Archive for May, 2010

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More on the International Relations / Communications Gap

May 31, 2010

In the Public Diplomacy studies the dominant voices come come from  IR and communication.  This creates a problem in that both tend to work at very different levels of analysis – IR with states and communications with individuals.  This leads to a huge gap between the call for a more ‘strategic’ approach that you find in the policy literature and individuals who may or may not being influenced by PD activities.  When IR people look to the communications literature for insights they tend to end up with individual level cognitive models of influence.

Bridging these different levels of analysis is important.  Filling in the gap between strategies and individuals tells you who you have to influence but also if and how they can be influenced.  This sounds a bit cryptic but what I mean is that the people you are trying to influence are office holders or opinion leaders who are embedded within organizational and social networks that shape what they pay attention to and how they are going to act.  Looking at these people through the lens of individual level communication effects or models of dialogue really misses the point that these are not isolated individuals.  Influence has got to be thought of as something more social.

Here I think that the politics literature can help.    I’m reminded of William Riker’s notion of the missing liberal art of heresthetic – as he puts it in the preface to The Art of Political Manipulation (New Haven CT.: Yale, 1986) heresthetic is differentiated from rhetoric because while it is

‘true that people win politically because they have induced other people to join them in alliances and coalitions.  But the winners induce by more than rhetorical attraction.  Typically they win because they have set up the situation in such a way that other people will want to join them  – or will feel forced by circumstances to join them – even without any persuasion at all.  And this is what heresthetic is about: structuring the world so you can win.’

Two points.  Firstly, this sounds pretty much like some of the earlier formulations of soft power.  Secondly, in the real world influence will often operate through a mix of factors, it includes structuring the choices that actors have to make, negotiating,  bargaining, exchanging  that have a ‘material’ component not simply an ideational one.

Conceptualizing the public diplomacy problem purely as one of communication limits the theoretical (and practical) tools available and may actually make the problems look more difficult than they actually are.

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Pakistan and the Problem of Credibility

May 30, 2010

Abu Muquwama’s co-blogger Londonstani is consistently one of the most interesting blogosphere voices on questions of radicalization.  He has an interesting post on attitudes to the US in Pakistan and the credibility that is given to what, to an outsider, look like conspiracy theories.

This brings me back to the consequences of network position on how you see the world.  If you are sitting in Pakistan you see the world in a different way than you do from Leeds or Washington.  This is a consequence of different social relations and a different media environment.

This stimulates a couple of other thoughts.

  1. A lot of PD literature emphasizes the importance of credibility and international broadcasting organizations put a lot of effort into maintaining the quality of their output in order to maintain credibility.  The catch is that the network perspective tells you that credibility is mostly to do with the position of the receiver not the quality of the sender.  If you are sitting in Pakistan surrounded by a lot of people (and media) telling you that the US has a secret plan to dismember Pakistan and an American broadcaster tells you that it doesn’t who is going to be more credible?  Credibility is a judgement that is made relative to the rest of your environment plus the record of the source.
  2. I’m firmly of the school of thought that says more media leads to more fragmentation of communications.   If more people are participating in social/communication networks that cater to their own world view you are going to end up with more polarized views. This is not simply a problem in relation to Pakistan.   It’s worth noting some recent work on polarization in US politics (a couple of references below) actually detect the impact of cable television on not just political attitudes but also patterns of participation and styles of presidential leadership.  From a PD point of view the question of how you tap into these relatively closed networks becomes  a central challenge.

Cohen, J.E. (2008) The Presidency in the Era of 24-Hour News. Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press.

Prior, M. (2007) Post-broadcast Democracy: How Media Choice Increases Inequality in Political Involvement and Polarizes Elections. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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It’s all about the Alienation

May 25, 2010

What can we expect from Public Diplomacy?  It seems to me that a realistic sense of the limits of PD is one of the requirements of PD studies.  In thinking about limits I was reminded of two books one from IR and one from communication that seem to be plowing the same furrow, these are James Der Derian, On Diplomacy: A Genealogy of Western Estrangement (Oxford: Blackwell, 1987) and John Durham Peters, Speaking into the Air: A History of the Idea of Commununication (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999).

What both these books share is a view that people (Durham) and states (Der Derian) are separated by an ontological gulf that  cannot be fully bridged.  Diplomacy is  about how we manage this estrangement.  For Peters contemporary culture is obsessed with the idea of communication (particularly in its dialogic form) as a way of overcoming the separation between individuals.  His view is that we should just get over it.  Humans are just separate;  we can never really see the world from another’s point of view it then follows that relationships can never be based on perfect understanding.   The implication is that the diplomatic task of managing relationships is universal and permanent.

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Learning from Diplomacy 1

May 24, 2010

In reading through the PR literature you see that over the past thirty years or so the field has been keen to move away from the idea that PR is about companies trying to manipulate their publics through the use of the media.  One idea that you  find recurring is the companies (or other organizations) need two way relationships that is they need to, at least, listen to their publics and preferably engage in a dialogue with them.  Further these relationships should be symmetrical which means it is not just up to the public to adapt to the organization but the organization needs to adapt as well.  The extent to which PR lives up to this in practice is another matter.

In thinking about the relational turn in both PR and PD I was struck by the importance of turning to  another literature on relationship management – diplomacy.

A few aspects of diplomacy immediately come to mind.

