Archive for July, 2012


I have a couple of new publications available online:

1) Interpreting ethics: Public relations and strong hermeneutics, in exciting new journal Public Relations Inquiry




This article suggests that public relations’ inadequate engagement with the complexities of ethical theory has contributed to public loss of trust in its activities. Instead of blaming this on publics, communicators could take more responsibility for their professional ethics. The author suggests that a hermeneutic approach to ethics opens up a new area for debate in the field. Public relations ethics have traditionally drawn on the major approaches of deontology (Kant) and consequentialism (Bentham and Mill), with marginal reference to the more recent revival of Aristotelian virtue ethics (MacIntyre, 1984), an approach that shifts attention from ethical action to ethical agent. Thus discussion of ethics in public relations literature (Fitzpatrick and Bronstein, 2006; S. A. Bowen, 2007; McElreath, 1996) concentrates on rational approaches to ethical decision making, based (respectively) in marketplace theory, Kantian approaches or systems theory. In these and other writings, there is an emphasis, as is common in approaches to professional ethics, on external rule-based ethics rather than attempts to focus on inner processes to assess ethical implications of practice. This article argues that as concepts of professionalism shift and buckle under global economic and social pressures, it might be timely to look less to systems and more to human experience for ethical guidance. A hermeneutic approach, drawing on the philosophy of interpretation developed in recent decades by thinkers such as Gadamer, Habermas and Riceour, offers an alternative, inner, path to an ethics drawn from the search for shared meaning.

The article starts with a brief overview of the current state of public relations ethics, suggesting a reliance on somewhat superficial codes for guidance and the absence of reflexivity in ethical debates; it then introduces concepts from hermeneutics and its main schools or approaches, with a particular focus on hermeneutic ethics. Finally, the article links the two topics to show how ‘strong’ hermeneutic ethics might contribute to greater reflexivity in public relations ethics. It aims to shift the ethical debate away from notional reliance on codes and external guidance towards a deeper ethic. The approach taken is broadly critical (Hall, 1980; Heath, 1992) and is itself interpretative, making the article doubly-hermeneutic (Giddens, 1984) in both form and content.

2) Cultural complexes in professional ethics, in the Jungian Scholarly Studies Journal (backdated to 2010, when it should have been published)



In creating a Jungian perspective on professional ethics, this paper suggests
that professions create ethical statements and codes predicated on idealized selfimages and fail to engage with the shadow aspects of the occupational group. A
brief survey of approaches to the study of professional ethics illustrates divergent
attitudes to professions in general, with some scholars (Durkheim, for example)
considering their function as stabilizing influences in society and others (broadly
following Weber) who find professional claims to be self-serving and empty. An
overview of literature suggests most professional ethics offer greater support for
the latter than former view, though discussions on Asian, discourse, and virtue
ethics have influenced thinking in this field in recent years. This discussion offers a
space for a Jungian contribution to the field of professional ethics, one that has not
been suggested before despite the obvious parallels between the idealized image
and a Jungian persona, with the disowned aspects of practice relegated to the
shadow dimensions. As most approaches to professional ethics, particularly as
embodied in codes, are constructed around such persona images, I argue that they
are too partial to be ethical in any deep sense. Indeed, they thrive on claims of
moral superiority while rejecting deviant members of the group as Other, as “bad
apples”, despite Zimbardo’s (2007) evocation of “bad barrels.”
It explores the tensions in professional ethics, conceptualizes professions as
psychic entities with the potential to integrate shadow material, and suggests how
such a Jungian approach might form the foundation of a new ethic. Finally, this
paper considers the implications of such an approach for the particular profession

More online and offline papers due shortly – the introductory article (with Kevin Moloney) to a special issue of PRISM on PR and power; and a piece on competing identities in PR ethics in Public Relations Review, details to follow.

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