Understanding learning in senior public relations practices: From boundary spanning to boundary dwelling
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Powell, M. & Pieczka, M. (2016) Understanding learning in senior public relations practices: From boundary spanning to boundary dwelling. Journal of Communication Management, 20 (4), pp. 312-327.
Over the last 50 years, the social legitimacy of public relations has improved through standardising and monitoring the education and training of its practitioners. This article argues however that while successful in developing a professional development trajectory from novice to competent practitioner, the profession has struggled to fully understand the development trajectory of senior public relations practices. The diversity of occupational contexts in which public relations is practised, the condition of professional seniority and the knowledges and tools required for working at occupational boundaries is challenging for senior public relations practitioners. It is also a challenge therefore, for the profession to develop and support the learning required for senior practice beyond competency frameworks. This article suggests that socio-cultural learning theory offers a potentially fruitful way of understanding what and how senior professionals learn that requires public relations to develop a clearer conceptual understanding of the relationship between knowledge and practice. 'Communities of practice' has been influential in the fields of management and organisations (Bolisani and Scarso, 2014) but this article employs the idea of a learning process that takes place in 'constellations of practices' (Wenger, 1998) to offer a view of senior practice as boundary dwelling (Engestrom, 2009) rather than boundary spanning. Senior practitioner learning therefore, is 'situated' (Lave and Wenger, 1991) in the liminal spaces those boundaries provide and should be understood as inherently uncertain and always becoming. The article argues in consequence, there is a pressing need for senior practitioner learning to be more effectively supported by the professional group.