Monday, February 06, 2006

Cultures at war

Some time ago, I posted a comment about how one might identify cultures. Since then the issue of the Danish Cartoons has brought the whole issue of culture to the fore.

A review of the issue so far is dealt with quite well by the BBC in a Q&A and I don't want to debate the issue. I want to look at how we, and by that I mean the Public Relations profession, can begin to bring our skills to bear on resolving the issues we face in dealing with relationship management across cultures.

Of course it would be easier to take this argument forward if the academic journals where able to publish peer reviewed papers in under a year so that research could move on. In the, so far, unpublished paper 'Towards Relationship Management' (which I gave to the Alan Rawel Conference last May and which will probably not be published 15 months later), I put forward the initial arguments needed to begin to develop strategic responses.

This paper identifies an approach to understanding organisations as the 'nexus of relationships' (and deals with the arguments of Coarse, Sonsino and others).

Assuming that everyone is now up to date on this issue, and I have covered it in this blog here, here and here as well, we can begin to use the Relationship Management Model.

This model talks of networks in which the communications channels facilitate the the exchange of tokens and values that allow people to draw together as organisations. I will demonstrate how this is done at the New Communications Forum on 3rd March.

In the year since I first put this theory together, I have been examining the nature of such networks and the work of academics who try to understand the nature of culture. The raw definition was provided by Edward Burnett Tylor in his book Primitive Culture and I have adapted it as you will see in the blue box at the top of this page and there is more about the nature of society and culture on the Middlesex University site. I am now reasonably happy to replace the word network in my theory with 'Culture'.

Thus we see the role of Public Relations in its Relationship Management role as a practice that changes cultures.

I gave a taste of what I mean by this here.

We live in a culture and our own part of this culture can be considered a sub culture. Within that sub culture we have from time to time a different take on what it means to us as we move from social frame to social frame.

The role of public relations is to identify both common values and dissonance and through building on the one and exploring the other, we bring convergence and a wider public to mutual understanding.

To put the current row over the Danish cartoons into a broad relationship context we see a reaction which is seen to be expressing a growing European hostility towards and fear of Muslims. Some Muslims, mainly in Europe, have supported the re-publication of the images so that individual Muslims can make their own minds up and welcomed the debate on the issues that that cartoons have raised. It has also been pointed out that cartoons in the Arab and Islamic press "demonising" Jews and Israelis are common. In many European countries there is a strong sense of secular values being under fire from conservative Islamic traditions among immigrant communities. Many commentators see the cartoons as a response to this.

As can be seen there are many cultures at work here. From a perspective of the culture that seeks to bring mankind together, there is a need to identify the stakeholders and to discover the range of commonly held beliefs and values and those that provoke dissonance between stakeholders.

With that knowledge, the role of Public Relations is to develop the means by which objectives can be evolved, strategies developed and tactics deployed for the use in relevant channels of communication.

The role and capability of public relations as a practice of Relationship Management in bringing mankind together in this difficult time has to be exploited for the good of all.

Picture: Danish Flag from the BBC report