Call for Papers: Evolutionary Theory and Public Relations

This Call for Papers is for a new conference focusing on evolutionary theory, public relations, strategic communication, and organizational communication that will be held at the University of Vienna July 10-12, 2020. The intent is to establish a new sub-discipline with scholars interested in applying evolutionary theory to those fields. Proposals are due November 15, 2019. Please let me know if you have questions.


“Nothing…makes sense except in the light of evolution, “Dobzhansky, T. (1973).

Department of Communication, University of Vienna, July 10-12, 2020

(One week after BledCom 2020)

– Call for papers –

Evolutionary thinking

Charles Darwin famously stated at the end of The Origin of Species (first edition 1859): “In the distant future I see open fields for far more important researches. Psychology will be based on a new foundation, that of the necessary acquirement of each mental power and capacity by gradation.” (2017, p. 525)

More than 150 years later, evolutionary biologists, anthropologists, and psychologists are exploring one approach to the human mind that is very much in line with Darwin’s visionary claim: Evolutionary psychology. Two of its founding figures, Leda Cosmides and John Tooby, defined this new field of enquiry as an approach in which the “mind is a set of information-processing machines [modules] that were designed by natural selection to solve adaptive problems faced by our hunter-gatherer ancestors” (Tooby & Cosmides, 1997). Admittedly, there is a heated debate about one of the central tenets of evolutionary psychology, e.g., the massive modularity hypothesis. However, few researchers disagree with the field’s core proposition. The human mind is not a universal thinking organ bestowed on humans by an accident of nature but a product of evolution.

Today, evolutionary psychology has made several inroads into the social sciences and humanities. It is applied in diverse disciplines such as marketing (Saad, 2011), political science (Hibbing, Smith & Alford, 2014; Fukuyama, 2011; Orbell, Morikawa, Hartwig, Hanley & Allen, 2004), anthropology and the study of human conflict (Gat, 2006), political psychology and the study of human conflict (Orbell & Morikawa, 2011), philosophy (Rosenberg, 2008), and sociology (Dietz, Burns, & Buttel, 1990). Inevitably, there is also criticism (Goldfinch, 2015), which ranges from total damnation to nuanced doubts (see Confer et al., 2010).

Cary Greenwood (2010) was the first scholar to systematically introduce evolutionary thought to public relations and organizational communication. She proposed evolutionary theory as the metatheory for public relations and adoption of E. O. Wilson’s (1998) idea of consilience, in which biology grounds all thought, all disciplines speak one language, and all scholars pursue similar goals, as the framework. In a slightly altered version of Dobzhansky’s dictum that “nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution” (1973, p. 125), Greenwood argued, “Nothing in public relations makes sense except in the light of evolution” (Greenwood, 2010, p. 471).

In recent years, a few scholars have followed Greenwood’s lead. Charles Marsh is perhaps the foremost contributor, having published works on evolution and mutual aid (2012; 2013), indirect reciprocity and reputation management (2018), and the relationship between cooperation, justice, and public relations (2017). Nothhaft, like Greenwood, calls for a conceptual integration based upon Wilson’s (1998) idea of consilience. Specifically addressing strategic communication, he suggests that for “the field to mature, leading researchers need to work towards a consilient synthesis, i.e., a theoretical framework that contains nonrelativistic conjectures about the world which form a nucleus for research to accumulate around,” (Nothhaft, 2016, p. 69). Building upon the works of Griskevicius and colleagues (Griskevicius & Kenrick, 2013; Griskevicius & Durante, 2015), Seiffert-Brockmann suggests the concept of fundamental motives as a framework for strategic communication (2018).

These suggestions remain exceptions to the rule, however. Currently, relatively few communication scholars are working directly with evolutionary theory. Historically, public relations, in particular, has developed from a variety of fields and disciplines, including communication, economics, microeconomics, behavioral economics, social psychology, behavioral psychology, philosophy, management, and sociology, among others (e.g., see Grunig, 1992; Grunig & Hunt, 1984; Ihlen & van Ruler, 2007; Miller, 2000). What presents itself now is the opportunity to utilize the capacity of evolutionary theory’s middle range theories to shed light on many different concepts that are important to strategic communication, public relations and organizational communication. These include cooperation (Axelrod, 1984; Gintis, Smith, & Bowles, 2001), mutuality (West, Griffin, & Gardner, 2007), (self-)deception (Hippel & Trivers, 2011; Seiffert-Brockmann & Thummes, 2017), reciprocity and altruism (Trivers, 1971; Nowak & Sigmund, 1998), affiliation (Cosmides, 1989), kin selection and inclusive fitness (Hamilton, 1964), group selection (Wilson, 2019), and status (Zahavi, 1975) – to name only a few.

