Structural segregation and openness: balanced professionalism for public relations
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When analysing public relations as an occupational field, its professionalisation represents a predominant research question. This article demonstrates that the models most frequently used to discuss this question – the trait and power approaches – employ theoretical assumptions that are no longer adequate. The trait approach presumes that occupations gain autonomy during the process of professionalisation, whereas the power approach assumes a monopolisation of the fields of activity. Therefore, both models describe professionalisation as a process toward social segregation. This assumption is questionable, because the professionalisation of public relations may be a response to the challenges of a highly diversified and interconnected society. Understanding public relations as the management of interdependences within and for organizations requires a balance among professional identity, organisational alignments and structural openness. When theories unilaterally stress a professional demarcation through autonomisation or monopolisation, they a priori arrive at the diagnosis that the existing professionalisation of public relations is insufficient. Therefore, this article calls for a reorientation of occupational theory in public relations research. Survey data regarding the training and occupational socialisation of public relations practitioners in Switzerland reveal the empirical usefulness of such a reorientation.
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