Archive for June, 2010


New Issue of Journal of International Communication

June 25, 2010

Voume 16: 1, 2010 of Journal of International Communication, edited by Naren Chitty at MacQuarrie University has just turned up in my mail box there are several pieces that might interest readers of this blog

Li Xiguang and Wang Jing, ‘Web Based Public Diplomacy: The Role of Social Media in the Iranian and Xinjiang Riots’  (7-22)  this concludes by arguing that China should develop its own social media PD strategy.

There is a lecture by Mark Scott, managing director of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation on ‘A Global ABC: Soft Diplomacy and the World of International Broadcasting’  that discusses the international strategy of ABC (75-85).

And for those of you who sometimes wonder what the field of of International Communication is (this includes me even though IC is part of my job title) there is a a report on the field based on interviews with ‘experts’ .  I’m looking forward to reading this to find out what I do.

Unfortunately Journal of International Communication does not have much of a web presence so no links.


Football, Soft Power and the Decline of Europe

June 24, 2010

A couple of weeks ago John Brown posted on the waning influence of American popular culture in part because of the failure to export American sports.   ( Of course the US has the UFC but I’m not sure that’s the image the State Department wants to promote*)

Over this side of the Atlantic we’re now wondering about the the decline in European football.   I’m particularly fascinated by the fact that President Sarko is personally investigating the state of the French team.  The last time the Italians were knocked out of the Mondiale at this stage they were pelted with rotten fruit on their return home.  What’s Silvio going to do?

I’m rambling:  the reason I started  this post was simply to point out that Nation Branding has an interesting analysis of the impact of the world cup on national brands.

*Note to self: This blog is getting far too heavy – must write a  post on the globalization of mixed martial arts to lower the tone a bit.


Thinking About Relationships

June 23, 2010

Ok so we are convinced that PD needs to take a relational turn.  That is we ought to stop obsessing about messages and communication and think about how we can build relationships.

As I pointed out in an earlier post there are several different genres of relational PD in the literature eg PR, technological, dialogical, organizational but they are mostly vague about what constitutes a relationship.

From the PR literature we get the idea that relationships are supposed to be symmetrical and/or based in dialogue.  I think  that it is important to note that this is a very particular perspective on relationships;  network analysis,  social theory (and our own experience)  offer a range of alternative perspectives.

A few propositions:

Social relationships involve more than communications.  Relationships can be thought of in terms of exchanges of material and non-material resources.   Foreign publics (lets be more concrete – individuals, groups, organizations) enter into relationships with states either because they feel some affinity already (diaspora groups?) or because they think that they are going to get something out of it – resources, prestige, information, help toward a desired goal.

Some relationships are tied to a particular activity (eg people you see at work but not outside of it) or to a particular period (if you change your job how many of your former colleagues do you stay in touch with?) Some relationships are more transposable – eg close friends.   To what are the relationships constructed by PD activities self-sustaining?

Relationships compete for attention and resources.  You can only judge the importance of a relationship    relative to someone else’s set of relationships.  I think that this is one of the basic problems of diplomacy: your relationship with someone else is really good.   Unfortunately their relationship with somebody else is even better.

Relationships aren’t necessarily positive.  You may have a very strong relationship with someone based on the idea that you’d like to put them out of business.

There is a lot more to be said about the characteristics of relationships but the take away for now is that most relationships have little to do with Habermasian dialogue and a lot more to do with standard human interests.


What Academics Say About PD (Revisited)

June 21, 2010

At the moment I’m working though a huge stack of PD reading and it keeps getting bigger because I keep finding interesting references to follow up.  So   today via a citation in Kathy Fitzpatrick’s piece in the Hague Journal of Diplomacy it’s Kristin Lord’s 2005 conference paper ‘What Academics (Should Have to) Say About Public Diplomacy‘ that that got to the top of the reading pile.

The starting point is that most of the post 9/11 writing on PD was by practitioners, policy types and think tankers not the academy.   In the paper she examines the resources that the research literature  can provide.  In particular she  focuses on work in constructivist international relations and social psychology.   (I’ll come back to constructivist IR in a later post as I’ve been meaning to write about the Thomas Risse piece that Kristen cites).

Lord reviews studies from a number of areas.  She looks at the circumstances under which contact will produce positive feelings, the dynamics of  ingroup and outgroup identity and its role in conflict, the way in which relations conceptualized as hostile and friendly shape the reception of messages.  Her conclusion is that public diplomacy should seek to promote complex, cross cutting identities  and to be aware of the impact of categories that practitioners use for instance talking about the ‘Muslim world’  as well as the categories that exist in groups whose attitudes are relevant.   This engagement with the social psychology literature is not something that I’ve seen picked up on in other recent work but it does make a couple of connections to older work that in turn connects the work that I’m doing that underpins this blog.

