Public relations and hermeneutic ethics: the search for meaning in changing times

Johanna Fawkes

    Research output: Other contribution to conferenceAbstractpeer-review


    There is a new urgency to re-constructing public relations ethics, given that business surveys find that the most pressing issue facing professions is the lack of public trust (Arthur W. Page Society, 2007, 2009; Edelman Trust barometer, 2009). These reports suggest that the traditional claim to work for the benefit of society, by which professionals secure social status, no longer has substance. It should not therefore be surprising that many professional bodies are looking to ethics for validation. Public relations ethics has traditionally drawn on the major approaches of deontology (Kant) and consequentialism (Bentham and Mill), with marginal reference to the recent revival of Aristotelian virtue ethics (MacIntyre, 1984), an approach which shifts attention from ethical action to ethical agent. Thus discussion of ethics in public relations literature (Fitzpatrick and Bronstein, 2006; Bowen, 2007; McElreath, 1997) 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 paper argues that as the external structures shift and buckle under global 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 years by thinkers such as Gadamer, Habermas and Riceour, offers an alternative, inner, path to an ethics that starts from the search for shared meaning. It makes no claims to ascertaining verifiable truth, indeed suggests such claims are spurious. The paper places hermeneutics in the context of reflexivity and considers deep tensions between enlightenment and counter-enlightenment views of research and knowledge, particularl
    Original languageEnglish
    Number of pages27
    Publication statusPublished - 2011
    EventEuropean Public Relations Education and Research Association (EUPRERA) Annual Congress - Leeds Metro University, Leeds
    Duration: 08 Sep 201110 Sep 2011


    ConferenceEuropean Public Relations Education and Research Association (EUPRERA) Annual Congress


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