Archive for November, 2011


Boren Fellows: The New Faces of Public Diplomacy?

Our group presented our paper: Public Diplomacy and Nation Branding through International Exchange Programs this week to highlight the role and/or effects of international exchange and cross-cultural educational research in efforts of public diplomacy. We focused on the Fulbright (a tool of fostering international goodwill), Peace Corps (international service), and the Boren Fellowship. I wanted to focus on Boren for the sake of this blog entry.

Boren, unlike the other two, is overtly tied to U.S. national security goals, making it a unique tool used by the government to achieve these goals. This fellowship goes to mostly graduate students to enable their international research related to national security interests with the explicit mandate that they return to work for the U.S. Government. The National Security Education Program funds the program, mostly from the Department of Defense.

The reality is that restrictive laws on public diplomacy (through the Smith-Mundt Act) have forced the U.S. to get creative with public diplomacy. International exchange programs like this are an effective alternative to an imposing military presence or DOD-led public diplomacy initiative. Because of this, the U.S. has expanded traditional definitions of national security outside of a security-military-only focus and this scholarship also goes to those doing international development or priority-language projects. Whether intentional or not, these student recipients are like citizen ambassadors, going out into the field and creating connections with those in other countries that help them understand Americans better and vice versa. In some ways, they add to this concept of “branding” the nation as well, and raise questions of an accurate depiction of Americans versus the U.S. Government’s agenda for the American image.

Either way, international scholarships are a great way to get some of the brightest, highly educated students engaged with international issues. This both prepares future leaders in American government to understand the issues of the day, as well as brings expertise to these intelligence positions for their government service requirement. In the future, public diplomacy will undoubtedly rely more upon this soft power approach—not undoing the need for traditional hard power, but creating a more effective balance to create a better image and reputation for the U.S.


Our new imaginary friend: The IPad 2








When you were a kid, have you ever had an imaginary friend? I sure did. I remember signing to the wall in my bed before I went to sleep because I imagined there was a girl who looked exactly like me and this girl wanted to be my friend. Even if my imaginary friend never physically appeared as I wished she would, I still felt connected to her somehow.

After listening to the team who gave a presentation on the “imagined community,” it made me really reflect on how this imagined community actually achieves people feeling connected to each other without even meeting each other in person and how we can develop new “imaginary friends” online.  I started to reflect on the different features of the imagined community other than the World War Craft game or the Eva Online or even Facebook. Then the IPad 2 came in mind. I live in a house with 9 women. Oh, don’t worry, it is a big house that fits all of us. 🙂 Two of my roommates just ordered their IPads 2. When the new IPads 2 arrived, I felt like the IPads 2 became their new imaginary friends. They were so focused on playing with the features that were in their devices and did not interact much our other roommates. Sure, I understand that they are excited to get their new toy, but I saw how they developed their own “network society” just by owning an Ipad 2. They played different games that were featured in the IPad 2. They connected to different online interactions with other people who also had IPads 2 as well. It was like an IPad 2 community. For example, there is a game called “Word Friends.” My roommates would sign in then they would meet other people who also have IPads 2 and interact with them online by playing that game. It is almost like playing the game “Scrabble.” Not only that, but there is also another game called “Family Feud.” Both of my roommates played Family Feud with each other and enjoyed each other’s company by just playing online. They did not have an in depth conversation in person or talked to each other face to face but they enjoyed each other’s presence just by playing against each other on Family Feud. My two roommates felt connected together. They created their own imagined community by using their IPads 2.

I am not even sure if I want to order an IPad 2. It might be exciting to join that network society where I would establish my common ground with other people who own IPads, but do I really want to do that? To become part of that virtual world? Have another imaginary friend aka the IPad 2? Being part of that social network does not mean I will meet every person face to face. I might meet some people online through my IPad 2 that I might feel connected, but never will physically meet that person. Do I want to have that? I am not sure if I am ready for that yet. I am just fine with a blackberry phone and a PC laptop that still keep me connected with school, family, and friends. But, to be part of that new imagined community of IPad 2 members, that…I will need to consider.




More holistic approach to media influence

     Yesterday’s presentation on transnational media (like Univision and the telenovela) and gaming (like Fandom) as alternative “re-imagined” communities got me thinking. I found myself wincing while the spokeswoman described the virtual game, “Eva” and even wondered, what type of people live their real lives vicariously through these games? But then came the trailer viewing of the telenovela. It could be because I speak Spanish, or merely because the drama has a “universalist” appeal, as described by Emily. Either way, I can see how these types of programs have an “escapist” quality that Diaspora and non-Diaspora populations alike can enjoy.

