Cultural Diplomacy: An Asset for France in a Changing World

December 11, 2011

I’m convinced that the Anglo-Saxon conversation about public diplomacy would be richer if we had a better understanding of how the French conceptualize the activity.  In a nutshell the French concepts of diplomatie culturelle and relations culturelles can’t simply be treated as equivalent to the English versions of the terms – they are much broader,  have different connotations and are much more central to the conception of diplomacy.  Put it this way when the official history of ‘diplomatie culturelle’ (Roche and Pigniau 1995) includes discussion of the dispatch of  military advisers to the Ottoman Empire and identifies Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt as the starting point of ‘relations culturelles’ because he took many scholars and artists with him you know you are not dealing with the British Council.

If you’re at a computer on Monday and Tuesday you may be interested in following the live stream of this conference being held in Paris – the link is here – earlier there was mention of English and Spanish versions of the feed being available.

Roche, F., and B. Pigniau (1995) Histoires de Diplomatie Culturelle des Origines à 1995. Paris: ADPF  ;la Documentation française.

Via Google Translate the description of the conference.

Symposium on Cultural Diplomacy: “An asset for France in a changing world” (12 and 13 December 2011)

The Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs and the French Institute organized on 12 and 13 December at the College de France, an international symposium on the priorities of cultural diplomacy with the participation of Mr. Alain Juppé, Minister of State, Minister of Foreign and European Affairs, Mr Frédéric Mitterrand, Minister of Culture and Communication, Mr. Xavier Darcos, President of the French Institute, and many personalities from the diplomatic, cultural associations and universities from around the world .

The Ministry has initiated an ambitious reform of its cultural system by creating three operators:

– The French Institute in charge of cultural activities and outdoor real tool in the major objectives of our foreign policy: to strengthen the influence of France in the world, supporting the cultural development of countries for which we have a duty of solidarity, promote dialogue and cultural diversity.

– France international expertise to strengthen our ability to meet the high demand for expertise in developing countries and emerging markets. This flow of gray matter, for our economy, our influence, as for the development of other countries is crucial.

– CampusFrance for student mobility and the attractiveness of our universities, whose creation is being finalized.

An exhibition developed by the diplomatic archives of the Quai d’Orsay on “cultural diplomacy, a century of French inventions” will complete two days of debate and will be presented at the Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève from 13 December to 18 in February. It will be inaugurated by Henri de Raincourt, Minister for Cooperation.


One comment

  1. Thank you for that Robin, I will definitely try to listen to this conference.

    A few quick things on “the French case”, over my Sunday morning croissants and coffee 😉

    . The notion of “influence” has been a strong feature of French foreign relations, especially at key chronological junctures like the end of WWI. The French policy in Eastern Europe for example was then obsessed with a multidimensionnal “French influence” including finances, trade, politics, but that was observed mostly through a cultural lense (how much of the local elite spoke French? etc). There is an assumed link between language, culture and politics, that, for example, flows through the whole “Francophonie”-efforts. More than an effort at disseminating the French language, Francophonie is a political exercise. It was rooted in the redefinition of links with ex-colonies, but also in a vision that French is an auxiliary to French diplomacy, that with it comes an interest in France generally, and that it is the language of civilization, human rights, and specific national interests. The French diplomats have often had difficulties not to equate the taste for Molière among foreigners with their embracing wholesome the interests of France as a country. No doubt that this has grown more sophisticated.
    . One reason why it should grow more sophisticated is that France has become, for all intents and purposes, a small/medium-sized country. It should gain the reflexes of small countries, and an unassuming, geniune cultural/public diplomacy is one of those.
    . Cultural diplomacy in French terms means quite often the use of cultural artifacts for diplomatic purposes. It can take many forms. There is an interesting book by the US diplomat Charles Cogan, where he describs the use by the French in their negotiating behavior of the “ors de la République”, the palaces and grandiose settings the Republic has inherited from its royal past. These sceneries are used, according to Cogan, to impose on foreigners France’s standing and to remind the country’s long History.
    . The local “Centre Culturel Francais” near me (Helsinki) changed into an “Institut Francais” this year. Which was unexpected to me, as I took the 2008-2009 budget reductions as a sign that the whole thing would be closed. The reductions in budget had touched especially cultural activities (there were even demonstrations by personnel of the MAE), and I am frankly quite surprised of the Ministry’s current activity in this field.

    I would be very interested in a comparison between British and French recent activities in this field. That would make for a nice article…


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