The article under consideration is written by Lee Edwards (2012) and titled ‘Exploring the Role of Public Relations as a Cultural Intermediary Occupation’. The narrow research topic is concerned with the function of PR as a cultural and social intermediation tool.
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The topic of PR is actively researched because its importance has grown together with the process of globalisation and the introduction and development of the modern consumer model (L’Etang 2009; Jain, De Moya & Molleda 2014; Meadows & Meadows 2014; Edwards 2012). The globalisation process has also highlighted the importance of the cultural aspect of PR and the interconnection of culture and PR (L’Etang 2009; Edwards 2012). The significance of PR studies as such is both theoretical and practical; as for the narrow topic of the study, the primary importance of recognising PR as a cultural mediator, in the view of Edwards (2012), is theoretical. By acknowledging the cultural dimensional in the politically and economically oriented PR, the theoretical understanding of the subject expands.
The research question that is explicitly stated in the article is concerned with the way PR operates as a cultural intermediation tool. In other words, it is the nature and mechanisms of PR cultural intermediation that are explored in the work.
Answering the Question: the Structure and Summary
To answer the question, the author introduces relevant concepts, grounds the claims and proceeds to explore the nature of PR as a cultural intermediation tool with the help of case studies.
The author thoroughly introduces all the topics: first, UK PR actions are described in the historical perspective; then the thesis concerning the cultural role of PR is affirmed and specified. The author demonstrates how PR practice (PRP) was created for the sake of preserving the colonies of the Empire; how it was then transformed into an enlightenment tool for the same colonies by the government and as an interest protection measure by commercial organisations. Apart from that, the author dwells on the way PRP was used domestically to encourage the usage of new products, promote the understanding of new policies and so on. The author emphasises the way PRP acted as a cultural intermediary that asserts and maintains the ‘the cultural and social norms associated with particular areas of activity’ (Edwards 2012, p. 440).
Having determined the key concepts, the author proceeds to address the research question directly: the Bourdieuian understandings of practice are used to frame the analysis of PR that the author bases on a case study. The case study is concerned with Roule, a railroad company that was chosen for the successful campaigns of its Corporate Affairs team. The case study describes a crisis for the PR team caused by the decrease of the company’s reputation as a result of its operation difficulties that followed terrorist attacks. The author studies the team’s actions (media work, brochures, products announcements) and their strategy of dealing with the difficulties of the company’s situation. The specific case study questions include the following ones: what are the specific practices that allow PR become a cultural intermediary, how they are shaped by the outer forces (the fields), and whose interests they serve.
The conclusions of the theoretical exploration of the topic and the case study are presented in the following sections.
Data Collection and Analysis
The article is qualitative, which is justified by the nature of the topic, which includes the issues that are typically not expressed in the numerical form. The theoretical data is collected with the help of reviewing the relevant literature, primarily, Bourdieu. The author organises the data to derive the conclusions that are relevant for this particular research. The framework gained through this research is then applied to the case study.
The theoretical conclusions of the author ground the theoretical framework within which Edwards (2012) operates. This framework includes the idea of PR as a cultural intermediary: the author concludes that PRP is ‘a form of symbolically violent cultural intermediation’ (Edwards 2012, p. 441). Consequently, it is capable of aggressively promoting particular ideas or points of view. As a result, it affects the cultural aspect of modern social life. After that, the author describes PRP as a competition of corporations (or other forces) for symbolic power (through PR activities). Demonstrating the complexity of the system that affects PRP (the professional, organisational, and industry fields along with more general ones), the author poses the study questions that have been mentioned.
From the case study, the author concludes that the PRP actions of the team were exploited to protect its interests at the micro-level and those of the organisation on the macro level through the usage of particular practices (for example corporate reports for the micro-level and stakeholder newsletters for the macro-level). The influence of outside forces (mostly the organisational field: its needs and circumstances) was emphasised.
The author also concludes that the team induced the misrecognition of their self-interest shaped the cultural and social identity of the company on the micro-level, and worked on the macro-level (with customers, partners, and government) with the intent of demonstrating the organisation’s actions as reasonable and necessary, which has the potential of modifying the cultural and social idea of a rail operator. To sum up, the author answers the case questions and, in such a way, also provides evidence for the research question in the context of the case study. The author also concludes that the specified, narrow topic of the work is underrepresented in PR research and suggests rectifying this issue.
Research on the Topic
The author mentions several researchers who had been discussing the same topic. Primarily the work is based on the works of Bourdieu that articulate the thesis of PR being a form of cultural intermediary work. Apart from Bourdieu, Edwards (2012) mentions Said, Nixon and Gay (2002), as well as Moor, as the researchers who recognised the connection between economy and culture; Lash and Urry, as those who grounded the accumulation of symbolic work that is the foundation of the PR cultural dimension; Edwards, as the one who dwelled upon it. Apart from that, when describing PR practice, Edwards (2012) claims that in-depth explorations of the topic are rare, mentioning Pieczka as a representative of the research in this field.
It should be mentioned that the topic of PR as such has been a popular one for the research in the past 40 years and is very widely studied nowadays (Jain, De Moya & Molleda 2014; Meadows & Meadows 2014). The quantity of subtopics in the field has increased tremendously since its introduction, and the subtopic of the connection between PR and culture has been studied. For example, L’Etang (2009) demonstrates the cultural aspect of PR diplomatic work while L’Etang, Falkheimer, and Lugo (2007) discuss the way PR is connected to cultural and other structures while describing it in the context of tourism.
