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Rhetorical theory of public relations: opening the door to semiotic and pragmatism approaches

conference contribution
posted on 2005-01-01, 00:00 authored by Stephen Mackey
The 2001 Handbook of Public Relations edited by Robert Heath contains a prominent article advocating the use of rhetorical theory or ‘rhetorical enactment rational’ as a fruitful way of advancing theoretical understandings of public relations. In 2004 Heath and Dan Millar edited: Responding to Crisis: A Rhetorical Approach to Crisis Communication. These are the latest excursions into a perspective on public relations reflecting the extensive study of rhetoric in North America. Other examples are Public Relations Inquiry as Rhetorical Criticism (Elwood, 1995); Rhetorical and Critical Approaches to Public Relations (Toth and Heath, 1992); and a chapter Public Relations? No, Relations with Publics: A Rhetorical-Organisational Approach to Contemporary Corporate Communication (Cheney and Dionisopoulos, in Botan and Hazleton (Eds.) 1989).

The conventional notion of rhetoric is argumentation and persuasion stemming from the ancient Greek sophists, such as Aristotle, and from the Romans, particularly Cicero and Quintillion. Rhetoric became a fundamental plank of the trivium of ancient and medieval education: grammar, logic and rhetoric. Then in the 20th century Kenneth Burke, Stephen Toulmin and Chaim Perelman with Lucie Olbrechts-Tyteca extended Aristotle’s suggestion that: “Rhetoric is the counterpart of dialectic” Aristotle (trans. 1991). To use the rhetorical approach to argue that rational discourse cannot describe the world on its own. Instead living, enculturated human beings have to perceive ‘their’ truths. They take a perceptual ‘position’ on reason.

Public relations, is an industry for influencing perceptual ‘positions’. But the study of perception and attempts to influence perception cannot be claimed by rhetorical scholars alone. Semioticians and linguists who take the perspective of linguistic pragmatics also claim this field. This paper takes the example of ‘public relations’ as a focus for the confluence of rhetorical, semiotic and pragmatism approaches to the ‘problematic’ of understanding and truth.

History

Event

Australia and New Zealand Communication Association Conference (2005 : Christchurch, New Zealand)

Publisher

Australia and New Zealand Communication Association

Location

Arts Centre, Christchurch, New Zealand

Place of publication

University of Canterbury

Start date

2005-07-04

End date

2005-07-07

ISBN-13

9780473101947

ISBN-10

0473101947

Language

eng

Publication classification

E1 Full written paper - refereed

Copyright notice

University of Canterbury - Christchurch, New Zealand

Editor/Contributor(s)

C Mills, D Matheson, L Low

Title of proceedings

Communication at work

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