Using dialogue to reduce the turbulence: focussing on building social capital to encourage more sustainable PR goals and outcomes
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Wood, E. (2011) Using dialogue to reduce the turbulence: focussing on building social capital to encourage more sustainable PR goals and outcomes [conference paper]. In: EUPRERA 2011 Congress, 8–10 September, Leeds, UK.
Today's 'turbulent times' can be blamed on a lack of social capital. In the UK, the chair of the Financial Services Authority (FSA) believes that the financial sector 'has swollen beyond its socially useful size-_I think some of it is socially useless activity' (Turner, 2009:1). And leading economist, Will Hutton (2009), blames the financial turbulence on the 'intellectual and moral failure' not just of financial institutions - but also of legislators, regulators, business leaders and academics basing their ideas on a 'narrow ideological theory and consumer culture' with a business mantra deemed 'a short termist philosophy and amoral way of doing capitalism'. A number of key thinkers have noted an erosion of social capital in contemporary cultures - notably, Putnam (1993, 1996, 2000) in the United States. And in the UK the ideas inherent in the theory of social capital - building trust and connections between individuals and social networks - clearly resonate with David Cameron's rhetoric in relation to 'Broken Britain' and his ambitions for a 'Big Society'. At an organizational level, social capital can refer to the impact that organizations can have on sustaining cohesive societies (through employment creation, community relations and corporate social responsibility activities and so on) , but also in a more commercially strategic sense, it refers to the value accrued by an organization being deemed a trustworthy, productive actor in society and part of a network: 'the type of connections that an organisation has with competitors, politicians, journalists, bureaucrats, researchers and other relevant groups' (Ihlen 2009 ). Thus, public relations practice can be conceptualised as a means of building social capital through communication with a range of stakeholders. In recognition of the difficulties (both practical and ethical) of managing stakeholders (or even relationships) the concept of stakeholder management is being increasingly replaced by the notion of stakeholder engagement premised on a dialogical approach (de Bussey 2010, Heath 2007) although the abilty to achieve real engagement is highly contested. A body of knowledge points to dialogue theory and dialogic and deliberative approaches (see Anderson et al. 2004, Deetz and Simpson, 2004, Kapein and van Tulder 2003) as being the best way to achieve engagement, and views are emerging which point to the importance of this approach to public relations (Kent and Taylor 2002, Heath et al . 2006, Dials and Shirka 2008, de Bussy 2010, Pieczka 2011).