Author Archive


Public Diplomacy Gives the Silent Treatment

Public Diplomacy (PD) is tired of being put in a box. She is the misunderstood stepsister of International Relations that once hated her black sheepishness and is now coming into her own. Instead of fitting into a neatly presentable package, PD is a convoluted mess that only self-loathing theorists try to love. Her quirks and non-traditional characteristics are becoming more accepted in academia, but only the academics holding her tightly know that they know only an inkling of what makes her tick.

They know the trigger points: “What is public diplomacy?” Ha. Wrong question. And in response to that question, PD will simply play the silent game because she is complicated and offended at your attempt to define her in a single sentence. At times, all she’s trying to get at is a little influence. At other times, she’s helping build brands. And other times, she’s just glad to facilitate a little human connection at the international level.

Misunderstood. Underestimated.

The best way to know PD is to observe her in dimensions. The more obvious ones we’ve known for years—her military and economic strategies; her weekly lunch-ins at the Embassy in Islamabad. But she has a softer side. She’s in the coding and gaming tech initiatives at the Department of State—winning over the hearts and minds of the people, one coder at a time. She’s in the international education and research-exchange programs paid by the DOD, sending little ambassadors one scholarship at a time overseas. She’s in the Facebook pages and the development organizations and the phones and computers given away to start the conversation between the US and other nations.

So stop assuming you can use her with no consequences. PD is not just a silver bullet to solve your problems. And she certainly doesn’t appreciate being misused so your ego can be satisfied. If you want to know some essence of PD, focus on her softer side, but ultimately you’re going to have to analyze her like any other concept and find ways to open your mind to her presence in new ways.


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.


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.


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!

Predestination or Free Will…for Networks?

John Calvin & David Grewel: Like-minds?

Religious theorists have asked this question for centuries about the spiritual realm and now network theorists are joining the mix in regard to the nature of the global and social Network system. Have networks always existed (Latour) or do networks formed in the information age now define its current social structure (Castells)?

The understanding of networks directly affects how we interpret globalization, domination, inequality, and how free we are to “choose” to adopt certain dominant global norms. David Grewel argues in his piece Network Power and Globalization that networks seem free also have elements of buried force that explain how the “dynamic operating in globalization nevertheless reflects a kind of domination” (89). Grewel does not disregard the importance of economic dependency or military control in indirect control, but categorizes globalization as empire.

We establish this dichotomy of choice and powerful influence through norms that ultimately contruct “network power.” Grewel defines this as “a group of people united in a particular way that makes them capable of mutual recognition and exchange” (91). Network power requires critical mass and effectively eliminates other choices as it reaches critical mass. In other words, the more people jumping onto one network, the fewer people are likely to remain in alternative networks. Network power chooses the network “market winners” in a way. Grewel perceives this as created fewer choices for free will to be exerted because they existed before a dominant network took power. He does not seem to address the possibility that new competitive networks could enter the market and provide better alternatives to the dominant ones, likely because the dominant networks are tied up in an array of bureaucratic policies. Grewel uses the WTO as an example of a “priviledged point of access” (91) and argues that Nation-States that want to stay competitive must effectively adopt WTO policy (in full) to compete.

While this is done through formal consent and signing of treaties, the WTO requires countries to accept its terms in full. Part of the reason is to ensure compliance and create necessary boundaries for fair trade. But it leaves no room for alternative styles of trade and eliminates certain sectors like agriculture (94). Now that the WTO governs nearly all international trade law, what choice does a country have if it wants to trade internationally but to accept provisions of the WTO?

Grewel points to the costs that new standards require, as well as the frequent perceived cultural loss by changing from standards that play an “important role in people’s identities or culture,” such as linguistics (96). These changes greatly affect minority cultures and marginalized populations that do not have equal access to adapting to these changes.

Grewel then opens the door for a compromise through oppenness, compatibility, and malleability (97). While the analysis provides more space for entrants to adopt culturally-sensitive standards through the WTO that are more compatible with their current standards, Grewel does not set out a solution for dealing with human rights policy in these trade agreements. While revision should be easy to do in any network system as a way to respond to outcomes, network power (the dominant) should also be careful not to allow nations to opt-out of imperative human rights requirements, which underline the Declaration of Human Rights at the United Nations.

This article and other network scholars consider language and metrics as the biggest challenge in network power. As networks dominate through globalization, they fear these losses as also a loss of choice and liberty. But networks must invite diverse opinions without compromising on fundamental rights. In other words, Grewel’s opt-out system may be the optimal solution for cultural protection in a network power system, but Nation States should be called to account in an international system not to opt-out of recognizing and honoring the fundamental human rights of their citizens.


