Center for Strategic Communication

by Bruce Gregory*

Hisham Aidi, “America’s Hip-Hop Foreign Policy,” The Atlantic, March 20, 2014.  Aidi (Columbia University) examines changes in the musical genre hip-hop, its political and cultural dynamics, and its use by US and European governments as an instrument of public diplomacy.  He compares the State Department’s hip-hop initiatives to the Cold War’s jazz diplomacy and discusses their perceived value over hard rock and heavy metal for deradicalization purposes.  Aidi explores hip-hop’s strengths and limitations in the context of US foreign policy debates on countering extremism and suggests they may be more effective with marginalized Muslim populations in Europe than in North Africa and the Middle East.  The article is drawn from Aidi’s recently published book, Rebel Music: Race, Empire, and the New Muslim Youth Culture, (Pantheon, 2014).

Janna Anderson, Lee Rainie, and Maeve Duggan,Digital Life in 2025: 15 Theses About the Digital Future. Pew Research Internet Project, March 11, 2015.  In this collaborative report, Anderson (Elon University), Rainie, and Duggan (Pew Research) collate and assess the views and predictions of hundreds of experts on the digital future in 2025.  Their findings are grouped in 15 categories; eight are described as hopeful, six as concerned, and one as neutral.  The report finds considerable common ground on an “ambient information environment” with ubiquitous connectivity and further change in “how and where people associate, gather and share information, and consume media.”  At the same time, wide variation exists among the experts on the ramifications of digital change.

Martha Bayles, “The Struggle for Hearts and Minds: America’s Culture War and the Decline of US Public Diplomacy,” The Hedgehog Review: Critical Reflections on Contemporary Culture, Spring 2014, 59-72.  Bayles (Boston College) argues that in the decades since the 1960s, “America seems to have squandered its natural advantage in the art of winning hearts and minds around the world.”  Although partially attributable, in her view, to the demise of the US Information Agency and lack of a strong domestic constituency, she contends “America’s domestic culture war played an even more decisive role in the decline of US public diplomacy.”  Bayles cites numerous historical examples to support her argument and conclusion that America’s “rich artistic and literary heritage is now all but unknown.”  Her article is drawn from her recent book, Through a Screen Darkly: Popular Culture, Public Diplomacy, and America’s Image Abroad (2014).

Michael A. Cohen, “The Game Has Not Changed;” Henry Farrell and Martha Finnemore “Reply,” “Hypocrisy Hype: Can Washington Still Walk and Talk Differently?” Foreign Affairs, March/April 2014, 161-165. Cohen (Century Foundation) challenges Farrell and Finnemore’s (George Washington University) argument (“The End of Hypocrisy,” Foreign Affairs, November/December 2013) that leaks of classified information by Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden “undermine Washington’s ability to act critically and get away with it.”  The leaks are embarrassing and may damage diplomacy in the short term, Cohen argues, but they are unlikely to have lasting effects because countries act on interests and US allies “continue to rely heavily on American diplomatic, military, and economic power.  Farrell and Finnemore respond that Cohen is wrong.  Hypocrisy is pervasive in US foreign policy, and if the US wants to convince through legitimacy, rather than just threats or bribes, it “must acknowledge the past importance of hypocrisy as well as its new limits.”

“Does the Academy Matter? Do Policy Makers Listen? Should You Get a PhD? And Where are All the Women?” Foreign Policy, March / April, 2014, 60-69, posted March 14, 2014.  In this panel discussion moderated by J. Peter Scoblic (FP’s Executive Editor, print), nine scholars look at the role of academia in the making of foreign policy:  Peter Cowhey (University of California, San Diego), Stephen Walt (Harvard University), James Goldgeier (American University), Bruce Jentleson (Duke University), James Reardon-Anderson (Georgetown University), Robert Gallucci (MacArthur Foundation), Ian Johnston (Tufts University), Cecilia Rouse (Princeton University), and James Levinsohn (Yale University).  Questions and issues include:  How do scholars and policymakers see their roles?  What are the pressures on junior faculty to write for academic disciplines rather than general audiences?  What is the impact of scholarship on policymaking?  What are the merits of master’s degrees and PhDs?  The article includes numerous graphics based on research conducted by Paul C. Avey and Michael C. Desch.

