Theory and PR.

Thanks to nepotism, bureaucratic inefficiency and contingency an MA teaching gig just fell into my lap. I will teaching a class on cultural and social theory in a PR course. I know business departments are increasingly becoming refuges for theorists and it looks like I will be temporarily joining the fold. I know fuck all about the field of PR. There are also bound to be plenty of people that will object that I’m selling out. But in some ways I’m sort of excited about the course because I can treat it as its own case study in how theory etc. is subsumed, appropriated etc. by capital. That being said if anyone has any tips of some good current critical analysis of the media etc. let me know. I read McChesney, Chomsky etc. as an undergrad but that shit is bound to be played out and moribund. And it will give a chance to put Heinrich’s Intro to Capital on a reading list.

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About HR

Deep in the adjunct crackhole.
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7 Responses to Theory and PR.

  1. Kambing says:

    I can think of a few texts which might be relevant, depending on what you’re looking for:

    Mike Wayne’s Marxism and Media Studies is a good introduction, and might appeal to you given his emphasis on reification, though it has a strong film/tv emphasis. Very Lukacsian.

    For more marketing/PR oriented work, there’s Adam Arvidsson’s Brands: Meaning and Value in Postmodern Media Culture, though you’ll probably be unhappy with his very autonomist/post-operaismo take on value. I.E. he argues that consumers/audiences are engaged in ‘immaterial labour’, producing value for capital but also an immeasurable ‘excess’ which leads to a ‘crisis of value’. Somewhat similar, though with more of a focus on mediation rather than value production, is Celia Lury’s Brands: The Logos of the Global Economy. Along with Scott Lash, Lury has also authored Global Culture Industry. These texts have the strength of connecting media culture to political economy and the production of value, but embrace the immaterial/symbolic capitalism view a bit too much. (It’s all a bit latter-day Society of the Spectacle with added postmodern giddiness, but this may actually be useful for directing PR students towards a more critical analysis given the uncritical ‘information society’ stuff that tends to dominate marketing/PR theory).

    Personally, I quite like William Mazzarella’s Shoveling Smoke, which is a critical ethnography of the Indian advertising industry. It is one of the few good studies I’ve found which uses concepts of fetishism and reification etc from ‘Western Marxism’ to look at the actual production of commodity images (rather than focusing on consumption or consumption-as-production). Because his use of critical theory is embedded in ethnographic description and examples, it may be a good choice if you want to introduce critical/Marxist cultural theory to an undergraduate PR class (or are otherwise dealing with students without an advanced understanding of social theory). Eg. one of his main case studies is the marketing campaign around the ‘Kama Sutra’ brand of condoms, which he positions in relation to the shifting political economy of India and associated discourses of national identity. As long as the Indian context doesn’t disqualify it, I would

    Actually, I think I made similar suggestions in a libcom thread on critiques of marketing a while back, which may have some other references you could use.

    • HR says:

      Thanks alot. Those all look very interesting, and partisan marxist theoretical quibbles aside, they are bound to be better than the PR theory the convenor is pushing which bases itself on habermas and the public sphere.

  2. Kambing says:

    Sorry, that sentence should be ‘As long as the Indian context doesn’t disqualify it, I would definitely recommend it as a good critical study which actually treats marketing as a significant form of labour and commodity production’.

  3. Kambing says:

    Alternatively, you could just get them to watch that Stephen Fry show about a PR firm from a few years back.

  4. Kambing says:

    No worries! There seem to be a lot of people with some background in critical social theory who are finding themselves working in marketing/communications departments, simply because that is where the jobs and funding are. Some interesting things may come of this yet.

    Actually, I think that’s basically the background to the journal ephemera; well, that’s published out of a School of Business and Management, but the same logic applies.

  5. HR says:

    yeah, it should at least give people the opportunity for good studies on issues of appropriation and recuperation etc. at least that’s what im looking forward to learning about first had. I’ve also found it interesting to read about how PR theorists advocate using Foucaldian methods in their work.

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