Post ISA Thoughts

April 12, 2013

I’ve been having a few days off recovering from last week’s trip to the International Studies Association convention in San Francisco.  Three observations.

  1. Public diplomacy research is developing.  More of the papers that I heard/read this year had more data, more attention to issues of comparison,  greater engagement with questions of diplomacy and diplomatic studies and with debates in International Relations more broadly. For instance the idea of practice and practices has been attracting greater attention in the IR theory community over the past few years and several of the PD papers that I heard/read are explicitly engaging with the development.  However, there’s still a lot more room for development, comparative studies are still underdeveloped and I was pleased to hear that Eytan Gilboa has a major comparative project in the works.
  1. Realism vs idealism:  To what extent is public diplomacy an instrument of foreign policy and to what extent does it offer a way of generating transformation in international relationships?  This is a theme that has been bubbling under the surface for a while but really became explicit in some of the panels this year – particularly in a couple of roundtables on deriving from the volume on relational public diplomacy edited by Rhonda Zaharna, Amelia Arsenault and Ali Fisher.  Kathy Fitzpatrick explicitly  proclaimed herself an idealist so I couldn’t resist coining the term ‘networked realism’ to label my own position.
  1. The identity of public diplomacy.  There was some discussion about the implications of  the rapidly developing fusion between diplomacy and public diplomacy for the identity of public diplomacy as practice and as a research area.  Somebody made the point that secret diplomacy is a tiny subset of an increasingly public diplomacy.   One idea that was floated was that the State Department should merge its Political and Public Diplomacy career cones.  This might be read as the ‘end of public diplomacy’ but how many other foreign ministries have separate PD career tracks?  I wouldn’t be surprised if the answer is none and there still seems to be plenty of PD going on.

Overall lots going on and you’ve got a couple of months to get your ideas for the 2014 convention in Toronto into the ISA



  1. Thank you for this very informative summary.

  2. Thanks for this very interesting summary of discussions at the ISA. Really wish I could have gone this year!

    On the point about other countries not having separate PD career tracks, however, it’s worth noting that most other countries don’t fold their cultural diplomacy activities into their foreign ministries either. Yet the programs, personnel, and resources that moved into the State Department from USIA did include U.S. cultural diplomacy – a very broad array of undertakings ranging from academic exchange to arts diplomacy to youth outreach to leadership training to interactive speaker programs, and more. And these programs have continued and even substantially expanded since then, within the State Department.

    Of course, if one defines PD quite narrowly, sort of a “Public Affairs plus,” it might seem unnecessary and pointless to maintain a separate cone. And on this point it’s worth noting that the State Department always had its own active Public Affairs bureau that, for example, regularly engaged its political and economic offers in the regional bureaus for media guidance and speech-crafting — even while an independent USIA conducted the full range of U.S. public diplomacy abroad.

    The creative integration of information dissemination and cultural programming has, for decades, been one of the unique qualities of U.S. public diplomacy. Other countries, by and large, do not take the same approach; they may not differentiate their public affairs activities from their political and economic diplomacy, but their cultural diplomacy remains quite separate. So on the question of merging cones, I don’t see the experience of other countries as being particularly relevant to the U.S. situation.

  3. […] Brown, “Post ISA Thoughts,” April 12, 2013; “Why I’m a Network Realist,” April 16, 2013; “The […]

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