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To celebrate the New Year, Culture Posts is focusing on the relatively new concept: relationalism. Public Diplomacy viewed through the lens of relationalism has several implications. Most immediately, discussions about relations and relationship-building – the hallmark of the “new public diplomacy” – can move to a more sophisticated and nuanced level.

Developing a Relational Eye

As part of the new year festivities, Culture Posts is focusing on the relatively new concept – relationalism – and its implications for public diplomacy. Relationalism is still so new it is not yet in the dictionary. It is only beginning to make its debut in academic journals.

What is perhaps most ironic about relationalism is that it appears to have been hiding in plain sight. All that was needed to see it was a different perspective or lens.

A 3rd Dimension

In honor of the New Year (both West and East), I would like to share a relatively new lens for viewing relations in public diplomacy. Many may have heard of the terms individualism, which privileges the individual, and collectivism, which favors the collective or group. What they may not have heard about yet is relationalism, which privileges personal relations. At the time of this writing, relationalism literally “isn’t in the dictionary” – at least the most prominent one in the English-language.

Nation states are facing a second wake-up call in public diplomacy. The first wake up call, prompted by the 9/11 attacks, was the realization that perceptions of foreign publics have domestic consequences. The second wake up call, which rang out first for China during the 2008 Olympics, and then for other countries with Wikileaks, the Arab Spring, and the Occupy Movement, is that adversarial publics are able to challenge states in the quest for global public support. How states can effectively respond to this second wake-up call is a pressing area of public diplomacy research.

Last week, before the world caught on fire over a film clip, I wrote about the paradox of value promotion in public diplomacy. No matter how appealing promoting one’s values may be, trying to do so in a global arena is fraught with difficulty. Yet, because values are integral to a nation’s communication, public diplomacy will inevitably reflect those values. What’s happening between the U.S.

I have always been intrigued by the desire of countries to convey their cultural, political or social values as part of their public diplomacy mission. On the surface, it is appealing. However, in practice, it is fraught with challenges and is something of a paradox.

As all eyes turn to London in the coming weeks for the Olympics, a pageantry of cultural symbolism will be on display. Sometimes the most important messages in public diplomacy are the unspoken, symbolic ones. Anthropologist Edward T. Hall called it looking for the “eloquent cues.”

London may be the focus of public diplomacy attention and reap the greatest benefit; however, all countries are likely to seize and squeeze what public diplomacy mileage they can when the international spotlight shines in their direction. When you watch, watch for the cultural cues.

It is the summer of 2012 and America is debating whether to modernize a piece of 1948 legislation on U.S. public diplomacy called the Smith-Mundt Act. At a time when American officials are racing to keep pace with the new communication technologies and trying to “out-communicate” the terrorists, not just other nations, the whole debate is mind-boggling. Ultimately, the debate is about much more than the legislation and speaks volumes about America understanding of communication in a global era. To get up to speed, U.S. public diplomacy needs the U.S. public, and both need a U.S.