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Everyday Soft Power

July 16, 2013

In the Lords Committee Hearing on UK Soft Power and Influence the hearing started off with the four departments represented talking about the good work they are doing in this area and this stimulated the following comment from Baroness Nicholson

Following the point that Lord Forsyth was making, the excellent outcomes that departmental representatives are telling us about are fully laudable. However, is it possible that they are a little bit as one would expect you to produce from your departmental responsibilities? Actually, what we are looking for is that extra called soft power, which is something over and above the normal daily routine as one would expect it.

I’m with Bruno Latour on this one, as he says in Reassembling the Social  ‘power, like society, is the final result of a process and not a reservoir, a stock or a capital’ (p.64)

Baroness Nicholson is looking at this the wrong way round:  soft power is not in the ‘extra’ but precisely in the ‘normal daily routine’.   it’s in the routines of scientists who choose to partner with colleagues from particular universities, it’s in the decisions about which  films to watch, or which country to visit on holiday, or which stars to pay attention.   That everyday is embedded in networks of relationships – influence is related to particular areas and doesn’t provide an ‘extra’ that can be easily redeployed.

But this line of argument doesn’t just apply to ‘soft power’ it applies to any type of ‘power’.  The French concept of the diplomatie d’influence relates to precisely the everyday processes that go on in expert networks and international organizations.  Even if you’re thinking of military resources much of their political effect comes from the way that networks (media, intelligence, diplomatic) produce representations of their consequences through their routine everyday action.

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