Let’s talk about communication in strategic communication; an analysis of students’ understanding of strategic communication and its implications

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstractpeer-review


The aim of this paper is to address the importance of communication theory for the understanding of strategic communication. Underlying this focus are the debates and discussions on the definition of strategic communication, which have primarily been occupied with the meaning of the concept strategic. The definition and meaning of communication tend to be implicit or undefined and Van Ruler (2018) asks if it is “appropriate for today’s demand of organizational life” (p. 367).
In this paper we study the understanding of communication, its consequences for the comprehension of strategic communication and discuss its appropriateness. To this end we have studied how students enrolled in bachelor and master programs in strategic communication initially understand communication and how enriched understanding of communication has consequences for the comprehension of strategic communication. The study is based on text analysis of XXX essays written by bachelor and master students during their first semester in a strategic communication program. Their initial understanding of communication is implicit and undefined. However, confronted with different communication traditions (Craig, 1999) the students can make their view explicit. The explicit view on communication differs between students; however, it is possible to identify two communication traditions that reoccur frequently in the student accounts. A rhetorical perspective on communication prevails among bachelor students, while a social psychology perspective prevails among master students. The latter closely linked to previous experience with disciplines such as marketing, corporate communication and other programmes on professional communication on bachelor level.
We argue that these, often implicit, understandings of communication result in a particular comprehension of strategic communication, including expectations about the study program and their future as communication professionals. Strategic communication is understood as presenting and promoting goals for different audiences. These activities can be planned and controlled and thus communication is seen as something that can and should be managed. University studies are then expected to provide tools for organising this process, skills for presenting and addressing different audiences as well as detailed knowledge about different channels. Consequently, students imagine their future career as managers of communication and tend to disregard competence for analysing and understanding other aspects of communication, including their own always-already embeddedness in communication processes. We furthermore argue, that unreflected, implicit and often narrow understandings of communication among students of strategic communication result in difficulties to understand courses based on other communication traditions and emerging perspectives in the nearby academic fields of strategy and organization studies, both emphasizing their dynamic and communicative constitution (strategizing, organizing). Students tend to maintain an understanding of strategy and communication as one being the object of the other This one-sided focus loses the inherent complexity of communication, including the plurality of voices from different actors, the interplay between them and the consequences for communication processes. Hence, other traditions of understanding communication are necessary for being able to understand communication, challenges and opportunities. Let us talk about communication in strategic communication.
Original languageSwedish
Publication statusPublished - 2021
Event8th European Communication Conference, ECREA 2021: Communication and trust - Online
Duration: 2021 Sept 62021 Sept 9


Conference8th European Communication Conference, ECREA 2021

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Communication Studies

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