Tuesday, August 23, 2005

PR legitimacy grounded in sociology

Society is merely the name for a number of individuals, connected by interactions” (Georg Simmel in Fundamental Problems of Sociology sourced from Cardiff University and written by Angus Bancroft and Sioned Rogers). The reason for using this quotation is that, as I noted in my original paper, 'Any new concept that affects attitudes, behaviours and social structure needs to be held up to social theory.'

Now, I understand that a lot of PR people would not want to spend a lot of time worrying about a member of sociology's 'big four' (the others being Marx, Weber and Durkheim). But if this profession is to find its legitimacy, all those pretenders who seek to explain what we do and how we do it and those who will be teaching a new cohort of undergraduates next month, need to be able to place PR into its socialogical context.

It's like teaching accountancy and not knowing about John Maynard Keynes. It's possible but lightweight and probably not worth the serious student's money.

Lets face it, every course in public relations needs to be taught by a person who can defend the legitimacy of PR. There is not a context that is more demanding for a profession that aims to change society and social relationships nor of greater significance than sociology.

The Relationship Value Model, as a form of public relations practice (and my explanation of the theory is not sufficiently well formed for a full blown examination and debate) does not shirk the issue.

As far as I am aware, there is no grounded theory of PR that has been exposed to investigation in sociology. Yet there is an army of practitioners who would say that the profession is about 'managing relationships' or is 'relation management'.

The inference that the profession should 'manage' relationships is a statement that this is a practice that would change society. Not only do I believe that we do, I recognise that we can be much more effective and powerful in this regard. I go as far as to suggest that it is public relations, and only public relations, that allows humans to change value and create wealth.

To achieve its optimum potential, PR cannot act in a vacuum, we have to be able to defend our work at every level which means that the question is not esoteric, it is fundamental to legitimate practice.

So back to Simmel. Simmel believed that society consists of an intricate web of multiple relations between individuals who are in constant interaction with one another. This is very close to the Relationship Value Model. So, can we see a sociological convergence between Simmel and the Model. His view espoused that the larger superindividual structures--the state, the clan, the family, the city, or the trade union--are only crystallizations of this interaction, even though they may attain autonomy and permanency and confront the individual as if they were alien powers. The major field of study for the student of society is, therefore, sociation, that is, the particular patterns and forms in which men associate and interact with one another.

It is here where the Model and Simmel appear to converge, and for this reason: in the Model the structure of organisation, being dependent on groups that closely interact with other groups each with, by varying degree, common tokens and values in common networks form social groups that we can recognise as nations or companies.

Simmel did not have the technologies we can call on to prove such relationships with an investigation of what he called "interactions among the atoms of society" but we do.

In addition, we have a live and living mode that we can use to aid our understanding. The Internet and Blogshere offers us insights into where people see value both in what they do and in what they say.

Perhaps here is where public relations can enter into its legitimacy as a profession that is grounded in social theory as well as many other disciplines.