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Spent an interesting hour today talking through approaches to PR ethics with a wide range of practitioners in the PRIA and PRINZ. Good attendance (nearly 60) and excellent questions suggest a real interest in the topic. Well done PRIA for opening this space.  http://www.pria.com.au/training/event/webinar-bad-barrels-public-relations-and-professional-ethics

Slides are here: PRIA final

This presentation was loosely based on a paper just published online by Public Relations Review, A Jungian Conscience:Self-Awareness for Public Relations Practice which can be accessed via doi:10.1016/j.pubrev.2015.06.005

Really great that I’m now making consistent contact with practitioners on these issues –  last year chairing the panel at Euprera, the WPRF practice/academic research colloquium in Madrid, a contributed essay to Betteke Van Ruler’s Nu magazine and more in the wings….

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I have participated in several joint sessions between academics and practitioners of public relations in the past few weeks: at the Euprera conference in Brussels, I facilitated a Q & A between leading representatives from practice and the academics attending the conference (details here: See Professional Voices #2); the same conference also heard a keynote address from Brendan Hodgson, Director and Head of Digital Practice, Hill & Knowlton Brussels; and the World PR Forum Research Colloquium was attended by approximately 50% practitioners and academics, leading to a range of discussions, including a special session on undergraduate curriculum design.

The following observations are based on these experiences.

1) The first event, a discussion panel of senior practitioners, illustrated the difficulties faced in trying to raise ethical awareness in practice. The participants found it very hard to shift from their corporate positions – understandable given their roles and responsibilities – but disappointing as the focus was on learning from experience.  When I gave examples from my own time as a practitioner, distance was swiftly placed between my experience and theirs, even though questions from the floor suggested that most PR academics hear student reports from their internships every year,  revealing widespread routine abuses of trust and power.  The panelists were unable to accept the reality of such claims., reverting to the old ‘bad apples’ defense. There was also a common reduction of ethics to decisions about which clients to accept;  some defended their right to represent tobacco or arms manufacturers, as long as individual employees were free to opt out of such campaigns. One interesting example of an agency exercising its right to reject a client on ethical grounds seemed (details were obviously withheld) to concern a country in the middle east demanding work was completed according to their values rather than those of the agency. Overall, the discussion was lively but demonstrated a determined avoidance of reflexivity. The questions we were asking, as academics at this conference on communication ethics, were clearly not being addressed in contemporary workplaces, on this evidence.

2) The keynote speech from Brendan Hodgson of Hill and Knowlton offered an interesting overview of the wholesale relocation of PR to the digital environment and introduced me to rather scary concepts such as native advertising where the traditional indicators dividing ads from print copy are completely invisible, though Hodgson suggested that it was an insult to the consumer to suggest they couldn’t recognise when online copy in a digital newspace is paid for. One strand of his narrative was the inordinately hard time multinational companies, such as oil and related industries, have when ambushed by dastardly activist groups who distort the whole information process to challenge the assertions published by corporations. Interesting to see them portrayed, over and over, as victims. This was not the only point where the 5:1 (or higher) ratio between PR: journalists was mentioned. The consequences for democracy rarely featured in such discussions.

However, the aspect which drew most ire from the audience was the continual reference to ‘you academics’ and the somewhat patronising tone in which the practices of PR were patiently spelled out. He berated us for obtuse language in a section called Beyond Jargon, which explored the ‘purchasing decision journey’! After one heated exchange, I just asked the audience to indicate how many had practitioner backgrounds; Hodgson seemed very taken aback when about 80% of those present raised their hands. Later, in conversation he was passionate that students should have access to real world practice, apparently unaware that almost all PR courses have mandatory workplace elements.

3) This knowledge was also absent from the discussion on curriculum in which practitioners repeatedly urged academics to move away from theory and make sure students were fully skilled on entry. This discussion was framed almost entirely as a menu of skills required by employers, following on from the US Committee on Public Relations Education reports, most recently The Professional Bond (2006); one comment that the requirement to write, think and communicate were actually those of any competent adult made little impression, nor did contributions about changing frameworks in the UK and Australia for example, which require a range of graduate competence regardless of degree subject, including those prescribed by the report.

Conclusions:

1) Practitioners are still fixated by education as a supplier of skilled entrants, with little regard for the needs of the profession for long-term leadership, acquired through reflection and engagement with a wide range of thought,  not just the ability to write a blog.  I imagine sometimes the cohorts we could have produced, not so long ago, who were completely up to speed with MySpace.