“Gastrodiplomacy,” Public Diplomacy Magazine (PD), Center on Public Diplomacy, University of Southern California, Winter 2014.  In this issue, the Magazine looks at “gastrodiplomacy” defined by the editors as “a form of cultural diplomacy,” “a form of edible nation branding,” “a growing trend in public diplomacy,” and “the practice of sharing a country’s cultural heritage through food.”  Interviews and case studies include discussions of “gastrodiplomacy” in India, Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, and Greece.  Featured articles include:
— Paul Rockhower (Levantine Public Diplomacy), “The State of Gastrodiplomacy”
— Yelena Osipova (American University), “From Gastronationalism to Gastrodiplomacy: Reversing the Securitization of the Dolma in the South Caucasus”
— Johanna Mendelsohn Forman (Stimson Center), “Conflict Cuisine: Teaching War Through Washington’s Ethnic Restaurant Scene”
— Braden Ruddy (The New School University), “Hearts, Minds, and Stomachs: Gastrodiplomacy and the Potential of National Cuisine in Changing Public Perceptions of National Image”
PD Magazine, now in its 6th year, is published by the USC Association of Public Diplomacy Scholars (APDS).  Its editorial board is comprised of graduate students in USC’s Master of Public Diplomacy program.

Robert M. Gates, Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War, (Alfred A. Knopf, 2014).  These reflections of former Secretary of Defense Gates have much to offer diplomacy scholars and practitioners at both macro and micro levels.  His views on relations with Congress, the White House, the press, and Defense Department subordinates, with discounts for organizational differences, contain an abundance of “best practices” for the Department of State.  More narrowly, we discover his Kansas State University speech urging more resources for diplomacy and development was not a fight he intended to take on, but mood music to smooth relations with leaders in the interagency process.  We also learn about his views on Bush’s freedom agenda (“too simplistic”), Obama’s 2009 Cairo speech (“one of his best” but “it raised expectations very high”), the President’s National Security Strategy documents (“of little practical use”), the State Department’s security contractors (they “caused most of our headaches” with civilians), our lack of understanding of Afghanistan (“very profound”), the term “Global War on Terror” (not worth a fight to eliminate), civilian advisors in Afghanistan (“deep doubt” that enough could be found), State’s unwillingness to accept a loan of Defense civilians, efforts by US diplomats Karl Eikenberry and Richard Holbrooke to unseat President Karzai in 2009 (“our clumsy and failed putsch”), Wikileaks (unfortunate but not a “melt-down” and “game changer”), and the micro-management of an oversized National Security Council staff (“an operational body with its own policy agenda, as opposed to a coordination mechanism”).

Nils Petter Gleditsch, ed., “The Forum: The Decline of War,” International Studies Review, (2013) 15, 396-419.  In this forum, based on a panel at the 2013 International Studies Association conference in San Diego, five scholars offer thoughtful and contrasting views on the decline of war debate.  Gleditsch (Peace Research Institute Oslo) provides an overview of the literature and summarizes some of the main issues.  Steven Pinker (Harvard University) makes a “war appears to be in decline” claim based, not on a romantic view of human nature, but on a massive array of statistical indicators and arguments from cognitive psychology.  Bradley A. Thayer (Utah State University) challenges Pinker, arguing he and others focus disproportionately on the West and neglect systemic in-group/out-group distinctions, threat of predation, resource scarcity, and international relations as an anarchic and hostile environment that tends to trigger egoism, dominance, and group bias.  Jack S. Levy (Rutgers University) and William R. Thompson (Indiana University) argue Pinker gives too much causal weight to ideational and cultural factors and too little weight to material and institutional factors.

Bruce Gregory, “The Paradox of US Public Diplomacy: Its Rise and ‘Demise,’” Report for the Institute for Public Diplomacy and Global Communication, George Washington University, February 2014.  US public diplomacy faces a paradox.  As diplomacy’s public dimension increasingly dominates study and practice, public diplomacy has less value as a term and conceptual subset of diplomacy.  It marginalizes what is now mainstream.  This report examines transformational changes in diplomacy’s 21st century context:  permeable borders and power diffusion, new diplomatic actors and issues, digital technologies and social media, and whole of government diplomacy.  It critically assesses implications for diplomatic roles and risks, foreign ministries and diplomatic missions, and strategic planning.  In an attempt to bridge scholarship and practice, the report explores operational and architectural consequences for diplomacy in a world that is more transparent, informal, and complex.