My interest in networks partly stems from the belief that a network perspective allows us to pull together some apparently disparate strands of literature and work towards a more integrated perspective on Public Diplomacy.    The social psychology literature connects both to the development of network thinking and to the pre history of PD research in psychological warfare.  Firstly, the development of social psychology in the middle of the 20th Century was very much tied to the development of network analysis as a tool for analysing group dynamics.  Indeed the journal Social Psychology was originally called Sociometry for the method of its founder Jacob Moreno who is regarded by many as the father of social network analysis.  Paul Lazarsfeld, the founder of the Columbia School, actually collaborated with Moreno and as Columbia studies developed they increasingly gave prominence to the role of social networks in shaping communication effects. The irony is that Lazarsfeld’s work on surveys and statistical methods was one of the factors that pushed American social science away from networks and towards a focus on the individual.  What I mean here is thinking about the effects of communication as something that happens to an individual divorced from any social context.

Secondly,  one of the major sources of theoretical and empirical development in American social science in the 1940s and 1950s was psychological warfare research.  I think that is important for the new generation of PD scholars to know some of the history of this work,  because some of it is helpful and relevant to current concerns  but also to avoid some of the dead ends.  Simpson covers some of the history and there are interesting overlaps between the characters in his story and the stories told in the books by Freeman and Gilman.

A third connection that occurred to me in reading the paper  is  with New York School of relational sociology and  the emphasis on categorization as an aspect of identity.  People consider themselves as groups and in defining themselves define others.  How we categorize people, how they categorize us and how they categorize themselves has significant impacts on social dynamics.  One of the major strands of the New York School, going back to Harrison White’s recently published lectures at Havard in the 1960s is precisely the consideration of intersection between culture and social structure or between categories and networks.  The important point is that groups emerge from the intersection of relations and categories – and are potentially constructed from either side.  This makes explicit the relationship between categories, identities and relations.

What this says to me is that the current generation of PD scholars should be thinking about the intellectual history of the field not just its institutional history.

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

Freeman, L.C. (2004) The Development of Social Network Analysis: A Study in the Sociology of Science. Vancouver, BC: Empirical Press.

Gilman, N. (2004) Mandarins of the Future: Modernization Theory in Cold War America. Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Lord, K.M. (2005) ‘What Academics (Should Have To Say) About Public Diplomacy’, Washington DC: APSA

Simpson, C. (1994) Science of Coercion: Communication Research and Psychological Warfare 1945-1960. New York: Oxford University Press.

White, H.C. (2008) ‘Notes on the Constituents of Social Structure: Soc. Rel. 10 – Spring ’65’, Sociologica, 1/2008: 1-14.  Available here


Public Diplomacy vs Political Campaigns

June 17, 2010

Reading the Lord and Lynch CNAS report about Obama’s public diplomacy strategy crystallized a couple thoughts about the differences between public diplomacy and election campaigns.

  1. (Some) Election campaigns have a lot more money.  On the first page of Battles to Bridges Rhonda Zaharna says that the US Shared Values advertising campaign in the Islamic World in 2001-02 cost $12m.  The Obama Campaign spent $730m to influence a much smaller number of people.  (Yes I know I’m not talking constant dollars)but this comparison is misleading because political campaigns are much easier than public diplomacy.
  2. Election campaigns only have one objective: to produce a victory on election day, having said that campaigns regularly fail because of their inability to focus on the objective and maintain a coherent strategy.  Public Diplomacy frequently lacks such a clear focus.  Lynch and Lord list seven objectives of the US engagement strategy towards Afghanistan and Pakistan.
  3. Producing an action (voting) is often easier than changing somebody’s attitude or opinion.  A vote cast by somebody acting on impulse or out of ignorance counts just as much as one cast on the basis of a rational consideration of the alternatives. The effect of an electoral campaign can be quite short lived by still effective.

In considering PD activities the relationship between the desired effect and the necessary resources is a central strategic question.


CNAS Report on Obama’s Engagement Strategy

June 17, 2010

I’ve been reading the report on the Obama Administration’s global engagement strategy that was put out by the Center for a New American Security  a few weeks ago.  Given that the report was put together by Kristin Lord  and Marc Lynch (both of whom have done important work at the IR/Communication interface)  it’s not surprising that it’s an excellent and substantive work.  I’d recommend it to anyone who wants to get an up to date understanding of where the Administration is at the moment.


Four Questions on Resource Allocation

June 11, 2010
      Rushing off to meetings but four quick questions

    1. How much resource should a country devote to PD?
    2. How do countries decide how to allocate resources to PD?
    3. How should this resource be divided up between different countries/issues/activities?
    4. How do countries allocate PD resources to different activities?

It seems to be me that Public Diplomacy studies should have a way to answer these questions.

