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National Public Diplomacy…Systems, Machines, Assemblages, Fields….?

September 18, 2015

Over the last few years Brian Hocking (eg 2013) has introduced the concept of the national diplomatic system – the idea that ministries of foreign affairs exist in the context of a set of other agencies that are involved in foreign affairs. A while back I argued that it is important to analyse national systems of public diplomacy holistically. What I had in mind was the tendency, for instance, to discuss the British Council and the Alliance Française as if they were directly equivalent, rather than the latter being much more of a specialist language organization than the former.  From my perspective it makes if you look at ‘national public diplomacy systems’ as a whole you understand how different countries do things in different ways and how the parts fit together.

When I presented this at a conference Eytan Gilboa objected to the term ‘system’ because it made things sound too organized. The funny thing was I nearly didn’t use the term on precisely those grounds. I had thought about ‘network’ but given my propensity to label everything ‘network’ I’d restrained myself. I’d also thought about ‘assemblage’ which, to an English speaker at least carries a connotation of being thrown together, randomness and likely to fall apart (which actually seems a  fairly  accurate description of the situation in many countries).but. It also seemed a bit pretentious.* I toyed for a bit with ‘field’ in the Bourdieuan sense while I thought that this was good for thinking about the relationships between different organizations I was uncomfortable with the idea that a field can be an actor.  Maybe the public diplomacy ‘ensemble’ or collective’ would work?

More recently I’ve come across the idea of ‘la machine diplomatique‘, this originally comes from the work of Jean-Baptiste Duroselle (1979) on French diplomacy during the interwar period but has been taken up by other French scholars to indicate that diplomacy has multiple components (Frank 2003, Arthus 2012).

I think that the idea of the collective nature of diplomacy or public diplomacy is an important idea but it’s important to have the capacity to recognize  that the parts of whatever we call it don’t always fit together very well and the relationships between them vary with changing situations.

*Not that that had ever stopped me before.

Arthus WW (2012) La Machine diplomatique française en Haïti (1945-1958). Paris: L’Harmattan.

Duroselle J-B (1979) La decadence 1932-1939. Paris: Imprimerie Nationale.

Frank R (2003) La machine diplomatique culturelle française après 1945, Relations internationales, 115: 325–348.

Hocking B (2013) The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the National Diplomacy System, in Kerr P and Wiseman G (eds) Diplomacy in a Globalizing World: Theories and Practices, New York: Oxford University Press, pp. 123–40.

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