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Reflective Communication Management, a Public View on Public Relations
Unformatted Document Text:  12 The main question is, however, why and how individuals might relate to an organization in a way other than as merely customers. A societal perspective can offer a more profound view of communication management, which is necessary for long-term survival. Such a view of communication management is not unusual in Germany and Scandinavia, and it can also be found in The Netherlands - probably because public relations theory in many European countries mainly developed within departments of social sciences. A societal perspective was also the basis for Olasky’s alternative exposition of U.S. public relations history, especially in his differentiation between "public" and "private" relations. Referring to the German critical sociologist Habermas, Olasky (1989) claimed that public relations practitioners and academics should approach organizations from a "public" perspective, as they are concerned with phenomena of reflectivity (of organizational behavior) and societal legitimacy. From a reflective point of view, public relations is not just a phenomenon to be described and defined, or a way of viewing relationships between parties. It is primarily a strategic process of viewing an organization from the “outside,” or “public” view. Its primary concerns are an organization’s inclusiveness and preservation of the "license to operate" (RSA 1995). As marketing is viewing organization from a market view, the reflective communication management approach is viewing organization from a societal or public view. In the next part of this paper we will develop steps for a theory of communication management from a contemporary social sciences perspective of organization and communication; we call this Reflective Communication Management. In this view all current models of communication management will have a place as strategies of communicative behavior. If theories can be seen as an instrument for putting reality in focus, then concepts can be viewed as the various lenses that help us bring the world in focus (Zijderveld, 2000). For Reflective Communication Management we will use the lens of organizations as institutions that construct their societal legitimacy in an ongoing reflective communication process. 3.1. Organizations as institutions In referring to organizational activity, management theory usually focuses on the concept of “organization,” while sociologists view an organization more as an “institution.” Zijderveld (2000:35) claims that these two concepts are not alternative explanations but dimensions: all organizations are also institutions. “They have, in effect, organizational and institutional dimensions. In other words, the concepts of organization and institution refer to certain sociological facets of socio-cultural reality, not to components or sectors of it.” Zijderveld states that it does make a difference whether a university, a corporation, or a union is seen as an organization or an institution. The concept of “organization” focuses on functional rationality, the division of staff and line functions, on formal structures of command, on hierarchies of power, and on ways of decision making. The concept of “institution,” however, shows a different kind of reality that can be labeled as value or substantial rationality. Seeing a corporation or an

Authors: Van Ruler, A. A. Betteke. and Vercic, Dejan.
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The main question is, however, why and how individuals might relate to an organization in a way other
than as merely customers. A societal perspective can offer a more profound view of communication
management, which is necessary for long-term survival. Such a view of communication management is
not unusual in Germany and Scandinavia, and it can also be found in The Netherlands - probably because
public relations theory in many European countries mainly developed within departments of social
sciences. A societal perspective was also the basis for Olasky’s alternative exposition of U.S. public
relations history, especially in his differentiation between "public" and "private" relations. Referring to
the German critical sociologist Habermas, Olasky (1989) claimed that public relations practitioners and
academics should approach organizations from a "public" perspective, as they are concerned with
phenomena of reflectivity (of organizational behavior) and societal legitimacy.
From a reflective point of view, public relations is not just a phenomenon to be described and defined, or
a way of viewing relationships between parties. It is primarily a strategic process of viewing an
organization from the “outside,” or “public” view. Its primary concerns are an organization’s
inclusiveness and preservation of the "license to operate" (RSA 1995). As marketing is viewing
organization from a market view, the reflective communication management approach is viewing
organization from a societal or public view.
In the next part of this paper we will develop steps for a theory of communication management from a
contemporary social sciences perspective of organization and communication; we call this Reflective
Communication Management. In this view all current models of communication management will have a
place as strategies of communicative behavior. If theories can be seen as an instrument for putting reality
in focus, then concepts can be viewed as the various lenses that help us bring the world in focus
(Zijderveld, 2000). For Reflective Communication Management we will use the lens of organizations as
institutions that construct their societal legitimacy in an ongoing reflective communication process.
3.1. Organizations as institutions
In referring to organizational activity, management theory usually focuses on the concept of
“organization,” while sociologists view an organization more as an “institution.” Zijderveld (2000:35)
claims that these two concepts are not alternative explanations but dimensions: all organizations are also
institutions. “They have, in effect, organizational and institutional dimensions. In other words, the
concepts of organization and institution refer to certain sociological facets of socio-cultural reality, not to
components or sectors of it.” Zijderveld states that it does make a difference whether a university, a
corporation, or a union is seen as an organization or an institution. The concept of “organization” focuses
on functional rationality, the division of staff and line functions, on formal structures of command, on
hierarchies of power, and on ways of decision making. The concept of “institution,” however, shows a
different kind of reality that can be labeled as value or substantial rationality. Seeing a corporation or an


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