     However, what determines which media affects us and how? Powers and Nawawy’s article did a fantastic job unpacking some of the multiple factors that determine what and to which degree the media impacts how we perceive the world and global issues. In their analysis of Al Jazeera and other global news networks like BBC and CNNI, the theorists found strong evidence that, “viewers choose global news media based on their pre-existing ideological and political orientations, and that their viewing of particular news media is likely to reinforce their opinions [rather than inform them]”(280). Moreover, media system dependency theory is introduced as another factor determining media influence based on the scarcity or exclusivity of an individual’s information resources (279).

      Besides underlining the natural biases that occur when choosing media sources and how environmental factors contribute to the quantity of (or lack thereof) media choices, Powers and Nawawy also account for the cognitive differences in how information is processed once media is consumed. For example, viewers are better able to process information that is contradicting to their existing beliefs if they have lower levels of dogmatism, or cognitive organization of beliefs and disbeliefs about reality (275). Ultimately, it is a holistic combination of environmental factors, natural biases and cognitive constitution that determine what types of media we consume and how much influence it will have on our perception of reality.

      In the case of the “reimagined communities” that my class-mates presented about yesterday, do these factors prove to be true, as well? What are some of the psychological factors that make an individual more likely to lose themselves in virtual games, living a more committed existence in a game than in reality? If I had the time, I’d like to research the gaming community and begin looking at some of these psychological factors that render individuals more or less likely to live an existence through games or reality.


Al-Jazeera Makes People Less Dogmatic

I have to admit that I have never watched Al-Jazeera telvision.  I have heard good things about it but I came from California and that is not in the basic cable package.   Since being here I haven’t had cable and don’t spend a lot of time browsing internet news.  I’m sorry to say that most of my news comes from the radio, and the free newspaper they pass out at the metro stops in the morning on my way to work.  I find their finding somewhat questionable, based mostly on access.

Unless Al-Jazeera is part of a basic cable plan that means the people watching it are living in an area such as DC, that may already make them more open.  I’m not saying that that news has no effect, but simply that the sample is skewed, and non representative.

Regardless of this I found the article very interesting, and can see how people will choose the news that confirms their ideas.  In general I think that most people are frustrated with the quality of the news.  In my opinion of the news you get isn’t going to be very informative anyways you mind as well watch something that already agrees with your opinions.  I think this is probably a very common view.

My other argument with this is that unless you live in a large city and there are multiple stations that cover your local area, you often only have one choice of station.  Coming from a semi-rural area, there is really only one news station that covers anything local.  There are a couple stations that will touch on my areas events, but don’t even cover my towns weather.  As a result I think people ideas get shaped by the news that they watch, and then are reaffirmed because they keep watching the same station because that’s what their option is.  Yes they could watch other stations for national and international news, but lets face it, people are habitual.  They always watch Fox, CNN, or Al-Jazeera for their local, they’re probably going to watch that for the national and international news as well because it’s what they’re used to and comfortable with.

I think it’s a bit unfair to say that people will only watch news that reaffirms their beliefs.   I think this has some basis to it, but doesn’t accept the logic behind people’s choices.  I don’t think this is the only reason behind why they watch certain channels.  For example my grandmother changed news cast stations, simply because they got a new girl and she couldn’t stand the woman’s voice.


Mobile device companies shaping social movements

The role that mobile devices has played in current social movements is fascinating to me.  I feel that I take the power of my cell phone for granted.  I am lucky to be able to communicate with my friends all over the world, but I had never really considered it as a tool for social change.  After learning more about the events in Egypt and other places in the world I do think it’s important for people to remember that these weren’t the sole forms of organizing.  I think that there is still much to be said for the old ‘grapevine’.  In my home town I know this still functions rather well, and even in larger cities, within communities I think in many ways it can be even more effective than technology.

My biggest concern is that social movements begin to rely on Technology to the point that they can be shaped and influenced by the companies, or organization that controls this.  If they know there is going to be a large demonstration, what stops a carrier from stopping service, or a government from setting up signal blockers in a vicinity.  I’m very curious to see how future events play out, and if my concerns about reliance on technology providers could be valid.