Øyvind Ihlen (2005; 2007) explores the frameworks of Bourdieu in the context of PR. For example, in the article titled “The power of social capital”, Ihlen (2005) dwells on the concept of social capital (that is defined as connections and memberships) and its usage in PR study, concluding that this is a type of capital that organisations can compete for obtaining. In the same article, the author mentions the cultural and symbolic capital, notions that are connected to the symbolism, which is described by Edwards (2012) and also points out the necessity of further investigation of the application of the theory in the field of PR.
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Another article by Ihlen (2007), ‘Building on Bourdieu’ is concerned with a general application Bourdieu’s ideas to the field of PR study. In this work, the author points out that only a few other researchers (including the author of the reviewed article) had been discussing the concepts of Bourdieu in the context of PR. This work by Ihlen (2007) is mostly devoted to theoretical issues, although the author points out that the ideas of Bourdieu are capable of advising practice. In general, Ihlen (2005; 2007) devotes a lot of consideration to Bourdieu’s field structure and outlines the questions for further consideration.
The concept of cultural intermediaries has also been explored in the literature. The article of Nixon and Gay (2002) describes Bourdieu studies in detail and suggests ‘picking up’ this topic to provide a better understanding of cultural intermediaries that, according to the authors, will allow expanding the cultural circulation topic (pp. 496-498). The authors also mention that this topic is already being explored, and, it appears, that it has not been abandoned by researchers as ten years later Maguire and Matthews (2012) offer another work on the concept. The authors scarcely cite Bourdieu, dwell on the concept of cultural intermediaries and conclude that the cultural dimension of market studies provides extra insights and offers a deeper understanding of the topic (p. 559).
Nixon and Gay (2002) as well as Maguire and Matthews (2012) mention PR but do not focus on it. Another work that appears to describe both cultural intermediaries and PR is the article by Warner (2013), which is devoted to the influence of celebrity fashion on the culture. Sarah Jessica Parker is the ‘star’ that is described by the author as a cultural intermediary that is promoting ‘a decidedly middle-class notion of appropriate feminine identity’ (Warner 2013, p. 390). The author does not explicitly comment on the PR actions of the celebrity, but these actions are described as those assisting the intermediary in the process of promoting. The author also comments on ‘lifestyle media.’ It can be concluded that Warner (2013) provides a case study for a particular cultural intermediary and includes the dwellings on PR as the tool of promoting particular cultural values.
Relevant Research Conclusions
The theoretical conclusions of Edwards (2012) are mostly backed up by other studies. In general, it appears that the link between PR and culture (including values) is well-established in the modern research literature. The usage of Bourdieu’s concepts in PR studies has some history, even though the authors tend to demonstrate that it is still underrepresented. The idea of cultural intermediary appears to be accepted by modern social, economic, and cultural studies and is used for PR studies as well, even though the extent of this usage may be not excessive.
All the works that have been described were utilising the relevant concepts primarily for purely theoretical purposes or the analysis of case studies. The work by Edwards (2012) was the only one to seek the mechanisms of utilising PR for cultural intermediation in an explicit way, even though it can be said that the process of imagery creation for an intermediary (without focusing on PR) is shown, for example, by Nixon and Gay (2002). Still, the PRP case study conclusions of Edwards (2012) cannot be complemented by the studies found in the process of this research.
Future Research Opportunities: A Conclusion
As defined by Edwards (2012) the future research opportunities of the research in the field include providing more in-depth research of the way PRP is used to fulfil its cultural intermediation potential. The author primarily suggests discussing both commercial and non-commercial (not-for-profit as well as cultural organisations, for example) practices to receive a more consistent image of PR. Other aspects (media contribution or the misrecognition of the self-interest of an intermediary) are also suggested for future research.
In general, as can be seen, both from the article by Edwards (2012) and other researchers in the field, the study of PR in the terms of Bourdieu and, in particular, as a cultural intermediary has a significant potential that has not been exhausted and could be described as underrepresented in PR studies. Based on Bourdieu’s research, the work by Edwards (2012) aims to broaden the theoretical understanding of PR through the exploration of its practice. As a result, the article contributes to the vastly underrepresented study of PRP and invites further investigation in the field.
Edwards, L 2012, ‘Exploring the Role of Public Relations as a Cultural Intermediary Occupation’, Cultural Sociology, vol. 6, no. 4, pp. 438-454.
Ihlen, Ø 2005, ‘The power of social capital: Adapting Bourdieu to the study of public relations’, Public Relations Review, vol. 31, no. 4, pp. 492-496.
Ihlen, Ø 2007, ‘Building on Bourdieu: A sociological grasp of public relations’, Public Relations Review, vol. 33, no. 3, pp. 269-274.
Jain, R, De Moya, M & Molleda, J 2014, ‘State of international public relations research: Narrowing the knowledge gap about the practice across borders’, Public Relations Review, vol. 40, no. 3, pp. 595-597.
L’Etang, J, Falkheimer, J & Lugo, J 2007, ‘Public relations and tourism: Critical reflections and a research agenda’, Public Relations Review, vol. 33, no. 1, pp. 68-76.
L’Etang, J 2009, ‘Public Relations and Diplomacy in a Globalized World: An Issue of Public Communication’, American Behavioral Scientist, vol. 53, no. 4, pp. 607-626.
Maguire, J & Matthews, J 2012, ‘Are we all cultural intermediaries now? An introduction to cultural intermediaries in context’, European Journal of Cultural Studies, vol. 15, no. 5, pp. 551-562.
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Nixon, S & Gay, P 2002, ‘Who Needs Cultural Intermediaries?’ Cultural Studies, vol. 16, no. 4, pp. 495-500.
Warner, H 2013, ‘Fashion, celebrity and cultural workers: SJP as cultural intermediary’, Media, Culture and Society, vol. 35, no. 3, pp. 382-391.