Paradigm Lost (and Found): A historiographical review of the application of systems theory to public relations since 1975.

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Hiscock, William Robert
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Mount Saint Vincent University
This study is a critical assessment of the application of systems theory to the study of public relations between 1975-2016. I devise and follow a grounded theory method to deconstruct a representative sample of academic literature, which in turn allows for thematic analysis of the texts. From this I develop a historical-critical periodization framework demonstrating how the early application of general systems theory has now evolved into a rich array of theoretical approaches that consider public relations as a social phenomenon. I document how researchers have assessed public relations from many vantage points, in particular the organization, organization-public relationships, and more recently a system-wide view, and conclude that the role of the individual has been undertheorized. Accordingly, I undertake a preliminary analysis of the individual as a system actor, arguing that the ability to reflect on the perspectives of other system actors is essential to effective systems thinking. The degree to which individuals actively demonstrate systems thinking will in turn determine the degree to which the practice of public relations can help balance an organization’s pursuit of its strategic interests with its responsibility to consider interdependencies with other system actors. Finally, I present an updated conceptual model of the public relations system as a heuristic intended to reinforce these points.
System theory, public relations,