Ethical Orientations: Communitarianism

Communitarianism is an ethical orientation that meshes well with the basic assumptions of what public relations is all about: to create and maintain relationships. As the father of the communitarian movement, Amati Etzioni explained:

the Communitarian movement…is an environmental movement dedicated to the betterment of our moral, social, and political environment…Communitarians are dedicated to working with their fellow citizens to bring about the changes in values, habits, and public policies that will allow us to do for society what the environmental movement seeks to do for nature: to safeguard and enhance our lives. 

Communitarianism refers to the rejection of an “isolated self with rights, interests, values, and ends independent of social context," and instead suggests that people have duties and responsibilities as citizens. Communitarianism is similar to deontology, dialogue, and feminism.

A communitarian public relations ethic would call upon public relations professionals and organizations to endeavor to act in the best interest of their stakeholders and publics, adhering to principles of “Corporate Social Responsibility” (CSR), for example, rather than simply pursuing what might be the most advantageous to shareholders or senior managers. Communitarians work to make sure that all ships rise by acting in the best interest of others, and encouraging stakeholders and publics to also act in the best interest of others. The focus of the communitarian would be collaborative rather than competitive.

Q: Individualism is a strongly held US value. How does that square with communitarian values?

Q: The US congress functions largely on partisan grounds, with republicans pursuing one agenda, and democrats pursuing their own. How might congress look if lawmakers took a communitarian approach?

Q: How does communitarianism square with modern organizations pursuing selfish or self-serving goals?

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