In public relations and communication science, publics are groups of individual people, and the public (a.k.a. the general public) is the totality of such groupings. This is a different concept to the sociological concept of the Öffentlichkeit or public sphere. The concept of a public has also been defined in political science, psychology, marketing, and advertising. In public relations and communication science, it is one of the more ambiguous concepts in the field. Although it has definitions in the theory of the field that have been formulated from the early 20th century onwards, it has suffered in more recent years from being blurred, as a result of conflation of the idea of a public with the notions of audience, market segment, community, constituency, and stakeholder.
The name "public" originates with the Latin "populus" or "poplicus", and in general denotes some mass population ("the people") in association with some matter of common interest. So in political science and history, a public is a population of individuals in association with civic affairs, or affairs of office or state. In social psychology, marketing, and public relations, a public has a more situational definition. John Dewey defined (Dewey 1927) a public as a group of people who, in facing a similar problem, recognize it and organize themselves to address it. Dewey's definition of a public is thus situational: people organized about a situation. Built upon this situational definition of a public is the situational theory of publics by James E. Grunig (Grunig 1983), which talks of nonpublics (who have no problem), latent publics (who have a problem), aware publics (who recognize that they have a problem), and active publics (who do something about their problem).
In public relations and communication theory, a public is distinct from a stakeholder or a market. A public is a subset of the set of stakeholders for an organization, that comprises those people concerned with a specific issue. Whilst a market has an exchange relationship with an organization, and is usually a passive entity that is created by the organization, a public does not necessarily have an exchange relationship, and is both self-creating and self-organizing. Publics are targeted by public relations efforts. In this, target publics are those publics whose involvement is necessary for achieving organization goals; intervening publics are opinion formers and mediators, who pass information to the target publics; and influentials are publics that the target publics turn to for consultation, whose value judgements are influential upon how a target public will judge any public relations material.
Public relations theory perspectives on publics are situational, per Dewey and Grunig; mass, where a public is simply viewed as a population of individuals; agenda-building, where a public is viewed as a condition of political involvement that is not transitory; and "homo narrans", where a public is (in the words of Gabriel M. Vasquez, assistant Professor in the School of Communication at the University of Houston) a collection of "individuals that develop a group consciousness around a problematic situation and act to solve the problematic situation" (Vasquez 1993, pp. 209)
One non-situational concept of a public is that of Kirk Hallahan, professor at Colorado State University, who defines a public as "a group of people who relate to an organization, who demonstrate varying degrees of activity—passivity, and who might (or might not) interact with others concerning their relationship with the organization".
Other articles related to "public":
... is a public utility company based in Minneapolis, Minnesota, serving more than 3.3 million electric customers and 1.8 million natural gas customers in eight states Colorado, Michigan, Minnesota, New ... include Northern States Power Company, Public Service Company of Colorado, and Southwestern Public Service Co ...
... to redistribute authority, responsibility and financial resources for providing public services among different levels of governance ... for the planning, financing and management of public functions from the central government or regional governments and its agencies to local governments, semi-autonomous public ...
... They may also be involved in scientific research or public education, such as conducting tours and answering questions ... who manages zoo animals that are kept in captivity for conservation or to be displayed to the public ... Zoos are open to the public and are visited by all varieties of people and ages, and zookeepers must also entertain and inform the zoo’s visitors ...
... A depiction of a mandala may be less public than that of a deity ... That of a higher tantric deity may be less public than that of a lower ... to which information on Vajrayāna is now public in western languages is controversial among Tibetan Buddhists ...
... interpreted much differently in the public sphere than in the scientific community ... This is due in part to the diversity of the public audience, and the tendency for scientists to misunderstand lay audiences and therefore not communicate ideas ... Also, in the public realm, there are often many scientific voices giving input on a single topic ...
Famous quotes containing the word public:
“Public opinion contains all kinds of falsity and truth, but it takes a great man to find the truth in it. The great man of the age is the one who can put into words the will of his age, tell his age what its will is, and accomplish it. What he does is the heart and the essence of his age, he actualizes his age. The man who lacks sense enough to despise public opinion expressed in gossip will never do anything great.”
—Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (17701831)
“Whatever else American thinkers do, they psychologize, often brilliantly. The trouble is that psychology only takes us so far. The new interest in families has its merits, but it will have done us all a disservice if it turns us away from public issues to private matters. A vision of things that has no room for the inner life is bankrupt, but a psychology without social analysis or politics is both powerless and very lonely.”
—Joseph Featherstone (20th century)
“They had their fortunes to make, everything to gain and nothing to lose. They were schooled in and anxious for debates; forcible in argument; reckless and brilliant. For them it was but a short and natural step from swaying juries in courtroom battles over the ownership of land to swaying constituents in contests for office. For the lawyer, oratory was the escalator that could lift a political candidate to higher ground.”
—Federal Writers Project Of The Wor, U.S. public relief program (1935-1943)