Developing a Café Delphi historical method to study female experiences of sex, sexuality, and sexism in PR in the 1990s.

Sarah Bowman, Heather Yaxley

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstractpeer-review


Purpose: This paper deepens limited examination of the ‘Café Delphi’ method (Jolly et al., 2021) by uncovering the collective experiences of women working in PR in the 1990s. The Delphi method is traditionally seen as quantitative, predictive, and future orientated (Wakefield and Watson, 2014), assessing complex and ambiguous subjects by drawing on specialist groups of respondents to build consensus. In contrast, qualitative World Café approaches (Brown and Issacs, 2005) focus on narrative and conversation reflecting the oral tradition of historical research. A combined Café Delphi method has the potential to add value to understanding what Peters (2005, p.84) calls ‘a community of memory, of experience, and of communication’ that is seen as a precondition for political and sociological identity.

Context: For women working in PR, the 1990s was a time of promise for empowerment and careers. Yet increased feminisation and professionalisation did not resolve gender inequity in PR practice (Fröhlich, 2004; Fitch and Third, 2010). Indeed, alongside the existence of ‘old boys clubs’ and ‘hedonistic macho agencies’ in the industry (Yaxley, 2017), the 1990s offered a ‘lad’s mag’ culture (Coffey-Glover, 2019, p.49) and an ‘AbFab’ image of PR as ‘all cocaine, champagne and shagging’ (Adache, 2014, p.121). Within this historic context of sex, sexuality, and sexism, tensions between attaining professional power and celebrating personal empowerment reflect movements in feminism in the 1990s (Kroløkke and Sørensen, 2006). However, despite the importance of PR in Britain during the decade (Miller and Dinan, 2000), perspectives of female practitioners working at this time are under-explored in literature and under-acknowledged in practice.

Methodology: The Café Delphi historical method developed for this study has three stages, starting with a Delphi questionnaire to uncover individual experiences of women working in PR in the 1990s. Next, consensus is built during an online World Café session comprising small groups. Finally, an online Café Delphi stage prompts open conversation among participants focusing on ‘constructive dialogue around critical questions’ (Fouché and Light, 2010, p.28).

The holding, and passing on, of feminist oral history reverberates through the study by amplifying traces from the past (Moore et al., 2017). These echoes oscillate back and forth between the past, present, and future (Haraway 1994), registering political and sociological identities that resonate with contemporary movements such as MeToo. This Café Delphi historical method reflects Haraway’s intention to get at ‘how worlds are made and unmade’ (p.62) and connects with increasing feminist critique of PR (Daymon and Demetrious, 2014; Aldoory and Toth, 2021).

Implications: This study contributes to increasing philosophical and methodological pluralism in historical and contemporary PR research (L’Etang, 2013; Jelen-Sanchez, 2017). Drawing on hermeneutic phenomenology (Laverty, 2003), the method’s efficacy and limitations are evaluated using critical reflection. This underpins development of Café Delphi as a suitable ethical methodological approach to uncover individual and collective experiences of women working in PR in the 1990s.

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Original languageEnglish
Publication statusUnpublished - 7 Jul 2022
Event12th International History of PR Conference - Bournemouth University, Bournemouth, United Kingdom
Duration: 6 Jul 20227 Jul 2022


Conference12th International History of PR Conference
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Internet address


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