The art and science of communications: From strategic to personal

Tag Archives: Nye

The International Symposium on Cultural Diplomacy

Berlin, 27 – 31 July 2009


The Institute for Cultural Diplomacy is currently accepting applications For the forthcoming International Symposium on Cultural Diplomacy. The Symposium will bring together individuals from across the world for an interdisciplinary program that will consider the importance of soft power in addressing today’s global challenges. Confirmed speakers for the event include:

Jorge Sampaio, Former President of Portugal
Joaqim Chissano, Former President of Mozambique
Dr. Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga, Former President of Latvia
Cassam Uteem, Former President of the Republic of Mauritius
Dr. Erkki Tuomioja, Former Foreign Minister of Finland
Borys Tarasyuk, Former Foreign Minister of the Ukraine
Samuel Jones, Head of Culture, Demos
John Holden, Visiting Professor, City University London
Prof. Dr. Joseph S. Nye Jr.*, Distinguished Service Professor, Harvard University
Prof. Dr. Cynthia Schneider, Former US Ambassador to the Netherlands
Prof. Dr. Christian Armbrüster, Judge and Professor in Law, Free University Berlin

Who can apply?

The International Symposium is open to applications from students and young professionals with an active interest in international relations.

What will the Symposium involve?

The program for the International Symposium will consist of five days of lectures, seminars and panel discussions with leading figures from the political, diplomatic, academic and civil society spheres.

What are the aims of the Symposium?

The Symposium aims to provide the participants with a range of perspectives on the potential for soft power in international relations, as  well as highlighting key issues in the contemporary international environment.

What happens after the Symposium?

After taking part in the Symposium the participants become members of the ICD Young Leaders network and are supported by the ICD in conducting research, in organising and developing their own cultural exchange initiatives, and are invited to join the ICD’s Online Forum, where they can network with other young leaders from around the world.

More information about the Symposium, including the full speaker list and the application form, can be found under:

In its widest sociological sense, public relations (PR) can be seen as a mechanism for the promotion of understanding and creation of beneficial relationships or, as Edward Bernays claimed, continuing process of social integration . However, in a modern context, its aims may be seen as stretching from the enabling of the ideal citizen through to the creation of the ideal consumer. Although the contemporary ‘Western’ developed free-market democratic society relies upon the support of these entities, PR’s contribution to modern society often finds itself in constant tension between the two ends of the spectrum.

Bernays knew a thing or two about all this ...

Bernays knew a thing or two about all this ...

On the one hand, well managed PR is crucial to the sustenance of a collective of rational informed citizens. As Berelson commented, ‘the major decisions the ordinary citizen is called upon to make in a modern representative democracy involve basic simplifications which need not rest upon a wide range of information so long as they are based upon a certain amount of crucial information, reasonably interpreted.’ The provision of such crucial information, in between citizens, interest groups, corporations, organisations and governments is a major, if not fully appreciated, contribution of PR.

However, be they a form of systems or critical theory, of the rhetorical or relationship management paradigm, in the information age, with the mass of information available, PR is even more vital in providing that crucial information amidst a grey mass of confusion, contradiction and coercion in Nye’s ‘paradox of the plenty’ through the vehicle of new technology. Media sociology is starting to recognise the new terrain of multiple representations and infinite interpretations, irrespective of ownership structures.

To the other end of the spectrum, whilst corporate marketing preys upon ‘inner directives’ – assuming utter self-interest and private advantage, PR contributes to the provision of that information and context necessary to allow consideration as a member of the economic, free-market collective, in the interest of the public.

Whilst PR serves civil society, embedded in political economy, the above portrays a normative stance. A more positive theoretical perception reveals that PR’s contribution to modern society falls short of that ideal. Elite access, asymmetrical communication, partial and biased information, power broking and media filtering, to name but a few issues, contribute to a watering down of the ethical basis of PR in modern society. In the political sphere, ‘engineering consent’, focus-group politics, politico-industrial complexes and heavily financed political packaging have ravaged the PR environment, exploited by governments, political parties, corporations, interest groups and activists, denying publics real context. In the economic arena, the consumerist drive often subsumes the economic interest of the individual and public, in favour of maximising short-term gains for the organisation or corporation. Even if understanding is achieved, it is debatable as to whether an effectively informed citizenry given voice can actually effect change.

The result, borne of man’s psyche, has been the sociological damaging of PR’s contribution to modern society, contributing to communicative inequality.

However, the mere accepted practice of striving towards the promotion of understanding and creation of beneficial relationships is a noble cause. Its mere existence and continued furtherance towards such an ethical ideal is, at core, PR’s vital contribution to modern free society.

Encouraged by the leadership of the obamaObama administration, there is hope that soft power and consensus may pervade the thinking of ‘Western’ foreign policy. We may, at last, see the ideology of Joseph Nye (Paradox of American Power, Powers to Lead) seeping through the US administration, and percolating throughout ‘Western’ foreign policy (although, some already claim to embrace it, eg, the European Union).  As PR Week (Opinion, 16 Jan) proclaimed, as this wind of change blows through, the PR profession may reap rewards.

However, when it comes to strategic communications and public diplomacy, senior leaderships of the West have all too often failed to ‘get it’. Despite a general recognition that, in a globalised world, domestic and foreign policy are inextricably linked, government interest and expenditure in communications wane dramatically once publics fall outside domestic borders.  This problem exists in national management structures and within multilateral organisations as well, as many practitioners in foreign policy communications will attest. 

The problem, in CB3’s humble opinion (but based on experience and research), is often due to a lack of understanding, at senior, strategic level, of communications in the foreign policy and development contexts, despite the sterling work of many in public information, public diplomacy, influence activity and information operations. This results in underfunded, ill-planned and outmoded ideas in campaigns that often lack strategic guidance. ‘Hearts and minds’ is a tired cliché, but to nurture effective soft power and consensus in this age of dialogue, the most crucial battle for ‘hearts and minds’ should first be fought not on the global stage but in the corridors of power of government offices, foreign ministries, defence departments and development agencies.