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Studies of India and Indian Public Diplomacy

September 15, 2011

Between the approach of the new semester here and moving house I haven’t had much time to blog but having a bit of a lull for a few minutes..

The other day somebody tweeted a link to the news that the Indian Council for Cultural Relations was setting up a Chair in Contemporary Indian Studies at the University of Edinburgh.   A couple of days ago there was a reference to the Australian prime minister setting up a chair of Australian studies in Beijing.

Promoting the academic study of your country is a venerable public diplomacy tool and one that hasn’t attracted much academic attention with partial exception of American and Canadian studies.  During the Cold War the promotion of American Studies was one tool in the US PD armoury although it now appears to be one that has fallen out of favour so it’s interesting to see what other countries are up to.

As a result I had a dig into what the ICCR was up to.   The Edinburgh Chair  is part of a broader strategy by the Council to develop academic study of India.  A list on the ICCR website identifies 73 posts in 52 countries.

The council uses a model of concluding an agreement with foreign universities under which they host an Indian academic whose salary is paid by the ICCR while the University meets other costs such as health insurance.  This presumably makes hosting one of the Indian chairs quite attractive to the University and gives the Council a high level of control about where these chairs go.  On the other hand it’s quite a costly model for the council.

Evan Potter’s Branding Canada provides a useful summary of Canada’s ‘studies’ programme.  This  has tried to develop the study of Canada by foreign academics in their own countries with the Canadian government supplying much more limited levels of financial support than the Indian approach but also trying to catalyse the development of networks and organizations devoted to the study of Canada.

Potter  sees the development of Canadian Studies as one of the most valuable tools in the arsenal by creating a network of ‘trusted intermediaries’ who are able to explain Canada to their home countries and he gives examples of cases where foreign academics have been able to play significant roles.  At the same time he points to the dangers of too much culture – at points Canadian Studies has been in danger of becoming a literature oriented areas studies ghetto – as result he argues for incorporating Canadian issues into other academic fields.  One success that Potter identifies is in positioning Canada as a strong source of expertise on federalism.   You could argue that India could learn quite a lot from the Canadian model of trying to catalyse foreign studies – as a rising power India will attract increasing attention and it would make sense to build links with that developing field.

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