‘Anyone can teach PR’: From competency to capability
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Recruiting for teaching positions in public relations often highlights the issues of academic legitimacy experienced by the educators in the field. Other scholars have examined the issues of academic legitimacy and encroachment by other fields such as marketing and management (Fitch, 2014a; Fitch 2014b; Hatherell & Bartlett, 2006; Hutton, 2010; McKie & Willis, 2012). While public relations scholarship has expanded over the past three to four decades, questions of public relations’ academic legitimacy still continue to be raised. Perceptions, or rather misperceptions, about the public relations discipline often emerge from colleagues outside the field, generating tensions during the recruitment processes. Assumptions that any aspiring or current academic with experience in journalism, marketing, media or publicity but no theoretical knowledge of public relations scholarship can teach public relations reveal a limited and narrow understanding of public relations as a craft and a skill that can be easily learned on the job and passed on to students. In this paper, we argue that part of this dilemma stems from a prevailing focus on competency frameworks. Development of the Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communication Management’s Global Body of Knowledge (GBOK) and the Public Relations Institute of Australia (PRIA)’s Professional Framework, demonstrate the focus on skills competency. While valuable to a certain extent, a competency oriented framework further validates claims of public relations as merely a ‘vocational’, skills-based discipline that primarily exists to feed and train up the public relations and communication industry. To address this dilemma, we propose a capability approach to public relations practice and education. A capability approach aims to capture the current and future scope and priorities of a profession (Nussbaum, 2001; Sen, 1999). While competencies refer to specific skills and abilities, capabilities refer to the core practices of a profession, its culture, values, resources and potential. This approach follows Lester’s (2014) work in professionalism studies that includes a more generic, fluid and future orientation to practice. Drawing from a larger global capability research, this paper discusses the Australian research findings. We discuss the three-stage methodology, analysis and results of the Australian research and how it fits in with the global findings.
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