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Critical Public Relations

Critical Public Relations

Rachmat Kriyantono, Ph.D

School of Communication UB Malang

Critical public relations can be defined as the use of critical perspective in public relations. Public relations research based on critical perspective has been emerged within the last decade (L’Etang, 2005; Mickey, 2003; Motion & Weaver, 2005; Pasadeos, Berger, & Renfro, 2010; Toth, 2002). Critical public relations “has challenged current assumptions, defined and critiqued a “dominant paradigm”…, applied critical theory… and critiqued policy and practice.” (L’Etang, 2005, p. 522). This challenges and critics lead to public debates which aim “to raise the social consciousness of forms of oppression.” (Mickey, 2003, p. 6).  Critical perspective criticizes the domination of Excellence theory because excellence theory does not contain power-control aspect when discussing public relations phenomenon (Wehmeier, 2009) and fails to reveal primacy of powers in the construction of relationship between organization and public (Gower, 2006; Curtin & Gaither, 2005). Some literatures (such as Botan & Hazleton, 2006; Gower, 2006; Greenwood, 2010; Holtzhausen & Voto, 2002; Pasadeos, et al, 2010; Trujilo & Toth, 1987) stated that there is a struggle of paradigm between the dominant paradigm that is represented by excellence theory versus critical paradigm, including postmodernism.

From Thomas (1993) and Littlejohn & Foss (2008), critical perspective assumed that realities contain dominations and repressions as a result of unbalance power in society. This domination, repression and unbalance power are constructed in social interactions. Therefore, this critical perspective aims to promote emancipatory, freedom and equality by revealing social situations that marginalize others and by synthesizing theoretical & practical aspects to support social changes.

In the organization and public relations contexts, based on Toth & Trujilo’s (1987) ideas, critical perspective views that organization as an arena of struggle of powers, influences, and controls. Public is perceive as coalitions and constituents who has different needs, values and perceptions. Communication is used to disseminate organization’s ideologies, to bargain and negotiate with those various coalitions and constituents. Critical scientists attempt to expose repressive aspects -as a result of powers and dominations in organization- in order to offer alternative views for radical changes in organization-public relationship.

From descriptions above it can be concluded that critical perspective is needed to develop public relations study. In general, critical public relations has a function to maintain balancing relationships between organization and its public to reach harmony. Harmony means that both parties agree to build mutual understanding and cooperation. This function can be reached by doing research:

(a)    To reveal hidden realities in public relations practices by asking what ideologies, powers, and interests represented in public relations programs.

(b)   To criticize and to challenge current assumptions in public relations arena. For instance, public relations is assumed as a gatekeeper that bridges organization’s and public’s interests. Is it factual? or is it a jargon of image projection as symbolic hegemony?

(c)    To criticize public relations policies or practices, including a reflection of the role and responsibility of public relations in democratic society. L’Etang & Pieczka (1996), cited in Mickey (2003), stated that public relations practices are often not followed by critical reflection from critical theories, Marxism or postmodernism. Public relations is perceived focus more on search ideas of problem solving, but not to be interested in self-reflection. Fourth, as mentioned by Grunig (Motion & Weaver, 2005, p. 49): “a need for critical researchers and theorists is to more clearly outline how their approaches contribute to advancing not only public relations theory, but also research and practice.”

(d)   Critical perspective is an intellectual responsibility for scientists to reveal truth by critically against public relations practices that humiliate human values.

(e)    To reach equality regardless race, gender and ethnic.


In practical aspects, critical perspective will influence how public relations activities should be done. Therefore, public relations activities can be conducted with the aims of:

·      Supporting public’s interest and increasing power and influences that public has in the market competition.

·      Stimulating public’s awareness to participate. Public relations also stimulates organization to pay attention ethical aspect and social responsibility, i.e. through corporate social responsibility programs.

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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