  1. Diplomacy in the modern international system has symmetry and ‘two way’ built into its DNA through the doctrine of sovereign equality.  In legal and protocol terms all states are equal.
  2. Diplomacy is used to dealing with conflictual or mixed relationships that endure for extended periods.
  3. One of the most characteristic tools of diplomacy is negotiation.   This points us to modes of influence and communication that come neither from interpersonal communications or models of mass communication.  Negotiation can involve both a redefinition of situations, interests and identities through dialogue and information exchange  and bargaining.
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UK Development Aid and PD

May 18, 2010

when the Labour government came to power in 1997 it removed international development from the FCO and created a separate Department for International Development. DFID has generally sought to distance itself from UK foreign policy to the extent that it was only in 2009 that it adopted the UKaid branding for its overseas work after complaints from the Parliamentary oversight committee that the UK wasn’t getting credit for its activities.

One of more controversial activities of DFID has been a programme of work on development education in the UK. Although the new coalition government is pledged to maintain aid expenditure one of its first cuts has been to this area of activity. Here are constrasting reactions from the right and left sides of the UK blogosphere. This does raise a more general question about the extent to which governments need to work with domestic publics to support international linkages.

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Learning from Public Relations

May 18, 2010

One of issues that bubbles below the surface of Public Diplomacy Studies is the relationship with Public Relations as a practice and as a field of study. Partly this is a matter of PD scholars and practitioners trying to distance themselves from a communication activity with a poor public reputation. If we move beyond this I think that there are things that Pd can learn from the development of PR as a field.

Over the weekend I’ve been following up some of the references that Kathy Fitzpatrick cites in her 2007 Hague Journal of Diplomacy piece and Rhonda Zaharna uses in Battles to Bridges. I will have more to say about the substantive differences and similarities later but I though that it’s worth flagging up some of the things that PD studies can learn from PR studies. Some of the debates that are currently going on in PD seem to echo earlier developments in PR.

A major element of this is the turn to relationships as the central focus of PR. Over the past 20 years there has been an effort to refocus PR from a concern with communications and image to substantive relationships. The consequence of this is that an organization’s PR should be seen not as communications but as a general management function that uses strategic communication as one tool. In part this goes back to the lament of communication professionals in business and government that products or policies are developed without their involvement and they are then expected to sell them. There is also a deeper point that relationships are central to success of an organization so that maintaining those relationships is not an afterthought that can be addressed by some advertising or a TV interview. This has a couple of consequences. Firstly, communications professionals have to be prepared and able to play roles in the management of the organization as a whole. Communications specialists in organizations always lament that their specialized skills are not appreciated and they are not represented in senior management but the logic of the ‘relational turn’ is that specialized skills are not enough more general strategic management skills are also required so that they can actually participate in the overall running of the organization. Secondly, it is no longer enough to assess the impact of PR activities in communications terms either on inputs (how many press conferences have we held) or outputs (do more people recognize our name) PR evaluation has to look at the state of relationships with relevant publics.

This question of measurement and evaluation is bubbling up in the ISA PD group at the moment and it’s worth pointing to a programme of work that was commissioned by the International Association of Business Communicators in the 1980s (there’s a summary in the Grunig, Grunig and Dozier chapter listed below). One of the conclusions was that it wasn’t possible to directly measure the impact of PR at a programme level because pay offs were long term and contextual. This is an argument that PD practitioners have frequently made but it definitely seems like PR has a body of research that can contribute to supporting the argument.

Here’s are the references that this post draws on. More on this later as I dig further in the literature

Fitzpatrick, K. (2007) ‘Advancing the New Public Diplomacy: A Public Relations Perspective’, Hague Journal of Diplomacy, 2: 187-211.

Grunig, J.E. (1993) ‘Image and Substance: From Symbolic to Behavioral Relationships’, Public Relations Review, 19: 121-39.

Grunig, J.E., L.A. Grunig, and D.M. Dozier (2006) ‘The Excellence Theory’, pp. 21-62 in C.H. Botan and V. Hazleton (eds) Public Relations Theory II, Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Ledingham, J. (2003) ‘Explicating Relationship Management as a General Theory of Public Relations’, Journal of Public Relations Research, 15: 181-198.

Ledingham, J.A., and S.D. Bruning (1998) ‘Relationship Management in Public Relations: Dimensions of an Organization-Public Relations’, Public Relations Review, 14: 55-65.

Zaharna, R. (2010) Battles to Bridges: US Strategic Communication and Public Diplomacy after 9/11. Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan.

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UK Public Diplomacy Updates

May 13, 2010

I’ve just spotted a crop of PD relevant reports from the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee.  They have a their response to the FCO 2008-09 Annual Report and separate reports on the British Council and the BBC World Service, there are also responses from the Government and the BBC and British Council.  Buried among the evidence submitted there is a useful letter from, Chris Bryant, the junior minister responsible  that outlines the latest round of reorganizations in British PD community.  the highlights include the reorganization of the communication function in the FCO plus revisions to the interagency structure.

It will be interesting to see whether the arrival of William Hague as Foreign Secretary will bring about a change of approach.

Update: Hague gave quite a detailed overview of his thinking in a speech to the Royal United Services Institute in March.  I suspect that the importance that he attaches to the FCO will raise morale there.  One interesting aspect is his emphasis on strengthening bilateral relationships.  Under Labour there has been a strong emphasis on multilateralism and functional organization.  Hague talks about the need for a ‘distinctive British foreign policy’