Archive for the ‘Reading’ Category


Historical Engineering and Public Diplomacy

February 5, 2013

You quite often read that public diplomacy needs time to work.  From an organizational point of view this is a real problem because you want to be able to demonstrate impact in the current planning cycle.  The result is that PD ends up being evaluated by reference to  inputs or activity measures.    However when you start to dig into the history of  PD you start to see some cases where  the impact of government communications activities unfolds over very long periods.

Here’s a couple of examples.

When I was an undergraduate I took a final year option on The Causes of War.  As part of this we looked at the historiography of the origins of the World Wars.  This all came back to me when I was looking for material on German external communications after the First World War.   Article 231 of the Versailles Treaty  assigned responsibility for the war to Germany and it was this that was the basis for reparations so almost from day one the Auswartige Amt set out to undermine the ‘war guilt clause’.  Partly this was about conventional diplomacy but a large part was also about shaping public debate over the war in Germany and abroad.   Scholarly discussion of the  origins of the conflict was a particular interest and the AA and its front organizations would arrange for the purchase, translation and circulation of works that they saw as helpful.  They would also arrange research trips and the supply of documents for foreign scholars that were seen as sympathetic.  At the same time they would seek to arrange hostile reviews of work that they saw as unhelpful.  Behind this  was the publication between  1922 and 1926 of  40 volumes of strategically edited diplomatic correspondence, Die Grosse Politik der Europaischen Kabinette, 1871-1914.   By shifting focus from Germany to the actions of other powers  or to the operation of the international system the idea that Germany was uniquely responsible for the conflict was undermined.   The arrival of the Nazis in 1933 saw the adoption of a rather more direct line of attack on Versailles but the efforts of the Schuldreferat – the guilt department – continued to influence debate on the war for decades afterwards.   It was not until after the Second World War that researchers were able to get their hands on the full German diplomatic archives and even after that it took decades for the implications of the new research to percolate through academia.  Even if the historical community is well aware of these debates it’s still not unusual to see older studies  (eg Sidney Fay’s history) cited in the International Relations literature.   Keith Wilson’s Forging the Collective Memory provides collects several articles dealing with the work of the Schuldreferat.

Back in the ’90s you used to hear it said that Czechoslovakia was the most western oriented of the former Warsaw Pact states, they had Vaclav Havel and Milan Kundera so it seemed plausible and I didn’t think about it…until a few months ago when I read Andrea Orzoff’s, Battle for the Castle: The Myth of Czechoslovakia in Europe 1914-1948.  Orzoff’s point is that image of Czechslovakia as natural extension of Western Europe was one that was deliberately constructed by the group of nationalists around T.G. Masaryk and Edvard Benes.  The First World War offered an opportunity for the nationalists but the decision to look for support from France and Britain was not without resistance, there were nationalist factions that looked to the East and saw Czechoslovakia’s future as a monarchy ruled by a Romanov prince.  Orzoff’s book follows the efforts of Masaryk and his supporters through the creation of Czechoslovakia and into the period of the ‘first republic’.   Masaryk’s political network,  the hrad or castle, laboured mightily to maintain the image of Czechoslovakia as a liberal republic even if in some respects, particularly the treatment of national minorities, it was little different from the other central and eastern European states of the period.   In Britain Hungary’s public diplomacy, motivated by the treatment of the Hungarian minority,  chipped away at the image of Czechoslovakia.   Orzoff concludes her treatment by looking at the way that the ‘castle’ version of Czechoslovakia became entrenched American historiography – not least through the work of Madeleine Albright’s father Joszef Korbel.

What’s the moral of this story for public diplomats?  Stop wasting your time on Twitter and go and hang out with some historians.

Orzoff, A. (2011) Battle for the Castle : The Myth of Czechoslovakia in Europe, 1914-1948. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Wilson, K.M., ed. (1996) Forging the Collective Memory : Government and International Historians through Two World Wars. Providence RI: Berghahn Bookss


Theories of Influence

June 3, 2011

I’ve been thinking about the range of theories of influence at work in the Public Diplomacy field so I was interested to see that Organizational Research Services, a Washington state evaluation consultancy, have put out a briefing note Pathways to Change:  6 Theories of Policy Change.    They identify three theories of the policy change ( punctuated equilibrium, advocacy coalition and policy windows) and three theories about advocacy  (messaging and framing, power politics and community organizing).   This is part of the movement to improve advocacy and its evaluation by making the underpinning theory of change explicit.

It wouldn’t take long to come up with a much longer list of theories. The thought occurs though that one useful exercise for public diplomacy research would be to catalogue the theories of influence at work in the field.  We’ve got ideas from academic communications research, applied communication – PR and marketing, international relations, political psychology etc the point is not just to list them but to look at the assumptions about the world and the extent to which these theories are simply expressing the same ideas in different ways.   This would help to bridge the gap between comms and IR and manage the incoherence of soft power arguments.


Branding Canada

May 26, 2011

I’ve just finished reading Evan Potter’s Branding Canada and I’d highly recommend it.  It’s one of the few book length studies of a  country’s public diplomacy and it’s particularly valuable because that country isn’t the US.  The scope is comprehensive.  It looks at the history of Canadian PD back to efforts to promote immigration a over a century ago – silent films did not include images of the Canadian winter.  It looks at the full range of external promotional activities including trade and tourism promotion and it looks at PD both as national level activity and something that happens at embassy levels – there are interesting case studies of local campaigns.  There is particular attention to the role of PD in Canada’s relationship with the US.

