Public Relations Inquiry, Special Issue
Theories in Public Relations: Reflections and Future Directions

The field of public relations has grown in the last thirty years both academically and professionally, and it is now a specialised, applied communication discipline. Most scholars and practitioners would agree that public relations is primarily a strategic organizational function that nurtures positive relationships with publics and stakeholders
for organizations of all kinds: private, public, non-profit, activist, advocacy etc. However, some have taken a broader view of both public relations and the organisations it works for, focusing on their role as interventions in social, cultural and political environments. As a result, the theoretical landscape of public relations has expanded beyond its organisational origins.

Despite increasing theoretical depth, however, the quality and significance of public relations’ theoretical contributions are disputed and its discrete body of knowledge and stock of theories have received little recognition outside the specific disciplinary domain. Public relations scholars tend to agree that this is an interdisciplinary field and that many studies in public relations are rooted in diverse communication, sociological, cultural, managerial, and organizational knowledge. Almost all established theories in public relations come from a wider field and/or have borrowed concepts and understandings and adapted them to public relations questions. Yet, to enjoy greater recognition and academic legitmacy, the theoretical contributions of public relations as a field in its own right must be able to both stand alone and contribute to fields beyond disciplinary boundaries.

For this special issue, we seek papers that provide an in-depth reflection on the quality and significance of theoretical development in public relations scholarship. The aim is to discuss and reflect on what might be considered as current theories of public relations and theories for public relations, as well as emerging bodies of work that are changing the shape of the field. Scholars might consider their use, their ability to answer research questions of fundamental importance for the profession, their relevance to today’s global problems, and the exploratory avenues of scholarship that could form the basis of new theorizing. Examples of questions that are of relevance to the special issues are:

  • What can be considered a classical or emergent public relations theory?
  • What are the field’s grand theories and middle-range theories? How do they shape our thinking?
  • What are the emergent theories that can (re)define public relations?
  • What types of problems has public relations addressed and through which theoretical lenses has it addressed them? Do these approaches remain adequate? How might they evolve?
  • Are there fundamental research questions capable of yielding theoretical development?
  • Why do public relations theories have limited impact beyond the field?
  • How does public relations theory need to evolve in order to become more widely recognised in organisational, media and communication fields of scholarship?

We welcome both conceptual papers that contribute to building a broader picture of public relations theory, as well as empirical papers that provide a basis for theoretical and conceptual discussions. In line with the interdisciplinary nature of the journal, we welcome a wide range of theoretical perspectives representing the whole spectrum of opinions in the field.

All submissions will be blind-reviewed in line with the standard practice of the journal. If you have any questions regarding the special issue, please contact the editors Chiara Valentini ( or Lee Edwards (


Papers should be submitted by 15 September 2018 via the journal’s manuscript central submissions system. Please visit the journal website for full submission instructioons, including information about word length, format and referencing style. Papers should adhere to the guidelines and risk being rejected if they do not. The target publication date for the special issue is September 2019.