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


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