Why the Government Should Hire Me (Us)

Communications scholars continue to debate the influence of social media on political change, activism, and other social phenomena that seem to have some undetermined corollary effect on how society functions. Researchers analyze Twitter feeds to determine where collective activism and communication is taking place. Governments have a stake in the trend, whether their intentions are to encourage thriving democratic movements or to shut them down.

One thing is true: The government especially need people who can locate paths of information. They are trying to use open source data mining tools to piece together information for conversations in the future. Whether this is through traditional forms of communication or new media-shaped political debates about the Arab Spring, the government needs graduates from good communications programs to fill voids in international relations and public diplomacy who are cued into contemporary studies on new media, media ownership, and communication. We are systems people. We want to know why things work the way they do beyond the typical discussions in the public forum. In the complex web of public-private interests, where are the choke points?

Social media through blogs, Twitter, Facebook, and other significant feeds spreads ideas across international borders. But the means of analyzing this information is still a bit hazy. Open source data means no personal identification, which can be beneficial for international advocates for human rights, but difficult for data mining. Knowing what communication paths to trust and identify is also one of the roles of a communications scholar. As government plays a crucial role in world affairs, it seems timely and relevant that it would start looking to graduate students that understand how to use new media in the context of culture, world affairs, and public diplomacy.


Mobile Movements

One of sentences that immediately stood out from “The Mobile Civil Society” piece was:

“The communication networks provided by mobile telephony can be formed and reformed instantly, and messages are often received from a known source, enhancing their credibility.”

Isn’t a phone just a phone anymore?  The answer to this ridiculous rhetorical question is a big NO, phones haven’t been just phones for a very long time  – this piece speaks to that truth.    We can do countless things on our phones now that were not even possible 5 years ago – the rapid development of mobile technology has been breathtaking.

For the audience of this blog, and the people they know, and the people that they know know, phones are ubiquitous.  But to take it back to Paul Adams, the author we read last week, our phones are also a symbol of the inclusion/exclusion dynamic since our access to the phones separate us from those in the world who don’t have access to mobile technology.

And of course, phones aren’t just phones any more because people are now using them as tools to mobilize for a varied number of reasons, some serious (political protests) and some not so serious (flash mobs).  The potential power of mobile technology to propel social movements is the main focus of this piece.  The Phillpine and South Korea examples were great case studies that show that power in pratice.  In the South Korea example, mobile technology was particularly useful.  As the authors point out:

“While the internet-based campaign had lasted for years, it was the mobile phone that mobilized large numbers of young voters on election day (194).”

Phones definitely aren’t just phones anymore.  They can also be tools for destruction, as the 2004 Madrid bombings demonstrate.  That always seem to be the dynamic – great technological advancements that make our lives easier also carry the potential for great harm if it falls into the wrong hands.


Language vs. The Nation-State (yet again)

Aday and Livingston’s piece on “Taking the State out of the State” and Meng’s work, “From Steamed Bun to Grass Mud Horse” were excellent compliments to one another’s arguments. Aday and Livingston contend that the media is a distribution system for two entities: the government and Transnational Advocacy Networks. Embedded in their argument is the idea that media does not just distribute information, but it is a source for knowledge production, as well.

Meng’s research analysis of online spoofs on the heavily regulated, Chinese internet serves as an example as to how knowledge can be produced on the internet. The Grass Mud Horse is an example of an, “innovative strategy for articulating social critique and fostering societal dialogue in a heavily controlled speech environment”. When China launched a “clean up” campaign to limit “vulgar” content on the web (as defined by the government), a mystical, foul-named creature came to be the symbol of Chinese netizens’ discontent with such censorship. Through the creature’s ascribed meaning, crude Chinese translation and subsequently, the birth of a new language in Chinese characters to foster dialogue among internet users that share common concern of government censorship, the internet serves as a venue for knowledge production and an, “alternative imagined community that defies the official order”.

Though I am intuitively aware of the notion that the internet can create “imagined communities” and even new languages (as seen in the case of the Grass Mud Horse), I was still impressed by the power behind the idea that civil society can circumvent nation-state authority using an alternative language. Going back to our readings on Inclusion and Exclusion, the Chinese netizens, in the face of a repressive regime, were able to use the internet as a power-gaining tool. They utilized it as a space for gathering and a tool for developing an alternative language through the sharing of ascribed meaning to symbols and characters. As a result, once repressed Chinese internet users, were at that point able to attain power through their alternative language community, excluding those who remained unable to translate it’s symbols and enter into the dialogue around taboo topics of heated public debate.

