The public sphere and PR: deliberative democracy and agonistic pluralism

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It is the contention of this chapter that a critical theory of public relations should involve some reflection on the role that public relations plays within the public sphere. Public relations (PR) has become increasingly influential on activity within the public sphere, and hence in the formation of public opinion. In this chapter we shall seek to introduce the public sphere as a critical category – that is, both sociological and theoretical in its scope – and to understand the role of PR, especially within the domain of news media in North American and European democracies. The chapter will focus on the normative dimension of the account of the public sphere forwarded by the German social theorist Jürgen Habermas, which shapes critical theory understandings of the role of PR in the public sphere. The impact of PR on the public sphere will be discussed through the increased influence of PR in journalism, coming at the expense of original and independent reporting. Further to this the competing theories of deliberative democracy and agonistic pluralism will be surveyed, and we will see that the basis upon which we think critically about PR greatly differs depending upon which position we take up. Central here is the question of whether or not consensus is possible within the public sphere, or if contestation is rather inevitable.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationRoutledge Handbook of Critical Public Relations
Place of PublicationAbingdon
ISBN (Print)9780415727334
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 2016


  • Critical Public Relations
  • Public Sphere: Deliberative Democracy
  • Agonistic Pluralism


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