Public Diplomacy and The Question of Governance

April 16, 2015

Discussions of public diplomacy have frequently broken the activity down into three elements; information, education and culture and international broadcasting.

But…if we look around at what public diplomacy/cultural relations organizations actually do there’s a sizeable chunk of work that would be better labelled as concerned with governance. Bruce Gregory (2008) has made the connection between public diplomacy and the literature on international governance but we can also add the mode of organization within the state. For example a project that is concerned with capacity building for civil society organizations involved with conflict resolution or election monitoring or women’s rights. This is an area that overlaps with work done by development agencies or on their behalf.

This potentially an thought that can be developed along at least three related lines:

For the critically inclined this can be read as the export of a particular mode of neoliberal governance (Foucault 2007, 2008, Neumann and Sending 2010).

This would imply that as a practice of statecraft public diplomacies are about creating foreign publics not just ‘engaging’ them. However it could be argued that this has always been the case – even back in the 1890s creating a committee of the Alliance Française was creating a public [what a public is links to Walter Lippmann, John Dewey and Bruno Latour (Marres 2005)] Or another starting point would be the linked appearance of the Cold War and the question of development where statecraft becomes particularly involved with the internal organization of states.

This then casts light on the ever elusive search for dialogue.   At least since the early 1960s the era of dialogue in foreign public engagement has been proclaimed but never quite arrives (explaining why it is constantly being proclaimed. If a country sees itself as exporting the future there’s an implied hierarchy. Dialogue happens between equals so this tension between the explicit rhetoric of dialogue and the implicit hierarchy generates some interesting tensions.


Foucault M (2007) Security, territory, population. Basingstoke; New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Foucault M (2008) The Birth of Biopolitics: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1978-79. Senellart M (ed). Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Gregory B (2008) Public Diplomacy and Governance: Challenges for Scholars and Practitioners, in Cooper AF, Hocking B and Maley W (eds) Global Governance and Diplomacy: Worlds Apart, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 241–56.

Marres N (2005) Issues Spark a Public into Being: A Key But Often Forgotten Point of the Lippmann-Dewey Debate, in Latour B and Weibel P (eds) Making Things Public: Atmospheres of Democracy, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, pp. 208–17.

Neumann IB and Sending OJ (2010) Governing the Global Polity: Practice, Mentality, Rationality. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.


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