Culture Posts: Individualism, Collectivism – and Relationalism

February 10, 2013 § 1 Comment

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, andcollectivism, 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.

Relationalism is in Wikipedia. However, the entry lacks cultural and communication dimensions as well as the pivotal contributions from female and Asian scholars.

For public diplomacy, relationalism offers a more refined lens for viewing relationships beyond simply “one versus the many” or “two-way communication.” Relationalism may be particularly valuable for understanding the dynamics of networking and collaborative public diplomacy.

Opposing Cultural Perspectives: Individualism & Collectivism

Both individualism and collectivism are in the dictionary. Individualism is of British origin, stemming from the works of Adam Smith and Jeremy Bentham, according to Merriam-Webster. However, Alexis de Tocqueville is often credited with coining the term during his visit to America in 1831. He was trying to describe the American spirit and what distinguished the “new world.” “Individualism is a novel expression, to which a novel idea has given birth,” wrote de Tocqueville. That novel idea was self-reliance, independence, equality, and personal freedom. De Tocqueville entitled his book Democracy in America.

Individualism has been an enduring part of American parlance, and favorably so, given its association with democracy. Perhaps, not surprisingly, collectivism has been less well understood. When contrasted against individualism, the depictions are often less flattering and even antagonistic. Whether it is fighting communists during the Cold War or resisting Borg on Star Trek, the collective is often presented as a threat and even mortal enemy of the individual.

In scholarship, the idea of individualism/collectivism dates back to 1953 and Florence Kluckhohn’s “value orientations.” She described the nuclear family as an individualistic, the extended family as collateral, and the inclusion of ancestors to the family sphere as lineal.

Individualism and collectivism was one of the five dimensions proposed by Dutch social psychologist Geert Hofstede in his landmark study Culture’s Consequence (1980). Hofstede, who was working with IBM at the time, came across a treasure trove of data from different IBM groups in more than 50 countries. He speaks of national cultures and positions countries relative to each other. Hofstede said that individualism prevails in “developed and Western countries,” while collectivism prevails in “less developed and Eastern countries.”

Hofstede often contrasts individualism and collectivism. Features of individualism include: “I”- consciousness; People take care of themselves and immediate family only; Speaking one’s mind is healthy; Personal opinion expected; Others classified as individuals; and Task prevails over relationships.

Features of collectivism include: “We” consciousness; People are born into extended families which protect them in exchange for loyalty; Harmony should always be maintained; Opinions are predetermined by in-group; Others are classified as in-group and out-group; and Relationship prevails over task.

Another social psychologist, Prof. Harry C. Traindis of the University of Illinois also wrote extensively on individualism/collectivism. Traindis focused at the individual or personal level. With the help of his doctoral student, C. Harry Hui, he refined the framework. [1]

Their research highlighted how relationships differ. Individualists tend to value independence and autonomy and favor relationships that are egalitarian and horizontal, such as friendships or marriage. Because the goals of the individual take precedence over the group goals, relations are often voluntary and temporary.

Traindis said collectivism tends to value interdependence and privilege vertical relations such as parent-child, each with different roles and obligations. Relations are often involuntary and long-term. Individuals are willing to forgo personal goals if they conflict with group goals. Distinctions between “in-groups” and “out-groups” are clearly defined. While collectivism strongly encourages cooperation within the in-group, out-groups are looked on with suspicion.

Individualistic Japanese & Collectivist Americans

The individualism-collectivism dimension has been one the most prominent cross-cultural tools within the social sciences. It has been used to analyze cultural differences across a range of phenomena, from advertising appeals to management styles and negotiating strategies.

Part of the dimension’s appeal is its simplicity in providing a powerful explanation for behavioral differences around the world. The individualism-collectivism dimension remains popular. However, scholars who have surveyed the mass of studies over the past three decades are raising red flags.

A team of social psychologists led by Daphna Oyserman at the University of Michigan surveyed studies published between 1980 (the year Hofstede’s book appeared) and 2000. [2] They wanted to see if Americans were the “gold standard” of individualism.

What the scholars found was rather surprising: Americans were no less collectivist than Latin Americans and some Asians. Several studies showed the Americans were more collectivist than the Japanese. The only consistent and robust difference in collectivism was between the Americans and Chinese.

Oyserman and her colleagues blamed the unexpected variations on the different measurement scales. Researchers appeared to have different ideas about what constituted individualism and collectivism.

