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The need for different perspective in Public Relations

Conducting critical ethnography: Toward a new method in public relations research in Indonesia

Rachmat Kriyantono

School of Communication, Brawijaya University, Indonsia


The Need for Different Perspective in Public Relations

Research has important role to develop public relations theories. Research is a tool to explain, apply and proof theories as well as to build new theories.  As a social activity, public relations emerged at the same time with the growth of human life, when individuals had to build relationship to fulfill their needs. However, as a scientific field, public relations is relatively new (Grunig & Hunt, 1984; Ihlen & van Ruler, 2009; Skerlep, 2001). As a result, Public Relations is “lack of theory” (Greenwood, 2010) or “theoretical lateness” (Johansson, 2007). A few research in public relations was based on theories (Botan & Hazleton, 1989). Pavlik (1987, cited in Pfau & Wan, 2006, p. 111) said: “almost all research on public relations is limited to descripstion.”

As a science, public relations is built based on two basic propositions: (1) Public Relations as a management function; (2) Public Relations is responsible to manage the relationship between an organization and its public (Everett, 1993). These two propositions require the process of adaptation and adjustment between organization and public. It can be said that the two propositions are the object of public relations study. Like other studies, there are differences about how to view the object of study. There are at least three perspectives about object of study, objective, interpretive and critical (Guba & Lincoln, 1994; Neuman, 2006; Wimmer & Dominick, 2006). Objective perspective views that the organization as a center of activities that influences the public’s behaviors during the adaptation and adjustment process. On the other hands, interpretive and critical perspectives assume that both two parties –organization and its public- have ability to construct meanings and negotiate each interest. However, critical differs with interpretive in defining the construction processes. Interpretive focuses more that the processes happen in individuals’ ideas and micro-level analysis. Critical views that the constructions of the individual’s ideas are virtual reality because they are shaped by the historical processes and the power struggle of social, economy and politics in the society that result in false illusions of the constructions (Guba & Lincoln, 1994; Neuman, 2006). 

At the beginning, objective perspective has dominate public relations studies (Curtin & Gaither, 2005; Gower, 2006; Pasadeos, Berger & Renfro, 2010; Skerlep, 2001; Trujillo & Toth, 1987; Wehmeier, 2009) with the Excellence Theory in Public Relations has been becoming a theoretical perspective that has been dominating public relations research. In Objective perspective, public relations is defined as a management function, transmission process of communication, based on the organization perspectives, but fails to describe the struggle of power in relationships (Gower, 2006; Curtin & Gaither, 2005). 

As a new scientific field, public relations has evolved into applied communication science based on research since the last two decades (Botan & Taylor, 2004) and tried to chase after the practical aspects (Sriramesh & Vercic, 2003). Sisco, Collins & Zoch (2011) found that articles appeared on the early publication of Public Relations Review had contained research and findings. However, Public Relations has borrowed or adapted many of its theories from other disciplines (Grunig, 1989; Greenwood, 2010). Therefore, it is need to explore new theories that originally emerge from public relations research. Research is an effort that aims to reveal any questions in public relations fields. One of the ways to encourage the creation of theories is applying variety of perspectives in conducting research.

Tulisan ini diadopsi dari thesis Ph.D saya. Untuk lebih detailnya, silahkan anda baca buku saya Public Relations & Crisis Management: Critical PR, Etnografi kritis dan kualitatif (2012), Prenada Jakarta



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