A call for discussion

The scope of this conference is to explore the utility of evolutionary theory with regard to the particular fields of public relations, strategic communication, and organizational communication. Our broader goal is to develop a new sub-field within these disciplines and to gather a small but determined group of researchers who already work, or want to work, in that new field. Our ultimate goal is to connect theories of public relations, strategic communication, and organizational communication with the mind and natural sciences in a rigorous way. Within this framework, we want to engender a broad participation from a variety of areas of research.

Therefore, we invite scholars to submit extended abstracts dealing with the following issues:

Theory building

How can evolutionary theory inform theory building in strategic communication, organizational communication, and public relations? What are the prospects of theories informed by evolutionary thinking? How does existing communication theory fit into evolutionary theory? What are the advantages and disadvantages of evolutionary theories? How does evolutionary thinking relate to other approaches like systems theory or the theory of communicative action? 3

Empirical research and methodologies

How far have the fields of public relations, strategic communication, and organizational communication come in utilizing evolutionary theory, and how does that scale against other fields that employed evolutionary theories, like marketing? How can theories informed by evolutionary thinking be tested? What empirical methods could be used to research these theories? What results can be expected from the application of evolutionary theories, and how will that help the field?


How can theories informed by evolutionary thinking be applied to communication practice? What value has evolutionary thinking for communication professionals?


How do other disciplines integrate evolutionary theory? What can communication science learn from these fields, and how can it benefit? How do public relations, strategic communication, and organizational communication fit into the consilient synthesis?


Finally, we also welcome contributions that take a critical stance toward the application of evolutionary thinking and evolutionary psychology in our fields.


Extended abstracts (1.000 – 2.000 words max., excluding figures, tables and references) should be submitted by 15 November 2019 to Feedback on the abstracts will be provided by 20 December 2019. All abstracts are to be submitted in English.


• Jens Seiffert-Brockmann, University of Vienna

• Howard Nothhaft, Lund University

• Cary Greenwood, Debiasing and Lay Informatics (DaLI) Lab, University of Oklahoma

•Jeong-Nam Kim, University of Oklahoma



Axelrod, R. (1984). The evolution of cooperation. New York: Basic Books. 4

Confer, J. C., Easton, J. A., Fleischman, D. S., Goetz, C. D., Lewis, D. M. G., Perilloux, C., & Buss, D. M. (2010). Evolutionary psychology. Controversies, questions, prospects, and limitations. The American Psychologist, 65(2), 110–126.

Cosmides, L. (1989). The logic of social exchange: Has natural selection shaped how humans reason? Studies with the Wason selection task. Cognition, 31(3), 187–276.

Cosmides, L., & Tooby, J. (1997). The multimodular nature of human intelligence. In A. Schiebel & J. W. Schopf (Eds.), Origin and evolution of intelligence (pp. 71-101). Los Angeles: Center for the Study of the Evolution and Origin of Life, UCLA.

Darwin, C. (2017). On the origin of species. Macmillan Collector’s Library: Vol. 133. London: Macmillan Collector’s Library.

Dietz, T., Burns, T. R., & Buttel, F. H. (1990). Evolutionary theory in sociology: An examination of current thinking. Sociological Forum, 5(2), 155–171.

Dobzhansky, T. (1973). Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution. The American Biology Teacher, 35(March), 125-129.

Fukuyama, F. (2011). The Origins of Political Order: From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution ((Kindle Edition) ed.). London: Profile Books.

Gat, A. (2006). War in Human Civilization. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Gintis, H., Smith, E. A., & Bowles, S. (2001). Costly signaling and cooperation. Journal of Theoretical Biology, 213(1), 103–119.

Goldfinch, A. (2015). Rethinking Evolutionary Psychology. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Greenwood, C. (2010). Evolutionary Theory: The Missing Link for Conceptualizing Public Relations. Journal of Public Relations Research, 22(4), 456-476.

Griskevicius, V., & Durante, K. M. (2015). Evolution and Consumer Behavior. In M. I. Norton, D. D. Rucker, & C. Lamberton (Eds.), Cambridge handbooks in psychology. The Cambridge Handbook of Consumer Psychology (pp. 122–151). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Griskevicius, V., & Kenrick, D. T. (2013). Fundamental motives: How evolutionary needs influence consumer behavior. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 23(3), 372–386.

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Hamilton, W. D. (1964). The genetical evolution of social behaviour. I and II. Journal of Theoretical Biology, 7(1), 1-52.

Hibbing, J. R., Smith, K. B., & Alford, J. R. (2014). Predisposed: Liberals, Conservatives, and the Biology of Political Differences. Abingdon: Routledge.

Hippel, W. von, & Trivers, R. (2011). The evolution and psychology of self-deception. The Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 34(1), 1-16; discussion 16-56.

Ihlen, Ø., & van Ruler, B. (2007). How public relations works: Theoretical roots and public relations perspectives. Public Relations Review, 33(3), 243–248.

Marsh, C. (2012). Converging on harmony. Public Relations Inquiry, 1(3), 313–335.

