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date: 27 April 2017

Public Diplomacy and Foreign Policy

This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics. Please check back later for the full article.

Public diplomacy has become an essential subject for both practitioners of foreign policy and scholars of international relations. As the term achieves wide popularity and is frequently used in policy papers, magazines, academic books, and articles, the more we see different definitions of the concept. Unfortunately, no agreed definition exists. This article starts with an attempt to provide an overview of the conceptual ideas behind public diplomacy. In particular, it is important to clarify the similarities and differences among the related key concepts of international relations, such as soft power, propaganda, and nation-branding. The debate over the concept will be carefully reviewed and a comparison will be made of key definitions and conceptualizations.

Related to the international relations debate on the “-isms”, some researchers claim that public diplomacy is a part of constructivism; accordingly, some researchers from the realist school tend to ignore it. While it may be appropriate to categorize public diplomacy as constructivist for norm-oriented reputation politics such as “naming and shaming,” many realists working from the rationalist paradigm have recognized the importance of public diplomacy in international relations.

Recently, beyond discussions on definitions and scope of public diplomacy, we have seen many data-oriented, empirical studies on the subject. For instance, there have been moves toward data creation to rank which state can achieve the greatest level of soft power through the effective practice of public diplomacy. Moreover, Quantitative Test Analysis (QTA) or content analysis frameworks have frequently been utilized to study how international media focus on controversial diplomatic issues between states. Even tweets and social networks are being studied to reveal what types of international diplomatic communications are supported and opposed by third-party domestic audiences. We continue to see a rapid development in the methodological sophistication in study of public diplomacy.

Finally, experiments are promising, and are perhaps the most advanced technique in studying public diplomacy. In particular, by using online survey experiments and providing different types of public diplomatic messages as key manipulations, it is now possible to measure the degree to which third-party domestic audiences (i.e., online survey respondents) can be influenced through international diplomatic communications.