Culture diplomacy is a form of diplomacy in which relations and communication with a foreign public occur through direct and indirect liaises and actions utilizing media, art, cultural assets, and other cultural means. Most definitions of cultural diplomacy mention it as a tool for facilitating international cooperation and promoting mutual understanding.
The ongoing debate over the term
Despite a comprehensive discussion on cultural diplomacy core principles, there is no consensus on a modern definition. Cultural diplomacy is typically described as being part of public diplomacy or as a soft power tool. Other definitions focus on the communication between a government and a foreign public or the role of non-state actors in the formation of cultural diplomacy. It has been argued that cultural means can be used to reflect a sender's culture (norms, values, etc. ), while others maintain that it is no different from other nation-branding methods. It relates to the unresolved debate over the definition of "culture" applied to "cultural diplomacy." On the one hand, it is argued that culture must be understood in a non-stricto-sensu - as a symbolic meaning system including values, ideas, norms, language, et cetera, all factors shaping the human behavior or\and a group identification.
On the other hand, the stricto-sensu viewing cultural diplomacy through the lens of (mainly) state interests. In this regard, there is also a debate over whether culture diplomacy is capable of fostering active exchanges of ideas, practices, and values rather than one-way communications.
Historical point of view
The massive use of cultural means during the cold war, the "war of ideas," made the term "cultural diplomacy" almost synonymous with propaganda.
With the end of the cold war and more significantly over the last two decades, cultural diplomacy has resurfaced. It is due to a wide range of developments in both the theoretical and diplomatic spheres. In light of the decline of traditional diplomacy, the digital age has paved the way for new cultural tools, such as new media channels and social networks. In this context, cultural diplomacy emerged as a critical component of states' ability to gain influence and access to a foreign public.
In parallel, scholars began focusing on the growing role of non-state actors in the international arena. Rather than focusing on the United States and Russia, the focus has shifted to international organizations like the EU. The use of cultural diplomacy was another way to interpret the change of balance in international affairs. Although the research in the field is still limited and often linked to public diplomacy, branding, or even manipulation, it opened the way to new perspectives and analyses in the field.
How do we recognize "Cultural Diplomacy"?
The exchange of ideas is being perceived as an engine underpinning cultural diplomacy.
Dialogue must be the goal; otherwise, it is no more than public diplomacy, branding, and other nation branding tools.
The recipient refers to the foreign public directly, without state mediation.
The target audience is as broad as possible, not just elite groups.
The type of activity is based on artistic means (Course of actions) to reflect the sender's culture (values, norms, etc.).
It is a multi-actors arena, not only state actors.
June, 2021 I Sabina Gendler-Govhari
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