Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A Little MORE Conversation, A Little more Action: Public Diplomacy in the Information Age

James Glassman’s speech, Joseph Nye’s article entitled “Public Diplomacy and Soft Power”, and Monroe Price’s article called “Toward A Foreign Policy of Information Space”, are all exemplary pieces of work that vividly illustrate the importance of cultural power within the realm of international politics. The Internet is a technological discontinuity that offers users opportunities to form networks locally, domestically, and internationally in which diplomatic conversations can take place. Glassman calls “PD is an approach, not a technology” and the international community will need to use it. Applying an approach is free (assuming users have access to a computer). My point is that the PD train is moving and the only way to get on the train is to begin to integrate interactive media to project soft power. If not, Glassman clearly states that those governments who resist the Internet will be outwardly ignored.

Today, more than ever (especially after 9/11), “all activities work best by conversation rather than dictation [or coercion]”. In undergrad, I took an Anthropology class called “Religions in Africa”, which was fascinating. At one point, we read an article about American Christian missionaries going over to spend time with other self-proclaimed African Christians. This particular group of American Christians preached that word of God is how good Christians should live. In a neocolonial style visit to work with the Africans, the Americans brought them what they know to be the word of the Lord through by providing everyone with a Bible. What they did not take into account is that this community practiced oral religion- through songs and chanting. So when the Bibles were introduced to the Africans, they accepted them but did not use them as they were originally intended. Instead, because the Bibles had no cultural significance to them, the Africans began tearing out pages from the Bible and used them as toilet paper. This is one rather amusing example of how a lack of communication and/or preaching at people does not foster sound public diplomacy. It may seem like common sense, but what Nye argues is true when he writes, “effective public diplomacy is a two-way street that involves listening as well as talking”. Cross-culturally, this could not be more true. Language barriers can cause a loss in translation. Just as Nye expounds, “all information goes through cultural filters and declamatory statements are rarely heard as intended”. This ‘war on ideas’ is greatly affected by what, when, where, how, and who communicates, listens, and the languages they speak.

In short, governments, the global civil society, and individuals must continue this multidimensional use of technology to strengthen relationships between actors. Not one kind of power can be underestimated or taken for granted. This approach will hopefully allow each nation-state (or maybe culture is more appropriate?) to become more reflexive of its soft power and how it affects its public diplomacy.

1 comment:

  1. Laura,

    I agree whole-heartedly with your assertions and enjoy your example of the different Christian traditions. It is an amazingly intuitive concept, is it not? That's what I enjoyed so much about the Nye article in particular- it clearly articulates a common sense communication notion that we seemingly have had trouble implementing since the Cold War. A positive global perception of America begins with our acknowledgment that the global community's perception is important to us.