chapter  6
15 Pages

Communication for social transformation

ByCaroline E. M. Hodges, Nilam McGrath

Public relations is typically founded upon an anticipation of prosperity, which in turn is based on dominant commercial or capitalist foundations. As has been argued by authors elsewhere in this volume (Edwards and Hodges, Introduction to this book; see also McKie & Munshi, 2007, 2005; Munshi & Kurian, 2005; Pal & Dutta, 2008; Dutta-Bergman, 2005; Dutta, 2007; Dutta & DeSouza, 2008; Jacobson, 2003; Escobar, 1995), much public relations scholarship furthers mercantile approaches that legitimise the interests of organisations, using public relations activity at ‘meso’ or ‘macro’ levels. In contrast, public relations at the ‘micro’, or community level, may emphasise ‘communicative’ social action and the social and cultural responsibilities associated with such activity (Holtzhausen, 2005). Community owned communication initiatives have the potential to drive the ‘mass shift in attitude’ needed to tackle the significant issues of our time (King, 2010) and is often regarded as more dynamic and relational than dominant process driven and goal-oriented practice. The key to this is to encourage support from the bottom up, not ‘buy in’ from the top down. Public relations work at community level remains under-explored. In this chapter,

we begin by critically reviewing some of the persistent ideas which have formed the basis of academic discussions of public relations ethics – ‘communitarianism’, ‘dialogue’ and ‘symmetrical communication.’ Emphasising the significance of context, as outlined in the introduction to this volume, we go on to consider how two-way communication has been conceptualised in a post-colonial Latin America, as a participatory process of co-creating knowledge. We explore the potential for PR in community facilitation using a case study of a youth-led health communication project in Peru. We draw particular attention to how the communication activities used in this case differ from Western notions of PR, traditionally driven by marketing and concerned with using mass media to create a favourable feeling among publics towards corporations and their change agenda (Munshi & Kurian, 2005). We

advocate a shift in PR at community level beyond disseminating information, toward approaches where communication practices might serve the genuine concerns of citizens, and where practitioners encourage activity which promotes empowerment and collaboration (Pal & Dutta, 2008; Tufte, 2005; Martinez, 2007; Tilson & Alozie, 2004).