Is dialogue the key to Pandora’s box?

Lane, Anne B. (2005) Is dialogue the key to Pandora’s box? In International Communication Association (ICA) annual conference, May, New York, U.S.A..


The title and theme of this conference invite us to question the role and place of dialogue within a broad range of communication disciplines. For those of us working in the area of public relations, this interrogation has already been going on for at least the last 20 years. In 1984, James Grunig and Todd Hunt – among others – first raised the idea that dialogue should be an important feature in the work of public relations practitioners. Two of their four models of public relations (the concepts of two-way asymmetric and two-way symmetric communication) reflected the new idea that organisations and publics should be talking to one another. However, the two-way symmetric paradigm went even further. In this conceptualisation, dialogue between organisations and publics was viewed “more as a stance, orientation or bearing in communication rather than as a specific method, technique or format” (Botan, 1997, p.192). Participants in this type of dialogue were required to be reflexive and mutually-responsive. Grunig and Hunt claimed this as the normative paradigm for public relations, the ‘Holy Grail’ of the profession. And this led to a questioning and subsequent problematising of the whole concept of symmetrical dialogue.

Since then, dialogic attitudes stubbornly continue to influence the development of ‘new’ public relations theory, from relationship management to rhetorical approaches. However, the concept of dialogue as an outcome objective seems to have been almost totally subsumed in the discourse surrounding the development of relationship management theory. This version of dialogue is arguably in itself a compromise. Instead of an equitable and mutually-responsive partnership, the contemporary public relations version of dialogue has been negotiated into a simple parallel connectivity whose conditions are satisfied as long as both participants are talking to each other: dialogue is seen as a means to a corporate end.

Should we, as critical thinkers about the profession of public relations, be satisfied with this? This conference invites the communication professions – public relations among them – to take the time to indulge in a self-reflexive moment, to deconstruct and examine the concept of dialogue in the 21st century. In order to question the dialogue in public relations, we must address certain issues. Firstly, just what is dialogue? Is a responsive component necessary, or is it sufficient that both partners speak and listen in turn? Secondly we must ask ourselves, should we be engaging in dialogue? And thirdly, leading on from this, can we actually make the transition from theoretical abstract to lived reality? In short:

Should we – could we – join the dialogue?

In order to add some pragmatic meat to the abstract theoretical bones of this discussion, it is situated within the context of a real world case study: that of the High Performance Schools Initiative, a caucus of all 16 state high schools on the Gold Coast in Queensland, Australia. Within this context, I aim to show that dialogue is not only desirable but also essential from both a practical and moral point of view. This is a fascinating microcosm of many of the issues and challenges facing public relations professionals throughout the discipline.

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ID Code: 10318
Item Type: Conference Paper
Refereed: Yes
Additional Information: For more information, please contact the author.
Additional URLs:
Keywords: Dialogue, school, public relations, Queensland
Subjects: Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > COMMERCE MANAGEMENT TOURISM AND SERVICES (150000) > MARKETING (150500) > Marketing Communications (150502)
Divisions: Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > QUT Business School
Copyright Owner: Copyright 2005 (please contact author)
Deposited On: 23 Oct 2007 00:00
Last Modified: 05 Jan 2011 13:33

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