Archive for the ‘Cultural Relations’ Category

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Why It’s Worth Reading the Austrian International Cultural Policy Concept

May 27, 2015

Austria has recently issued a new version of its Auslandskulturkonzept.   I haven’t worked through previous versions of this document and from a quick look at the 2011 version I can’t see that much change (previous versions are here) but I thought I’d flag it for two reasons, firstly, it strikes me as a succinct and typical representation of how a small-medium continental European country approaches the outreach to foreign publics in a cultural mode, secondly, there’s an English version and it struck me that it would be a useful example for teaching.

European cultural relations concepts take for granted nations as cultures as a result the concept of culture is pretty fluid – it includes the arts, sciences, religion and view of the world. Implicitly cultural representation is also national representation. There’s an emphasis on dialogue but at the same time a concern to project the image of Austria. Politics creeps in via a commitment to ‘building trust and securing peace’ through intercultural and interreligious dialogue.

The concept with the minister’s foreword totals five pages but the annexes are useful in that they lay out the different elements of the Austrian cultural network; 80 embassies, 29 Cultural Fora, 64 Austria Libraries (collections of resources in foreign universities) and eight Austrian Institutes (which provide language teaching). Much of this representation, as is typical of European states, is in the neighbouring countries plus major capitals. The concept also draws attention to the possibilities of cooperation with Austrian Trade Centres, the Tourist Office, Austrian Centres in foreign universities, foreign representation of the federal provinces, the development organization and foreign Austrian associations – there’s a lot more to the foreign representation of modern states than embassies.   There’s also a list of methods that can be employed by the different types of representation.

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The FCO Review of the British Council

September 22, 2014

UK government departments are now required to conduct triennial reviews of ‘non-departmental public bodies’ and in July the FCO published its review of the British Council. In general terms it concludes that the BC is doing a good job but that consideration should be given to spinning off some of its income generating activities into a commercial entity.

What is interesting though is the what the report tells us about the FCO concept of Britain’s influence in the world or more accurately the lack of one.

If you are going to review something you need some criteria to evaluate against. The report draws on three substantive sets of criteria. Firstly, the contribution to British cultural diplomacy and UK influence, secondly, the purposes of the BC and thirdly the views of stakeholders. If you’ve got three different sets of criteria you need to be clear about how they relate to each other.

The report immediately raises red flags by describing the BC as ‘the main official body for cultural diplomacy’.  At the BC being described a ‘cultural diplomacy’ would set nerves jangling  but this isn’t the real problem.  As I’ve noted before there is no tradition of official thinking about ‘cultural diplomacy’ in the UK. The BC has tended to talk about cultural relations and even in the past the Foreign Office had a Cultural Relations Department. As readers of this blog will know over the past 10 years government discussion has drawn on concepts of public diplomacy and soft power. The report pulls ‘cultural diplomacy’ out of the air and doesn’t provide any supporting intellectual framework.

The second set of criteria are the purposes of the BC set out in its Royal Charter:

  • Promote cultural relationships and the understanding of different cultures between people and peoples of the United Kingdom and other countries;
  • Promote a wider knowledge of the United Kingdom;
  • Develop a wider knowledge of the English language;
  • Encourage cultural, scientific, technological and other educational cooperation between the United Kingdom and other countries;
  • Otherwise promote the advancement of education.

Hmm, nothing about British influence here.

Thirdly, the review draws on the views of ‘stakeholders’, which variously include government departments, cultural institutions, UK ambassadors and some of the BC’s competitors – especially commercial providers of education services and English language teaching.

The result is that report tends to shift between three stances. Firstly, is the BC doing a good job for British influence, secondly, is it working in accordance with its purposes and thirdly, are the stakeholders happy?

Evaluating an organization against its purposes is relatively straightforward. The report points out that the BC’s ‘society’ strand of work doesn’t fit with its purposes. The irony is that over the last 10 years ‘society’ has been where you find the more kind of projects that the FCO was keen on. It’s when you turn to ‘influence’ that things get difficult. I’m really not sure how you can evaluate an organization against a criterion like ‘influence’ that it doesn’t have a plan for and where the evaluators don’t know what it is and what it looks like. This also feeds into the question of ‘stakeholder’ opinion. Any organization needs to understand what stakeholders think but to make use of such data you need to recognize a few things. Every stakeholder has a perspective (where you stand depends on where you sit), some of these perspectives are inconsistent – particularly for an organization like the British Council – and this may mean you have to trade off some stakeholder views against each other. If you don’t have a clear idea of what the organization is doing it’s difficult to make these trade-offs. This leads to a rather random reporting of ‘stakeholder’ views. For instance there seems to support for the BC doing more arts work but because there’s no in depth analysis of stakeholder views and no theory of influence there’s no intellectual underpinning for this view.

