To serve society: the polis and public relations' professional ethics

Johanna Fawkes

    Research output: Other contribution to conferenceAbstractpeer-review


    Two decades ago, Bivins (1993) suggested that public relations' claims to serve society were undermined by its failure to conceptualise society. This paper revisits that charge in order to consider whether emerging debates on public relations and society offer stronger ground for its ethics.The claim to serve society is one of the defining claims of traditional approaches to professions, a claim that is operationalised through its approach to ethics (Cooper, 2004). Professional ethics are thus grounded in the profession's concept of the society it serves and its perceived 'social good'. This paper argues that a profession's ethics embodies its relationship with society, reflecting its perceptions of itself and its wider contribution. I have argued extensively elsewhere (xxx) that public relations texts and codes, like those of other professions, tend to idealise this relationship, leading to inadequate engagement with the ethical challenges faced by individual practitioners or the profession as a whole. I then draw on Jungian and hermeneutic ethical approaches to emphasise the importance of the transcendent function in reconciling internal contradictions and tensions within individuals, groups and professions. Such an exploration provides a space for considering the ancient Greek concept of polis as constituting a transcendent function that reaches beyond social institutions towards a deeper collective. This resonates with the concepts of public relations in society introduced earlier, restoring meaning to the old, empty claim of professionals everywhere 'to serve society'.The paper is conceptual and interpretive and organised along the following propositions:1) Professional ethics is founded in the professions' relationship with society2) Public relations has only recently engaged with concepts of society3) Public relations has superficial and idealised professional ethics4) A transcendent function is required for depth ethics5) The polis has the potential to act in a transcendent role 6) The concept of the polis resonates with current debates on public relations and society7) The polis in the transcendent function offers a meaningful framework for public relations ethics.


    ConferenceEUPRERA 2014 (European Public Relations Education and Research Association International Congress)
    Abbreviated titleCommunication ethics in a connected world
    Internet address


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