R.S. Zaharna on Diplomacy and Relations

September 7, 2011

Over at Battles2Bridges Rhonda Zaharna is exploring the links between relational public diplomacy and the historical forms of diplomacy.  I think that this is an extremely promising avenue  of investigation.

A couple of thoughts

The links that Rhonda makes are important because it’s possible to construct two different genealogies of public diplomacy.  The first of these, the more common one in the US and the UK, tells the story of public diplomacy in terms of the development of an evolution of propaganda and psychological warfare from the World Wars to the Cold War and the War on Terror.*  A second genealogy sees the growing prominence of PD as part of the expansion of diplomacy over the last two centuries.  Seeing PD as part of the story of diplomacy helps to explain the growth of PD activities across numerous countries which don’t share the Anglo-American history.  Making the link with diplomacy it unlocks a different set of intellectual resources.

The other comment is the relational vs messaging distinction is a useful shorthand  that captures different approaches to how public diplomacy is done.  It is a distinction that maps quite closely onto the ‘informationalist’ vs ‘culturalist’ approaches that existed within the American PD establishment (see for instance Arndt 2005) or in the UK between the FCO and the British Council.  However,  it’s possible to make too much of this distinction.  It blurs the fact that effective messaging often depends on the careful cultivation of relationships – for instance between the information officers and journalists and that one of the things that relationships let you do is spread messages.   This is one of the reasons for my enthusiasm for relational sociology and network approaches.  These provide conceptual and research tools that allow us to think about what mean by relationships and their relative importance.   I think that these approaches also offer insights into newer modes of doing public diplomacy, for instance the embrace of coalition building with different types of actors as a political tool rather than a cultural strategy or the question of the extent to which social media should be been seen in terms of messaging or relations.

*Susan Carruthers (2005) has a nice take on the way that links between the practice of psychological warfare and its study have continued to shape academic studies of propaganda.

Arndt, R.T. (2005) The First Resort of Kings: American Cultural Diplomacy in the Twentieth Century. Washington  D.C.: Potomac Books.

Carruthers, S.I. (2005) ‘Propaganda, Communications and Public Opinion’, pp. 189-222 in P. Finney (ed) Palgrave Advances in International History, Basingstoke: Palgrave.








  1. […] also promised by respond to my PD colleague Robin Brown over at PD, Networks and Influence about “historical forms” of public […]

  2. A very interesting article to see how countries need PD and how they reach it

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