Public relations in the postmodern city: An ethnographic account of PR occupational culture in Mexico City
The city as a site of transformation and the emergent forms of life within it have attracted researchers from anthropology to human geography; yet there has been little, if any, research which considers public relations activity in particular cities (see Bruning, Langenhop & Green, 2004). Cities oﬀer new opportunities for exploring the purpose, constraints and potential of public relations as a socio-cultural practice. In particular, when studying the occupational cultures of public relations – the ways in which practitioners live, create and relate to the world of public relations work and the occupational values, visions and assumptions, experiences and identities that shape their work behaviour (Hodges, 2006a) – scholars would do well to take into account urban diﬀerences. There will be a ‘metropolitan habitus’ (attitudes, beliefs, feelings and identities) in large capital cities which may distinguish public relations ‘culture’ here from PR ‘cultures’ in urban areas elsewhere in the country. This habitus will be ‘nuanced by individual strategies for negotiating the boundaries between the global and the local’ (Butler, 2007: 142, 2002), the indigenous and the postmodern. Today’s global cities bring diverse groups of strangers together. The explosion in
availability and provision of new communication technology alongside other contemporary forms of mediation have contributed to the shifting of existing patterns of social relations, oﬀering new opportunities for individual and communal life. Viewing the city through a postmodern lens, which sees the truth as socially constructed, allows us to understand how people’s lives are patterned geographically and discursively, and how everyday life activity (at home, at work and in the community) can transform the meaning of our identities (Tajbakhsh, 2000). To understand how
public relations practitioners contribute to the economic and cultural life of the postmodern city, researchers would explore how they work and the meanings they associate with the professional activities they perform. Studies would consider how practitioners conceptualise and practice public relations across various locales, markets, institutions, communities, public spaces, discourses and social networks (Tajbakhsh, 2000: 1); how they navigate the circuits of culture and power (Curtin and Gaither, 2005); and how they participate in the possibilities oﬀered by complex relational systems. This chapter oﬀers a unique perspective on public relations in Mexico City. Based
on an ethnographic study conducted between 2004 and 2006, I will consider the meanings that public relations practitioners associated with the occupation’s intermediary role and how they ‘made use of social networks to help them negotiate their way through the potentially hostile waters’ of living in one of the largest cities in the world (Butler, 2007: 146; Garcia Canclini, 1995). The core themes to emerge from the qualitative data will be discussed within the particular context of Latin American postmodern urban society. Before discussing public relations in Mexico City, I will outline the general position of public relations practitioners in ‘the postmodern city’ and go on to explore the Latin American discourse of postmodernism and to consider, speciﬁcally, Mexico City as a site of fragmentation, chaos and hope (Garcia Canclini, 1995).