Title: Risk Theory Essay Example

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Title: Risk Theory

Late modernity theory and public relations


The late modernity theory has been used to describe the increasing status levels of modernity in the current societies which have been as a result of continuous modernization. Therefore, instead of a post-modern state being achieved, the social theorists called the current trends in modernity the late modernity due to its close linkage to the public relations present in society today. The late modernity plays a critical role in determining the understanding of current day public relations especially in terms of identifying risk communication in the third way public relations. In this research paper Falkheimer’s views regarding late modernity and their relevance to public relations will be analyzed critically.


The late modernity theory

The concept of late modernity is used to define a period of elevated development in certain societies such that modernization has reached greater heights. There are more social theorists who have strived to criticize the definition based on the fact that the present developments should be termed as post-modernity rather than late modernity. Over the years modernity has evolved to eliminate traditions both socially and in terms of technology therefore resulting in a continuous transitory process (Giddens, 1991).

The controversy on the correct term for the present condition of evolving states has received considerable changes though not sufficient to brand it late modernity. Anthony Giddens for example terms the entire changes that have produced current conditions as being modernity as they are only an improvisation of the late modernity with nothing more to show of the contemporary society (Beck, 1992).

However, just like Falkheimer, Zygmunt Bauman considers the traits that are expressed by late modernity as being the same characteristics that are exhibited by present day societies. These traits are attributed to the confusion that is seen during transformation from one society to the other in an undefined manner that that is not clearly spelt out to members of the modernizing society. Late modernity exhibits man as a social being whose activities and movements are not restrained hence he can be seen to move in all directions regardless of the distance covered. Late modernity has not only transformed man but it has also made him adopt an uncertain nature that is characterized with endless changes in the workplace as well as at home (Giddens, Beck and Lash, 1994).

Globalization has been a key element in the attributes of late modernity as it is highly regarded as the source of increased mobility in man. Society tends to encourage such mobility such that those members of society who rarely explore beyond their own society find it hard to fit in the civilized society. Consequently, globalization has led to the spread of information and technology that are vital in attainment of modernity. The consequence of modernity on society brings us closer to understanding the connections between late modernity and public relations practice (Crifasi, 2000).

Late modernity and public relations practice

Falkheimer makes it clear that the issues that have been affecting late modernity since its inception are the same issues that are presented by public relations. This indicates that the uncertainty, risk, reflexivity and trust are exhibited by both public relations as well as the late modernity society hence triggering the curiosity to establish how the connection arises (Beck, 1992).

Public relations as an art and a social science involve maintenance of a positive public image for individuals who are public figures as well as organization as a way of enhancing their marled value. Public relations also entail speaking during conferences or any other occasion where the public is present so as to appease the position of the said organization before the public. Social gatherings and conflict events also pose suitable venues where public relation officers tend to showcase the positive aspects of the subject in question regardless of the financial gain to be obtained from the venture (Seitel, 2007).

However, crisis communications among other relevant meetings where public relations are employed to build rapport account for the largest share of public relations practices. Modernity especially late modernity has played a major role in the development of adequate communication risk skills that have reduced damage caused by poor public relations skills. Currently, over the years, public relations have borrowed heavily on the skills that were used in the past societies to minimize conflicts between the public and organizations. The tactics that are used to win the public hearts over are very much the same that are applied in the late modernity societies where communication is relevant in attaining any goals with minimal risks (Crifasi, 2000).

The concept of risk in late modernity and public relations

In the present society, the numbers of risks that involve organizations have been on the rise especially those concerning hate speech as well as baseless details that leak out to the media. Such devastating effects can bring down an entire organization in no time regardless of the number of years that have been spent building the reputation. Tainted image is a risk that spells doom to the organization and it should be avoided because its chances of occurring are as high as the chances of building the name to greater heights (Stuart, 1996).

Globalization has played a significant role in increased risks mainly due to the nature of participants who are involved in the entire process of tainting the public image of the organization. Globalization has resulted in more people moving into new regions where different societal values are practiced. This has been detrimental in erosion of values among locals as well as influence on local media by their international counterparts. The risk that is posed by globalization is rampant where organizations lack public relations departments to handle such eventualities. The scenario is even worse where late modernity has sidelined crisis communication such that inadequate skills in the area or lack of experts in the field of public relations make the consequences of the risk even dire (Seib and Fitzpatrick, 1995).