Christopher Hill and Sarah Beadle, The Art of Attraction: Soft Power and the UK’s Role in the World, The British Academy for the Humanities and Social Sciences, March 2014.  Cambridge University scholars Hill and Beadle ground their report in the concept of soft power as developed by Joseph Nye (Harvard University and a British Academy Fellow).  After briefly summarizing the well-plowed ground of Nye’s central concepts, they examine the UK’s abundant tangible and intangible soft power assets as a “cultural superpower.”  Much of the report focuses on the UK’s higher education systems, the BBC’s global reach, and the work of the British Council.  Hill and Beadle argue that soft power is likely to become more important, that the UK government’s ability to mobilize soft power assets is limited, that serious questions exist regarding the extent to which it should do so, and that the soft power assets that really matter are “the deeper, slow-moving qualities of a society and not the surface glitter of a successful Olympics or a royal wedding.”  Their observations conclude with separate categories of thoughtful recommendations for governments, citizens and voters, and those engaged in private socio-cultural activities.  For a critique, see Robin Brown, “Do You Really Want Another Report on British Soft Power?” March 12, 2014, Public Diplomacy, Networks and Influence Blog.

Iver Neumann, Diplomatic Sites: A Critical Enquiry, (Columbia University Press, 2013).  Neumann (London School of Economics) states his book is “about possible changes in diplomacy as a result of general incremental changes in the global social environment within which diplomacy functions.”  Although how we arrived at where we are is of interest, his primary focus is on the concept of sites, physical and virtual, where diplomacy takes place and on “how globalization reconfigures space so that old sites take on new characteristics and new sites emerge.”  His chapters examine five sites:  Europe as an “originary site of diplomacy,” the diplomatic meal as a sustaining site, third-party mediation in interstitial sites (increasingly within states and involving non-state actors), the virtual site in popular culture as exemplified by television and Star Trek, and “sublime diplomacy” understood as finding ways to use the effects of events and aesthetic resources on others to advantage.  To the extent contemporary diplomacy is new, Neumann argues, it is not due to its internal dynamics or new core tasks, rather its newness derives “from change in the general political and social fields that surround diplomacy.”

Joseph S. Nye, Jr., Presidential Leadership and the Creation of the American Era, (Princeton University Press, 2013).  In this book, based on his 2012 Richard Ullman Lectures at Princeton University, Nye (Harvard University) examines the effectiveness and ethics of eight US presidents in the 20th century.  He challenges scholarship that gives easy priority to “transformational” leaders (e.g., Wilson, Reagan) and makes a case for the under-appreciated effectiveness of “transactional” leaders (e.g., Eisenhower, the elder Bush).  Nye draws on his thinking about power, leadership, and contextual intelligence, and there are references throughout to American exceptionalism, public diplomacy, and smart power.  A closing chapter offers early speculation on the Obama presidency.  His chapter on ethics and foreign policy leadership nicely focus his thinking from his numerous other writings. Graceful writing makes the book accessible to students and general audiences.

Donna Marie Oglesby, “The Political Promise of Public Diplomacy,” Perspectives, Layalina Productions, Volume VI, Issue 1, March 2014.  In framing public diplomacy as political argument, Oglesby (Eckerd College) challenges the idealism of those who “imagine they are responding to a transformed global space in which a vastly increased number of people everywhere are empowered by globalization and technology to rise above domestic politics, national boundaries, and bickering leaders to engage each other individually in seeking solutions to common problems of humanity.”  Her brief article draws on popular culture, tweeting ambassadors, political activism, and concepts of power and persuasive rhetoric in making her case for a public diplomacy that gives “primacy to politics” and “the pluralism inherent in the international public realm today.”

James Pamment, “Articulating Influence: Toward a Research Agenda for Interpreting the Evaluation of Soft Power, Public Diplomacy, and Nation Brands,” Public Relations Review, 40 (2014) 50-59.  Pamment (University of Texas, Austin) urges scholars to pay more attention to empirical investigation of results in public diplomacy than to goals or outputs.  Public diplomacy rarely turns on rational choices between communication options, he argues.  Outcomes are rarely contingent on conformity with an ideal model, and good evaluation seldom results from applying best practice methodologies.  Rather public diplomacy practices and their evaluation “are bound together in complex organizational and power structures that generate pragmatic responses both to the ‘problem of influence’ and the reporting of results.”  Pamment’s closely reasoned article develops a concept of “articulation” in which ideal forms and methods “bend to the overall articulation of the toolset within foreign policy goals and oversight structures.”  Public diplomacy evaluation needs to take into account how institutional pressures discipline and “rearticulate ideal categories of PD and evaluation to suit pragmatic goals.”

