Reconsidering Theories of Public Diplomacy, Part I

As the International Studies Association conference approaches, my attention is focused again on the academic understanding of public diplomacy – as there will be numerous panels on this subject. As I said years ago, there are no theories of public diplomacy. There are, however, theories that help scholars and practitioners makes sense of the “field” of public diplomacy – those things that public diplomats do and the ideas we use to understanding those things. It’s not that there can’t be theories of public diplomacy. However, as I understand it, some practitioners fail to see the need for an explanatory theory for something that is so contextualized and often hard to “teach” in a comprehensive way. Public diplomacy is statecraft, public relations, inter-personal communication, cross-cultural communication, persuasion, networking, media and technological competence, and of course, about good writing. I actually would tend to agree with the practitioner bias, in that we don’t really need a grand theory of public diplomacy. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that we don’t really have many universalizing theories for diplomacy either. Public diplomacy is really a term of convenience, a cover word for a range of practices: cultural diplomacy, exchange diplomacy, information programs, public affairs, advocacy, and yes, even international broadcasting. The point here is not to propose a definition. Rather, it is to offer that we don’t have a vocabulary to make the kinds of claims that lend themselves to explanatory theories that apply across the range of what PD can be. While scholars such as Eytan Gilboa admirably seek new vistas for public diplomacy theorizing, general or even “middle range” theories may have limited utility for public diplomacy. Which is one reason why I don’t really care to participate in the construction or defense of totalizing theories. To understand public diplomacy at the level of theory is get past simple definitions, by decomposing the practices of public diplomacy into its component parts or activities. In so doing, we open up those vistas that people like Gilboa and Entman seek in their lament over a lack of theory. What do I mean by this? I mean quite simply to focus on what we actually want to know. If the point is to articulate how particular messages influence attitude or behavior, we have a ready stockpile of mass and strategic communication research techniques available to test messaging. Practitioners (cough, the State Department, cough), in particular, don’t need to reinvent the wheel of “measurement and evaluation.” Rather, they need to be better consumers of what academics do when they study similar things. However, there is much to be said about how institutional analysis and social theory can inform our understanding of why public diplomacy exists as a part of a strategic culture, a set of norms, a component of a larger foreign policy apparatus. Such “constitutive” or “materialist” theories certainly didn’t originate in public diplomacy studies – but they can help the academic community understand public diplomacy as a set of social practices, value commitments, and historical, path-dependent institutions. We can leave public diplomacy in order to find theoretical frameworks that help us understand public diplomacy in relation to broader contexts that invetiably shape its practice. This point is elegantly argued in Iver Nuemann’s critique of the English School scholars tradition of studying diplomacy. “Leaving Public Diplomacy” in order to study it is a point I will return to in future posts – about how to see cognate fields as relevant to the study of public diplomacy. So what does the communal pool of knowledge and expertise on public diplomacy actually have in lieu of such theories? We have types and categories. In particular, I am thinking of the work of RS Zaharna and Robin Brown’s thinking on this subject. Typology creation can be very valuable, especially since public diplomacy studies is fraught with (friendly) definitional debate. More on this in a future post. Probably after ISA 2012. Read more »

Intermap Returns

It’s been some time since Intermap has been active as a blog site. The site is now declared officially “active” once again. It is my intention to use the blog as an outlet for ideas pertaining to research projects as well as a venue for responding to news pertaining to strategic communication, public diplomacy, and international communication. The site will also feature new contributions for guest bloggers. If you’re interested, please let me know. So why did Intermap go radio silent? I was busy trying to get “The Rhetoric of Soft Power: Public Diplomacy in Global Contexts” finished and published. That said, I’m eagerly pursuing new projects – many of which will be talked about here. And I know that Intermap is joining a much more vibrant blogosphere on issues pertaining to international communication. Mountainrunner is blogging again. RS Zaharna’s blog project is exciting. Robin Brown’s blog is always stimulating and provocative. Steven Corman his research colleagues at ASU have continue to provide great insight on their COMOPS Journal blog. And of course, the USC Center on Public Diplomacy and GW’s “Take Five” blog are but a few examples of a steadily growing, diverse field of online discussion. And that’s not even mentioning the active twitter feeds the fuel the media ecology on public diplomacy and international communication studies. So let’s get started. Read more »

The Arab Uprising

 I am delighted to announce the official publication of my book The Arab Uprising: The Unfinished Revolutions of the New Middle East (PublicAffairs). The seeds of the book can be found in my very first response to the Tunisian protests, written on Ja... Read more »

Bin Laden Worried about Impact of Muslim Killings on AQ Brand

by Steven R. Corman In previous posts I have advocated amplifying al-Qaeda’s record of killing Muslims, and argued this practice was doing serious damage toAQ’s brand.  Captured documents from bin Laden’s compound indicate that he was worried about the same thing. Last week David Ignatius of the Washington Post wrote a story based on his “exclusive look” at those documents.  The headline was about bin Laden’s supposed plot to kill President Obama.  But later in […] Read more »

When the Empire Struck Back

Exactly one year ago, I was in Doha to speak at the Al Jazeera Forum, where a remarkable group of Arab politicians, intellectuals and activists had assembled to talk about the seemingly unstoppable momentum of the changes sweeping the region. Moncef M... Read more »

The Promise and Pitfalls of Humor and Ridicule as Strategies to Counter Extremist Narratives

CSC members H. L. Goodall, Jr, Pauline Hope Cheong, Kristin Fleischer and Steven R. Corman have just published a new article in Perspectives on Terrorism.  The abstract is below, and the article is available (free) here. Rhetorical Charms: The Promise and Pitfalls of Humor and Ridicule as Strategies to Counter Extremist Narratives In this article we provide a brief account of the uses of humor, in particular satire and ridicule, to counter extremist narratives and […] Read more »

Invisible Children Film on LRA More Self Promotion than Expose

by R. Bennett Furlow On March 5th, 2012 the non-profit organization Invisible Children (IC) released a short film which quickly went viral. Kony 2012 is the name of the film and campaign by Invisible Children to raise the profile of Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).  However it does more to publicize IC and its leaders than to expose Kony. Founded in 2004, IC’s mission is to make people aware of the […] Read more »