Exploring the Cultural Underbelly of Public Diplomacy

Principal Investigator:
R.S. Zaharna, CPD Research Fellow, 2011-2013

Past Contributing Researcher:
Amy Zheng

Related CPD Publications:
Culture Posts: An Interactive Blog & Discussion Forum

The Cultural Awakening in Public Diplomacy CPD Perspectives on Public Diplomacy, April 2012.

Public diplomacy professionals, researchers and publics are often quick to notice the peculiarities of the public diplomacy of other nations. What makes those "peculiarities" stand out? While the tendency has been to view public diplomacy as “culture-free,” culture is a powerful force that shapes how entities communicate as well as how publics perceive that communication. Although cultural diplomacy may benefit from culture as a highly visible tool for promoting mutual understanding, public diplomacy is vulnerable to the hidden aspects of culture that can generate mutual misunderstanding. Often public diplomacy approaches are explained in terms of political, economic and other strategic goals rather than valued cultural heritages and assumptions about human relations. As of yet there are no culturally-informed analytical frameworks that can help us speak constructively about readily observable differences, or appreciate the significance of those differences, for communicating in a multicultural global arena.

The goal of this 2011-13 CPD Research Fellowship project was to stimulate greater awareness and knowledge of how culture influences public diplomacy and help generate multicultural perspectives of public diplomacy. For the project, Dr. Zaharna move her research into a public, collaborative sphere and invited others to explore the cultural underbelly of public diplomacy with her. The first component of the project was an issue of CPD Perspectives that lays a foundation for understanding cultural dimensions of public diplomacy. The second component was an interactive CPD discussion forum in which practitioners, students and scholars from around the globe could share their observations and reflections on specific cultural topics each month. The idea of the open forum was for practice to enrich research and research to inform practice. As a final component, insights from the co-creational, collaborative aspect of the blog/discussion were pooled into a summary piece on the significant lessons from our cultural exploration.