James Pamment, “Strategic Narratives in US Public Diplomacy: A Critical Geopolitics,” Popular Communication: The International Journal of Media and Culture, 12:1, 48-64, published online, February 11, 2014.  Pamment has three objectives in this article.  First, he outlines a conceptual framework for understanding geopolitical space and strategic narratives.  Second, in a broad overview of geopolitical discourse from the Monroe Doctrine to the end of the Cold War, he examines ways in which policy declarations became accepted frames for interpreting shifts in international power relations.  Third, he concludes with a discussion of US geopolitical discourse and public diplomacy in the 21st century — the inability of the US to create a compelling post-9/11 narrative and the potential for public diplomacy to create consensus on defining problems and finding common solutions.  Strategic narratives can be important tools for achieving consensus, Pamment argues, and successful narratives seek shared responsibilities over geopolitical space rather than control.

Kevin Peraino, Lincoln in the World: The Making of an American Statesman, (Crown Publishers, 2013). Peraino (former Newsweek Middle East Bureau Chief) argues the case for Lincoln as a strong foreign policy president in chapters that focus on his relations with Secretary of State William Seward, his avoidance of war with Great Britain following the US Navy’s removal of two Confederate diplomats from the British mail ship Trent, the complex diplomacy that averted European intervention in the Civil War, and his handling of Napoleon III’s intervention in Mexico.  For public diplomacy scholars, Peraino’s narrative offers detailed accounts of Lincoln’s views on public opinion; his uses of the penny press and the daguerreotype; the new era of the telegraph, steamships, undersea cables, and other 19th century globalization technologies; Lincoln’s public letters to mill workers in Manchester, England in the competing contexts of their anti-slavery rallies and cotton shortages; and the Emancipation Proclamation’s influence on European public opinion and the policies of Britain’s Prime Minister, Lord Palmerston.

Simon Reich and Richard Ned Lebow, Good-bye Hegemony! Power and Influence in the Global System, (Princeton University Press, 2014). Reich (Rutgers University) and Lebow (Kings College London, Dartmouth) challenge realist and liberal theories of international relations grounded in a disproportionate focus on material power and hegemony as an organizing concept.  Their critique rests on a considered distinction between power and influence, and the proposition that effective influence involves persuasion.  Persuasion in turn depends on “shared values and acceptable practices,” on “considerable political skills,” and on “sophisticated leaders and diplomats, shared discourses with target states, advocacy of policies that build on precedent, and a willingness to let others help and shape initiatives.”  Reich and Lebow advance their theoretical claims though case studies on Europe, China, and the United States.

Mark Rolfe, “Rhetorical Traditions of Public Diplomacy and the Internet,” The Hague Journal of Diplomacy, 9 (2014), 76-101.  Rolfe (University of New South Wales) examines thematic recurrences in the rhetoric of public diplomacy (and democracy) grounded in complex tensions between political classes and diplomats on the one hand and public opinion, on the other, which is seen to confer legitimacy and must be taken into account.  Recurring language patterns, from the 1790s to the present, reflect popular distrust of political elites, repeated calls for new diplomacy, and claims of credibility.  Rolfe argues that calls for a “’new’ public diplomacy” that privileges the Internet as a tool to reach public opinion are recent manifestations of periodic attempts to reinvent diplomacy and democracy for each generation of public opinion.

Evan Ryan, Douglas Frantz, and Macon Philips, “Digital Diplomacy: Making Foreign Policy Less Foreign,” New York Foreign Press Center, US Department of State, February 18, 2014.  Ryan (Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs), Frantz (Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Public Affairs), and Philips (Coordinator for International Information Programs) respond to questions from Emily Parker (New America Foundation) on ways social media are changing diplomacy.  Issues addressed include: the pace and volume of information; the continuing value of journalism’s mediating role; virtual exchanges; the Philippines typhoon; Ukraine; Zimbabwe; South Sudan; downsides and challenges facing social media; taking “responsible risks” and tolerance for “small mistakes” in a risk averse State Department; putting humor and “a more human tone in content;” tensions between speed, informality and serious purpose; and “public diplomacy as a central part of our overall diplomatic strategy.”