The media though significant in presenting greater risks to organizations regarding maintenance or destruction of an organization’s reputation is backed by modernity. Late modernity has made it easier for media houses to attack organizations as a way of ensuring that only the best quality of products are presented to consumers. This condition in the current society lays more emphasis on consumer satisfaction such that any product that is presented for sale to the public must be of high quality. Similarly, late modernity has encouraged media houses to report on any suspicious moves by organizations such as possible liquidity so as to protect the public from being shortchanged. These issues have resulted from globalization and late modernity where everyone is driven by the quest for information before making any significant decisions (Hall, 2007).

Late modernity presents several risks especially in the human capital sector as with globalization every employee is determined to get the very best employment opportunity locally and internationally. Therefore, employers in the late modernity period are vulnerable to the risk of loosing experienced employees whenever a better opportunity arises elsewhere. Consequently, such a high employee turnover is a negative trait of any organization and public relation skills have to be applied so as to reduce the impression by the public concerning the exodus of employees. The risk of negative publicity based on high employee turnover can be used as a weakness by the organization then go ahead to improve the working conditions by availing adequate risk communication as well as motivation. Such risks are also critical in enabling an organization to instill adequate public relation skills so that this team of experts will work endlessly towards reducing criticism in the public image especially when the cause is beyond the capability of the organization (Giddens, 1994).

Risks in the late modernity era have resulted in adequate measures being undertaken by organizations to ensure that at any given point there are stand by public relations officers ready to repair any damages posed by the media. The press which has developed a more liberal approach to addressing issues by supporting controversy is stopped right on their tracks by tireless efforts of public relations which always strive to present the very best attributes of the organization. Presently plenty of positives that have taken place in the past can be useful in covering up for any negatives in future that may pose threats to the already established organization reputation (Borodzicz, 2005).

Uncertainty and trust are two issues that are present in late modernity as well as in public relations. Uncertainty refers to occurrence of the unknown while trust is the ability to have confidence that a person will execute their duties as requested without failure. Late modernity has increased the number of cases related to uncertainty especially those that are attributed to availability. Increased industrialization and socialization has made it easier for employees to fit in any workplace as long as it is relevant to their field of competence. This has resulted to increased movement among employees such that it is almost uncertain whether an employer will continue having the same employees for at least a year (Giddens, 1991).

Uncertainties also occur on how much information the media has when it lashes out at an organization. This is because one can never be sure how much is available or how much will be revealed. Therefore, plenty of uncertainty revolves around the media’s presence in such a scenario because the amount of damage which will be made is only known by the media personalities alone. However, the organization can mitigate its systems against such uncertainties by applying the concepts of late modernity in public relations such that both parties will not mess each other’s business activities (Wilcox, Ault, Agee & Cameron, 2002).

The ever changing trends in the late modernity have also generated a larger number of the uncertainties especially in terms of unexpected consumer needs ad preferences which must be met without failure. Such expectations can cause mayhem in an organization especially where overnight change in preferences is evident possibly due to the press posting negative attributes regarding a product. The customers who are driven by information will pay more attention to the press reports such that no amount of public relations will alter the situation until the attributes of the product are changed. This presents late modernity as a key cause of uncertainty by triggering conditions that present a dimmed future for the organization (Borodzicz, 2005).

Lack of trust is yet another aspect of late modernity that has close connections with public relations. When two major groups come out with contradicting information about something, the customers often get confused and they loose their trust on both groups. For example whenever an organization is on the verge of bankruptcy, most managers or public relations experts will never reveal such details to the public as it may end up distorting any strategies that could have been laid out to improve the situation. However, the media will most likely pass such information to the public without second thought therefore prompting the organization to come out in the public to defend such accusations. Such allegations and the attempts to refute them may result in increased confusion among the customers and over time they will loose trust in the organization especially when it turns out that the allegations were true (Hall, 2007).

Trust has been an issue in late modernity especially with increased cheating and covering up in online societies in addition to online organizations. The virtual business will often present a false address or locality so as to gain cognition by customers. However, upon stumbling on information that will not support such claims, trust between the provider and recipient is drastically reduced. Attempts to enhance the lost trust by use of public relation professionals aggravate the problem as a picture of mistrust has already being preconceived in the customer’s mind (Ihlen, Betteke & Magnus, 2009).

