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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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