In the appendix of the document that discusses language teaching there’s an example of precisely this kind of trade off. A foreign government is offering a contract for teaching its personnel English, in such a situation it might be OK for the BC to use its status as a government agency to win the business even though this disadvantages commercial operators because of the benefits to the UK. This is one of the few places in the document that tries to balance different perspectives instead of switching between them. The result is a sense that the FCO wants more control over the BC but it’s not sure why other than to ensure that it fills out its financial paperwork properly.

A few years ago I heard representatives of the FCO and the Quai d’Orsay talk about public diplomacy. The Brit talked about budgets, targets and key performance indicators, the French rep talked about the mission of France in the world. France has eventually realized that it may have the overarching concepts but it needs to manage its foreign outreach better, Whitehall needs to realize that managerialism isn’t enough: we need an overarching and enduring theory of British influence.

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“Multiple Benefits for All”: The EU Does Cultural Relations

June 16, 2014

Last week a group of European ‘cultural operators’ put out, on behalf of the EU a report entitled Culture in EU External Relations: Engaging the World – Towards Global Cultural Citizenship, this is intended as a step towards the developing a role for culture in the EU’s external relations.   Not surprisingly these organizations, (which can expect to benefit from more funding for culture) are thoroughly in favour:

Multiple benefits for all will be the principal outcomes of such a new strategy.

These outcomes will include stronger links of mutual empowerment and trust between Europeans and their interlocutors in third countries. They will open up significantly greater markets for Europe’s creative economy or enhance and improve political relations with other regions. They will contribute to the nurturing of artistic excellence everywhere. They will therefore offer ‘win win’ benefits across the board.

 

Aren’t there any downsides? Given that there’s no attempt to map out the necessary scope of such a strategy beyond mentioning some possible pilot projects there are no costs so it’s all win win.

There are some very interesting parts of this document not least the summaries of the research that was done on the 18 countries that are part of the European Neighbourhood and the 10 that have Strategic Partnerships with the EU.  Particularly in Asia some of the Partners really don’t seem that interested in Europe at all.  Closer to home some the reactions seem to be ‘if you put up the money of course we’ll collaborate with you’

I’ve blogged before about the rise of cultural policy and the way that this has affected the discussion of culture in external relations. The classical view of the relationship is expressed in this tweet from the French Foreign Ministry:

 

 

We do cultural things and it makes our country look good and spreads our influence around.   Yet there’s a second way of thinking about culture which has been important in Europe which is ‘cultural cooperation’ there’s a genealogy here that leads from early 20th century advocates of European federation, through the International Committee on Intellectual Cooperation of the League of Nations and the Western European Union and the Council of Europe. Here cultural cooperation an objective in its own right, in part at least, because it was seen as way towards a common European identity. The Council of Europe was one of the vectors for spreading the idea of cultural policy via the mechanisms of cultural cooperation (Parry 2000).   Thus the report here veers between an instrumental language and one that simply takes it for granted that culture is its own justification. Indeed at points I get the impression that there’s an instrumentalization of the instrumental language – that is they talk about political or economic effects because they think it will make the report more persuasive.

There’s some appreciation of the difficulties that the EU will have in running a cultural policy as part of its external action but given the difficulties that the organization is already having funding and coordinating public diplomacy and getting buy in from different Directorates General (see Duke 2013) it’s really difficult to see coordination happening.

It’s also noticeable that compared to a British Council concept of cultural relations or German Auswärtige Kulturpolitik culture in the report is understood quite narrowly education, science, development are mostly excluded and the focus is on arts and arts management with some reference to cultural and creative industries but the EU definition includes advertising which seems quite far from the core concerns of this document.

Duke S (2013) The European External Action Service and Public Diplomacy, in Davis Cross MK and Melissen J (eds) European Public Diplomacy: Soft Power at Work, New York: Palgrave, pp. 113–136.

