Public relations, passive aggression and critical social auditing: Reflections on organisational inaction in stakeholder engagement

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This article explores issues associated with organisational governance in the context of stakeholder engagement. It argues that both public relations (PR) research and practice have yet to address systematically the challenges inherent in this area, particularly how organisations exert power over stakeholders. Prompted by a consideration of the situational theory of power put forward by the sociologist Steven Lukes, it introduces the concept of passive aggression to PR practice. This is cited as an example of a wider phenomenon, which the author calls dark dialogue. The insights generated by these perspectives are used to highlight how theoretical approaches in the PR field that seek to understand and promote the role of dialogue in organisational-stakeholder relations face an empirical challenge. This insight is then used to highlight the limitations of what has been traditionally termed as social auditing. It is suggested that PR and social auditing practice share the same blind spots when it comes to assessing how organisations exercise power and behave towards their stakeholders. The article goes on to advocate collaboration between PR professionals and academics to practically address these issues through a reconfigured social auditing process. It ends by suggesting that action research provides a methodological framework through which these theory-practice interactions can be facilitated productively.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)220-226
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Public Affairs
Issue number2
Early online date25 Jun 2014
Publication statusPublished - May 2015
Externally publishedYes


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