Marsh, C. (2013). Social Harmony Paradigms and Natural Selection: Darwin, Kropotkin, and the Metatheory of Mutual Aid. Journal of Public Relations Research, 25(5), 426–441.

Marsh, C. (2017). Public Relations, Cooperation, and Justice: From Evolutionary Biology to Ethics. Routledge New Directions in Public Relations & Communication Research. New York: Taylor and Francis. 5

Marsh, C. (2018). Indirect reciprocity and reputation management: Interdisciplinary findings from evolutionary biology and economics. Public Relations Review. 44(4), 463-470.

Miller, K. S. (2000). U.S. public relations history: Knowledge and limitations. In M. E. Roloff & G. D. Paulson (Eds.), Communication Yearbook (Vol. 23, pp. 381-420). London: Sage.

Nothhaft, H. (2016). A Framework for Strategic Communication Research : A Call for Synthesis and Consilience. International Journal of Strategic Communication, 10(2), 69-86.

Nowak, M. A., & Sigmund, K. (1998). Evolution of indirect reciprocity by image scoring. Nature, 393(6685), 573–577.

Orbell, J., & Morikawa, T. (2011). An Evolutionary Account of Suicide Attacks: The Kamikaze Case. Political Psychology, 32(2), 297-322.

Orbell, J., Morikawa, T., Hartwig, J., Hanley, J., & Allen, N. (2004). “Machiavellian” intelligence as a basis for the evolution of cooperative dispositions. American Political Science Review, 98(1).

Rosenberg, A. (2008). Philosophy of Social Science. Boulder, CL: Westview.

Saad, G. (2011). The consuming instinct. Amherst, NY: Prometheus.

Seiffert-Brockmann, J. (2018). Evolutionary Psychology: A Framework for Strategic Communication Research. International Journal of Strategic Communication, 12(4), 417–432.

Seiffert-Brockmann, J., & Thummes, K. (2017). Self-deception in public relations. A psychological and sociological approach to the challenge of conflicting expectations. Public Relations Review, 43(1), 133–144.

Tooby, J., & Cosmides, L. (1997). Evolutionary Psychology: A Primer. Retrieved from

Trivers, R. L. (1971). The Evolution of Reciprocal Altruism. The Quarterly Review of Biology, 46(1), 35–57.

West, S. A., Griffin, A. S., & Gardner, A. (2007). Social semantics: altruism, cooperation, mutualism, strong reciprocity and group selection. Journal of Evolutionary Biology, 20(2), 415–432.

Wilson, E. O. (1998). Consilience. The Unity of Knowledge. New York: Vintage.

Wilson, E. O. (2019). Genesis: The Deep Origins of Societies. New York: Liveright.

Zahavi, A. (1975). Mate selection—A selection for a handicap. Journal of Theoretical Biology, 53(1), 205–214.



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Dr. Cary A. Greenwood, APR, Fellow PRSA, is Associate Director for Public Relations Research for the Debiasing and Lay Informatics (DaLI) Lab at the Center for Applied Social Research at the University of Oklahoma. She has a Ph.D. in communication from the University of Oregon, an M.F.A. in creative writing – fiction from Eastern Washington University and a B.A. in journalism from the University of Oklahoma. She is Accredited by the Public Relations Society of America and is an elected member of the PRSA College of Fellows.

Dr. Greenwood has extensive experience in public relations, including 17 years in corporate public relations and governmental public affairs management. Her skills include strategic communication planning, issue management, public relations campaign development and implementation, media relations, crisis communication, speechwriting, investor and financial communication, employee communication, customer communication, Internet management, publications, budgeting, performance planning and measurement, and staff development and training.

Dr. Greenwood has taught public relations campaigns, crisis communication, case studies and writing for six years at the university level. She is under contract to Routledge for a soon-to-be-published book on whistleblowing in corporations, Public Relations and Whistleblowing: Golden Handcuffs in Corporate Wrongdoing. She studies corporate ethics and compliance, corporate social responsibility, relationships between organizations and publics and whistleblowing. Her work has been published in the Journal of Public Relations Research, Public Relations Review, Communication Research Reports, the Journal of Public Affairs and Journalism History.

During her eight years in management with The Washington Water Power Company, Dr. Greenwood developed and implemented successful strategic communications plans for a two-year centennial celebration, the relicensing a hydroelectric generating facility, plant dedications, a corporate downsizing and the purchase and sale of subsidiary operations. She also developed and implemented successful crisis communications plans for double-digit rate increases, electromagnetic fields and deaths from electrocution, explosion and drowning.

Among her accomplishments as Communications Manager for the Oregon Department of Revenue were successful strategic communications plans for internal communications, tax programs and the agency’s website. Among her accomplishments as Public Affairs Director for the Oregon Department of Forestry were successful strategic communications plans for state and private forest management programs, the fire program and the agency’s website. She also developed and implemented successful crisis communication plans for wildfire emergencies, tree-sitters on state forests, Y2K and debris-flow landslides.