Managing intractability: Wrestling with wicked problems and seeing beyond consensus in public relations

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Capizzo, Luke W
Sommerfeldt, Erich J
Managing intractable or wicked problems—irrevocable, difficult-to-solve, often values-driven conflicts—is a regular occurrence for public relations practitioners. Yet, such problems and how to manage them are often outside of the bounds of public relations theories are aimed at building consensus. This dissertation builds on the existing literature carving out a place for dissensus-oriented (e.g., Ciszek, 2016; Ciszek & Logan, 2018; Coombs & Holladay, 2018; Willis, 2016) or agonistic (e.g., Davidson, 2016; Davidson & Motion, 2018; Ganesh & Zoller, 2015) public relations theories and practices. Through interviews with public relations practitioners facing intractable scenarios and the integration of dissensual and agonistic perspectives of Lyotard (1984), Rancière (2010), Mouffe (1999) and others, the dissertation examines the role and impact of wicked problems in practice. Managing intractable problems involves organizational awareness of publics, communities, and societies, as well as a re-evaluation of effectiveness for public relations practitioners. Among its contributions, the dissertation generates a praxis-centered definition of the facets of intractability and new frameworks for social issue engagement and holistic measurement.