Questions 1 and 3 really require us to develop some ideas  about measures and methodologies.  If anyone can point me towards some efforts to do this I’d be really interested.

Questions 2 and 3 need comparative research.  My guess at the answer to these is a standard institutionalist answer that you get what you got last year plus or minus x%.  The question is then why did these patterns of resource allocation appear?  This points us towards ideas of punctuated equilibrium and path dependency.  One of the criticisms that has been made of British PD over the past 10-15 years (for instance in the studies that Mark Leonard did for the Foreign Policy Centre) is that resources have not been allocated on the basis of strategic priorities but because we’ve always done that.

See also this post More Questions on Resource Allocation


Persuasion, Rhetoric, Ethics

June 10, 2010

I was looking for something else and I came across this piece in  the latest Public Relations Review

Porter, L. (2010) ‘Communicating for the good of the state: A post-symmetrical polemic on persuasion in ethical public relations’, Public Relations Review, 36: 127-133.

You don’t have to read into the PR literature for very long before you become aware of James Grunig’s argument that PR practice should aspire to a symmetrical relationship between the organization and its publics.  The implications of this idea is that the ideal practice should seek to neutralize power differentials.  This line of argument has rendered the role of persuasion, long assumed to be the basic function of PR, ethically suspect.  Porter, coming from a rhetorical perspective, challenges this view.  In his perspective the rationality of rhetoric comes from competing efforts to persuade.  In some of my previous work I’ve argued that ‘spin is the rhetoric of the information age’ so it’s an argument that I’ve got a lot sympathy with.  I also like Bruno Latour’s defence of political speech in his Contemporary Political Theory essay

Again there are parallels between the debate in PR and in PD studies.  Conceptualizations of soft power seem to be getting progressively softer to the extent that I’ve heard it being argued that persuasion is too hard to qualify as soft power.  Part of the issue here is what we understand by persuasion.

This leads to the broader issue of the normative bases of public diplomacy.  This questioning of persuasion seems to come out of communications theories of ethics for instance the work of Jurgen Habermas.  I’ve got some doubts about the extent to which this type of work is really useful in the PD context.  The first of these is the fundamental question about the extent to which it really makes sense to work with such strongly rationalist model of ethics.  The second is that there are well established ethical positions in the IR literature that start from a more collective model of ethical practice.  It seems to me that if a normative theory is to have any significance it must have some relevance to the practice that provides criteria for judgement for and that communication ethics seem to raise an impossibly high bar for what is a form of political practice.

Now that opens the requirement for a post on what a relevant set of criteria actually are but that is going to have wait for another day (or month).

Brown, R. (2003) ‘Spinning the World: Spin Doctors, Mediation and Foreign Policy’, pp. 154-72 in F. Debrix and C. Weber (eds) Rituals of Mediation: International Politics and Social Meaning, Minneapolis, Minn: University of Minnesota Press.

Brown, R. (2003) ‘Rethinking Government-Media Relations: Towards a Theory of Spin’, Politicians and the Press: From Co-operation to an Adversary Relationship?, Marburg: ECPR General Conference. [Zap me an e-mail (r.c.m.brown at  if you’d like a copy of this]

Latour, B. (2003) ‘What if we Talked Politics a Little?’, Contemporary Political Theory, 2: 143-64.


The International Politics of Public Diplomacy

June 9, 2010
    I’ve been working on the promised follow up to the last post but getting a bit stuck so here’s part of the idea.

    Underlying the last post was the idea that we could overcome the ‘policy’  and  ‘communication’ tension by recognizing that these are both choices about relations.  This means simply recognizing that some choices about who we have friendly/hostile relations with affect other relationships including those with those ‘foreign publics’.   It may be that we make a conscious decision to trade off relations against each other.  The bigger error is not recognizing that these trade offs exist.

    The nature of the basic diplomatic relationship between two countries (plus the nature of political regime) will shape the space within which public diplomacy can operate.

    State of Diplomatic Relations Motivation for PD Activities Target Country Attitude
    1 Good Reinforce relationship Positive
    2 Good Influence policy stance Positive to Ambivalent
    3 Good to Ambivalent Influence political development Ambivalent
    4 Poor Improve relationship Ambivalent
    5 Poor Undermine regime/support opposition Hostile/Obstructive

    What I’m suggesting in this table is that the prospects for PD activities are actually going to be shaped by the political context not just the quality of the communications.

    In case one we have good relations with another country and we develop say exchange programmes.  In two we have good relations with another country but we would like to influence their position on a particular issue.  The reaction here will be shaped by regime type.  If you have an open plural political system you probably won’t be to bothered (although there are limits eg in support for particular parties) a more closed regime may be more concerned.

    The third case probably has an authoritarian/semi-authoritarian regime as a result public diplomacy engagement with civil society groups is regarded with a certain degree of suspicion.   Not least because Western PD organizations tend to have a public commitment to the development of civil society as a support to democracy.

