We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Otherwise, we'll assume you're OK to continue.

Durham University

Department of Sociology

Research Projects

Publication details

Powell, M. & Pieczka, M. (2016). Understanding Learning in Senior Public Relations Practices: from boundary spanning to boundary dwelling. Journal of Communication Management 20(4): 312-327.

Author(s) from Durham


Over the last 50 years the social legitimacy of public relations has improved by standardising and monitoring the education and training of its practitioners. While successful in developing a professional development trajectory from novice to competent practitioner, the profession has struggled to fully understand the development trajectory of its senior public relations practitioners. The diversity of occupational contexts in which public relations is practised, the condition of professional seniority and the knowledges and tools required for working at occupational boundaries is challenging for senior public relations practitioners. It is also a challenge therefore, for the profession to develop and support the learning required for senior practice beyond competency frameworks.

This article employs socio-cultural learning theory and supporting empirical evidence gained in semi-structured interviews with senior practitioners in the field to explore what senior practice entails and how senior professionals learn.

Communities of practice is useful for understanding novice practitioner learning but has insufficient explanatory power for understanding senior practitioner learning. There is an urgent need for support for senior public relations learning that moves beyond reified competency frameworks and enables senior practitioners to function autonomously outside the core community of practice. Seniority requires its learners to embrace uncertainty and confront the challenge of creating new knowledges and practices in the everyday of their professional lives.

‘Communities of practice’ has been influential in the fields of management and organisations (Bolisani and Scarso, 2014). This article employs the idea of a learning process that takes place in ‘constellations of practices’ (Wenger, 1998) to offer a view of senior practice as boundary dwelling (Engestrom, 2009) rather than boundary spanning and learning as situated (Lave and Wenger, 1991) in the liminal spaces those boundaries provide.

Department of Sociology