through an analysis of selected public relations texts concerned with the development of a popular Australian beach, this paper considers the theoretical and political implications of the use of community concepts for public relations. In one example, community is harnessed precisely for its rhetorical value to disarm opposition to development, ironically shutting down opportunities for dialogue.

Community is a powerful concept which evokes social relationships, equity and unity and not surprisingly resonates with two-way symmetrical and relational understandings of organisational public relations. Appeals to community are certainly persuasive, but whose objectives do such appeals really serve? This paper argues that such appeals mask the real power relations between organisations and publics, and may deny publics the opportunity of genuine dialogue and engagement.

Kate Fitch
Senior Lecturer in Public Relations
Murdoch University
Australia
K.Fitch@murdoch.edu.au

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