I realize it’s been a few months since this year’s ISA in San Francisco. We’ve all been busy; I just wanted to share my thoughts before I forget about them. At ISA this year, I was struck by two new developments. First, ISA has attracted a lot of new and important voices on public diplomacy. I was very pleased to spend time with Emily Metzgar, Sarah Ellen Graham and James Pamment – three scholars who are doing great work on issues related to public diplomacy and I’m glad they are getting more exposure at ISA. I was also happy to participate in a panel pairing more established public diplomacy scholars with doctoral students on the front lines of public diplomacy research questions. It was very encouraging.
Second, it struck me that we’re reached a turning point in the “field” of public diplomacy studies. For years, PD scholarship has been characterized in part by a need to articulate its importance and the (at times) frustrating exercise of definitional debate. Basically, PD scholars have been trying to “get the word out” and to cultivate interest across the ISA divisions. I think the PD community at ISA is starting to move past this. At a two-part panel on the new edited volume edited by RS Zaharna, Ali Fisher, and Amelia Arsenault Relational, Networking, and Collaborative Approaches to Public Diplomacy: The Connective Mindshift I noticed differing positions being articulated, on the question of strategy, ethics, and indeed, theory. In other words, it was a sign of real debate. I found this very encouraging for the field as well. Disagreement is a good thing, because it forces us to articulate reasoned arguments.
Where to go from here? Based on many discussions, here are a few thoughts. The PD field needs to make a better case for how its interdisciplinary subject-matter is relevant to other fields represented at ISA. There are clearly gains to be made in social scientific empirical work (especially theory-testing that can inform questions of measurement and impact). I also think that it is time for more critical attention to public diplomacy, including but not limited to perspectives that draw from gender, political, sociological, aesthetics, media, and critical/cultural theory. It’s a good time for the field, and I look forward to exciting new projects and papers at ISAs to come.