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John Dewey and the ‘P’ in Public Relations

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John Dewey indir­ectly put the ‘P’ in pub­lic relations.

A tor­rent of change swept through the United States in the late 19th and early 20th cen­tur­ies. The thinker John Dewey (1859 – 1952) emerged amid this tumult.

Dewey was a prag­mat­ic philo­soph­er whose con­tri­bu­tions to edu­ca­tion and philo­sophy are widely recog­nized and cel­eb­rated, but his impact on pub­lic rela­tions is less known.

Dewey’s concept of “pub­lics” has become a found­a­tion in the study and prac­tice of pub­lic relations. 

Here we go:

John Dewey and the Publics

John Dewey (Wikipedia).

John Dewey and the ‘P’ in Public Relations

The term “pub­lics” can be traced back to the sem­in­al work of the American psy­cho­lo­gist and philo­soph­er John Dewey (1859 – 1952). 1John Dewey. (2023, March 25). In Wikipedia. https://​en​.wiki​pe​dia​.org/​w​i​k​i​/​J​o​h​n​_​D​e​wey

In his 1927 book, “The Public and Its Problems,” Dewey con­cep­tu­al­ised pub­lics as situ­ation­al groups formed in response to shared con­cerns or issues. He pos­ited that these groups emerge when indi­vidu­als con­front a com­mon prob­lem, recog­nise its exist­ence, and take col­lect­ive action to address it. 2John Dewey, The Public and Its Problems (Athens, Ohio: Swallow Press, 1927).

Dewey’s for­mu­la­tion of pub­lics marked a sig­ni­fic­ant depar­ture from the tra­di­tion­al under­stand­ing of the “mass pub­lic,” which assumed a more homo­gen­eous and pass­ive audi­ence.

By high­light­ing the situ­ation­al and dynam­ic nature of pub­lics, Dewey laid the found­a­tion for a more nuanced and adapt­ive approach to under­stand­ing the com­plex inter­ac­tions between organ­isa­tions and their vari­ous audi­ences.

  • The term “pub­lics,” as con­cep­tu­al­ised by Dewey, has become a corner­stone of mod­ern pub­lic rela­tions and com­mu­nic­a­tion theory.

This under­stand­ing of pub­lics as situ­ation­al and ever-chan­ging high­lighted the need for organ­isa­tions to remain agile and adapt­ive in their com­mu­nic­a­tion efforts.

By recog­nising the diverse and situ­ation­al nature of pub­lics, PR pro­fes­sion­als and com­mu­nic­at­ors can bet­ter under­stand the needs and con­cerns of their vari­ous audi­ences, allow­ing them to devel­op more effect­ive com­mu­nic­a­tion strategies. 

This recog­ni­tion of the act­ive and dynam­ic nature of pub­lics has also influ­enced broad­er aca­dem­ic and pub­lic dis­course, high­light­ing the import­ance of under­stand­ing and enga­ging with dif­fer­ent groups of people who share com­mon interests, con­cerns, or problems.

Learn more: John Dewey and the ‘P’ in Public Relations

The Publics in Public Relations

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You become what you think, say, and do.

The Publics in Public Relations

Here’s how to define pub­lics in pub­lic relations:

Publics in PR = a psy­cho­graph­ic seg­ment (who) with sim­il­ar com­mu­nic­a­tion beha­viours (how) formed around a spe­cif­ic issue (why).

Please note:

Psychographic seg­ment = sim­il­ar­it­ies in cog­nit­ive driv­ing factors such as reas­on­ing, motiv­a­tions, atti­tudes etc.

Communication beha­viours = how the pub­lic’s opin­ion is expressed (choice of mes­sage, rhet­or­ic­al fram­ing, and medi­um type).

Specific issue = determ­ined situ­ation­ally by a spe­cif­ic social object, often high on the agenda in news media or social media.

Learn more: The Publics in Public Relations

Please sup­port my blog by shar­ing it with oth­er PR- and com­mu­nic­a­tion pro­fes­sion­als. For ques­tions or PR sup­port, con­tact me via jerry@​spinfactory.​com.

1 John Dewey. (2023, March 25). In Wikipedia. https://​en​.wiki​pe​dia​.org/​w​i​k​i​/​J​o​h​n​_​D​e​wey
2 John Dewey, The Public and Its Problems (Athens, Ohio: Swallow Press, 1927).
Jerry Silfwer
Jerry Silfwer
Jerry Silfwer, alias Doctor Spin, is an awarded senior adviser specialising in public relations and digital strategy. Currently CEO at KIX Index and Spin Factory. Before that, he worked at Kaufmann, Whispr Group, Springtime PR, and Spotlight PR. Based in Stockholm, Sweden.

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