Even before these literature reviews, other researchers using the same scale found similar anomalies. Triandis’s own research team had to re-think their assumptions. The scholars expected Americans and European to be highly individualistic and Latin Americans and Asians highly collectivist. That was not what they found: “In fact, the “highest score on interdependence was from the Illinois females!” Exclamation point is theirs. 

It was not just Triandis who had found American women to be the relational outliers. One of the first studies on collectivism noted a similar gender difference.[3] Another team of researchers in 1995, found that females across five cultures – America, Australia, Hawaii, Korea and Japan — were all more relationally oriented than their male counterparts.[4]

Scholars also raised flags about the long-held assumptions about group biases. Individualists were also assumed to not make in-group / out-group distinctions. That is a trait of collectivists. Yet, the actual studies revealed that loyalty to the in-group and suspicion of out-groups were just as pronounced, if not more so, in Western cultures than in Asian cultures. [5]

In-group favoritism and out-group suspicion does not seem as shocking when one considers the history of racism and segregation in America, or European colonialism, the Holocaust, and even the current debates over immigration and signs of Islamaphobia in Europe and America. Upon reflection, individualist Americans’ and Europeans’ history of in-group and out-group distinctions seems curiously overlooked.

With the many inconsistencies, one team of scholars suggested that collectivism is a “misnomer.”

The reality may be, as several scholars have suggested, that every society contains elements of individualism and collectivism in order to meet the demands and complexity of social systems.

A Third Dimension

It was not just that individualists were becoming collectivists, or globalism was transforming collectivists into individualists. A growing number of researchers began to suspect there was another dimension. Researchers had overlooked an entire layer of relations.

In the next Culture Post, I will look at some of the research and thinking that fostered the emergence of relationalism and relationalism’s implications for public diplomacy.

FROM Culture Posts series

Zaharna, R. S. (January 28, 2013 ). “Culture Posts: Individualism, Collectivism — and Relationalism,” in USC Center on Public Diplomacy, Blog Series

  1. C. Harry Hui and Harry C. Triandis (1986), “Individualism-Collectivism: A Study of Cross-Cultural Researchers,” Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 17(2): 225-248
  2. Daphna Oyserman, Heather M. Coon, and Markus Kemmelmeier (2002), “Rethinking Individualism and Collectivism: Evaluation of Theoretical Assumptions and Meta-Analyses,” Psychological Bulletin 128 (1), 3-72.
  3. Kwok Leung and Michael H. Bond (1984), “The Impact of Cultural Collectivism on Reward Allocation,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 47 (4): 793-804. 
  4. Yoshihisa Kashima, Susumu Yamaguchi, Uichol Kim, Sang-Chin Choi, Michele Gelfand, Masaki Yuki (1995). “Culture, Gender, and Self: A Perspective From Individualism-Collectivism Research,” Journal of Personality & Social Psychology 69(5):925-937. 
  5. Marilynn Brewer and Ya-Ru Chen (2007), “Where (Who) Are Collectives in Collectivism? Toward Conceptual Clarification of Individualism and Collectivism,” Psychological Review, 114 (1): 133-151.



Culture Posts: A New Frame – The U.S. Public Diplomacy Act of 2014

February 9, 2013 § 1 Comment

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. Public Diplomacy Act as soon as possible.

A Potentially Dead-In Debate

Yesterday’s analysis of the Smith-Mundt Modernization Actrevealed a battle between two iconic American values. In one corner: “modernization” and the appeal of the future. In the corner: “propaganda” and the threat to individual freedom. So long as these two values remain pitted against each other, the legislation floating on the surface will continue to draw fire from across the political spectrum. At stake are treasured American values. U.S. public diplomacy is caught in cross fire.

The longer the debate continues, the more likely the two competing frames will become entrenched. Already, the battle has moved to the social media, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. As mentioned in a previous post, and quoting Alec Ross, “the social media reward the extremes.”

Unfortunately, or fortunately, any reference to “Smith-Mundt” is likely to trigger a repeat of the propaganda-public diplomacy debate. Not surprisingly, two years ago there was such an attempt and it didn’t get far. What’s needed is a fresh start in how the public, officials, and policy makers think about U.S. public diplomacy – which is a good thing.

New Tools: Media Literacy

Many have suggested the Smith-Mundt battle is generational. Actually, it may be more a matter of education and training. What the younger bloggers share with some of the beyond twenty-something bloggers trying to put propaganda in perspective, is formal study of persuasive tactics and media literacy. Learning how to read, analyze and create media content has become as critical as learning grammar. It begins in elementary school now.

