chapter  2
Caring about public relations and the gendered cultural intermediary role
ByANNE SURMA, CHRISTINE DAYMON
Pages 21

This chapter explores the interaction between the occupation of public relations and the daily lives of those working in the field. How do men and women working in public relations negotiate the responsibilities and demands of their work and home commitments? And why do so many women practitioners feel a sense of guilt about their competing obligations? This study is based on interviews with women and men working in the thriving resource-boom economy of Western Australia. We enquire how public relations practitioners, whom we define as cultural intermediaries, articulate their gendered engagements with work-and home-life. Public relations, as cultural intermediary work that involves the promo-

tion and extension of a neo-liberal agenda, affects the lives and wellbeing of its practitioners. In effect, public relations practitioners engage with, resist and adapt to social and organizational discourses in diverse ways according to their gendered professional and personal orientations and attachments. Drawing on a feminist ethics of care, we suggest that a critical reappraisal of public relations approaches and practices is now both urgent and timely. Public relations, as a socially significant type of cultural intermediary work, is well placed to contribute to the reshaping of dominant discourses and to demonstrate the centrality of caring relationships in private and public life. How best to deal with the interrelationship between work-and home-lives

is an ongoing challenge faced by individuals and organizations in most industrialized societies, as illustrated in a range of studies conducted in the UK and Europe (Crompton and Lyonnette 2006), Hong Kong and Singapore (Thein et al. 2010), India (Rajadhyaksha 2012), North America (Kreiner et al. 2009) and Australia (Pocock et al. 2012). Highly skilled, professional women and men face acute pressures of time and competition from the globalizing forces of neo-liberalism. Those involved in professional roles are subject to workplace cultures and commercially oriented discourses that value very long hours, even during family formative years (Brooks 2011) and many are ‘wilfully blind’ (Hefferman 2011) to the toll on their emotional, physical and psychological health, as well as on the effectiveness of work itself. Public relations practitioners, as professional communicators,

are not immune from these pressures and their consequences. Practitioners’ immersion in globalizing flows, particularly those enabled by a range of advanced communication and media technologies on which they depend for their daily work, makes it much harder for them to resist work as an all-encompassing activity, as we found in an earlier study of women working in public relations (Daymon and Surma 2012). Despite this, we found that some women do achieve a satisfactory relationship between the professional and the private, by segmenting, blurring or overlapping the different spheres of their lives in order to achieve a meaningful self-identity. It is the interplay between a satisfying and meaningful life and the

discourses of globalization underpinned by a neo-liberal agenda that interests us in this chapter. We posit that in their role as cultural intermediaries, public relations practitioners necessarily engage with and are influenced by such discourses and may also reinforce or resist them, with implications not only for their own lives but for society as a whole. Thus, our research questions are:

In what ways do public relations practitioners’ interpretations of and responses to the confluence of work and home represent and/or challenge dominant neo-liberal discourses, and how do these influence (a) public relations as cultural intermediary work, and (b) practitioners’ own lives and identities?