Reflexivity is the other issue present in both late modernism and public relations that describes the ability of employees in an organization to develop strategies aimed at sorting any arising conflicts. Over the years employees were never given this opportunity but with the conditions prevailing modernity there has been increased employee participation as goodwill ambassadors of the organization. This way, everyone acts in the capacity of a public relations officers hence an all round maintenance of the positive reputation of an organization because everyone will be able to act in a more responsible manner (Lash, 1990).

Falkheimer tries to develop the connection between individual interpretation of communication and the cultural aspects of that particular person. This is because society and culture plays a significant role in establishing the ability of individuals to interpret or translate information. In this regard, modernity has largely influenced the perception of individuals in the same way as public relation’s effects on communication (Borodzicz, 2005).

Late modernity in understanding risk communication

Risk communication entails passing information on risks that are most likely bound to occur in an organization while working equally hard to reduce the consequences of that risk. Uncertainty is part and parcel of everyday business as business managers and public relation officers never know when negative information will be aired by the media. Therefore, to curb such risks or uncertainties in the early stages, society has evolved and engaged increased informative avenues through which the public can seek clarifications on such information (Stuart, 1996).

Risk communication is characterized by poor flow of information such that the message addressing the risk rarely gets to the intended receiver promptly hence provoking incorporation of other means of communication such as use of dialogue. Late modernity has made it possible for individuals conducting risk communication to have in their possession a wide array of media to choose from so as to ensure that sufficient communication is achieved in curbing risks. However, the available media possess varied qualities of effectiveness as some of them take longer for response to be attained while others are efficient enough for dialogic risk communication measures to be executed.

The late modernity has been phenomenon in bringing out the traits of society in the workplace where family values and self-help have been given more priority over other dimensions of human way of life (Viggo, 2000).

Consequently, this had never been experienced in the other stages of modernization hence new laws had to be put in place to govern the new turn of events. This has changed the entire face of risk communication as in late modernity any form of communication has to be centered on the values of the family while self-help for employees and the public should be regarded as highly as possible. Similarly, this poses a major issue to the public relations department which may not be prepared for dialogue in solving the problem therefore adequate measures are adopted to engage all members who are concerned in the scenario. Such are the values that are emphasized on by the modern day society that everyone should known what is happening in an organization either through use of the media or the public relations department should take the initiative (Wilcox, 2002).

The late modernity has been paramount in the establishment of professions that have in turn segregated individuals based on their areas of expertise. Through this society has categorized certain professions as being high flying while others are not regarded as highly hence creating a huge divide among the individuals present in these groups. The differences among these groups are attributed to increased conversations in the name of communicating among these groups of people in different camps. This is because the only way through which results or consensus can be attained whenever conflict arises is through dialogue (Seib, 1995).

Similarly, the risk communication approach that is most efficient at this particular situation is where both parties get to seat and table their differences to achieve concrete results. Consequently, risk communication especially dialogues are very effective in public relations especially when the media has aired information about an organization that does not augur well with the organization or public. Dialogue between clients and the organization is important so as to eliminate any doubtful thoughts that may have occurred while at the same time engaging in timely risk communication to save the situation (Seitel, 2007).

Dialogue or two way communication has been embraced fully in the entire late modernity period especially due to the fact that today more emphasis is placed on customer satisfaction. This is attained in advance by ensuring that clients have an opportunity to present their preferences and grievances such that management of the organization is able to deal with the problem before it occurs. Therefore, risk communication is not restricted to when the uncertain risk has already occurred but it dialogic conversations can be put in place way before the event takes place hence preventing dire losses in terms of public image. This way late modernity has laid more emphasis on the preventive measures that can be attained through use of risk communication before the uncertain becomes certain. Adequate mitigation measures are also part of the late modernity’s attributes to increase on efficiency in product traits so that the public and organization benefit from any business ventures (Biagi, 2005).

The generation that exists during this late modernity era is popularly known as individuals who are not afraid to take risks despite the situations involved. This generation is characterized by their high affinity for extremely risky business deals that produce thrilling satisfaction when expected results are attained. Risks normally yield various opportunities to employ the risk theory and in the long term, it engages a larger number of individuals al who has interest in the risky underrating at hand (Lash, 1990).

