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Professionalising public relations: A history of Australian public relations education, 1985 - 1999

Fitch, K. (2014) Professionalising public relations: A history of Australian public relations education, 1985 - 1999. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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This thesis is concerned with public relations education in Australia. It focuses on 1985–1999, as in these years there was significant growth in education and the Public Relations Institute of Australia (PRIA) sought greater regulation and jurisdiction over public relations activity. Existing historical scholarship focuses on the evolution of the Australian public relations industry towards professional status, and tertiary education is perceived to confirm the field’s professional standing. In contrast, I consider the development of public relations education in a broader social context and the involvement of the PRIA in tertiary education.

This thesis aims to investigate the role of public relations education in the professionalisation of public relations in Australia. It uses a qualitative approach, combining archival research, focusing on the previously unstudied archives of the PRIA’s National Education Committee, and interviews with practitioners and educators. This thesis provides an analysis of how, and why, the PRIA sought to regulate public relations education. The use of historical sociology allows the findings to be interpreted in relation to broader societal structures and institutional processes, such as the expansion of the Australian higher education sector, the PRIA’s preoccupation with professional status, and the increase in female practitioners.

In developing a critical account of Australian public relations education, this thesis argues that higher education was pivotal to the PRIA’s professional project. The findings confirm the constitution of public relations knowledge and its institutionalisation in the Australian academy were dynamic and contested, and that the PRIA’s professional drive informed its attempts to regulate the transmission of that knowledge. A significant finding is the ambivalent attitudes towards gender and education, given the increasing number of female graduates. These findings contribute a unique Australian perspective to the global public relations scholarship on history and professionalisation and allow a reconceptualisation of the development of public relations in Australia.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Arts
Supervisor(s): Trees, Kathryn
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