Return to Zork: Why Ownership Matters

Our class from 10/18 brought up several media references to hybridity in cultural media. At one point, the first computer game Zork was mentioned, and it got me digging into my past as an early gamer, which led to this post about media ownership and its role in curating content and shifting culture.

After some due diligence, I found out that the game I played in 1993 was Return to Zork. It was several phases past the original Infocom game, complete with color graphics and even some video actors. Ironically, one of the enstoned actresses is Blake Lively’s mother! But I digress…

Naturally, discovering childhood treasures, I wanted to download the game and play it. But computers surpassing Mac’s OS X 8 system no longer run this game–they retired their “classic games” apparently. Essentially, unless someone now buys an old computer (assuming it still runs), he or she will be unlikely to ever play this game again. While many PC users can still run this particular game for a long time to come, it still sparked an interest in closed technological systems.

The present reality is the development of games that are so realistic, they could be CGI effects placed in motion pictures. Admittedly, my nostalgia for simplicity crops up in this context, which may be why I stopped playing these games over time.

If a media company decided not to run certain content any longer, it can phase it out through new technology or by limiting technological interoperability. If lovers of classic film were not restoring old movies to DVD, that film would ultimately expire and fail to work without old operating equipment. The same is true if a media company decides to stop giving content its functionality.

The critique is not so much on the right and wrong nature of these kinds of evolutionary technologies, but rather a recognition that even through developing new forms of communication, media owners can effectively shift culture away from previous communication. It also implies that media preserve culture and that archiving history speaks as much to our cultural flows as who currently owns media outlets.


Regulating the Media: Necessary for Freedom?

Siochru and Girard argued in this week’s reading that regulations are necessary to ensure equality and freedom of information because media moguls are large conglomerates providing information to the masses. Thus, the authors argue that government and other invested regulatory bodies should limit distortion of content, infringement on intellectual property rights, and complete commercialization of the media. When we talk about regulating media in some form, however, we’re often implicating certain regulations on the Internet in terms of code, Internet Service providers, DNS providers, and other technical pieces of the whole make-up of international media.  The politics of this kind create entirely revolutionary discussion on human rights, access, and privacy.

I admittedly have a more liberalized philosophy when it comes to regulation on the Internet in that I tend to favor little regulation and more freedom of use. That said, however, Larry Lessig’s argument that the Internet presents certain absolutes that do not exist in real space may lay the foundation for necessary regulations. In theory, the Internet could one day be a place of perfect information knowledge and regulation, which could have a chilling effect on many of our deeply-engrained first amendment rights. Thus, regulating for the guarantee of a civil or public space may make sense for the future assurance that some Internet locations are off-hands to the government.

I do not, however, think that regulations are always the answer to large industry. While Siochru and Giarard and several others may argue that media “creates us” in a sense, we also create the media. Regulations can sometimes create more fair use or greater access to information, but often times, they can do the direct opposite of the intended policy. As a community learning to interpret what international communication policy could be, we should take this into account and see regulation as one of many tools in a toolbox, rather than the only tool for influencing how a law or industry affects society as a whole.


Globalization Theory: The Playoffs

“One  man’s imagined community is another man’s political  prison”  (Appadurai, 295). Especially if he’s a woman…
By Ben Heine

Today, we cover just a little more on the nation-state in reference to globalization theory and the “who’s” and “what’s” of globalization theory.

What is globalization? For a word so regularly tossed around, I was surprised to learn that no common definition exists among globalization scholars. Instead, the lens of each scholarly viewing gives some insight into what the concept could mean. As a novice to international communication theory, I thought I would simplify the globalization movement through sports metaphors.

The Teams (schools of thought):

Hyperglobalizers – These are the pro-globalization advocates who support a more economically centric definition surrounding evolution of the international communication movement.

Ex: Thomas Friedman, Kenichi Ohmae

Skeptics – These are the watchdogs of globalization, pointing to the downsides or less-than-transformative experiences that globalization extracts for some. They do not say globalization is inherently wrong, but that it is more problematic than hyperglobalizers would theorize.

Ex: Colin Sparks

Transformationalists – These are breaking the status quo and calling globalization a NEW phenomenon that calls for a new taxonomy altogether. Globalization to these scholars is not simply economic growth—the social and cultural structures and influences are equally as important and affected.

Ex: Arjun Appadurai, John Sinclair, Jacqueline Gibbons

The Key Players:

Arjun Appadurai argues globalization has transformative significance and understands the globalization phenomenon through “scapes” of the world that lead to a more heterogeneous world (ethnoscapes, technoscapes, mediascapes, etc). Appadurai’s theory suggests a level of flow and intersection of developing global trends and a transcendence of space. Globalization presents new opportunities for conflict as well as domination.

Appadurai alley-oops to Manuel Castells, who similarly focuses on space and flows and conceives globalization as an overlapping set of flows where the space of flows determines prosperity, power, agency and ability to act.

