Wednesday, December 12, 2012

A Conversation on PD

            I was talking about public diplomacy to one of my friends the other day. He works in finance, does creative writing on the side, and is therefore both technical and open-minded; but has never learned about public diplomacy before. I gave him a brief overview of the field, including Nicholas Culls’s definitions of listening, advocacy, cultural diplomacy, international exchanges, international broadcasting, and psychological warfare. Afterwards, he remarked that public diplomacy is a very interesting field to be in at this time, with the onset of globalizations and whatnot. However, his interpretation ended up being that it’s a way of convincing the other cultures to act in ways we want them to. When I refuted this, stating how the U.S. is focusing on two-way engagements and effective cross-cultural communications, he reminded me that most nations are too proud and hesitant to truly cross-cultures.
            When studying public diplomacy, I think it is all too often seen as an optimistic, good-hearted action; which it usually is. However, the side of influencing other cultures can have negative effects as well. The video on Mohammad that sparked outrage in the Middle East and government officials from South America studying American economic systems, initiating those systems in their home country only to have them result in more poverty, are only a couple examples.
            I also told my friend that public diplomacy is done daily by just about everyone. He replied that a typical Valley girl living in Manhattan could really care less about someone living in Somalia. However, I told him that although she could care less, her workplace, which is undoubtedly diverse, and the clothing styles she wears are all affected by public diplomacy. He also stated that the only way to make a living out of it is to work for a government or a corporation. I convinced him that this wasn’t the case, that citizen diplomacy is a growing field that speakers, writers, singers, and even finance workers are all exposed to. People are constantly communicating across cultures and influencing opinions in one-way or another.
            I’m far from a being a guru in the PD field, and there was more to our conversation than me convincing him the benefits of PD, but those were some thoughts I wanted to share. While we learn more and more about PD we need to also realize that people not staying up-to-date with the field will have different perceptions of the initiatives we explain to them. This may be obvious, but was interesting for me. I think practitioners should make an effort to speak with people more about PD and voice the benefits to spark discussion (hint-hint Smith-Mundt). Then the public can become more aware, and that girl from Manhattan just might share a fun Skype conversation with the man in Somalia. 


  1. Thanks for sharing thoughts about your conversation with us, Elaine. I remember having similar talks with friends of mine who asked me to explain what it is I actually study and hope to become involved in professionally. Explaining what Public Diplomacy is definitely no easy task, and unfortunately, many usually respond by drawing similarities to propaganda (i.e. "So it's basically a euphemism for propaganda or brainwashing"). So I definitely agree that one of the first steps to envigorating U.S. public diplomacy is to increase awareness and discussion about it foremost among American taxpayers. Official rhetoric about engagement and 21st century statecraft is great, but can it really be implemented without sufficient budgets and domestic support? Probably not. It's easy for students and gurus of PD alike to fall in the trap of assuming that our fellow Americans are aware of its role and importance, but as you bring up, it's far from an accurate perception of reality. Thanks again for sharing your views on this! :)

  2. I definitely echo Grace's gratitude! It's far too easy to forget that our interest in this topic doesn't always go beyond university halls and esoteric conversations held by policy wonks. It is, therefore, vital that we as students of of PD and future practitioners provide a different view of public diplomacy. I've also received similar responses from close friends who think that public diplomacy is the equivalent of propaganda tactics.

    In truth, I don't completely disagree with their statement but I do think that it's unfair to paint a one-sided view of PD. Although PD does have some elements of propaganda, its primary motive is to build cross cultural bridges with foreign audiences. You are right to point out the fact that the U.S. seeks to have a two way engagement with its audience. That challenges the negative assumptions that many hold on to.

  3. Thank you for your post Elaine! It's great to discuss public diplomacy (PD) in everyday life to help in better understanding the concept of it. You are right that PD plays an influential role on an individual and international level. But, it is not just a way of convincing other people to act in the ways you want them to. It is focuses more so on gaining their attention in a way that peeks their interest and maintains communication. The U.S. is definitely focusing more on two-way engagements in order to develop better cross-cultural relations with other nations. For example, in recent PD efforts, the U.S. has worked on establishing relations with Burma through lifting sanctions, and improving its relations with China by increasing cultural exchanges.

    Depending on the user, PD works in multiple ways and the connections might be long lasting or short. I know that on an international level, states are pursing their own national interests first, but are they too proud to cross-cultures presently? With more global interdependence in facing shared issues, states do not have the luxury of 'only' pursuing their own interests. I believe that on the international level, PD is shifting not only in communicating, but also in finding news ways to engage. All of the latest PD initiatives funded by the U.S. State Department are perfect case examples. In addition, news form of PD, such as citizen diplomacy is also a growing field that can be just as impactful.

    People are constantly communicating across and between cultures more so than previously. Used on both an individual and international level, PD is a great conversion topic that should be discussed in casual conversations as well as in classrooms.