Clay Shirky, “The Key to Successful Tech Management: Learning to Metabolize Failure,” Foreign Affairs, March/April 2014, 51-59.  Shirky (New York University) uses the Obama administration’s website to make broader points about government’s ability to handle people and planning in complex technological management issues.  His bottom line: “The hardest challenge in creating new technology is not eliminating uncertainty in advance, but adapting to it as the work uncovers it.”  Shirky argues for breaking projects into small, testable chunks, adopting “agile development” methods, changing managers’ incentives structures by “embracing failure,” and penalizing “opacity and information hoarding.”

“Should Leaders Tweet Personally,” Twidiplomacy, Google+ Hangout, March 24, 2014. This 44-minute video addresses the following questions.  “Should ambassadors and political leaders tweet personally?  And if they do, how do they find the time?  Can their staff tweet for them?  What are the tips and tricks for successful personal tweets?”  The panel discussion, moderated by Matthias Lüfkens, Digital Practice Leader EMEA, Burson-Marsteller, includes: Nicola Clase, Swedish Ambassador to the UK; Tom Fletcher, UK Ambassador to Lebanon; Andreas Sandre, Press and Public Affairs Officer at Embassy of Italy, Washington, DC; Charlotta Ozaki Macias, Head of Communication, Swedish Foreign Ministry; Martha McLean, Deputy Director, Online communications, Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development, Canada; Andrew Stroehlein, European Media Director, Human Rights Watch; and Róisín Traynor, Online Editor, International Crisis Group.

Phil Taylor’s Web Site, British Library.  In 1995, University of Leeds Professor of International Communication Philip Taylor created a website intended to be a “One Stop Shop” for publications relating to strategic communication, public diplomacy, military-media relations, propaganda, and a host of related topics.  Following Taylor’s untimely death in 2010, the University discontinued its link to this valuable and widely used archive.  Fortunately, through the efforts of Professor Gary Rawnsley (Aberystwyth University), Phil Taylor’s Website is now hosted by the British Library.  Many thanks to Gary who maintains his own very useful blog on Public Diplomacy and International Communications.

Jian Wang, Shaping China’s Global Imagination: Branding Nations at the World Expo, (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013).  Wang (University of Southern California) uses a comparative analysis of national pavilions at the 2010 Shanghai World Expo to examine the concept of nation branding.  He focuses on ways in which Brazil, India, Israel, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, the United Arab Emirates and the United States used their pavilions to portray their cultures to Chinese audiences.  Chapters explore definitional issues, communicating nation-brands, the uses of brands in enhancing a nation’s image and soft power, nation-branding as strategic narrative, and opportunities for future research.  Wang’s book builds on his Center for Public Diplomacy Perspectives Paper, written with Shaojing Sun (Fudan University), Experiencing Nation Brands (2012).

Recent Blogs and Other Items of Interest

Robert Albro, “Cultural Diplomacy Of And By The Book,” March 28, 2014, CPD Blog, USC Center for Public Diplomacy.

Danielle Allen, “Professors Are Working To Understand and Solve Policy Problems,” February 21, 2014, The Washington Post.

“BBG to Become More Nimble and Streamlined Under the FY 15 Budget Request,” March 25, 2015; “BBG Budget Request Tied to Global Priorities and Evolving Media Environments,” March 4, 2014, Broadcasting Board of Governors; Charles S. Clark, “Broadcasting Board of Governors Reshuffles Management Team,” January 22, 2014, Government Executive.

Donald Bishop, “Operational Public Diplomacy: Brought to You by the Number ‘4,’” April 3, 2014, Public Diplomacy Council.

Rosa Brooks, “Winthrop’s Warning: How Politicians and Pundits Misread ‘City on a Hill’ and Butcher the Real Meaning of American Exceptionalism,” March 17, 2014, FP Blog.

Katherine Brown (moderator), Peggy Blumenthal, Rajiv Chandrasekaran, Macon Phillips (panelists), “2013 Forum: The Future of Public Diplomacy,” November 12, 2013, posted online February 13, 2014, The Public Diplomacy Council.

Robin Brown, “House of Lords Report on UK Soft Power,” April 4, 2014; “Interpreting Nation Branding,” April 3, 2014; ”EU and Cultural Relations: New Reports,” March 5, 2014; “More on French Cultural Relations,” February 28, 2014; “The Closing Space Problem and Democracy Support,” February 26, 2014; “Is the BBC World Service Being Held Hostage by the BBC?” February 5, 2014, Public Diplomacy, Networks and Influence Blog.

“Crafting Public Diplomacy for an Urbanized World,” Atlantic Council, March 20, 2014.