Parry J (2000) Companies of Clouds: The Development of Multilateral Cultural Cooperation in Western European International Organizations, PhD, University of Warwick.

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Recent Report on the French Cultural Network

May 21, 2014

I’ve just come across a September 2013 report by the French Cour des Comptes* on Le réseau culturel de la France à l’étranger  (France’s Foreign Cultural Network).  I haven’t been through it at in detail yet but If you read French this looks like a really useful picture of the state of things in France.

The main recommendations of the report are

1. The network needs more professionalization.

2 . There should be an agreed strategy between the ministries involved.

3 . Evaluation of projects

4. More power to the French Institute and Campus France within their respective networks.

5. Follow up on alumni of the network

6. Better coordination between the public network (ie French Institutes and Cultural Centres) and the Alliance Française.

7. Better financial management

8. Better measures of the impact of the network.

9. Evaluation of economic impact of network.

I think that that these are the same recommendations that all reports on the network have been making since at least the Rapport Rigaud in 1979; come to think of it most of them apply to most reports on cultural relations or public diplomacy in most countries.

*Court of Auditors.  I guess that this would be equivalent to a National Audit Office report in the UK or a Government Accountability Office publication in the US.

 

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House of Lords Report on UK Soft Power

April 4, 2014

The House of Lords Committee on Soft Power and the UK’s Influence produced its report Persuasion and Power in Modern World last week.

For readers of this blog there’s not much that’s very surprising about it.  A very short summary would go like this.

Britain is in a world increasingly characterised by hyperconnectivity and ‘the rise of the rest’ and this makes soft and smart power more important. The UK has lots of soft power assets but the government tends to neglect them and shows no ability to coordinate anything. We need stronger mechanisms for defining a national strategic narrative and pointing the great many players in the right direction.

You can get a pretty good sense of what’s in the report (138 pages of text) by looking at the summary on pages 5-7 or even better the conclusions and recommendations on pages 8-21. The report is quite neutral in its tone but many of the conclusions and recommendations are actually fairly critical of the government. They also echo the views of other Parliamentary Committees in the absence of strategy and coordination, the suspicion of the new arrangements for the BBC World Service, the negative impact of visa policies and so on.

Given that I often get the impression that hardly anyone is actually interested in British foreign policy it’s great to see the volume of evidence that the Committee attracted. Hats off the Committee for doing this and to Ben O’Loughlin for his work as the academic advisor.

Incidentally my evidence is here.

 

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USSR-PRC Cultural Relations and the Soviet Tyler Brule Part 2

March 14, 2014

At the Cold War History Project there’s an interesting collection of documents on cultural relations activities between the USSR and the People’s Republic of China during the 1950s.  Several of the documents express the fears that rather than cementing relations between the two countries they are actually undermining them.

I’ve written before about the ‘Soviet Tyler Brule’ Boris Polevoi and his fears that the poor standard of Aeroflot was undermining the image of the USSR and he pops up again here with a blistering report to the Central Committee of the CPSU which ends with him returning to his critique of air travel in the USSR

And finally, concerning the Soviet side of the airline which is currently contributing to the connection between Moscow and Beijing.  Our international lines have improved their work somewhat to the western countries, but this portion is as before in extremely bad shape, and revealing this for all to observe, as this line is used by a large collection of people from diverse nations, from Europe and China, is becoming a matter of political significance.  Our airplane, on which there was a Chinese state security delegation headed by members of the CC returning from Poland, on 16 October was delayed for an entire day on the trip from Krasnoiarsk to Irkutsk because they could not find the appropriate fuel.  On the return trip in Novosibirsk we had to change from an international airplane, as there was a smaller collection of passengers continuing on to Moscow.  And on this plane there was a Czechoslovak delegation headed by the Minister of Foreign Trade, and a Chinese delegation.  Two flights were cancelled.  The airport building was magnificent, but the service remained the same as when it was a peasant’s hut.  In three places along this route, maintaining the connection to China, hang copies of the well-known, if it might be said, pictures of Nalbandian, which illustrate Stalin and Mao Zedong, with Mao Zedong with the appearance of an agitated student attempting to pass an exam given by a professor.  These pictures are nauseating even in the original, and here hang like copies from a bazaar.  In general it would be better to decorate the airport in the foreign fashion, with large, colored and beautiful photographs and cities and locations traveled to by the planes, instead of pot-boiler copies of well-known works which can only evoke shudders from someone possessing even a limited amount of taste.  In Novosibirsk across from the entrance to the airport on two columns hangs an enormous plywood shield, entitled “The USSR—the leading socialist power in the world.”  A giant red map of the USSR is drawn on it, and to the side are two columns, in alphabetical order, of the some ten countries of the people’s democracies; thus China in this list comes after Albania, Bulgaria, Hungary (Vengrii), and the GDR.   The Novosibirsk comrades, seeing this map, are completely devoid of a sense of humor, even as the following is written on the large map:  population 200 million people, and on the small map—China—600 million.  We ourselves have seen the amusement of foreigners as they look at this map.

