Cultural relativism : case studies of public relations in the Emirates, 1994-1996
This research investigates the impact of oil on a traditional Arab society. The . literature which addresses societal change IS methodically reviewed, with substantial attention given to the theories of noted sociologist Max Weber as well as many more recent scholars who have adapted and re-interpreted Weber's seminal insights. Following the review of relevant literature, the reader is introduced to the pre-oil, traditional society of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The body of the research reports, illuminates and examines through case studies the challenges of wrenching social change in a traditional society. The research finds that introduction of oil is the change agent. The invitation extended to Western oil companies to manage the extraction industry resulted in enormous disruption to the society as it then existed, and provided very large sums of capital to the UAE. Both of these factors, the insertion within the society of a western industrial culture of size and importance, and the opportunities for the UAE to develop and modernize at great speed due to the availability of large resources, combined to place enormous tension on the social traditions and practices of the then tribal society. The research then turns to the ways and means that both the society and the western oil companies employed to manage the dynamic of change. The specific role of the Oil Company's Public Relations function is examined in depth. The thesis that the public relations function served both the company and the society at large as the primary agent of mitigation is stated and tested. This paper finds that the public relations function performed a critical service by explaining the traditions of the society to the oil company, and negotiating for the oil company with the formal and informal organizations present in the society. These public relations practitioners also performed the critical task of representing, and at times. performing advocacy services for, groups within the society whose values were threatened by the western practices of the oil companies. This latter function is very different from the traditional roles of western public relations staffs. The research concludes that in this particular circumstance the contribution of the public relations staff was essential to both the company and the society in coping with enormous social pressures.