Nicholas J. Cull, “Editorial, Africa’s Breakthrough: Art, Place Branding and Angola’s Win at the Venice Biennale, 2013,” Place Branding and Public Diplomacy, Vol. 10, 1, 1-5.

Ambassadors Cynthia Efird, Linda Jewell, and Greta Morris, “Three Public Diplomacy Officers Reflect: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3,” March 16, 2014, Public Diplomacy Council.

Peter Engelke, “Foreign Policy for an Urban World: Global Governance and the Rise of Cities,” August 2, 2013, Atlantic Council, Strategic Foresight Initiative.

Ellen Huijgh, “Indonesia: ‘A Thousand Friends,’ But No BFF,” February 28, 2014, USC Center for Public Diplomacy, CPD Blog.

“We Need to Elevate the Environment in Everything We Do,” Personal Message from Secretary Kerry, US Department of State, Dipnote Blog.

Jason L. Knoll, “U.S. Ambassadors to Europe on Twitter,” March 31, 2014, US and European Politics blog.

Kristin Lord and Stephen J. Hadley, “America the Gentle Giant,” April 2, 2014, FP Blog.

Joseph S. Nye, Jr., “The Myth of Isolationist America,” February 10, 2014, Project Syndicate.

James Pamment, “Reflections from the International Studies Association Conference, 2014,” April 3, 2014, USC Center for Public Diplomacy, CPD Blog.

David Remnick, “Patriot Games: Vladimir Putin Lives His Olympic Dream,” Letter from Sochi, The New Yorker, March 3, 2014, 30-35.

Walter R. Roberts, “Tito: Personal Reflections,” February 2014, American Diplomacy.

Eric C. Schmidt and Jared Cohen, “The Future of Internet Freedom,” The New York Times, March 11, 2014.

Cynthia Schneider, “Challenging the Pakistani Taliban Through Culture,” March 7, 2014, Brookings.

Mike Schneider, Mary Della Vecchia, and Sarah Batiuck, “2013 Forum: USIA and the Foundations of Public Diplomacy – Valuable Reflections for Today’s Practice,” November 2013, posted March 21, 2014, Public Diplomacy Council.

Philip Seib, “Economic Development as Public Diplomacy,” February 27, 2014; “Public Diplomacy and Press Freedom,” February 24, 2014; “Putting a Hard Edge on Soft Power,” February 7, 2014, USC Center for Public Diplomacy, CPD Blog.

Anne-Marie Slaughter, “Foreign Policy in Stereo: Power and Leadership in a World of States and People,” February 5, 2014, Embassy of Italy in the United States.

“Twittersphere Lets Us In On Diplomats ‘Normal’ Banter,” February 11, 2014, Renee Montaigne interviews Alec Ross, National Public Radio, Morning Edition.

Patrick Tutwiler, “State Department Steals Atlantic Media CEO,” March 31, 2014, FishbowlDC; Zeke J. Miller, “The Obama Campaign Goes Global,” March 31, 2014,

Jay Wang, “China’s First Lady,” March 19, 2014, CPD Blog, USC Center for Public Diplomacy.

Rhonda Zaharna, “CULTURE POST: Basketball Diplomacy in CNN’s Court,” CPD Blog, USC Center for Public Diplomacy.

Vera Zakern, “Effective Persistent Engagement Must Be Whole-of-Government,” March 13, 2014, War on the Rocks web magazine.

Gem From the Past

Charles Tilly, Stories, Identities, and Political Change, (Roman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2002).  In this book, renowned sociologist Charles Tilly (Columbia University) examined central issues in the role stories play in political explanations and the construction of personal and national identities.  His chapter, “The Trouble with Stories,” argued that stories – understood as narratives, not as the artful use of political rhetoric – have limited explanatory power because they place undue emphasis on actors making reasoned choices among well-defined alternatives.  The logical structure of story telling, he wrote, misses causal connections in most socially significant processes in which at least some crucial causes are “indirect, incremental, unintended, collective, and/or mediated by the nonhuman environment.”  Tilly fully appreciates the value and centrality of storytelling in human life.  Tilly’s cautionary views on “the incompatibility in causal structure between most standard stories and most social processes” can be helpful to diplomacy scholars who rely on constructivist theories and engagement models.


*Bruce Gregory is an Adjunct Professor at George Washington University and Georgetown University, and publishes this list periodically via mailing list.  We reprint it here as a service to our readers.  Bruce can be reached by email via bgregory at gwu dot edu