For nearly a generation, the dominant paradigm of public relations research has been based on the theory of symmetry. Notwithstanding the claims of statistical research this theory has generated worldwide, and despite symmetry’s good intentions, including the creation of a normative, ethical and historically based theory of public relations), this dominant paradigm has produced some unintended and undesirable consequences. These outcomes are in some respects the result of symmetry’s flawed historiography, and its technologically driven, dubiously progressivist story of PR’s “evolution”. Ironically, the acceptance of symmetry theory has had the unintended consequence of framing public relations as it is negatively portrayed by its critics: as lacking institutional credibility, intellectual depth, and blithely fostering the shallowest, most egregious and even dangerous outcomes for society.
This meta-theoretical paper proposes a radical revision of public relations’ historiography, broadening the scope and raises PR’s sights from the severely limited confines of the Barnum-Lee-Bernays-symmetry paradigm. The paper argues that a more thoroughly representative tradition would need to embrace a much longer and more impressive legacy of foundational influencers, from Aristotle and St Paul, to Machiavelli and Pascal, and from Popes Julius II and Urban VIII, to the anthropological dramaturgy of Erving Goffman.
Professor Rob Brown