Latest Must-Reads in Public Diplomacy: January 2018

The January edition of Bruce Gregory's public diplomacy reading list is now available. Known affectionately at CPD as "Bruce's List," this list is a compilation of books, journal articles, papers and blogs on a wide variety of PD topics, and features a number of CPD scholars. Highlights from this latest list include:

Caitlin Byrne, “Introduction for the Special Issue: Recasting Soft Power for the Indo-Pacific,” Politics & Policy, Vol. 45, No. 5, October 2017, 684-705. Byrne (Griffith University), guest editor of this P&P issue, examines enduring features, themes and complexities that shape soft power and “its associated public diplomacy practice” in the Indian Ocean-Asia Pacific (Indo-Pacific) region. Her essay calls for better understanding of the region as a geographic concept and urges increased attention to how its soft power and public diplomacy can contribute to a discourse dominated by European and American concepts and experiences. Byrne profiles analytical issues and contrasting approaches of contributing scholars.

Juan Pablo Cardenal, Jacek Kucharczyk, Grigorij Mesežnikov, and Gabriela Pleschová, “Sharp Power: Rising Authoritarian Influence,” National Endowment for Democracy (NED), Washington, DC, December 2017. In this report, NED (a nonprofit foundation funded by Congress) calls for a change in our thinking and vocabulary to take into account subversive “sharp power” instruments used by authoritarian countries to do real damage to democracies. It defines sharp power as the asymmetrical ability of a country to penetrate and manipulate information environments in targeted democracies abroad while raising barriers to external political and cultural influences at home. Sharp power is not openly coercive (hard power); nor is it the ability to attract and co-opt (soft power). The case studies in this 156-page report examine efforts by China and Russia to wield sharp power, in addition to soft power and public diplomacy, in attempts to influence political outcomes and public opinion in four countries: Argentina, Peru, Poland and Slovakia. The authors are members of the Network of Democracy Research Institute. NED Vice President Christopher Walker and senior staffer Jessica Ludwig provide a conceptual overview in their introduction, “From ‘Soft Power’ to ‘Sharp Power.’” See also, Christopher Walker and Jessica Ludwig, “The Meaning of Sharp Power: How Authoritarian States Project Influence,” Foreign Affairs, Snapshot, November 16, 2017.

Marvin Kalb, The Year I Was Peter the Great: 1956 Khrushchev, Stalin’s Ghost, and a Young American in Russia, (Brookings Institution Press, 2017). Acclaimed journalist Marvin Kalb in his first professional memoir tells stories of his experiences as a young man in the Soviet Union in 1956. Fluent in Russian, he went to Moscow to finish research for his Harvard PhD and serve as a diplomatic attaché assigned to translator/interpreter duties in the U.S. embassy. In page after page of compelling writing, Kalb tells of occasional encounters with Khrushchev (who nicknamed him Peter the Great after a conversation on the relative merits of American and Lithuanian basketball players; you’ll have to read the book), travels throughout the country listening to Soviet citizens during the thaw of 1956, U.S. Ambassador Charles Bohlen’s diplomacy, Edward R. Murrow’s role in his decision to become a journalist, and much more. It’s a great read at many levels, particularly its lessons for diplomats on listening, cross-cultural communication, spending time with ordinary people outside embassies, and learning to take political risks. 

William Lafi Youmans, An Unlikely Audience: Al Jazeera’s Struggle in America, (Oxford University Press, 2017). Youmans (George Washington University) has written a definitive account of successes and failures in Al Jazeera’s attempt to compete in U.S. media markets. More than a narrative of what happened, his book explores imaginative arguments relating to the central role of cities as “media ports of entry” for global media – drawing on his case studies of Al Jazeera’s strategies in Washington D.C., New York and San Francisco. Youmans’ argument challenges “methodological nationalism” in cross cultural communication. His book is a strong contribution to the literature on the interaction of “universalizing and particularizing” tendencies of global and local. And he adds considerably to our understanding of the growing importance of cities as interdependent actors and interdependent systems in politics, economics and diplomacy. His research draws extensively on numerous interviews with Al Jazeera’s employees and his command of theoretical literature in media and communications studies.

The full list is available here.

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