Saturday, January 13, 2007

Redifining Culture in Public Diplomacy

Current public diplomacy efforts talk a great deal about cultural exchanges and creating cultural understanding. In most of these efforts, cultural understanding is defined in terms of cultural exchanges of artists, performers and writers rather than focusing on "real" points of entry for listening to various cultural communities (see for instance, the following report by the Advisory Committee on Cultural Diplomacy).

Although the arts and performances do provide insights into a culture, these are in many ways only some aspects of cultures. Arts and performances are important and yet only some of the more visible and easily accessible aspects of cultures. Ignoring the values and beliefs of cultures and the contexts within which these values and beliefs are negotiated leads to a short-sighted approach that ultimately does not engage with the deep-seated logics of the culture, which might in many instances be contradictory to the values and beliefs of US culture.

Ultimately, these cultural exchanges are seen by public diplomats as ways of winning the hearts and minds of reasonable people elsewhere in the world rather than as entry points for developing understanding. Culture here serves as a way of generating public opinion elsewhere that is supportive of the US, it values and foreign policies. Culture becomes a tool for transforming other cultures, and the values and beliefs in these cultures. To the extent that the concept of culture is limited to cultural exchanges that seek to win the hearts and minds of reasonable people elsewhere, it serves the problematic logic that the values and beliefs of US culture are the only "rational" values and beliefs, and the ways of life of other cultures need to be transformed. Such a notion is not only arrogant, but it is also profoundly short-sighted in the realm of public diplomacy efforts that need more of an impetus on listening.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I am having trouble understanding "values" as a concept repetitively used in Public Diplomacy. Who determines the values in a society and how does s/he do that? I believe values is a strategically ambiguous,consumed notion used for othering communities.