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Do You Really Want Another Report on British Soft Power?

March 12, 2014

Via James Pamment’s twitter feed I learn of yet another report on Britain’s Soft Power this time from the British Academy.

Given my antipathy to the concept (check the blog archives to the right)  I won’t bother to summarize it just share the recommendations.  If you want to read it, it’s here.

It recommends (comments in italics by yours truly)

On the basis of the data and analysis provided above, this report makes the following abbreviated recommendations. Governments would be well-advised:

  1. To refrain from direct interference in soft power assets.

 Ummm, so they just give money to fund them?….

2. To invest in and sustain soft power institutions such as the BBC, the British Council, and the education system over the long term, and at arm’s length.

Why?  How much, to do what?  Relative to which countries? I’m sorry if you want to use soft power as a justification for anything we need some kind of a strategy.

  1. To recognise that hard and soft power, like power and influence more generally, reside on a continuum rather than being an either-or choice.

Just junk the hard / soft thing and go back to  thinking about sources of influence.

  1. To understand that the power of example is far more effective than preaching.

Which examples for which publics?  How do you publicise them?

  1. To pay careful attention to the consequences of official foreign policy for Britain’s reputation, identity and domestic society, ensuring that geopolitical and socio-economic goals are not pursued in separate compartments.

The concern of the report seems to be that government damages soft power so don’t do anything that might upset anyone…

  1. To accept that the majority of ways in which civilised countries interact entail using the assets which make up ‘soft power’, whatever political vocabulary we choose.

So?  

  1. For their part, citizens and voters need to accept that some hard power assets, in the forms of the armed forces and security services, are necessary as an insurance policy against unforeseeable contingencies, and for use in non-conventional warfare against terrorists or criminals threatening British citizens at home and abroad, although not regardless of cost. Even diplomacy will sometimes need to be coercive (i.e. hard power) in relations with otherwise friendly states in order to insist on the UK’s ‘red lines’, however they may be defined at the time. Because soft power excludes arm-twisting, it will never be enough as a foreign policy resource.

Are there people at the British Academy who think that soft power is all you need?

  1. Lastly, those engaged in the private socio-cultural activities which contribute to soft power need to be aware that they are to some extent regarded as representative of their country’s interests. They need not and should not compromise on such principles as academic or artistic freedom, but it is excessively innocent to imagine that their work takes place in a vacuum, untouched by the manoeuvring of governments and the competing narratives of world politics – especially when they are beholden to the Treasury for funding. Whether they like it or not, the universities, the orchestras, the novelists, the sportsmen and women, the archaeologists – and indeed the British Academy – are all part of the ‘projection of Britain abroad’ (Beloff 1965).*

As James asked in his tweet

JP Tweet

 

The Beloff reference is fascinating because the report (like almost all discussions of soft power) is completely ahistorical and that reference opens up a whole history.  Beloff’s article was a response to the Plowden Report of 1964 on Representational Services Overseas, primarily concerned with opening the way to the merger of the Foreign Office with the Commonwealth Office it, in passing, advocated a relatively narrow instrumental view of the kind of ‘information work’ that should be undertaken by the ‘official information services’ the BBC and the British Council.  Beloff’s article can be seen as making a kind of proto-branding argument that the general image of a country affected how its political and commercial interests played out.   The title of his article alluded to a 1932 pamphlet by Sir Stephen Tallents, The Projection of England which was an even earlier iteration of the argument.  Projection was a word that cropped fairly frequently in mid-century British official discussions of national publicity and my suspicion is that it’s taken from the French notion of rayonnement, which my dictionary translates as radiation which takes us back to the Sun King himself.

So rather than progressing the British conversation on soft power seems to be regressing.