Can we all agree? Building the case for symbolic interactionism as the theoretical origins of public relations

  • Sandra Braun Mount Royal University
Keywords: communication theory, symbolic interactionism, public relations theory, PR, communication studies


Only a fraction of scholarly work in public relations has been devoted to theoretical development, with scholars unable to agree upon any one single theoretical framework from which to view public relations. This literature review and analysis pose the case for symbolic interactionism as an appropriate theoretical origin for public relations, as initially suggested by Gordon (1997) and furthers a definition of public relations from the symbolic interactionist perspective. The paper specifically builds on Gordon’s work by identifying some key shared concepts between public relations and symbolic interactionism (communication, relationships, adaptation, shared meaning or consubstantiality, the creation of definition and social constructivism), supporting Gordon’s argument and strengthening the link. This work also builds on Gordon’s definition of public relations and proposes that public relations is the intentional participation in the social construction of meaning to achieve organizational or brand reputation goals. By conceptualizing and positioning public relations within the theoretical framework of symbolic interactionism, the field can find more cohesion and also work toward a more universal definition. 

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