Harmonious Public Relations: A Deconstruction of U.S.-based Public Relations Textbooks

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    Textbooks play a crucial role in higher education and may shape students’ understanding of a discipline. This article deconstructs the introductory chapters of five current U.S.-based public relations (PR) textbooks. The textbooks paint a picture of PR that serves the public interest and contributes to a harmonious society by constantly adapting to expectations of powerful publics. Tensions between corporate goals and the public interest are negated and replaced with a win–win ideology. The adaptation paradigm domesticates PR, rejecting the idea that PR is primarily concerned with influencing target groups through persuasive communication. However, pluralistic concepts, which have traditionally been used to legitimate an active role of PR in society, have not entirely disappeared. It is when presenting itself as a voice for neglected causes that the textbooks construct PR as a force that is willing–and able–to have an impact on public discourse. Social power is aligned with the ideology of harmonious public relations; it supports the industry’s ambition to be accepted as a profession that benefits society as a whole. Thus, the majority of the textbooks analyzed engage in public relations for public relations; they do little to encourage students to think critically about PR practices.

    Original languageEnglish
    JournalCritical Studies in Media Communication
    Issue number3
    Pages (from-to)289-303
    Number of pages15
    Publication statusPublished - 2019


    • Critical public relations research
    • deconstruction
    • harmonious society
    • pluralism
    • public relations education
    • textbooks


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