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Greetings from Washington. Along with the warmer temperatures and afternoon summer thunderstorms, a firestorm has erupted over a Congressional amendment related to U.S. public diplomacy. I put this post under Culture Posts, because the ferocity of the debate has had little to do with the technical aspects or merits of the legislation itself. At stake, and what the argument was really about, were iconic American values. The debate also reveals a surprising lack of understanding about just what is public diplomacy in the modern era of global communication.

On Thursday, May 17, 2012 I attended the discussion on “Digital Diplomacy: A New Era of Advancing Policy” at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington and on Twitter at #DigiDiplomacy. Carnegie had already posted video and audio of the event by early afternoon.

When Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi took the stage to accept the Oscar for A Separation, he spoke of his film as a counter narrative to talk of war and offer a view of Iran “through her glorious culture, a rich and ancient culture that has been hidden under the heavy dust of politics.” During times of escalating political rhetoric, films can help shape and, as Farhadi hopes, reshape national images. For public diplomacy, the Oscars offer lessons not only in culture, but in the persuasive power of storytelling.

In previous Culture Posts, I talked about the goal of developing an “in-awareness” approach to culture in public diplomacy. In the comments section, as well as other CPD posts, important observations have been raised about the challenges of cultural diplomacy. Developing a stronger “in-awareness” approach may be the key to designing and implementing rewarding cultural diplomacy initiatives.

In this post I discuss the idea of thinking about culture as a concrete noun as one way to develop awareness.

Culture as a Concrete Noun

One of the goals of this blog series is to develop greater awareness and knowledge of how culture intervenes in public diplomacy. In public diplomacy, culture’s web of influence spans across policy, practice, and research, and encompasses both sponsor and intended public.

Welcome to the opening entry of Culture Posts, an interactive blog for exploring the cultural underbelly of public diplomacy. Over the next two years, I hope that you will join me, collecting and discussing your insights on the hidden, and often times not so hidden, aspects of culture in public diplomacy.