Activism and Public Relations: Then and Now

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Benedict, Ben
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Mount Saint Vincent University
This thesis explores public relations scholarship to analyse where activism and public relations articulate and intersect in their development or “then” over the past century in how public relations became defined as a corporate-economic model to “now” where public relations in its relationship to activism, is seen as a meaning-making process. In analysing the disparate collection of articles and text on activism in public relations scholarship the thesis (the author) begins with defining public relations, activist, activism, protest, social movements, and activist organizations; followed by activism in public relations historical development, offering an alternative and expanded historical interpretation of public relations; then activisms role in public relations theory illustrating the critical movement amongst scholars from the Modernist approach solidified in the Excellence Theory to where Postmodernism and Postcolonialism are exerting their influence; and activisms role in the development of public relations practices as a management process, a control mechanism, and a set of technical skill where activism has played a central role in the development of strategic communications, issues management, and corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs. Activism’s implications for the study and practice of public relations are then discussed including the challenges, omissions, and opportunities that such an investigation raises as a means of advancing contemporary public relations knowledge. This thesis supports calls for the development of a critical branch of public relations, to include public communications alongside those of organizations and state communications, for engaged scholarship, and a return to public intellectualism as public relations begins exploring not what it is, but what public relations can be.
Activism; public relations; public relations history; public relations theory; public relations practice; public relations pedagogy; activist, protest; social movements; activist organizations; critical public relations; public communication; public intellectualism