The International Relations/Communications Gap Revisited

February 20, 2011

One of the earliest topics on this blog was the gap between discussions of public diplomacy rooted in the discipline of  International Relations and those that come from Communications including PR.   What you get  is IR based discussions that recognize the growing importance of public diplomacy but are vague on how PD actually has an effect.  In contrast communications based discussion are clearer on the how but lack context.

One of the sources of this gap is the different levels of analysis that the two fields of study tend to operate at. To oversimplify and caricature;  IR writing tends to be conceptualized at the level of the state or states-system and be vague about what is inside the state.  In contrast communications writing tends to be conceptualized at the level of individual or small group psychology but is then vague about the international context.  To add additional confusion there has been a tendency over the last couple of decades for constructivist IR writing to borrow concepts like socialization from sociology and social psychology and then apply them to states mixing up macro and micro levels of analysis.

In practice public diplomacy seeks to bridge the gap between national priorities and foreign publics. Building a framework that allows us to understand the interaction between the policy and the publics, between the macro and micro is the central theoretical challenge for public diplomacy scholars.

I think that a starting point for this bridge building project is for scholars on both sides of this gap to try think about how their approaches can be translated into practice:  which groups or individuals need to be influenced, under what circumstances, using what tools? Given constraints of organization, time, resources and political context what can we realistically expect to achieve?

Essentially we need to make the chain of reasoning underpinning the claims transparent and hence testable.  Being explicit about the links between objectives, means and effects is starting point for building a better understanding success and failure in PD.

As a minimum we should expect statements of the form

We want to achieve objective X      >     We believe that this  can be achieved by one or more routes A,B..   >   For each route specify the groups or individuals that need to be influenced and the mechanism that will be employed to influence them.   >  Assess the extent to which we can produce the required  effect given 1.  the context 2. other constraints on the target groups and 3. the state of knowledge about the impact of these mechanisms.

Really trying to be explicit about the way that we think about these things will show up the gaps in our knowledge but also where knowledge from different fields of study can be brought together.



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