Willis, Paul (2017) Looking back to go forward: neuroscience, history and public relations. In: Barcelona International Critical PR Conference 7, 3rd-4th July 2017, Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona. (Unpublished)

This paper acknowledges the increasing promotion of neuroscience as a body of
knowledge which can be used by public relations (PR) practitioners to better understand
and influence the behaviour of stakeholders. While acknowledging its potential for PR
in areas such as employee engagement and marketing communication, the paper strikes
a cautionary note about its application in the field. This view draws on humanist
critiques of neuroscience which ask critical questions about its provenance, motivations
and claims. To reinforce these arguments the paper highlights the recent controversy
surrounding the Human Brain Project (HBP), an 11 billion euro research programme
funded by the European Union (EU). It notes how in the wake of this controversy, the
EU has commissioned new historical research with the aim of stimulating a dialogue
between neuroscientists and other scholars from the humanities about neuroscience’s
development and social impact.
The paper goes on to explain how this intervention by the EU supports the aspirations
of a new wave of historians seeking to address a crisis of short term thinking in society,
as well as the erosion of history’s credentials as a ‘future thinking’ discipline. This
discussion serves to support the conference’s overall concern with the identification of
‘critical intersections’. The paper concludes by highlighting the need for public relations
to underpin its responses to emerging developments in the field by drawing on
knowledge from particular branches of historical inquiry, as well as other areas of the
humanities. This call to action addresses the conference organisers’ concern for both
‘vital’ and ‘socially critical’ disciplinary intersections.

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