The Communicative State : Political Public Relations and the Rise of the Innovation Hype in Sweden
Abstract: Government agencies in Sweden are experiencing a communicative turn where notions concerning branding, image and identity have become standardized tools and concerns. Public relations, with its focus on persuasion and creating relations with external actors, is part of this communicative turn. This book is concerned with how government agencies practice political public relations in a more communicatively orientated political landscape. By describing and analyzing two government agencies’ public relations work, this dissertation aims to understand how contemporary agencies use persuasion and the management of external relations in order to promote political issues and the political and democratic implications these practices may subsequently have. In the post-financial crisis of 2008, innovation emerged as a political issue on many government agencies’ agendas. Public relations practices were implemented by government agencies on an unprecedented scale in order to promote innovation issues. Considering this increase, I have labeled innovation a political hype. By applying a multiple case study, this dissertation follows the Ministry of Enterprise, Energy and Communications and the Swedish Institute’s public relations work in their promotion of innovation issues. These two organizations are used as a window through which to perceive the public relations practices government agencies in Sweden at large have at their disposal. The multiple case study approach was fruitful, as it provided this study with two different cases by which to perceive government agencies’ public relations. Two methods were employed for gathering the empirical material. Twentysix qualitative interviews were conducted with the government agencies’ employees, all of whom were responsible for public relations practices. A targeted sampling of government documents (directives, meeting protocols, strategies, policies, SOUs) that were created by the agencies in order to facilitate and enable their public relations practices were collected and analyzed. This dissertation employs an interdisciplinary framework, where sociology and cultural researchers (Michel Foucault, Peter Miller, Nikolas Rose, Barbara Czarniawska, amongst others) are fused with critical public relations researchers (Jacquie L’Etang, Lee Edwards, Judy Motion, Shirley Leitch, amongst others).The dissertation makes a number of findings that are of interest to public relations research. First, the research shows some of the discursive shifts that have made public relations practices into feasible concerns for the two government agencies. Second, looking at these shifts discloses the role networks have come to play for government agencies. These networks can be beneficial, but also asymmetrical in terms of power relations. Third, my findings suggest that political issues are selected based on what I call their “communicative appeal”. This dissertation thus introduces the term “PR-ization” of government agencies’ as a way of capturing this, something that has political and potentially even democratic implications. Fourth, my findings reveal some of the unforeseen aspects of public relations. Fifth, political hypes are not innocent, but assemble actors and distribute resources unevenly. The political and democratic implications of these findings are discussed.
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