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Reflective Communication Management, a Public View on Public Relations
Unformatted Document Text:  16 earlier that clarifying the different perspectives in public discourse is the most important role of public relations, thereby furthering the development of public opinion. Faulstieg (1992) sees public relations as interaction in society itself: it makes something publicly known and it creates public discourse. Thus, we may argue that communication management is part of the “social structure of public meanings” through its social construction of community. In this way communication management is explicitly defined as a function in the larger societal communication system, much as, for example, journalism and advertising are. Most of the German and Danish public relations researchers use such a social science paradigm (see Arlt, 1998). There is another important facet in current European public relations thinking. For many European scholars public relations produces social reality, and therefore, a certain type of society. In this approach they show an interpretative or constructionist view of reality. Most of them base their thinking on communication management along the constructionist systems theory of the sociologist Luhmann. Some are also inspired by the German sociologist Habermas. As Arlt (1998:36) argues: “From Habermas can be learned what is good and bad in communication; from Luhmann, one can learn what communication is.” Although some normative elements can be found in these sociological approaches, this view differs from the community building approach developed by Kruckeberg and Starck (1988; see also Starck & Kruckeberg, 2000) and reported by Leeper and Leeper (2000). They defined public relations in a normative way, as the social conscience of an organization that is able to contribute to mutual understanding among groups and institutions and brings harmony to private and public policies. In the European sociological approaches described above, the concept of legitimation is used to describe how an organization, as the exponent of one of the institutions in the social system, co-produces public policies and thereby the empirical realization of institutions. An organization is legitimate as long as there is no public discourse concerning its legitimation. It is therefore a fundamental empirical approach and not a normative one. The approach to legitimacy, as explained in the above European legitimacy theories, is via the development of society itself, thereby revealing a constructionist view of society. 3.4. Constructionism as paradigm by which social reality develops In a pre-modern societal setting, values and norms are concrete and fundamental, even if their truths are not necessarily taken for granted (Zijderveld, 2000:91vv). The values are institutionally fixed and are not open to reflection and relativization. In the modern world society is institutionally pluralistic, humanly individualistic, and culturally generalized; that is, things are reversed. This allows for an empirical foundation of a constructionist view of society. Although constructionism is rooted in continental European sociology, it is certainly not a typical European perspective. It was John Dewey who in 1916

Authors: Van Ruler, A. A. Betteke. and Vercic, Dejan.
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earlier that clarifying the different perspectives in public discourse is the most important role of public
relations, thereby furthering the development of public opinion. Faulstieg (1992) sees public relations as
interaction in society itself: it makes something publicly known and it creates public discourse. Thus, we
may argue that communication management is part of the “social structure of public meanings” through
its social construction of community.
In this way communication management is explicitly defined as a function in the larger societal
communication system, much as, for example, journalism and advertising are. Most of the German and
Danish public relations researchers use such a social science paradigm (see Arlt, 1998).
There is another important facet in current European public relations thinking. For many European
scholars public relations produces social reality, and therefore, a certain type of society. In this approach
they show an interpretative or constructionist view of reality. Most of them base their thinking on
communication management along the constructionist systems theory of the sociologist Luhmann. Some
are also inspired by the German sociologist Habermas. As Arlt (1998:36) argues: “From Habermas can be
learned what is good and bad in communication; from Luhmann, one can learn what communication is.”
Although some normative elements can be found in these sociological approaches, this view differs from
the community building approach developed by Kruckeberg and Starck (1988; see also Starck &
Kruckeberg, 2000) and reported by Leeper and Leeper (2000). They defined public relations in a
normative way, as the social conscience of an organization that is able to contribute to mutual
understanding among groups and institutions and brings harmony to private and public policies. In the
European sociological approaches described above, the concept of legitimation is used to describe how an
organization, as the exponent of one of the institutions in the social system, co-produces public policies
and thereby the empirical realization of institutions. An organization is legitimate as long as there is no
public discourse concerning its legitimation. It is therefore a fundamental empirical approach and not a
normative one.
The approach to legitimacy, as explained in the above European legitimacy theories, is via the
development of society itself, thereby revealing a constructionist view of society.
3.4. Constructionism as paradigm by which social reality develops
In a pre-modern societal setting, values and norms are concrete and fundamental, even if their truths are
not necessarily taken for granted (Zijderveld, 2000:91vv). The values are institutionally fixed and are not
open to reflection and relativization. In the modern world society is institutionally pluralistic, humanly
individualistic, and culturally generalized; that is, things are reversed. This allows for an empirical
foundation of a constructionist view of society. Although constructionism is rooted in continental
European sociology, it is certainly not a typical European perspective. It was John Dewey who in 1916


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