The fear of propaganda harkens back to an era when persuasion was a new field of study. Mass media was the “new” media. Both were little understood and perceived as all powerful. Over the years, persuasion strategies have grown increasingly sophisticated. Compared with advanced stealth tactics, propaganda’s one-way “information dissemination” mode probably ranks a 2.4 out of 10 on Richter scale of persuasion. While persuasion strategies today are more sophisticated, so too is the audience. Media literacy and constant exposure to persuasion have made the public, especially the youth, not only savvy consumers of persuasion but producers as well. From the Arab Spring to Anonymous, the communication tables are turning between publics and governments. It’s not just social media. It’s media literacy.

New Mindset, New Frame

If one thing has become increasingly clear from the debate it is the lack of understanding about the critical role of U.S. public diplomacy – and the role of the U.S. public in U.S. public diplomacy. U.S. public diplomacy needs not just a new amendment, it needs a new mindset. With that mindset lays the promises of a new U.S. Public Diplomacy Act.

1. Think Global Communication: Global technology & Global publics

The first feature of the new mindset and goal of the U.S. Public Diplomacy Act is to think globally. Currently, on several levels, U.S. public diplomacy is defined in national and even inter-national terms. Perhaps a short decade ago, it was possible to think about communication in those terms. With today’s advanced communication technologies, there is no longer a domestic public or even truly foreign publics; but rather one global public. What one hears; they all hear albeit differently. The challenge is not how to separate the two; but how to speak to so many simultaneously. Remember also, that global public is constantly on the move. Global migration means thinking of audiences in terms of media platforms rather national territories.

2. Think Monitoring and Transparency

A second feature of the new mindset and goal of the U.S. Public Diplomacy Act is monitoring and transparency. Not only is the communication environment global, it is highly competitive. U.S. public diplomacy may be the leader in the field, but it is not the only player. Numerous countries have established television programming and cultural programs specifically for the U.S. public. There is Qatar’s Al-Jazeera, BBC’s UK-USA and Russia’s Russia Today. If China’s CCTV has not been as successful, its Confucius Institutes are. Where is U.S. public diplomacy in this line up?

Rather than keeping the U.S. public in the dark about official U.S. communication activities, U.S. public diplomacy needs more exposure and transparency. First, for those who worry about U.S. government takeover of the American people, unfettered access to U.S. public diplomacy is exactly what’s needed to monitor it and make sure it doesn’t get out of control. Helle Dale of the Heritage Foundation picked up on this point early. It needs underscoring. Second, U.S. public diplomacy could benefit from domestic feedback, especially from one as ethnically diverse as the American public. Other countries have been quick to appreciate the importance of not only their domestic public but their diaspora in the global communication equation.

3. Think Collaborative Diplomacy and Citizen Diplomacy

A third feature of the new mindset and goal of the U.S. Public Diplomacy Act is moving from the old public diplomacy to the new public diplomacy. Once upon a time it was enough to craft messages and shoot them into stationary target audiences. It worked once. It doesn’t now. Governments are no longer the only players competing against each other. And radical activists rarely play by the rules. Soft power is transforming into what Anne Marie Slaughter called “collaborative power.” Public diplomacy is becoming more networked, more collaborative public diplomacy.

To be effective or even stand a chance in such a dynamic communication arena U.S. public diplomacy needs an expanded vision beyond its official itself. The U.S. public needs a voice in the conversation that is U.S. public diplomacy.

Already, the U.S. public is trying to be more involved. Witness the thrivingcitizen diplomacy and public-private partnerships. They are mushrooming across the nation. In one of her first statements, the new Under Secretary of State Tara Sonenshine spoke of the link between people, policy and U.S. public diplomacy. Citizen diplomacy along with collaborative public diplomacy exemplifies the new vision of U.S. public diplomacy.

More than ever, the U.S. public needs effective U.S. public diplomacy. And, more than ever, U.S. public diplomacy needs the U.S. public. Rather than competing against each other, both can embrace the challenge of change and innovation in a new U.S. Public Diplomacy Act of 2014. That is, if it can be achieved sooner.

FROM Culture Post Series:

Zaharna, R. S. (June 7, 2012). “Culture Posts: A New Frame – The U.S. Public Diplomacy Act of 2014,” in USC Center on Public Diplomacy, Blog Series


Culture Posts: Exposing The Battle of US Values in the Smith-Mundt Debate

February 9, 2013 § Leave a comment

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. Indeed, rather than amending an old law, U.S. public diplomacy needs a new mindset.

At first the amendment seemed like a no-brainer update from the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948 to the Smith-Mundt Modernization Act of 2012. As the foundation of contemporary U.S. public diplomacy, there is a ton of background available on the original Smith-Mundt. A good running start is at The original legislation established the U.S. Information Agency with the mission of “informing and influencing foreign publics.” While the USIA has since been dissolved, the implicit understanding that public diplomacy targets “foreign publics”—not the domestic public—has remained a cornerstone assumption in U.S. public diplomacy practice and scholarship. Interestingly enough, numerous other countries assume the opposite—effective public diplomacy begins with the domestic public.

The reason the bill seemed like a no-brainer was because the Internet had made the distinction between foreign and domestic publics irrelevant and the bill effectively obsolete. Legally and philosophically, however … and this is where the debate takes off …

Anatomy of the Smith-Mundt Debate 2012

As is often the case when debates take on an outsized proportion there is usually buried symbolism. The raging battle on the surface is often a cover for issues that have deeper emotional significance. Trying to douse emotional flames with intellectual reason often only further fans the fire while submerging the original emotional triggers even deeper. Indeed, how the commentators spoke about the Amendment or tried to frame the issues only fueled the debate.

I decided to look take a closer look at the anatomy of the debate.

The debate grew exponentially in terms of quantity and intensity. On May 15, Representative Thornberry issued an 836-word press releaseannouncing the amendment (HR 5736). The first news article went out within hours. The battle of the blogs started on May 18 after a posting on with the headline, “Congressmen Seek to Lift Propaganda Ban,” The post not only changed the language from the original press release from public diplomacy to “propaganda,” but made it sound as if the reporter had obtained a news scoop rather than a press release—A sure tactic for generating interest among a wider audience.

Within a week, Technorati listed nearly 30 blog entries. had more than 60 entries on the topic. John Brown’s Public Diplomacy Review and Blog, perhaps the meeting ground for the debate, grew from one entry in third position on May 18, to more than 11 entries in a single day, to 54 entries totaling 16,642 words. And that was the first week. The original post had gone viral with close to 200,000 views.

The debate grew in intensity. Bloggers on the right as well as the left attacked the amendment. Perhaps another indication that the debate was deeper than ideological differences was that opposition to it crossed the political spectrum. The emotionally charged language was similarly indicative. There was talk of “sock puppets” and “brain washing.” One prominent Progressive blogger warned of “the creeping fascism of American politics” that “would allow the Department of Defense to subject the U.S. domestic public to propaganda.” Suddenly, the military was included, which was not a far stretch but nevertheless inaccurate.

Adding to the debate were those trying to figure out what the fuss over “propaganda” was about. The word “propaganda” appeared to evoke a visceral response in older commentators, some who spoke from “personal experience.” For many younger commentators propaganda just seemed like another form of persuasion, which was reflected in their blog titles: “Propoganda? So What?” “Much ado about State Department ‘propaganda’“; “Dial back the outrage.” Again this happened from the liberal Mother Jones to the conservative The Blaze. The Blaze, which features a promo for the Tea Party movement on its video, actually switched its feelings about the amendment from “Disconcerting and Dangerous” to a roundtable history lesson by a panel of young commentators. They all had to read from their research notes and struggled to keep a straight face. (Video here)

To foreign observers, the Smith-Mundt debate may have looked rather confusing, if not odd. Public diplomacy scholar Robin Brown at Leeds University tweeted as much:

Robin Brown ‏@rcmb: From outside the US Smith-Mundt domestic dissemination ban looks a bit odd. But apparently if you lift it US is doomed (May 20)

The intensity and speed with which the debate was spiraling suggested that the underlying, deeper issues at stake were significant. Indeed, the debate pitted two iconic American values against each other.

Appeal of the Future: Innovation & Opportunity

The very name of the bill – the Smith-Mundt Modernization Act of 2012 – resonates strongly and positively with future orientation that has long been a prized American value. Anthropologists have documented it. American politicians have catered to it. And, American immigrants who left the “old country” behind have embraced it. As a young nation, vision meant looking forward to the quest for the new, the improved, the opportunity for change, or the challenge of innovation. While there may be the tinge for nostalgia here and there, the appeal for Change and Hope (of the future) tend to triumph.

So, in the one corner, there is the appeal of future orientation. This explains the “history lessons” about Smith-Mundt as well as the references to “modern”, “advanced” communication technologies and the need to “update” or “modernize” the “obsolete” or “outdated” “decades-old” 1948 bill.

American Individualism

In the other corner is an even stronger American value orientation: individual freedom. If one peels back the language about “propaganda” it is about the fear of a loss of individual freedom and autonomy. The government will “take control,” the public will be “vulnerable” or “fall prey” to “brain washing” and other powerful forms of control.










If one looks closely, propaganda is often linked to an authoritarian or totalitarian regime, as was the case of the Thornberry press release. The anti-authoritarian appeal goes back to the American colonists and their rebellion against the King. Propaganda is also associated with deception, or more bluntly, lying by the authorities. Deliberate deception on the part of the government? Heaven forbid. America’s Founding Fathers built “checks and balances” into the foundation of the U.S. government structure. And lest the government forget its place, there are “the people” and of course, the “watch dog” press. While U.S. public diplomacy may be okay for “foreign” publics – including specifically targeting the youth of other countries, to expose the U.S. public to U.S. public diplomacy is a call to arms.

The images echo these iconic American values. There is the appeal to the modern, represented by technology. The image below was featured by the Mother Jones piece mocking the new “brainwashing” law.

Pitted against the fear of loss of individual freedom, are the images, albeit dated, of government “propaganda.”


The Smith-Mundt debate Illustrates how unexplored historical and cultural dynamics can have direct policy implications in public diplomacy. So long as the debate remains framed as a battle against two iconic cultural values – the appeal of the future versus the threat to individualism – the legislation may struggle.

Tomorrow, stay tuned for suggestions for cultural appeals that can reframe the debate for a new U.S. Public Diplomacy Act.

Blog from Culture Posts Series:

Zaharna, R. S. (June 6, 2012). “Culture Posts: Exposing The Battle of U.S. Values in the Smith-Mundt Debate,” in USC Center on Public Diplomacy, Blog Series

Collaboration: the Strategic Core of Public Diplomacy

August 12, 2011 § Leave a comment

From the anguished expressions of stock market traders to those of parents holding malnourished infants, the emotional images accompanying the news portrays a world that appears to be simultaneously coming together and falling apart. That this trend of wicked problems is likely to intensify is why collaboration is likely to become the defining strategic core of public diplomacy. I mentioned in an earlier post that “Collaboration in public diplomacy may well become the strategic equivalent of negotiation in traditional diplomacy.”   Let me be bolder in that suggestion and explain why.

To date, efforts to define public diplomacy have been largely in terms of “what it does,” as in verbs: inform, influence, understand, and engage. Our level of conceptualizing public diplomacy is at the functional level: Actor-Action-Goal.

In recent years, a relational perspective has expanded the list to include listening, dialogue, relationship-building, networking, alliances, and partnership. While the perspective may have changed somewhat from advocacy to relations, the understanding of public diplomacy is still at the functional level of tactics and tools. Relationship-building, listening, dialogue as well as engagement, for example, are tactics to connect people. Partnerships, alliances and networks are the platforms for those connections.  While it is true that network diplomacy represents a quantum change from hierarchical structure found in most Foreign Ministries to the more agile and efficient network structure, the change is still at the functional or tactical level. However, as Manuel Castells once quipped, “Networks are neutral. They can kiss or kill, nothing personal.”

To move public diplomacy to the next level means moving beyond the how (advocacy or relations focus) or what (content or policies) to the strategic why.

What is the strategic purpose of public diplomacy?

The standard answer: public diplomacy is a tool for a nation to gather public support for its foreign policies. From the advocacy perspective, public diplomacy is used to promote the interests and values of a nation, explain its policies and enhance its image. Relational approaches serve as vehicles for enhancing mutual understanding. Both advocacy and relational perspective can enhance a nation’s soft power.  However, this view of public diplomacy as a tool is limiting in that it is tied to an individual national perspective. Soft power, as it is currently conceived, is inherently an individual attribute, and thus comparative and competitive, reflecting a power over others. Who has more soft power wins.

Unfortunately, as this week illustrates, in a world of global wickedly complex problems that have real consequences and public emotional repercussions that can exacerbate that reality, the traditional response to why public diplomacy is no longer satisfactory.

The “wickedness” of wicked problems stems from their inter-dependent nature; solving one problem has the potential to create another problem. Wickedly complex problems appear to engulf soft power winners and losers with equal vengeance: nothing personal. Independent thinking and efforts to solve inter-dependent problems are proving insufficient.

To envision the type of public diplomacy needed to tackle wickedly complex problems will require expanding the vision of public diplomacy from viewing public diplomacy as a national tool to looking at its global purpose.

The answer to the “why” of public diplomacy echoes that of traditional diplomacy. The larger strategic purpose of diplomacy is the management of the relations between political entities in the global arena. Diplomatic scholar Raymond Cohen described diplomacy as the “engine room” of international affairs.

In traditional diplomacy, diplomats serve as representatives of their nations, working with other diplomats to address issues of concern, including most critically, war and peace. Public diplomacy serves these same strategic goals.  It is in this strategic purpose that one can see the parallel of managing relations in the private sphere (negotiations) in traditional diplomacy and managing relations in the public sphere (collaboration) in public diplomacy.

Up until fairly recently, it was possible to manage the affairs (problems) among nations and speak of problems as national problems that could be managed singularly by nations. Private negotiations conducted between diplomats was sufficient for addressing problems and managing relations among states. Negotiations conducted between diplomats represent an interpersonal context. The interlocutors are known and identifiable. They share knowledge of diplomatic protocol.

Traditional diplomacy also tends to speak primarily in terms of promoting and security national interests and national goals. Hence it is possible to have negotiation strategies range for zero-sum (winner take all) to win-win that accommodates the goals of the other party. Competitive negotiation strategies seek to secure the best deal for one’s side.

As the economic situation illustrates, today the problems spill across national borders and are often global in scope. The nature of the problems are such that a government cannot tackle them alone but often must work or collaborate not only with other governments, but with business and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). Lucien Hudson in his recent report for the British Foreign Commonwealth Office, “The Enabling State,” speaks of the need for collaboration to solve tame and wickedly complex problems. In an interconnected environment, a nation cannot ensure its security in isolation from others. Instead of solely national issues and interests, collaboration tends to speak in terms of global problems and global security.

Collaboration entails getting others to work together to achieve a shared goal. Because collaboration requires cooperative effort, commitment and trust, getting others to participate and sustain their efforts requires a win-win approach. The zero-sum option applies to defeating the problem; not each other.

At present, collaboration as an area of study is still perhaps in its infancy in public diplomacy. “Collaborative public diplomacy,” suggested by Ali Fisher, is relatively uncharted research territory. When research and knowledge about collaboration reaches the level of where negotiations is in traditional diplomacy, public diplomacy may be better able to tackle some of the wickedly complex problems that confronted global relations this week.


Lucien Hudson, The Enabling State, Foreign Commonwealth Office, 2009.

Ali Fisher, Mapping the Playbook: To Facilitate a more Collaborative Public Diplomacy, USC Center for Public Diplomacy Blog, January 13, 2011.

Public Diplomacy “seeks to promote the national interest of the United States through understanding, informing and influencing foreign audiences.” The Planning Group for Integration of USIA into the Dept. of State (June 20, 1997).
Public diplomacy is “an international actor’s attempt to advance the ends of policy by engaging with foreign publics.” G. Cowan and N. J. Cull, “Public Diplomacy in a Changing World,” The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 616, no. 1 (2008): 6-8.

Ethics & Credibility in Public Diplomacy

June 4, 2011 § Leave a comment

Been reflecting on the difference — if there is one — between ethics and credibility in public diplomacy. Why I raise the possible distinction has to do with the focus on messages/informational PD approaches and relational/networking PD approaches.

I do not see the approaches as mutually exclusive, but rather a matter of emphasis.

Similarly am thinking information-based PD initiatives would tend to emphasize credibility. Source and message credibility would be the pivotal element of an effective information-based PD initiative.

Ethics, specifically ethical behavior, would be the pivotal element of relation-based PD initiatives.

Why the different emphasis? Credibility associated with believability. Greater credibility enhances the persuasive value of a message (basic persuasion theory,back to Hovland).

Ethical behavior may have a component of credibility, such as action matching words. However, the real power of ethical behavior is that it tends to engender trust. Trust is the basic building block of relations and network.  Trust is also the most frequently cited component in organizational-public relations literature.

My general sense from the PD literature is that credibility and ethics feed into each other and reinforce each other. However, the distinction is not as pronounced, or discussed.  Credibility perhaps receives much more attention, which is perhaps not surprising given that information/messages tend to dominate the literature.

I think this may  change. I think there is more, or we need to delve deeper into the distinction as the PD field moves from information-based to relation-based strategies. My guess, is that as relational and networking PD initiatives receive more attention that “ethical behavior” will gain prominence in PD discussions.

Still a thought-in-process, appreciate the synergistic ideas as well as research leads readers may find.

Hello world!

May 31, 2011 § 1 Comment

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