Diplomatic cultures: Translations, spatialities, and alternatives

Lead Research Organisation: University College London
Department Name: Geography


This research network heightens academic attention to an aspect of international politics that has achieved prominence in recent years. With President Obama's promotion of international respect and soft power, the norms, discourses and practices of diplomacy have come under increased scrutiny and are of strategic importance both to the UK and internationally. Recent events such as the leak of diplomatic cables by WikiLeaks, the recognition of the National Transitional Council in Libya, and the violation of the British Embassy in Tehran have kept diplomatic cultures at the forefront of highly-mediated international politics.
Though the study of diplomacy has traditionally been undertaken within International Relations, recent years have seen the expansion, both in practice and in the literature, of two important aspects of diplomacy. These are (1) public diplomacy, defined as 'soft power' strategies to directly communicate with foreign populations and (2) the broadening of those engaged in diplomatic practices to include non-state polities. These beg the question: how is diplomatic culture translated as it changes context? This research network is innovative in exploring the modes and spaces through which diplomatic culture, foreign policy objectives and national narratives are translated, and in foregrounding the diversity of political actors involved. The network addresses the following questions:
- To what extent does a common diplomatic culture exist and facilitate international understanding?
- How can the UK foster dialogue across diplomatic cultures?
- How is 'international' diplomatic culture appropriated, translated and re-worked in different cultural settings?
- How does space shape the formation of diplomatic consensus, and can diplomatic practices be translated for 'new' digital spaces of engagement?
- How are diplomatic cultures and practices articulated beyond traditional spaces of state-focused diplomacy?
This research network addresses these questions through three themes: translating diplomatic culture; spaces of diplomatic culture; alternative cultures of diplomacy. Each theme will be the subject of a workshop attended by international experts from a range of academic disciplines and postgraduate students, as well as non-academic stakeholders including foreign ministry and embassy representatives, directors of diplomacy think-tanks and representatives from non-state diplomatic institutions.
The network will be coordinated by political geographers at UCL and the University of Cambridge, with workshops hosted at these institutions and in The Hague between November 2012 and May 2013. The final workshop will include visits to official and unofficial spaces of diplomacy in The Hague. In order to foster interaction and knowledge exchange the workshops are designed with an innovative format: keynote talks by world-leading experts followed by two minute responses from each participant, and then a more general discussion. The network will be sustained during and following the end of the grant by a listserve and blog through which workshop summaries and audio recordings will be made public.
Through the establishment of this network, new impetus will be brought to the study of diplomatic culture and its translation across contexts, emphasizing fruitful lines of research. These will be converted into an interdisciplinary funding proposal to be submitted to the AHRC Translating Cultures grant programmes. Other outcomes will include a green paper prepared for the FCO with policy prescriptions for the practice of diplomacy and an edited volume tracing the state-of-the-art in the study of diplomatic cultures. These will provide not only a nuanced analysis of current modes, spaces and practices of diplomacy and the central roles that culture and translation play, but will shape policy and conceptual frameworks necessary to assess and intervene in the future of public diplomacy.

Planned Impact

There are three specific, and yet interconnected, areas of impact for this network:
1) To improve the current effectiveness of British diplomatic practices where possible;
2) To provide opportunities for knowledge exchange between diplomats of sovereign states like the U.K. and diplomats from non-state diplomatic actors;
3) To update pedagogical knowledges among stakeholders who serve as an interface with the general public on the topic of diplomacy.
The first area of impact for this research network will be the daily practices of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). The FCO is a major stakeholder of this project as the bureaucracy that enacts British foreign policy in the everyday context. These workshops will enable contact to be made between the FCO and scholars of diplomacy, ensuring that future research projects that emerge out of the workshop are grounded in the experiences and needs of the FCO. Crucially, an outcome of the research network will be an executive summary of the current proliferation of academic interest in diplomatic practices. This review paper will enable a comparison of best practices (as distinct from the content of foreign policy) with current everyday practices of the FCO. The PI and co-PI will compile a green paper specifically for the FCO expressing the outcome of this process as one of the concrete outputs of this research network. For instance, the practices of the FCO regarding social media in the age of Wikileaks could benefit from the literature on the topic and the insights of network-members who are expert in these topics.
The second area of impact for this research network will be the enabling of knowledge exchange between the FCO (and other states' diplomats) and practitioners of non-state diplomacy, such as the Office of Tibet, the Unrecognized Nations and Peoples Organization, and the Arctic Council. These latter stakeholders exist as attempts to mediate between the sovereign and non-sovereign political worlds, but often lack experience and access to professional training that is available to 'official' diplomats. Having a discussion of alternative diplomacies with all these stakeholders at the table will provide a space for the development of new, more inclusive fields of diplomacy through the production of new protocols and means of communication. For example, one might foresee the representative of the Arctic Council providing useful protocols and tips for the translation of diplomatic culture from the sovereign context to the non-sovereign context, given the experience of the Arctic Council in including indigenous groups in discussions with Arctic-bordering states.
The third area of impact for this research network will be another knowledge exchange, this time between the two sets of stakeholders already mentioned (state and non-state practitioners of diplomacy) and a third set of stakeholders: those who serve as an interface between the world of diplomacy and the general public. This category of stakeholder includes those advocating for, or teaching about, diplomacy in all its forms such as NGOs (e.g. the United Nations Association), educational institutions such as the U.S. Diplomacy Center or the DiploFoundation, and journalists who cover diplomacy. These 'faces' for diplomacy require the latest information not least so that potential diplomats and other interested parties can receive an accurate picture of the field. For instance, the United Nations Association provides resources for the organization of Model United Nations simulations at secondary schools and universities all over the United Kingdom. The incorporation of issues of public diplomacy or of non-state diplomatic actors into their simulations might make the educational experience more contemporary and relevant to outsiders.
Description This grant funded a research network, rather than original research. However, the research network has pulled together a range of scholars working on diplomatic culture, and 1) posed them a series of questions set by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The answers are found in 'Enhancing Diplomatic Performance' (our policy report). 2) We have published an edited volume of the keynote from our workshops. 3) We have used leftover grant funds from an underspend to host an extra workshop, which we are using to pull together interdisciplinary research teams to conduct future projects on diplomacy.
Exploitation Route Our policy findings are relevant to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, who posed the questions to us in the first place. The research network itself was intended to incubate future spinoff projects, which will likely also be relevant to policy professionals working in diplomacy.
Sectors Security and Diplomacy

URL http://www.diplomaticcultures.com
Description We produced a policy document (see publications) and this was delivered to the Policy Unit of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (as was promised in our discussions earlier). We are not privy to the uptake of the report by policy-makers.
First Year Of Impact 2014
Sector Security and Diplomacy
Impact Types Policy & public services

Description Reuters 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact 2016. Interviewed by Reuters about diplomacy in the wake of the election on Donald Trump. Aired on ABC Australia, Sky Italia, TV Asahi (Japan), and national broadcasters across the Middle East.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017