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Thinking About Relationships

June 23, 2010

Ok so we are convinced that PD needs to take a relational turn.  That is we ought to stop obsessing about messages and communication and think about how we can build relationships.

As I pointed out in an earlier post there are several different genres of relational PD in the literature eg PR, technological, dialogical, organizational but they are mostly vague about what constitutes a relationship.

From the PR literature we get the idea that relationships are supposed to be symmetrical and/or based in dialogue.  I think  that it is important to note that this is a very particular perspective on relationships;  network analysis,  social theory (and our own experience)  offer a range of alternative perspectives.

A few propositions:

Social relationships involve more than communications.  Relationships can be thought of in terms of exchanges of material and non-material resources.   Foreign publics (lets be more concrete – individuals, groups, organizations) enter into relationships with states either because they feel some affinity already (diaspora groups?) or because they think that they are going to get something out of it – resources, prestige, information, help toward a desired goal.

Some relationships are tied to a particular activity (eg people you see at work but not outside of it) or to a particular period (if you change your job how many of your former colleagues do you stay in touch with?) Some relationships are more transposable – eg close friends.   To what are the relationships constructed by PD activities self-sustaining?

Relationships compete for attention and resources.  You can only judge the importance of a relationship    relative to someone else’s set of relationships.  I think that this is one of the basic problems of diplomacy: your relationship with someone else is really good.   Unfortunately their relationship with somebody else is even better.

Relationships aren’t necessarily positive.  You may have a very strong relationship with someone based on the idea that you’d like to put them out of business.

There is a lot more to be said about the characteristics of relationships but the take away for now is that most relationships have little to do with Habermasian dialogue and a lot more to do with standard human interests.

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