Want to keep learning?

This content is taken from the European University Institute (EUI)'s online course, Cultural Diplomacy. Join the course to learn more.

Skip to 0 minutes and 13 seconds Unlike cultural cooperation and public diplomacy, the concept of soft power doesn’t refer to a category of professional practise, but it is a concept which has been widely influential in cultural diplomacy. So my goal here is to clarify the origins, the meaning, and the evolution of this concept. This concept is actually very common. You often hear in the media, in the political discourse this common distinction between hard power, referring to military might or economic sanctions, as opposed to soft power, referring to culture and values. This concept is actually relatively new.

Skip to 0 minutes and 59 seconds It was coined by Joseph Nye, who is a professor at Harvard and who is also an influential scholar because he was also part of the administrations of the President Carter and the President Clinton. He wrote about soft power in a book published in 1990 entitled, Bound to Lead , in a very specific context. It was after the end of the Cold War, the US was the sole global military power, and it was also a context where the US was reducing its spending on cultural diplomacy. So soft power was never merely an analytical concept. It was a concept that was used to advocate for the fact that culture, higher education, civil society could be instrumental to the influence of a country.

Skip to 1 minute and 58 seconds And for Nye, it was also a concept that was used to make the arguments that the liberal values of the United States was a core element of its influence in the world. But with time, the concept of soft power was adopted in a variety of different contexts, especially in the so-called emerging powers, such as India, Brazil, South Korea, especially China. In these contexts, the meaning was slightly different. The most common appropriation of this concept was to argue that typical elements of this country’s culture, like for example, telenovelas, Bollywood, or K-pop, were elements of a so-called soft power strategy. And these were elements which were both very distinctive to these countries culture but also very popular abroad.

Skip to 3 minutes and 3 seconds Another element, which is quite interesting, is that in the case of China, what was argued to contribute to China’s soft power, was actually the fact that China was not trying to spread its value abroad. So this is actually the opposite argument that Nye was doing in the first place when he was arguing that liberal values of the United States were very important for its soft power. So these are just two examples to show how the concept of soft power evolved as it was appropriated in different contexts. Next step, we will focus especially on the case of Turkey and the appropriation of soft power in this context.

Genealogy of the concept of soft power

The notion of soft power was introduced by Harvard Professor Joseph Nye. It assumes that a country’s artists, film-makers, language and values, can make it attractive and enhance its power.

This theory has spread around the world and was used by policymakers in China, Brazil and Turkey, to shape their international strategy. But this notion suffers some limitations.

Share this video:

This video is from the free online course:

Cultural Diplomacy

European University Institute (EUI)

Get a taste of this course

Find out what this course is like by previewing some of the course steps before you join: