Dr Jason Dittmer, University College London


This research network heightens academic attention to an aspect of international politics that has achieved prominence in recent years. With President Obama’s promotion of international respect and soft power, the norms, discourses and practices of diplomacy have come under increased scrutiny and are of strategic importance both to the UK and internationally. Recent events such as the leak of diplomatic cables by WikiLeaks, the recognition of the National Transitional Council in Libya, and the violation of the British Embassy in Tehran have kept diplomatic cultures at the forefront of highly-mediated international politics.

Though the study of diplomacy has traditionally been undertaken within International Relations, recent years have seen the expansion, both in practice and in the literature, of two important aspects of diplomacy. These are (1) public diplomacy, defined as ‘soft power’ strategies to directly communicate with foreign populations and (2) the broadening of those engaged in diplomatic practices to include non-state polities. These beg the question: how is diplomatic culture translated as it changes context? This research network is innovative in exploring the modes and spaces through which diplomatic culture, foreign policy objectives and national narratives are translated, and in foregrounding the diversity of political actors involved. The network addresses the following questions:

– To what extent does a common diplomatic culture exist and facilitate international understanding?

– How can the UK foster dialogue across diplomatic cultures?

– How is ‘international’ diplomatic culture appropriated, translated and re-worked in different cultural settings?

– How does space shape the formation of diplomatic consensus, and can diplomatic practices be translated for ‘new’ digital spaces of engagement?

– How are diplomatic cultures and practices articulated beyond traditional spaces of state-focused diplomacy?

This research network addresses these questions through three themes: translating diplomatic culture; spaces of diplomatic culture; alternative cultures of diplomacy. Each theme will be the subject of a workshop attended by international experts from a range of academic disciplines and postgraduate students, as well as non-academic stakeholders including foreign ministry and embassy representatives, directors of diplomacy think-tanks and representatives from non-state diplomatic institutions.

The network will be coordinated by political geographers at UCL and the University of Cambridge, with workshops hosted at these institutions and in The Hague between November 2012 and May 2013. The final workshop will include visits to official and unofficial spaces of diplomacy in The Hague. In order to foster interaction and knowledge exchange the workshops are designed with an innovative format: keynote talks by world-leading experts followed by two minute responses from each participant, and then a more general discussion. The network will be sustained during and following the end of the grant by a listserve and blog through which workshop summaries and audio recordings will be made public.

Through the establishment of this network, new impetus will be brought to the study of diplomatic culture and its translation across contexts, emphasizing fruitful lines of research. These will be converted into an interdisciplinary funding proposal to be submitted to the AHRC Translating Cultures grant programmes. Other outcomes will include a green paper prepared for the FCO with policy prescriptions for the practice of diplomacy and an edited volume tracing the state-of-the-art in the study of diplomatic cultures. These will provide not only a nuanced analysis of current modes, spaces and practices of diplomacy and the central roles that culture and translation play, but will shape policy and conceptual frameworks necessary to assess and intervene in the future of public diplomacy.



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