This article got me thinking about other scenarios, both past and future, in which “alternative language” was created and used to leverage power among oppressed groups. Can you think of other examples in history when oppressed groups circumvented nation-state authority through the use of alternative language communities?


Michelle and Barack Obama take over…











After last night’s discussion on the e-gao article and how there are hidden transcripts in political cartoons, the first thing that came into my mind was this picture from the New Yorker. I remember seeing this picture a few years ago so I went to Google, hoping to find this picture again. After a long search, I found this picture. This picture was shown during one of my undergraduate courses. My professor asked us what we thought of this picture and what we thought the hidden message was.

The message behind this picture is really strong. This kind of picture can affect the perspectives and our thinking of those who are involved with politics, and it even affects those who are not involved with politics. Take me, for instance. I am not a politician nor I know a lot about the politics. However, when I saw this picture, it immediately influenced how I viewed Barack and Michelle Obama. It caused a little bit of anger grow inside of me thinking that they had some conspiracy or hidden agenda behind the closed doors. It made me question if I even wanted Obama to be my president. It also had me concerned that something drastic will happen to USA because of him. It is funny to see how one simple picture without any words or written dialogue can affect my perspective on the political system, Obama as our president, and my role as a US citizen.

If you really look at the details of this picture, you will find a few humorous pieces like Michelle Obama has an Afro, which we never seen she has. Or the skin color- their skin is illustrated as light tan, close to white. If you look behind Obama, you will see a portrait of Bin Laden, but only half of his face is shown. Or how about the fact that Michelle and Barack Obama are standing on a picture of a “world” on the floor. What are the hidden messages behind these? It does make the reader think.

A simple cartoon illustration can ignite a political movement, political power, or even a protest. After reading the e-gao article and discussing in class, I have never realized how powerful a drawing can be. It does influence our society and each individual in many ways.


How to Do A Good Literature Review

I really appreciate useful tips in school that I know I will in some way take with me in any future research or academic endeavor. I am part of the cohort of AU grad students who have never been taught how to actually DO a lit review. Yes, I’ve done several in my time as a grad student, but never with clear certainty. SO, for the use of those on the interwebs wondering, “How do I do a literature review?”, REMEMBER it’s not about finding every piece of information ever  relating to your topic. This was my misconception. Instead, use your resources wisely and join the discussion!

While the list below is not indefinitely exhaustive as research outlets and technological capabilities evolve, here are some helpful steps for you:

Phase 1: Know your Motivation

  • Be Strategic: You are looking for ammunition to make the argument you want to make
  • Focus on: Dominant conversations about your subject
  • If your subject is narrow, you may have to use less traditional research methods: A considerable body of work may exist on two topics, but not necessarily combined

Phase 2: Visualize & Operationalize

  • Jargon: Build an online keywords list used in research relevant to your topic
  • Map out the type of material or evidence you seek so you know when you’ve found key information

I. Find a “nodal point”

Start with an expert if you can. Finding a professor, non-profit representative, business person, or government worker that knows something about the topic will give you a launching pad for your research:

  • They might direct you to other “right” persons or readings and can clarify the questions you’re asking
  • They will also provide a crucial gut-check for your research question to let you know if you’re on the right track

II. Make friends with reference librarian: Their job is to do these searches for you

III. Get a pulse on the discussion through synthetic articles in handbooks & periodic reviews

  • Get a sense for what other people are saying
  • Figure out how you would respond to their comments if you were in a conversation with them

IV. Find relevant journal articles or books to get a sense of how many people are talking about your topic

V. Use other people’s research! Dissertations require literature reviews, so if you can, use them

VI. Treat your findings like a card catalog–find out what’s around them to get a lead on other subject headings related to your topic. Another way to think about it is “look around the book you pick out for other ideas.”

VII. Keep good records: Don’t waste your time doing tons of research and not recording where you’ve looked. Good organization will also make it easier to order and write your paper

VIII. Learn to Skim Well

  • Pick out ideas through the introduction, conclusions, topic headings, and key phrases
  • Only read key articles in depth

Phase 3: Regroup

  • Go back to your initial motivation and vision and assess whether your research is addressing your topic or whether it’s pointing you elsewhere. Don’t be afraid to change your thesis!