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Paradigm Blindness in Public Relations

A few words can change your world view. Take for instance the case[1] of the warship on a collision path in poor visibility.  The captain radios the other ship, demanding that they change course ten degrees. When the voice on the other end rebuttals “no you change ten degrees”, the captain becomes irate and threatens the power and size of his warship. “Be prepared to feel the full force of this warship”, he declares. The voice responds, “okay, but this a lighthouse”. Lighthouse, one word. The captain went from paradigm blindness to awareness with just one word (Caleb Rosado, 1997).

Topic: Paradigm Blindness in Public Relations

Paradigm[2] Blindness[3] is a term used to describe the phenomenon for one’s dominant paradigm to prevent an individual from seeing viable alternatives (Thomas F. Patterson, 1997). In essence, the way in which we construct our view of the world often limits our ability to see pieces of the larger picture. In public relations, paradigm blindness results in miscommunication and presents a profound challenge for the practitioner, of whom, may be unaware of the phenomenon or their own blindness.

The most general, and stringent of paradigm categorization is Kuhn’s truth paradigm. The idea that absolute truth, often through scientific process, should define reality. Yet, science is fluid (e.g. quantum physics), limited by human theoretical view and even reality itself may not be as tangible enough to exist within a pure truth paradigm (Freidheim, 1979).  Communications experts operating within academic frameworks must consider their own blindness with regards to the truth, even if it’s founded in data and scientific reasoning. Take for instance audience targeting with regards to age. Linear time is a poor indicator of someone’s relative age. Our paradigm blindness is to believe that one individual of a certain age is near equal to that of another person of the same age. Yet as a cellular organism we age at different rates. Even within species, certain outliers can show dramatic variations in physical, mental, and cellular changes across linear time. In essence, a data point such as age, for a public relations professional may be flawed if a person’s temporal age and cellular age conflict. A person who has lived for twenty years may better fit the demographic of a forty year old, or the opposite may be true. Yet for most people, we hold age as a reliable way of segmenting markets. What if we could influence others without relying on older demographic standards entirely?

Considering public relations was born from the social process of post-war democracy its necessary to examine the field from a sociological perspective rather than wholly organizational theory (Holmström, 1996). Public relations by definition is expression of “new patterns in social action” (Ibid.). Niklas Luhmann’s theory of society is comprised of a social system of communications, and therefore, social systems are not real, and are only actualized through communications. Yet between these spheres of society, we are often blinded by the gaps between the meta-sub-systems that comprise it. This is where an effective public relations expert can either bridge these alternative worlds, or discover that they’re blind to them. This paradigm blindness to parallel worlds is often paradoxical in nature requiring the true professional to have made multiple paradigm shifts within his or her lifetime to adequately understand these differences in their entirety and effectively communicate between them (talent), or a model by which they can utilize the framework to manage paradigms (skills).

Historically, these worlds become fragmented into spheres over times, and it was only with this divergence that the need for public relations arose. Therefore, as Jürgen Habermas suggests, communications practitioners serve as the connection between uncoupled worlds, attempting to recouple disconnect, realized as a paradigm, whom can see through the blindness between other paradigms (Ibid.). It’s therefore necessary to gauge the blindness of a campaign through the use of the paradigmatic model and its components.

Hypothesis: Paradigm blindness is common within public relations as a result of the lack of cultural and sociological training in the field and the lack of paradigm shift in the practitioners themselves. In addition, the lack of a framework to bridge paradigms suggests some campaigns may lack the necessary communications components to be effective in bridging the meta-worlds.
  Research Questions:
1.      What percentage of campaigns include paradigmatic concepts within their language and symbols.
2.      Does this percentage affect the overall success of the campaign?
Potential Findings:
1.      Paradigmatic communications are or are not effective at influencing campaign outcomes.
2.      The degree of paradigm blindness among public relations professionals.

Unit of Analysis and Sample
This research will look at campaigns and their outputs (e.g. flyers, press releases, videos, etc.). Each output will be seen as a unique unit of analysis. For the purposes of this paper, the sample will be focused on campaign press releases over a random period of days in March 2015, from Cardiff based public relations agencies.  These outputs once broken down into quantifiable parts through the paradigmatic model can be then compared against their outcomes to determine their blindness factor.

Method: Detecting Paradigm Blindness
Paradigm Blindness occurs when the public relations professional fails to recognize aspects of the origin paradigm and target paradigm. Their ability to translate through analogous communications indicates blindness. Therefore this research aims to assign values via Ian Hacking’s and Kuhn’s Paradigmatic Model (along with variations [mine]) to create a blindness factor via content analysis. Content will be analyzed on the following criteria and assigned a value of 0 or 1 dependent on their actual content (Hacking, 2013). Frequencies of these are then multiplied and averaged for the final values.
Where S equals the sum sets of unit measurements defined by V*F (frequency) and N is defined by the number of sets (in this case 8).
 ((V + ((V-1 * F)*.1) + S) / N) = PBF
The Paradigm Blindness Factor would suggest that values closer to S are less paradigmatic blind, while those values closer to 0 are blinder. Non null decimals indicate occurrences past a single value.

A quantitative approach:
Measured by the use of words: like, as, similar to. Each single analogy (sentence or phrase is counted as an occurrence).
“Automobiles, like public buses, move people from the suburbs to the city.”
0 = None
1 = Present
Measured by the use of words: is, we, or fact based statements (sentence or phrase is counted as an occurrence) between seemingly unlike things. It’s important to note that this is different from opinion of belief based language such as “we believe” which would not be scored.
“The White House is the colour of green today .”
0 = None
1 = Present
Measured by the existence of models, either scientific or layman (the latter being more likely within campaigns).
Such as the carrier bag for life model used in Wales. This model, can be applied to other cities.
0 = None
1 = Present
Signs and Symbols
Measured by the existence of a sign or symbol occurring in the campaign.
The use of a cross within a religious campaign photo; The apple on the Apple products.
0 = None
1 = Present
Common or Other
Measured by the existence of other paradigms.
“Government officials, academics, and economists all agree with this sentiment.”
0 = None
1 = Present
Measured by the occurrence rule explanations or exampling and the logic used.
A video showing how to use a product where the ritual can be adopted.
0 = None
1 = Present
(lack of) Counter Examples
Counter examples are a negative approach to paradigm shifts, so the occurrence of counter examples are penalized. Use of words such as, unlike, in comparison to, suggest counter examples. They’re differentiated by their negative or paternal tone.
“Unlike smokers of cigarettes, eating kale improves health and longevity.”

0 = Present
1 = None

*note reversed values for this unit

Specialized language
Use of non-native language to bridge the paradigms.
Words such as, coup d’etat, cwtch, or jargon such as, paradigm.
0 = None
1 = Present

This research should be triangulated against surveying and focus groups to determine its effectiveness.  Post campaign analysis should indicate if such blindness has a direct affect on the success and failure of a campaign.

Conclusively, the goals of this research is to show that current public relations campaigns can be improved by recognizing a practitioner’s paradigm blindness and avoiding it. Using the paradigmatic model against campaign outputs, we can quantifiably measure the components of paradigm blindness to better understand how others see the world in comparison to our reality.

[1] Known as an urban legend.
[2] Paradigm is defined as a world view. Traditionally in the sense of underlying theories and methods within a particular discipline (Oxford Dictionaries, n.d.). It is used within this paper in the post-modern general sense as the way in which an individual sees the world.
[3] Paradigm Blindness, is an unawareness of other world views often including an unwillingness to adapt communications strategies to effectively bridge the paradigms of client and target audiences through the sphere of public relations.

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