Symbolic Politics for Peace

Principal Investigator:
Elisabeth King, CPD Research Fellow 2021-23

What are the possibilities for building peace in the 21st century, using not military might or economic coercion, but leveraging soft power—attraction, persuasion and influence? How can we harness the power of cultural diplomacy and symbolic politics to foster positive social change? In this project, I focus on symbolic politics as a tool of cultural diplomacy and soft power, aimed at influencing ordinary people toward reconciliation and peace in contexts of violent identity-based conflict around the world. Using mixed methods, I study the range of such efforts, the choices that underlie them, and test their effectiveness in building peace. By studying side-by-side very diverse symbols ranging from food to fashion, from art to schoolbooks, and from sports to museums, I will elucidate the ways in which symbolic politics may work for peace. The enormous human and economic costs of violent conflict, and the frequency of conflict recurrence, make a deeper understanding of the possible repertoires of action—including public diplomacy—especially urgent.