2) Practitioners seem to have limited time or inclination to reflect on practice, leading to shallow, defensive positions when challenged.  This has serious implications for ethics, suggesting that the short term, concrete demands of clients will always win over longer term reflection on values.

3) Academics have failed to explain the realities of the educational world, including the  constraints and demands of our institutions and journals, and the opportunities we offer for reflection and engagement with deeper issues of relevance to practice. Given the excellent mix of practice and academics at the WPRF, it might have been helpful to have offered a simple introduction about academic language and the peer review process, for example.

4) Academics have also not clearly explained the actual content of most PR degrees, with their mix of theory and practice, the balance of workplace and classroom (and online) learning and the emphasis on problem solving, team work and project management which will be of far more long term value to employers than technical know how.

Finally, Betteke van Ruler once suggested that practitioners were from Venus, academics from Mars (van ruler 2005) ; in the past decade it does not appear that these bodies are any closer.

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Conference started with generous words for book from Prof Ron Arnett and now I leave with Best Paper prize (slides here Euprera2014). Official announcement here Euprera prize winners.

Good trip, eh? And now off to swanky dinner @ Maison du Cygne

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A moment at last to try and collect thoughts from 13th annual communications ethics conference at Duquesne University, Pittsburgh, from which I returned last week. Non stop since then, visiting London and Leeds, but want to record a really wonderful event before it fades.

As always with a new conference, there is the implicit code to unlock: are they jeans or suits people, to be found in sessions or coffee bars, self-important or -deprecating? My conclusions = smart but not formal in dress! very formal in address (everyone called by title not forename) but delightfully engaging and curious about the their research and ideas.

The main theme was rhetoric and ethics, the speciality of the host department. It was a little daunting at first to be caught in so many conversations about Aristotle s 4th book of ethics or Heidegger’s later works, all conducted by my fellow guest speakers, mostly professors of philosophy. I may not quite follow the US system of titles but I think I was the only keynote speaker below prof status. Still, I decide to spend the time learning from them rather than being scared and have come back determined to read Heidegger, on dwelling places, Arendt on the polis, and Foucault on embodied ethics.

While some scholars treated language as technical experiment, most were deeply humane in their explorations. Very taken by Dr Ramsey Eric Ramsey’s presentation which used a sequence of paintings to illustrate points about dwelling places, including thus one.
Baying Hound, JMW Turner
It resonated with me as all that is lost.

My own keynote speech had been scaring me for weeks before discovering how august the company was, but as with all real scholars in my experience, they were warmly welcoming and interested in me as a newcomer to their event. As a result, I felt supported not undermined and to my astonishment managed to combine the advice given at a Sydney writers festival by Lucinda Holdforth, a leading Australian author and speechwriter, and David Roach, playwright and screenwriter, both friends of novelist Charlotte Wood. Lucinda said prepare everything, write it all out, rehearse and rehearse, so if nerves paralyse you, there’s something to hold on to. Improvise, David said, keep it edgy and you’ll keep it alive. Somehow managed to do both, using the script as a guide not a straitjacket. Even cracked jokes! Whole event astonishingly enjoyable. Whodda thunk?
Oh yeah, using new software too. So bored by power point, tried Prezi.com.
Loved it.

transcendent function in Jungian ethics

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Very excited to receive invitation to be a keynote speaker at the 13th Annual Communication Ethics conference at Duquesne University, Pittburgh in June.

Communication Ethics conference

 

The line-up is really rich and the event is organised around a series of keynotes and discussions as well as panel and paper presentations. Have managed to rearrange planned visit to UK to include quick trip to US (from here, they look very close together). What really attracts me is that the department, led by esteemed Prof Ron Arnett, looks at communication from a philosophical perspective, encouraging a range of debates not always common in the more familiar applied approaches.

I’m working on ideas about the potential for the concept of polis, society in its more exalted state, as a transcendent function, in the Jungian sense, a framework within which the ego (or any entity intent solely on gratification) can become relativised, stepping back from the centre and seeing itself as an aspect of a greater whole. Was feeling very pleased with this idea until an excellent seminar with CSU Professor Steve Redhead this week  reminded me that the overarching global structures are currently crumbling around our ears, making them poor candidates for such a role. A podcast based on the seminar can be found here: Steve Redhead’s page.

Hmm. Hoping that asking the question is of interest even if no solutions in sight…….

New piece from Zizek amplifies absence of world order. New Zizek piece

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I have a couple of new publications available online:

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

http://pri.sagepub.com/content/1/2/117

 

Abstract

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)

http://www.thejungiansociety.org/Jung%20Society/e-journal/Volume-6/Fawkes-2010.pdf

Abstract

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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