Potter’s basic diagnosis of Canada’s PD problem is positive opinion based on low visibility.  This means that long established images of Canada shape the way that others engage with it lack of attention makes it difficult to change that image.  The position of Quebec both assists and hampers Canadian efforts.  One hand it builds connections with the Francophone world  and contributes to images of multiculturalism and federalism – it makes Canada more interesting but it sometimes cuts across efforts to promote an image of Canada.

Public Diplomacy activities are fragmented and lack resources. Potter’s recommendations will be familiar – the development of a comprehensive public diplomacy strategy and organizations that can coordinate the full range of activities.

Potter, E.H. (2009) Branding Canada: Projecting Canada’s Soft Power Through Public Diplomacy. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press.

Li Zhang on the Media and EU China-Relations

May 9, 2011

The latest volume  in Palgrave’s excellent International Political Communication series edited by Phil Seib has just hit the shops it’s News Media and EU China Relations by Li Zhang, who’s now at the University of Nottingham. The book is based on her PhD supervised by yours truly so it definitely deserves some promotion.

This is a really ambitious piece of work that deserves attention beyond the people working on EU-China relations (of whom there are a surprising number because the EU funds them to work on it!).  The book traces the evolution of Chinese media coverage of the EU and the evolution of coverage of China in The International Herald Tribune, the Financial Times and The Economist over the period since 1989.   Previous studies have shown that these are outlets that are widely read in the EU policy community. The content analysis shows how the coverage of China has expanded and transformed over the intervening period.  In 1989 China was a political story by the middle of the last decade it was an economic story.  This is not to say that political and human rights stories disappeared they just lost their salience.   This is an interesting story in itself but the study ties the evolution of the media coverage to the development of EU policy towards China.  Interviews with policy makers testify to the importance of  the media as an input into the policy process while interviews with UK, US and Chinese journalists provide insight into the factors that have shaped coverage. (There’s some interesting material on evolution of Xinhua news agency).  The evidence provided here suggests that the causal direction runs from the media coverage to policy rather than the other way round.

If you are interested in China’s image or media impact on foreign policy there is a lot to get your teeth into here.


The Practice of Diplomacy

January 12, 2011

I’ve commented before on the need for the field of public diplomacy studies to engage with the concept  and practice of diplomacy.

I’ve been reading the second of edition of Hamilton and Langhorne’s The Practice of Diplomacy which has just come out. This covers the development of diplomacy from ancient times with an emphasis on the organization and administration of diplomacy.  In the context of their narrative  the growing centrality of PD is the consequence of successive  revolutions in diplomatic affairs or new diplomacies.  The development of modern societies and modern systems of governments changes the nature of diplomacy.  Although the world of twitter empowered NGOs is new in historical perspective it is simply the latest stage in the expansion of the diplomatic field that dates back centuries.  One example that seemed particularly contemporary was the efforts of Russian diplomats in late 19th century France to use the media to improve public and market sentiment towards French loans to Russia.

The history of PD is normally written as a direct evolution from the propaganda of the World Wars through the Cold War psychological warfare to the present.  The danger is that this perspective ignores the way that diplomacy has expanded and evolved.  For many countries PD emerges from this expansion of diplomacy rather than from an idea of PD as a separate communications activity.

Hamilton, K., and R. Langhorne (2010) The Practice of Diplomacy: Its Evolution, Theory and Administration. 2nd ed. London: Routledge.


Public Diplomacy ’65

July 26, 2010

I’ve been reading W. Phillips Davison’s 1965 Council on Foreign Relations volume International Political Communication (New York: Praeger) – the dust jacket is here  img007 and the  contents pages are here.

A few quick thoughts

1. The emphasis on the limits of communication – Davison was part of a generation of scholars who were both familiar with the realities of psychological warfare and had were involved in the development of academic studies of communications.

2. The link between communication and organization.  Davison is sceptical of the capacity of communication to persuade the opposed but argues that it plays useful role in organizing friends.

3. Duplication, lack of focus, limited resources, failure to integrate policy and communication in US public diplomacy.  It’s all here.


New Issue of Journal of International Communication

June 25, 2010

Voume 16: 1, 2010 of Journal of International Communication, edited by Naren Chitty at MacQuarrie University has just turned up in my mail box there are several pieces that might interest readers of this blog

Li Xiguang and Wang Jing, ‘Web Based Public Diplomacy: The Role of Social Media in the Iranian and Xinjiang Riots’  (7-22)  this concludes by arguing that China should develop its own social media PD strategy.

There is a lecture by Mark Scott, managing director of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation on ‘A Global ABC: Soft Diplomacy and the World of International Broadcasting’  that discusses the international strategy of ABC (75-85).

And for those of you who sometimes wonder what the field of of International Communication is (this includes me even though IC is part of my job title) there is a a report on the field based on interviews with ‘experts’ .  I’m looking forward to reading this to find out what I do.

Unfortunately Journal of International Communication does not have much of a web presence so no links.