The influence of cultural selection on strategic communication

Johnston, Kim Amanda (2011) The influence of cultural selection on strategic communication. PhD thesis, Queensland University of Technology.


Strategic communication is held to be a key process by which organisations respond to environmental uncertainty. In the received view articulated in the literatures of organisational communication and public relations, strategic communication results from collaborative efforts by organisational members to create shared understanding about environmental uncertainty and, as a result of this collective understanding, formulate appropriate communication responses.

In this study, I explore how such collaborative efforts towards the development of strategic communication are derived from, and bounded by, culturally shared values and assumptions. Study of the influences of an organisation‟s culture on the formulation of strategic communication is a fundamental conceptual challenge for public relations and, to date, a largely unaddressed area of research. This thesis responds to this challenge by describing a key property of organisational culture – the action of cultural selection (Durham, 1992). I integrate this property of cultural selection to extend and refine the descriptive range of Weick‟s (1969, 1979) classic sociocultural model of organizing. From this integration I propose a new model, the Cultural Selection of Strategic Communication (CSSC). Underpinning the CSSC model is the central proposition that because of the action of cultural selection during organizing processes, the inherently conservative properties of an organisation‟s culture constrain development of effective strategic communication in ways that may be unrelated to the outcomes of “environmental scanning” and other monitoring functions heralded by the public relations literature as central to organisational adaptation. Thus, by examining the development of strategic communication, I describe a central conservative influence on the social ecology of organisations. This research also responds to Butschi and Steyn‟s (2006) call for the development of theory focusing on strategic communication as well as Grunig (2006) and Sriramesh‟s (2007) call for research to further understand the role of culture in public relations practice.

In keeping with the explorative and descriptive goals of this study, I employ organisational ethnography to examine the influence of cultural selection on the development of strategic communication. In this methodological approach, I use the technique of progressive contextualisation to compare data from two related but distinct cultural settings. This approach provides a range of descriptive opportunities to permit a deeper understanding of the work of cultural selection.

Findings of this study propose that culture, operating as a system of shared and socially transmitted social knowledge, acts through the property of cultural selection to influence decision making, and decrease conceptual variation within a group. The findings support the view that strategic communication, as a cultural product derived from the influence of cultural selection, is an essential feature to understand the social ecology of an organisation.

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ID Code: 46264
Item Type: QUT Thesis (PhD)
Supervisor: Everett, James, Becker, Karen, & Bradley, Lisa
Additional Information: Recipient of 2011 Outstanding Doctoral Thesis Award
Keywords: public relations, strategic communication, organizing, organizational culture, cultural selection, organizational ethnography, organizational communication progressive contextualisation, ODTA
Divisions: Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > QUT Business School
Current > Schools > School of Advertising, Marketing & Public Relations
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Deposited On: 29 Sep 2011 06:23
Last Modified: 04 Jun 2013 04:34

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