    In the fourth case we might be looking at symbolic acts such as the exchange of sports teams that are a direct extension of the diplomatic game.

    The fifth case reflects a situation where a deteriorating diplomatic relationship or increasing domestic repression leads to increased support for PD activities that support the domestic opposition.  Cases 3 and 5 are interesting because for the host government the difference between them may not be obvious.  In both cases there are likely to be increasing restrictions on the operations of PD organizations.  It has been reported that the Egyptian government is insisting that US support can only be provided to government approved organizations.

    What this analysis suggests is that one factor influencing the possibilities for PD and the impact are diplomatic relations and regime type.  The language of public diplomacy, particularly in cultural relations organizations,  tends to portray it as non-political but from the perspective of host countries this may not be the case.  For example we can see the restrictions that the British Council operates under in Zimbabwe, Burma, Iran, Sudan and Russia.  From the point of view of a receiving government regime PD activities may actually contribute to a worsening of diplomatic relations.

    PD practitioners have good reason to portray their work as non-political. But from an analytical point of view looking at the politics of the activity in terms of the diplomatic relationship and the domestic situation adds an important dimension to our understanding of public diplomacy.


Policy vs Communication? It’s all relations to me

June 5, 2010

You don’t have to spend too much time reading about US public diplomacy before you encounter discussion of the lack of connection between ‘policy’ and ‘communication’  (or ‘the say-do gap’).  What this means is something like ‘ don’t waste your money on public diplomacy efforts in the Middle East if you plan to keep invading countries in the region, people don’t like your policies and communicating more won’t actually change that.’

It may be that this separation is entrenched in the policy world but intellectually it’s not helpful. The language of ‘policy’ and ‘communication’ tends to perpetuate a view of PD as communications technicians.  One of the consequences of the relational perspective in public relations is the argument that PR has to be seen as strategic management function not as simply about communications.

What would this mean in an international context? My starting point is that we can conceptualize foreign policy  as a set of relations.  The context for a country’s public diplomacy is its existing and desired external relations.  By choosing other actors as friends or enemies you make a decision that affects your relationships with their friends and enemies and with your existing friends and enemies.

A simple example of this is in the saying that my enemy’s, enemy is my friend.  Another example of this kind of relational thinking is Raymond Aron’s  response to criticism  by other French intellectuals that his opposition to Soviet communism effectively allied him with all kinds of unsavoury right wing dictators (and the US of course).  His response: ‘you choose your enemies not your allies’.   His apparent alliances were actually an unintended consequence of adopting a negative attitude to the USSR.

This is what can be called the horizontal dimension of relations (I’ll address the vertical in the next post).  The message is that we may think about relations as dyads but a set of dyads is a network and choices  about single relationships have  effects that ramify through  the network.  This isn’t just network analysis this is the realm of classic balance of power diplomacy.  It’s Bismarck manipulating the European order or Kissinger appreciating that improving the Washington-Beijing relationship affects both the Washington-Moscow and Beijing-Moscow dyads.

A criticism of the Obama Administration is that in its determination to improve relations with countries that had ‘difficult’ relations with the US  have led to damaged relations with allies.  For example the decision to scrap the missile defence systems in eastern Europe may have improved relations with Russia but at the cost of strained relations with governments in Warsaw and Prague.  Similarly the opening to Syria weakens the anti-Syrian front in the Lebanon.  The Obama initiatives can be seen either as a calculated trade off (fair enough)  or as a failure to understand the relational dynamics at work (bad).

You can see a similar network dynamic at work in the Israel-Turkey relationship.  Although some commentators point to the role of the Gaza War in undermining the relationship you can also see the issue in a network context.  The traditional foreign policy of Kemalist Turkey was to turn towards Europe and away from the Middle East.  To become modern you needed to disconnect from the East and connect to the West.  In decoupling from the Arab world Turkey encountered another country in a similar position, Israel.  A key relationship at work here is that between Turkey and the EU.  Turkey has been negotiating with the EU since 1963 but it has now become clear that the major countries in the EU will not accept Turkish membership and the weakening of the relationship with the EU has facilitated a new policy direction.   In the last few years Turkey has pursued what has been called a ‘neo-Ottoman’ policy turning to back to the Middle East.  It might be expected that closer relations with the Arab countries and the need to manage those relations would tend to undermine relations with Israel.

I’ll address the implications for PD in my next post but some interim conclusions.   Foreign policy as a whole is about the formation and management of relations.  Relations are interdependent and sophisticated foreign policy thinking has to deal with the implications of this interdependence.  This may require a recognition that some choices will have negative impacts on existing relationships.   The key point is that these political choices form the context in which PD operates and which structure the possibilities of success and failure.