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Developing Public Diplomacy Studies

April 20, 2010

At the moment there is a movement towards building Public Diplomacy studies as an area of research and teaching in Universities.  There are two MA programmes up and running in the US and I know that there are others in development.  How should the field develop?

In order this to answer this question we need to take stock of where PD studies are.  The current wave of PD studies has two roots.  Firstly, the interest in mid and late 1990s on the transformation of diplomacy in the face of the media, the internet and the end of the Cold War. Secondly, the war on terror and the identification of PD as a way of managing the problem of Islamist extremism.

It is this second wave that has driven the recent growth of PD literature.  The consequence of this is a focus on the US and an emphasis on current policy issues rather than basic research. As PD studies develops we are beginning to move beyond this situation.  This leads a few prescriptions.

1. Recognize the particularities of the US case.  a) All countries have different institutional arrangements and external relationships and PD studies needs to recognize the impact of these differences.  b)  The position of the US in the international system multiplies the distinctiveness of the US case.  To put it crudely the US isn’t a ‘normal’ country.  Putting these two considerations together means that we have to cautious about attempting to generalizing from the case that has attracted the most attention.

2. Following on from this we need genuinely comparative studies of a range of countries.

3. We need to draw a clearer distinction between research and policy commentary.  PD scholarship ought to be able to contribute to the improvement of the practice of PD but that contribution ought to be rooted in a solid body of evidence and theory

I’ll pick this up in my next post

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