As a communication scholar, I view the concept of community as synonymous with culture, and I define culture as a community of meaning.
Individuals are part of many cultures or communities in which they enact different roles and share different meanings with others. For example, someone may be a teacher, father, musician, and a southwestern Virginia native. So one community of meaning this person may be a member of is the classroom in which he is a teacher. Another community of meaning would be the family unit in which he is a father. Similarly, he could be a musician in a band, and a resident of southwestern Virginia. In each of these communities, the community members have shared meaning that is unique to their culture. The community members have certain symbols that are meaningful to them (e.g., the American flag, a song, etc.), they share precise language (e.g., jargon used within a specific major), and they communicate in ways to define, share, commemorate, and sustain their culture(s). In this way, the process of communication between community members allows communities to sustain themselves.
The concept of community is also embedded in the communication sub-field of public relations. Public relations is a strategic management function tasked with establishing and maintaining mutually beneficial relationships between an organization (broadly defined) and its publics (or groups of stakeholders).1 Similar to the idea that individuals can belong to multiple communities of meaning, public relations scholars and practitioners utilize the concept of publics to refer to or categorize groups of people in ways that are meaningful to an organization. For example, an organization may categorize publics as the media, employees, customers, activists, or any other groups that may be relevant. The goal of public relations is to strategically segment various publics and establish and maintain relationships with those publics.2 These relationships should serve both public and organizational interests.
In public relations, dialogue makes a community sustainable. Indeed ethical public relations practice promotes a two-way relational approach to communication, in which the organization communicates with (or engages in dialogue with) publics.3 In turn, the organization receives and responds to feedback in an effort to create mutual understanding that serves organizational and public interests. Engaging in dialogue with publics allows organizations to sustain their legitimacy among publics (assuming organizations listen and respond to publics), and in turn, allows organizations to sustain.
- Cutlip, S., Center, A., & Broom, G. (2000). Effective public relations (8th ed.). New Jersey: Prentice Hall.
- Grunig, J. E. (2006). Furnishing the edifice: Ongoing research on public relations as a strategic management function. Journal of Public Relations Research, 18, 151-176.
- Kent, M. L., & Taylor, M. (2002). Toward a dialogic theory of public relations. Public Relations Review, 28, 21-37.