An obituary/commentary following the sad passing of Professor Dr Carolyn Cline, one of the pioneers in research on women in public relations who set a path for future research and continues to influence comms women researchers across the world. A blog by Dr Martina Topić
I find out from Professor Dr Elizabeth L. Toth of the University of Maryland about the sad passing of Professor Dr Carolyn Cline. Carolyn was the lead author of the seminal The Velvet Ghetto report that influenced many generations of scholars studying women in PR and this influence continues up to the present day with generations of researchers across the globe reading and citing that important research authored in collaboration also with E. L. Toth, J. V. Turk, L. M. Walters, N. Johnson and H. Smith in 1986.
With her passing, a part of the legacy goes too. By legacy, I do not just mean the Velvet Ghetto report and her research because nobody in the right mind would question the importance of Carolyn Cline’s work and her pioneering status in PR and Comms scholarship. What I mean by legacy is the circle of American feminist PR scholars that she was part of, and this circle also includes other outstanding American scholars who continue to influence and inspire generations of researchers such as Elizabeth L. Toth, Linda Aldoory and Bey-Ling Sha. What has fascinated me for years, since I’ve got lucky enough to get acquainted with these amazing women is not just their outstanding research but their solidarity and willingness to support and push ahead other women scholars. So, last year they supported Professor Dr Bey-Ling Sha for an award from one professional association and I remember writing about my own outstanding experience of working with Bey-Ling in support of that application and then buzzing about the fact that these women are coming together to push one of them ahead. I remember thinking how great one must be to selflessly try to get an award for someone else and I was delighted to be part of that initiative.
Part of this solidarity affected and moved me too. Upon getting invited into focus groups for a new book by Elizabeth L. Toth and Linda Aldoory and getting acquainted I instantly felt comfortable asking for help in finding references for my promotion application to a reader (approximately associate professor) at my University. I knew I cannot have references from people I collaborated with, so I asked for help and Elizabeth L. Toth asked Carolyn Cline for me and she agreed to provide the reference despite being retired and no longer involved with the scholarship. But her interest and passion for reading new scholarships continued long into retirement and she always followed work produced in the field she helped establish. If Carolyn was British, she would have been the Queen of REF with the impact she made with her work. And, needless to say, she said yes and forever honoured me for having her name on my readership application and bound me to show this form of solidarity to other women.
Going back to the Velvet Ghetto, this report influenced my work greatly. In the EUPRERA project on Women in PR, in a systematic literature review, this outstanding report made me realise the continuous circle women in PR face with issues going from one to the other but then reaching the full circle and coming back to what they were. So, in four decades of research on women in PR, the concerns women express remained the same. For e.g., the issue of the pay gap and the glass ceiling were analysed as part of the discrimination studies in the 1980s and then it appeared in the 1990s under organisational theory. Between 2000 and 2009, this issue appeared under the professionalism debate and then returned in 2010-2019 under work discrimination concerns. I argued that the discrimination against women has reached the full circle, which was a compelling and publishable argument so the report and the paper I co-authored are being read internationally and are harnessing citation at a faster pace than any other work I ever produced. But I would have not seen this pattern without the Velvet Ghetto report and Carolyn setting the path to this research first. We exchanged emails about my work and promotions application, and Carolyn said she would like to visit the UK when the pandemic ends so we could meet for a lunch and discuss research. Sadly, this is not going to happen now.
I remember searching for the Velvet Ghetto report for months; it was not easy to find as it is sold out due to its importance and value and I remember my excitement when an admin colleague who was helping me search finally found a copy in a second-hand bookstore in San Francisco. The price went well over £200, which is more than new books cost and I keep it in the original protected box specially stored as a relic and one of the most important pieces of work ever produced in our field.
The circle of great American feminists now lost one of its own, but the legacy of the work Carolyn Cline did will live on because a turn always comes for another scholar to carry Carolyn’s work forward…
Nothing lasts forever
The universe we know
Must keep the balance of the Wheel
And master ebb and flow
Syntropy’s the builder
Of order, life and light
While entropy tears down again
With chaos, death and night
Nothing lasts forever
The stars will fade away
But entropy is on the Wheel
And so must yield someday
Time is like a stopwatch
That hangs upon a chain
And when it stops, God winds the spring
To start it up again
Nothing lasts forever
The Wheel is fair but stern
However bright or bleak it seems
There comes another turn
On the 6th Day of December 2022