Karl Marx shaped many interpretations of media flows and cultural imperialism. Marx provided a vocabulary for the discipline of economics and labor in relation to capital. His ideology was part of superstructure of capitalist relations that also came with rise of political values and has merit in the ongoing academic debate concerning globalization. Are we all just puppets to the cheap thrills of capitalism?

Sinclair points out that not all consequences of globalization are about the economy, while Colin Sparks disagrees, saying that the economic impetus for globalization became increasingly obvious when shifting from national to international world.

David Held describes globalization as a series of developments or processes that have increasing extensiveness and intensity of flows of information. Over time, he says, what we’re passing between us in these relations picks up velocity with an increased degree of impact to the previous three developments.

Roland Robertson says we know the world now and that we are part of it and Doreen Massey says power geometry, or time-space compression of globalization, is still powerful and dominating despite the “rising tide lifting all boats.”

Put these players on a court together and we would certainly have a “good game.” Whatever your view of globalization, we must recognize its importance to how it affects the changing nation state power structure and those at the top and bottom of the economic and social sphere.


The Decline of the Nation State? What’s Next?

British International Development Minister visits Liberia

Human constructs may be manufactured but can carry very real power and influence. The evolution of the nation state gradually redefines borders and areas of governance. From philosopher and writer Ernest Renan’s description of this “daily plebiscite” in 1882 to what we recognize as nation states today, these constructs require a certain importance and buy-in by the greater people or it well ceases to exist.

In class, we raised several challenging questions: Does a nation state cease to exist simply when those enforcing its existence cease to recognize it any longer? As the rise of globalization presents challenges at the international level, has the nation state lost the support and confidence of the people?

Castells attributed media in part for de-linking people and the nation state in the current crisis of legitimacy that exists. As media originally communicated the design and implementation of the nation state, it also aided the vast global expansion in communication between nations. As our society becomes more global in nature, the problems become more complex.

With greater communication and interconnectedness, we also face issues that often involve several nation states, or that one nation cannot control. For example, the economic turmoil that currently affects the U.S. is equally present in Europe and many other parts of the world. After September 11, the U.S. buckled down on its security measures and implemented the Patriot Act in an effort to control any attempted acts of terror. And the demand for cyber-related professionals continues to grow as cyber security threatens network availability and sensitive data. None of these issues exist in a vacuum. None of them affect only the U.S.

So if the nation state can’t possibly address many of our national security issues alone, what kind of a construct can? And further, for the growing number of citizens that don’t think the nation state represents them anymore, does this mean a new, more representative construct is needed?

Academically or idealistically, we might entertain an argument for global governance or even global citizenship. But the reality of tribalism, religious conflict, and other traditions that naturally separate out different tribal groups pose a real difficulty in terms of governance and power struggle. Perhaps a greater consideration is how we can come to live in a society that benefits from greater cooperation and harmony without reliance on the nation state governing body, but the implications may be unrealistic at this point in time.


Media Defining and Reflecting Culture

Waisbord’s “Media and the Reinvention of the Nation” drew the interesting parallel of media as a set of institutions involved in “the creation, maintenance, and transformation of cultural membership.” Whether nations were formed form centralized political power or a series of decentralized factors at certain historical junctures, media has had a distinct role to play in both reflecting and defining nationalism through culture.

I wanted to share some of my favorite American culture-shaping media, hoping it will instill a bit of nostalgia as much as inform those who were not a part of my generation.

Media Marking/Informing my Child and Teen Year Culture, Semblance of Nationalism:

  1. Nintendo
  2. Barbie
  3. Disney
  4. Walter Kronkite? Andy Rooney?
  5. Presidencies: George Bush Sr, Bill Clinton
  6. MTV: TRL, ABC (TGI Fridays!)
  7. Quality Films: Life is Beautiful; Shawshank Redemption; 10 Things I Hate About You
  8. Terrible, but cultural: Dude, Where’s my Car? Clerks
  9. Country, Pop, Rap Music
  10. Church of God
  11. Seinfeld, Boy Meets World
  12. Guess

Media Marking/Informing my Adult Years:

  1. Angry Birds, Wii
  2. Canon Rebel T2i
  3. Pixar, Foxlight Pictures
  4. Internet News: Daily Show, Colbert Report, Drudge, CNN, NYT, Etc
  5. Presidents: George W Bush, Barack Obama
  6. Bravo, Fox, NBC: SNL
  7. Quality Films: King’s Speech, Lord of the Rings, Anchorman
  8. Terrible, but Cultural: Superbad
  9. Pop, Indie, Country Music
  10. Emerging Church
  11. Glee, Law & Order SVU, Community
  12. Anthropologie