Challenging Unreliable Narrators: Writing and Public Relations

  • Anne Surma


In this chapter I focus on public relations (print or online) texts, which an organisation or corporation circulates specifically to articulate directly or indirectly its understandings of its social responsibilities, and I discuss the ways in which its writing of narratives is used as a specific rhetorical device to define itself to its stakeholders as a socially responsible moral agent. I argue for public relations writing as a potentially valuable social activity involving the construction, circulation, contestation and development of narratives. Such narrative texts specifically include social responsibility reports, documents that are becoming increasingly significant in a corporation’s demonstration of its understanding and implementation of ethical, business-related practices. Many other public relations texts, such as employee newsletters, community relations brochures, client magazines, sections of annual reports, Internet sites and so on, which devote space to describing issues related to social responsibility, are also implicated in this chapter’s discussion.1


Corporate Social Responsibility Social Responsibility Public Relation Corporate Responsibility Body Shop 
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  1. 1.
    I treat corporate social responsibility as a component of public relations. Compare Cynthia E. Clark (2000), who treats public relations and corporate social responsibility as separate disciplines and professional realms. She nevertheless argues that by acknowledging the similarities between them (specifically those relating to communication approaches and methods) researchers and practitioners can gain further insights into both corporate social responsibility and public relations.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    I need to point out that the choice of Nike as a case study was made on the basis of its public visibility and the availability of diverse and variously mediated (particularly web-based) narratives about it, which would be accessible to readers. The choice is not intended to suggest Nike as necessarily any ‘better’ or ‘worse’ than other — large or small — corporations (see also Birch and Glazebrook 2000, pp. 49–50).Google Scholar
  3. 5.
    As Lyotard remarks: ‘Our master is capital. Capital makes us tell, listen to and act out the great story of its reproduction, and the positions we occupy in the instances of its narrative are predetermined’ (Lyotard 1989, p. 140).Google Scholar
  4. 7.
    See Kevin Moloney (2000), who focuses on public relations in the UK context as socially pervasive practice. Moloney argues for a reconceptualisation of the profession so that, among other changes, the concentration of public relations activities in the hands of big business and powerful political and media institutions are more equitably distributed to include traditionally less powerful stakeholders and groups.Google Scholar
  5. 9.
    See Sharon Livesey (2001) for a discussion of the discourses of sustainability and their struggle with other (predominantly economic and rationalist) discourses in the evolving rhetoric of the Royal Dutch/Shell Group.Google Scholar

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© Anne Surma 2005

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  • Anne Surma

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