A Study of the Eurovision Song Contest as an Enabler of Participatory Diplomacy

Principal Investigator:
Jess Carniel, CPD Research Fellow 2024-26

Since its inception in 1956, the Eurovision Song Contest (ESC) has emerged as a useful platform for public diplomacy, cultural diplomacy, and nation branding. While Eurovision’s diplomatic utility for states is subject to much scholarly attention, little attention has been paid to how fans and audiences participate actively in these processes as political agents and actors. This project identifies Eurovision as a site that enables fans, performing artists, and broadcast media to actively participate in the processes of public diplomacy. Although the political dimensions of the Song Contest are hotly contested, fans, artists, and producers of Eurovision often use the contest as a prism for understanding and engaging with global politics, and for enacting a cosmopolitan ethics centred upon music, performance, and participatory culture. Audience and industry responses to various global events – from the global pandemic to regional conflicts – suggests a deeper significance around the contest, its political functions, and the importance of the Song Contest’s enduring mythology as a symbol and site of unity. Most importantly, the participatory nature of the song contest, which includes a popular vote, has been increasingly interpreted as a litmus for public opinion on international issues and relations.

This project contends that the ESC constitutes an example of ‘participatory diplomacy’. Participatory diplomacy combines the international relations concept of public diplomacy with the fan studies concept of participatory culture to explore the dynamic of an audience actively participating in a popular cultural platform to shape its political message and meaning, and through this communicate with both state and non-state actors. The project applies this concept to the examination of two case studies focused on recent conflicts involving nations who are regular participants in Eurovision – the Russia-Ukraine war and the Israel-Hamas war. It will focus primarily on how Eurovision fans act upon the political situations of participating Eurovision nations, such as voting, boycotts (including viewing or travel boycotts), and social media debate and/or activism. It will further contextualise this within state and non-state actions and commentary. It seeks to capture the specific experiences and processes of participatory engagement in Eurovision fan communities, exploring the extent to which these can be understood as an exercise of political agency and engagement with public diplomacy.