For instance if an organization was trying out a new product and its attributes failed to attract the expected response or some of the traits proved harmful to the consumers, then it would be most appropriate to engage in public relations before the media got wind of the turn of events. This is because it is easier to engage in dialogue with the public on getting certain facts right before they are presented with a negative side of the same as negating is rather difficult as compared to proving facts. Therefore, late modernity enables an individual to develop a better understanding of the entire situation whereby the role of public relations is seen to be vital even when the media has not posted anything negative to the public (Hall, 2007).

Consequently, the analysis of late modernity enables a clear understanding of the role played by society in shaping public relations as it is today. These risks that prevails in the world have all being engineered through social attributes which emanate from what man has developed as standards in executing dialogic conversations. Uncertainty and evolution of risk communication have all being achieved courtesy of late modernity and its ability to motivate the public to take responsibility of risks that are present as a way of minimizing conflicts which would result if certain parties were not fully convinced during dialogic conversations (Seitel, 2007).

Falkheimer uses the phrase ‘a third way public relations perspective’ to designate a new way of understanding public relations in late modernity. This new perspective is influenced by changing trends in public relations which enhanced ways through which professionals in the field of public relations where technology is used adequately therefore making risk communication much easier (Cutlip, 1994).

Public relations have changed today in late modernity such that individuals working in this department are not only sought during crisis meetings to sort negative publicity but rather the activities of public relations departments are seen in everyday operations of an organization. This entails working closely with the marketing department such that the public is always being informed about relevant activities taking placed at the organization. Therefore, when negative information leaks out, the public will not be affected as much due to past publicity which acts as a suitable cover-up for such mishaps (Biagi, 2005).

The other meaning could possibly be utilization and application of creativity in the public relations practice such that more innovations are evident in handling issues regarding the public image of an organization. In late modernity, public relations has been extended to cover customer relations as well as enhancing the employee’s welfare to the very best such that the productivity of employees is increased while at the same time customer satisfaction is attained (Viggo, 2000).

Other examples of creativity that are applied in late modernity public relations include transforming all employees into public relations officers by giving them the mandate to always maintain the reputation of the organization. This third way public relations perspective is executed by making sure that every employ knows as much as possible concerning an organization such that they can win the publics favor at all times (Cutlip, 1994).

The other possible meaning of third way public relations perspective according to Falkheimer could be incorporation of a third person’s perspective such that not only the public relations department and media is involved but also the public. The public as the sole beneficiary of information regarding an organizations mishap should have their feelings and opinions provided for during any public relations activities. This is a sure way of enhancing the reputation of an organization as the public will be contented with the subsequent considerations. The public in this case represents the third party whose views are as important as those of other major stakeholders involved in the risk communication process. Consequently, this consideration will result in satisfied stakeholders which are attributed to the success of most organizations in late modernity (Ihlen, 2009).

Research shows that society in late modernity defines success of an organization based on the ability to meet the needs of all stakeholders without discrimination. The fulfillment that is attained supersedes any other form of public relations hence major stifles that may arise in future are reduced in time. This is because the trust that is built by an organization based on its capability to satisfy its clients cements the relationship between the two parties and any obstacle that may be introduced is moved aside easily without major hustles (Cutlip, 1994).


Public relations as one of the professions in late modernity have presented a lot of fascinating scenarios where various aspects of issues in both areas have been known to overlap. This is attributed to the core issues which according to Falkheimer are present in the two situations and they have similar effects on the two. Inability of the public to trust an organization results into increased risks as well as uncertainties as the public relations department is never sure when incidents will occur. Consequently, such issues have contributed to emergence of risk communication where dialogue is evident to minimize the risks and uncertainties. Late modernity has also being detrimental in eh development of outfits such as the third way public relations perspective which has resulted in increased efficiency in handling issues regarding public relations. Similarly, society has had a great
impact in developing most of the activities that are carried out by public relation departments today as civilization has resulted in more diverse personalities with diverse needs emerging. Therefore, to match the needs of this society, public relations had to evolve in order to satisfy the late modernity society. In conclusion, there are many ties that connect public relations and late modernity as the two have evolved together over the years.


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