This blog will track the creation of a new book, including papers, keynotes, and rough ideas written by me, with links to others asking similar questions in a variety of forms and media.
The questions concern:
- Accelerated culture – particularly communication
- The performed self – individual and corporate
- Appearance over substance
- The role of PR and professional communication in contemporary culture
- The management of appearances – PR’s main task?
- Alternative approaches to communication
- Time for a ‘slow communication’ movement?
- Carl Jung’s idea of depth applied to communication practice and theory
This will be a loose collection of thoughts and experiences and contributions/reactions are actively welcomed. It is unusual (my publishers tell me) to do this. Let’s make something different.
There will be papers to share along the way and others to recommend to readers of this site. Eventually, a book, provisionally entitled Public Relations and Depth Communication: Behind the Mask, will be published in the Routledge New Directions in Public Relations and Communication Research series (ed. K. Moloney).
Contemporary global culture, rooted in neoliberalism and free market forces, tends to emphasise appearance over substance. People and organisations are assessed in terms of image, whether of bodies or reputations. Social media encourages each of us to develop our own public persona. Individuals and institutions compete in what Fairchild (2007) calls ‘the attention economy’.
This demands that organisations ranging from local charities to multinational corporations employ professional PR staff; successful management of attention contributes to their success. Institutions, including hospitals and universities, not only have to operate as sites of healthcare or education, they have to ‘perform’ these roles to secure funding and approval.
Moreover, in the age of hypermodernisim, they have to do so at speed. Everything is always urgent.
This book examines the role public relations and communication management have played in the generation and maintenance of this culture of appearances and high velocity. The field of PR practice and education has expanded in the past half century, alongside the growth of free market liberalism.
If this linkage is causal, what are the ethical responsibilities of the PR and communication management profession? In particular, the book argues for the re/introduction of slow or deep communication practices. This argument draws on social developments like the slow food movement, but is rooted in Jungian psychology which emphasises depth in relationship with self and others. In an age of surface appearance, the case for going behind the mask needs to be heard.
The theoretical underpinnings of this discussion are found in Erving Goffman’s (1959) notions of ‘frontstage’ and ‘backstage’ and Carl Jung’s concept of Persona. These scholars emphasise the social construction of identity and the performance of roles, individually and collectively.
As Curtin and Gaither (2007) point out, public relations work involves shaping, reflecting and communicating identity for organisations and individuals. PR is in turn shaped by the professional identity both of the field and individual public relations practitioners (Fawkes, 2015). The role of public relations in generating pseudo-events and false narratives is well documented in Boorstin (1961), Lasch (1979), Davies (2009), Stauber and Rampton (1994) and Davis (2013). Recent commentary on illusion, narcissism and celebrity culture (e.g. Hedges, 2009; Cruz and Buser, 2017) adds depth to this discussion, through examination of cultural complexes in the US and other societies.
Jungian psychology also offers a (not the) remedy through reflection and engagement with the hidden aspects of the individual, group or society. The antidote to shallow communication, then, may be what she terms ‘depth communication’. This builds on communication theory and practice which develops dialogue with self and others. While this will not always be appropriate, it offers a counterargument to the emphasis on appearance over substance she, and many others, believe is distorting our collective culture.
This book brings to bear a range of qualitatively apprehended, grounded observational and philosophically speculative traditions, including reflexivity, performativity and culture, to offer a new foundation for the conceptualization of public relations. This important, emerging field of research and practice has profound implications for public relations, communication and cultural scholars, as well as those researching professions, identity and the challenges of the changing communication environment.