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Reflective Communication Management, a Public View on Public Relations
Unformatted Document Text:  17 argued that society is not only maintained by communication, but also constituted by it (Kückelhaus, 1998:142). Rogers (1994:146) shows in his History of Communication Study how the founding father of Social Science in Chicago, Small, developed his faculty into the “Chicago School,” which became famous for its constructionist approach to social science. Although strongly influenced by German thinking, they did not simply copy it. Whereas continental European scholars focused on fundamental thinking and philosophical and rhetorical theory building, US scholars focused on the empirical study of society and thereby were able to develop empirical theories of social life, including the role of communication in it. Nevertheless, the fundamental critical thinking of European scholars at that time was very influential for sociology and communication studies in the US (see Rogers, 1994). It enabled the development of what in 1937 Blumer called "symbolic interaction" (Ritzer, 2000:58) and is now known as constructionism (see Bentele & Rühl, 1993). But as far as we can see it has not yet significantly influenced theories of public relations or communication management. The start of sociology can be located in the Enlightenment period, where reasoning was seen as a fundamental human activity for the first time. Traditional authority became unacceptable (i.e., “irrational, that is, contrary to human nature and inhibitive of human growth and development”) (Ritzer, 2000:12). Or, as Krippendorf (1994:102) points out: “Social theories must be livable.” The roots of sociology are critical to an unbalanced social structure and authority. Sociology has been based on the idea that human beings create society, and that society in turn creates its institutions, and thereby the reality for the human beings, in a dynamic process. That is where the roots of symbolic interactionism are located, and that is the basis for constructionism. The idea that reality is not “something out there,” but that human beings construct reality themselves was popularized by one of the most frequently cited works in social sciences, The Social Construction of Reality, by Berger and Luckmann (1966). For them reality is a quality pertaining to phenomena we recognize as having a being independent of our own volition: we cannot wish them away. Knowledge is the certainty that phenomena are real and that they possess specific characteristics. The sociology of knowledge is therefore concerned with the analysis of the social construction of reality. Social structure can be seen as an essential element of the reality of everyday life. “At one pole of the continuum are those others with whom I frequently interact in face-to-face situations – my inner circle, as it were. At the other pole are highly anonymous abstractions, which by their very nature can never be available in face-to-face interaction. Social structure is the sum total of these typifications and of the recurrent patters of interaction established by means of them.”(p.48). Languages, as the most important system of vocal signs, builds up semantic fields or zones of meaning that are linguistically circumscribed (cf. Heath, 1994, 2000b). While it is possible to say that man has a

Authors: Van Ruler, A. A. Betteke. and Vercic, Dejan.
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17
argued that society is not only maintained by communication, but also constituted by it (Kückelhaus,
1998:142). Rogers (1994:146) shows in his History of Communication Study how the founding father of
Social Science in Chicago, Small, developed his faculty into the “Chicago School,” which became famous
for its constructionist approach to social science. Although strongly influenced by German thinking, they
did not simply copy it. Whereas continental European scholars focused on fundamental thinking and
philosophical and rhetorical theory building, US scholars focused on the empirical study of society and
thereby were able to develop empirical theories of social life, including the role of communication in it.
Nevertheless, the fundamental critical thinking of European scholars at that time was very influential for
sociology and communication studies in the US (see Rogers, 1994). It enabled the development of what in
1937 Blumer called "symbolic interaction" (Ritzer, 2000:58) and is now known as constructionism (see
Bentele & Rühl, 1993). But as far as we can see it has not yet significantly influenced theories of public
relations or communication management.
The start of sociology can be located in the Enlightenment period, where reasoning was seen as a
fundamental human activity for the first time. Traditional authority became unacceptable (i.e., “irrational,
that is, contrary to human nature and inhibitive of human growth and development”) (Ritzer, 2000:12).
Or, as Krippendorf (1994:102) points out: “Social theories must be livable.” The roots of sociology are
critical to an unbalanced social structure and authority. Sociology has been based on the idea that human
beings create society, and that society in turn creates its institutions, and thereby the reality for the human
beings, in a dynamic process. That is where the roots of symbolic interactionism are located, and that is
the basis for constructionism.
The idea that reality is not “something out there,” but that human beings construct reality themselves was
popularized by one of the most frequently cited works in social sciences, The Social Construction of
Reality, by Berger and Luckmann (1966). For them reality is a quality pertaining to phenomena we
recognize as having a being independent of our own volition: we cannot wish them away. Knowledge is
the certainty that phenomena are real and that they possess specific characteristics. The sociology of
knowledge is therefore concerned with the analysis of the social construction of reality. Social structure
can be seen as an essential element of the reality of everyday life. “At one pole of the continuum are those
others with whom I frequently interact in face-to-face situations – my inner circle, as it were. At the other
pole are highly anonymous abstractions, which by their very nature can never be available in face-to-face
interaction. Social structure is the sum total of these typifications and of the recurrent patters of
interaction established by means of them.”(p.48).
Languages, as the most important system of vocal signs, builds up semantic fields or zones of meaning
that are linguistically circumscribed (cf. Heath, 1994, 2000b). While it is possible to say that man has a


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