Socially Prevalent Social Theories

April 27, 2010

I wrote my PhD thesis on the theory and practice of escalation in military conflicts. In working on the thesis one issue was how can decision makers tell whether the strategic advice that they are being given is any good? Having wrestled with this for a while I happened to read Alasdair MacIntyre’s After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory (it’s a really interesting book but I don’t remember why I was reading it) Chapter 3 opens with ‘A moral philosophy…characteristically presupposes a sociology’. This supplied the solution to my problem: we can evaluate a prescription by looking at the quality of the social analysis that underpins it. If the theory doesn’t seem plausible then it makes sense to be pretty sceptical about the prescriptions. Theory here doesn’t necessarily mean an academic theory but can refer to what Manning referred to in The Nature of International Society as a ‘socially prevalent social theory’ that is the conventional wisdom that exists in any group or organization. This may be given formal expression in policy documents, handbooks or doctrinal statements or it may be found in procedures or organizational norms or just in the intersubjective understanding of the world.

One of the important tasks for PD Studies is to sort through the theories that underpin prescriptions. We work in an area where a lot of different ideas about the world collide (or overlap) . This range of theories exist because of both the number of organizations (eg Foreign Ministries, Cultural Relations organizations, military, trade ministries)involved in the area but also because of the multidisciplinary range of scholars we have working in the field. We have people who come at the problem from a range of perspectives from international relations and communications. Further, communications covers a range of different perspectives and we see ideas coming from interpersonal communications, mass comms, political communications, public relations, marketing etc.

In later posts I want to explore some of these differences. In particular should we think about PD as communication? How close if the relationship between PR and PD? What are the mechanisms of influence that exist? By unpacking these different conceptualizations we can both move beyond some of the definitional arguments and start to focus on some key research areas.


One comment

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by mbfromhb. mbfromhb said: Socially Prevalent Social Theories « Public Diplomacy, Networks and Influence: http://bit.ly/cUuLHW via @addthis […]

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